Over recent months we’ve been giving some thought to the big trends affecting customer and employee experience for the future. One topic on our radar that looks like being ‘hot’ for 2017 is well-being.

This isn’t a new trend, but it continues to take interesting twists and turns. In 2016 we saw well-being manifest itself through diets and wellness studios, mindfulness in the workplace, FitBit’s new product innovations and the moment that athleisure became a thing. In 2017 well-being is set to further open its boundaries and become a solidified part of brand experience for the most innovative and self-aware companies and organisations.

The Oxford Dictionary defines well-being as “the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.” We know that promoting the well-being of employees is important for organisations that value productivity and efficiency, because happy people always make better workers, and stressed people cost the British economy millions of pounds every year. In 2015, the HSE calculated that 11.7 million workdays were lost to stress and anxiety related conditions .

Modern working life has introduced a plethora of new pressures on individuals, not least that of increased speed. The downside to “instant access” to information and services is the expectation of “instant gratification” to any demand. The average working week in the UK is now 43.6 hours long, and for many people that’s in environments that don’t promote well-being at all. Witness the modern, cubicle or hot-desk office, where people are ranked in rows of identical, impersonal desks, with a phone and laptop for company, like cows in a modern milking parlour! The philosophy is the same in both cases: increase efficiency and homogeneity and productivity will rise. But people are not cattle and employee well-being is a corporate social responsibility, not a ‘nice-to-have’.

Digitalisation promised to simplify life but, ironically, it’s also increased pressure. Employees are expected to be available and responsive 24/7, whether in the office or outside of it. The average life of a dairy cow in an intensive milk-producing environment is only 4-5 years, after which they’re worn out and disposed of. Without rest, and without a holistic approach to employee well-being, organisations will wear out their employees and never get the best out of them.

The best businesses treat well-being not just a box-ticking exercise but as an integral part of their employee engagement strategy, investing and adapting to their employees changing needs. By staying aware and responsive these employers experience increased loyalty and productivity, higher attraction and retention, reduced absence and accidents in the workplace.

In 2017, we’re set to see well-being expand beyond health and wellness, extending into happiness and pleasure. We’ve picked out a couple of our favourite trends for this coming year.

Making the workplace even better

As many as one in three British employees dislike their workplace environment. And, when environments have such a big impact on mood, motivation and concentration, we think this should be a key area of focus for all. Studies have shown that classical music increases concentration, the presence of plants can lift moods and the smell of vanilla and lavender has been linked with the production of endorphins which help alleviate anxiety. In 2017 we’re set to see workplace design push the boundaries of creativity to create amazing spaces to work in that stimulate all the senses.

A creative mindset

Well-being works best when it comes from the top and, ultimately, the culture of the senior team will impact the entire workforce. We’re calling on leaders to adopt a creative mindset when it comes to well-being and reward. On a basic level, we’ll see a push for employees to work smarter and more flexibly, not longer and harder (because we all know long working hours do not equal high performance).

Beyond this we’re set to see a big focus on keeping the employee happy and for brands to creatively explore different ways to create motivation, engagement and a sense of belonging in their workplace. Non-traditional rewards will increase in importance, as the changing value systems of the millennials will crave one-off experiences, special access rewards and even bragging rights for their socially responsible team, over cold, hard, cash.

Adapting to demographics

The workplace is seeing a big shift in demographics. There’s been a lot of talk about engaging millennials, however much more focus is going to be placed on the other end of the spectrum. There are many things employers can do to engage, retain and motivate the working ageing population. From sports clubs and access to healthy food and health programmes, to adaptive workspaces and flexible holidays (yes Virgin, we love your unlimited holidays scheme).

In our mission to design and deliver positive, memorable and genuine brand experiences for customers and employees, we’ve worked on a range of projects aimed at improving well-being through better workplace design. We’ve also sought to practice what we preach by creating environments and a culture within our own company that promote well-being and, where possible, reduce stress.

Our London office, in the trendy Old Street district, is crammed with inspiration and energy, but tight on space and full of people. However, the free herbal tea, coffee, and snack supplies, the self-selection music (music tastes vary across the team), video chats with colleagues across the country, and regular communal lunches or after-work drinks help to create a culture where it’s OK to “take a break.” Our Kent office feels like a retreat for the regular Londoners! Fresh air, fields, and occasionally crossing paths with the neighbour’s cat or the boss’s dog allows us to reconnect with nature. All in all, our offices allow the nourishing of the body, mind and soul. Additionally, our coaching system ensures that every employee has someone they can turn to who is there to assist with both personal development and well-being.

It’s not only us who take well-being so seriously. Many of our clients apply the same principles in their own businesses, and we’ve worked with them to help create more inspiring and less stressful environments.

The John Lewis partnership take great care of their employees. The business structure means the employees all own a part of the company. There’s obviously a financial reward element to that model, but, additionally, it means everybody has a stake in determining the working culture of the business. It’s led to them being recognised by Glassdoor as providing great work-life balance.

We worked with John Lewis to provide an inspirational and personality-filled working environment for the buying teams at their London headquarters. We partnered with their management team to create graphics and breakout spaces for workers that were designed to celebrate their work and significant inventors and pioneers who had made a contribution in that field. The result was a much more vibrant, personalised office space and one that helped create a greater sense of togetherness and purpose for the teams.

We also worked with Argos to transform their employee breakout areas in their new store-of-the-future locations. These small areas were designed with a clever zoning strategy which created space for a quick coffee and catch-up with your colleague, whilst creating areas for formal training and meetings. The vibrant, playful graphics helped create an engaging and relaxing space for busy and often stressed shop-floor workers to relax in during their breaks.

Increasingly savvy employees are starting to ask hard questions of their potential employers. Glassdoor, the online recruitment company, rates companies against a range of measures, including work-life balance and culture. Their number one company, Goodman Masson, have worked really hard to provide their employees with a true work-life balance. Free breakfast every day, a weekly visit from a masseuse, a day off on your birthday, an annual subsidised ski trip, an office barber and beauty therapist, and a chill-out room are some of the features of their well-being promotion for their employees. Those kinds of benefits won’t be appropriate or affordable for all employers, however, there are simple steps that any company can take to begin the journey to happier, more engaged employees.

All of these examples require investment, and it can be hard to measure a return on this, especially in the short-term. However, the figures around workplace stress and its negative effect on profitability and employee satisfaction are well rehearsed, so sensible investment in these areas will definitely have a positive impact on both objective and subjective employee measures in the long-term. In a world where preventative healthcare is increasingly being promoted as a means of reducing demands on employees and healthcare providers, taking care of our well-being can reduce costs and increase productivity.

We’d love to chat about our thoughts on how a holistic approach to employee well-being could help attract and retain staff in your business. Why not get in touch and see how we can help?

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