BGES explains: why we should learn from New Zealand about workplace health

A few weeks ago, a New Zealand copywriter went viral on social media for bringing a clown to his redundancy meeting. The clown spent most of the meeting noisily making balloon animals, then mimed crying when the redundancy paperwork was handed over. Here in the UK, we laughed at the story, especially after the copywriter’s chaotic appearance on This Morning – but the colourful tale reveals something about why New Zealand is becoming a world leader in workplace wellbeing.

The clown was there because Kiwi employers are legally required to let workers bring a representative or support person to any meeting of this nature. The rule is part of a broader culture of looking after employees, even those whose job is about to be terminated.

Total investment in staff wellbeing by New Zealand businesses was estimated to be $2.37bn in 2018, according to the country’s Workplace Wellness Report. The report is jointly produced by BusinessNZ, the country’s largest business representation group, and Southern Cross Health Society, the largest private healthcare organisation. The collaboration builds an in-depth picture of workplace health in New Zealand.

One of the surprising findings is the high cost of absence to New Zealand businesses: $1.79bn (about £930m), and rising. Within this context, the focus on workers’ wellbeing makes economic sense.

So what are New Zealand businesses doing to improve wellbeing?

Encouraging sick employees to stay home. New Zealand has reduced the number of sick people dragging themselves to work: in 2018, only 35% of staff came in to work when ill, as compared to 49% in 2012. This shift in workplace norms actually reduces overall absence levels.

Flexible working. Companies try to offer flexible hours and options such as working from home, with larger organisations leading the way.

Education and training. 64% of small businesses offer this, probably because of the high return on investment. When the training is directly related to the person’s job, it can mean big improvements in productivity as well as reducing stress levels.

Other areas of spending on employee health include vaccinations, subsidised gym membership and mindfulness initiatives.

Healthy buildings – the missing piece of the puzzle?

However, New Zealand businesses may be missing something important by not focusing more on the physical buildings where employees spend most of their time. The evidence increasingly shows that factors such as lighting, temperature and air quality make a huge difference to wellbeing , yet awareness of these issues is low among employers globally.

BGES is one of the first companies in the building management system sector to respond to the growing body of evidence on the link between buildings and health. We’re about to launch a new version of our award-winning VISTA energy optimisation product, one that focuses on the health impacts of workplace buildings. For example, most people know that high carbon dioxide levels make us drowsy, but the latest research also links indoor CO2 to blood vessel damage, kidney problems and bone thinning. VISTA 2.0 includes a CO2 control feature that protects people’s long-term health as well as making them up to 10 times more productive in their jobs. VISTA 2 also tackles many other invisible but important elements of the work environment, such as humidity and atmospheric dust.

The business case for focusing on workplace health gets stronger every day. That’s why, when it comes to building management systems, there’s no room for clowning around.

If you’d like to know more about what we’re doing to improve the health of UK workplaces, get in touch.