We often discuss on the Paramount Space Blog the importance of the look and feel of an office design and how it influences the staff who use it. For this very reason, we make sure that we know what colours are on-trend for offices and what the latest predictions are in office design.

But we also recognise the physical and emotional impact that an office has on its employees. Whether that involves businesses encouraging more activity in the workplace or attempting to be more mindful of the emotional wellbeing of their staff by creating a culture that reduces stress.

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The subject of occupational health is an important one and something that will often feed into the design decisions that we make for our clients.

For this reason, we thought we’d ask Clare Hurley, Director of Key Accounts at Fusion Occupational Health, to give us her thoughts on an always topical subject in any workplace; absence.

How can office design help absence management?

- cant work today 4216 - Paramount D&BIt might seem like a stretch to suggest that the layout of an office could help to reduce staff absence but please bear with me.

It’s fair to say that many employees can now see the benefit of using office design to positively impact on productivity and wellbeing, so it’s not too much of a stretch to see how this can also reduce instances of absence.

At Fusion, we help businesses experiencing unacceptable levels of absence management. There are strategies and processes that we can suggest to reduce them, but there are also amendments to the physical layout of an office that can help.

The “healing office”

A great example of this was covered in a recent article about The Edge, a tower in the business district of Amsterdam where consultancy firm Deloitte take up most of the office space.

With one in 17 people in the Netherlands suffering from burnout, this office space promises, using a mixture of simple strategies and state-of-the-art technology, to keep staff happy, healthy and productive.

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Photograph: Alan Jensen/TheEdge

While this obviously has the best interests of staff in mind, there’s also a financial implication. According to insurer Zilveren Kruis, each year absence and productivity loss cost the Netherlands €2.2bn (£2.6bn).

Sunlight and smartphones

The Edge’s office interior designers, D/DOCK, identified 10 indicators that they claim could reduce sick leave by up to 30%, increase productivity by up to 20% and result in longer life expectancy for employees. These included indoor climate, daylight, physical activity, healthy food, diversity and nature.

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Photograph: Alan Jensen/TheEdge

As a result, every desk is within seven metres of a window and comes with wireless charging for your smartphone, which you can use to change the temperature and lighting.

Impressive as this is, it’s not all about technology and office layout. Many will argue that an office interior will only start to impact when it’s accompanied by a shift in culture and a focus on policies such as flexible hours, job security and support for staff.

The cost of absenteeism

We won’t know yet if The Edge has succeeded in its claim, but there definitely seems to be a recent focus on wellbeing in the workplace. According to the 2016 CIPD/Simplyhealth Absence management survey, 46% of the respondents reported an increase in their organisation’s focus on wellbeing over the last 12 months.

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It also highlighted that the most common causes of short-term absence were minor illnesses, stress, musculoskeletal injuries, family responsibilities and mental ill-health.

The importance of absence management can’t be understated. According to the ONS, sickness absence results in an average firm of 250 employees losing £4,800 per week. Meanwhile, a Confederation of British Industry (CBI) survey estimates that it costs the economy £15bn every year.

Strategies for a healthier workplace

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Implementing a wellness program can reduce absenteeism in the workplace by as much as 42%. When a business implements their next office fit out, it’s the perfect opportunity to make a few small changes to the workplace that could have a positive impact on absenteeism.

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Here’s a checklist that we’ve put together based on the experience of the teams at Paramount and Fusion:

  • Assess furniture based on improved posture.
  • Instigate a sit-stand strategy.
  • Provide access to healthy food and drinking water.
  • Plenty of natural daylight.
  • Spaces for staff to get away from it all.
  • Create a layout that encourages movement between departments and functions.
  • Encourage regular breaks from computers