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What One Of The U.K.’s Largest Employers Thinks About Wellness

The increasing demand for wellness from buildings is being driven by the people who occupy them.

So what does one of the U.K.’s largest private-sector employers, Unilever, think about it? The company employs 7,000 people in the U.K. across offices and factories, and U.K. and Ireland Health and Well-Being Lead Nikki Kirbell told delegates at Bisnow’s Workplace of the Future event last week that the concept was a big driver of how the company operates.

Here are four key takeaways she provided from the event at Landesc’s Nova North scheme in Victoria.

1. It has to be about more than the building

Kirbell said wellness has to go beyond real estate and building design and incorporate programs and strategies that allow workers to be their “best self” at work.

“A lot of our buildings are factories, and it is pretty hard to jazz up a factory,” she said.

But owners of factories can provide healthy food and drinks rather than sugary snacks, exercise schemes and opportunities to learn, and even think about travel plans — asking people to take red-eye flights does not encourage health and well-being.

2. Listen to staff

All the fancy design and wellness programs in the world are no use if staff do not use them. Kirbell recounted how at one Unilever facility staff were asked about what wellness programs they thought would be useful and were told in no uncertain terms that all they really wanted was a new sofa for the break room.

The Centric Lab's Araceli Camargo; Landsec's Carissa Kilgour; Unilver's Nikki Kirbell; HLW International's Michele Neptune; Cluttons' Freddie Pritchard-Smith; International WELL Building Institute's Ann Marie Aguilar

3. Return on investment is not everything

While Kirbell agreed that it is important to allocate resources widely, getting a tangible return should not be everything when it comes to wellness.

“This is something we should be doing because it is good for people,” she said. “It should now be a question of asking what you are doing, not whether you are doing anything.”

4. Use wellness to bring people together

Kirbell outlined how one of the pleasures of her job is that everyone wants to get involved with wellness, as it is a positive concept that everyone can get behind. And it can also bring different parts of a company together for the good of the whole.

“It can bring different silos together, in large companies especially,” she said. “It is my whole job, but in some companies it can fall partly to HR, partly to finance, partly to other functions, and allow people and ideas to come together for the benefit of employees.”

Related Topics: wellness, Unilever, Landsec