Published on:

28 February 2022

Updated on:

12 October 2023

Read time:

8 minutes

Walk the walk, don’t talk the talk: ways to improve wellbeing in the workplace

Thursday 24th March 2022

Above all else, the mental and physical wellbeing of the workforce is vital to any company’s productivity and longevity.

Prioritising the needs of employees is not only the right thing to do, but the key to a successful and happy business.

Office Principles design director, Jo Jenkinson hosted the latest webinar in our series, which explored the current picture of health and wellbeing in the workplace and how employee support can be enhanced.

Jo was joined by two specialists who discussed the proven link between mental health and productivity, as well as the use of sensory stimuli to upgrade the work environment.

The speakers were:

  • Harry Bliss – co-founder & CEO of Champion Health, a workplace health platform operating in 60 countries which uses data, engagement and insight to empower employee wellbeing.
  • Nathan Hurley – research & insight manager at Orangebox, a design company who specialise in manufacturing furniture solutions for contemporary workplace and hospitality environments.
  • Jo Jenkinson – design director at Office Principles, the UK’s leading interior design consultancy.

Better wellbeing engenders happier, high-performing employees

It was after a friend and mentor took his own life due to workplace stress that Harry Bliss became unreservedly dedicated to changing and saving lives through his organisation, Champion Health.

In January 2022, the expert-led company published a report revealing 1 in 12 employees are currently experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

Their findings also indicated that 58 percent of employees experience anxiety and 21 percent regard poor mental health as having an impact on their productivity.

“Many people think their employees are disengaged with wellbeing but for me they are not – 90 percent of employees want to make changes to their wellbeing, they are just not being provided with the right tools, the right platform, and the right messaging,” said Harry.

Yet amid the negative findings, Champion Health’s research discovered a “huge correlation” between positive mental wellbeing and performance.

This was shown not just through increased productivity but through increased sales, more creativity within the marketing department, reduced absenteeism and reduced staff turnover.

But this can only be achieved through a robust wellbeing strategy, said Harry.

Such procedures should begin with senior leadership and filter down to the baseline workforce; policies should reflect the wants, opinions and needs of employees and be congruent with actions taken.

The Champion Health CEO determined three approaches to begin improving workplace wellbeing. These are:

  1. Carry out an audit or index to identify your services and what policies and procedures you have in place – for instance, does your organisation have a menopause policy, an absence policy or bullying and harassment policy?
  2. Analyse your organisational data, such as staff turnover data and absence data as well as gathering proactive data through engagement surveys to see what you do well and where the gaps are.
  3. Listen to employees and understand what they require in the work environment. Including them in decision making is crucial, as they will be impacted by changes.

“Those organisations that are truly investing in their employees are the ones that are absolutely flying at the moment, not just in terms of recruitment and retention but also business performance too,” Harry clarified.

“The ones that get it right are the ones who really walk the walk and don’t talk the talk.”

Sensory stimulation sparks superior productivity

From the scent of citrus fruit to the diversification of office spaces, sensory ergonomics is a powerful means of bettering workplace wellbeing, explained Nathan Hurley of Orangebox.

In the average workplace, light, temperature and airflow are all maintained at one constant level.

Yet as humans, we thrive on the phenomenon of alliesthesia, relishing sensory stimuli across our working day and lives.

High-performing workplaces in particular should be offering different environments and stimuli, said Nathan.

“The fragrance of citrus has been proven to improve productivity and jasmine can calm, restore, and lower the heart rate, and therefore reduce anxiety.”

Privacy and a “plethora of different room settings” were also noted by the Orangebox research & insight manager as pivotal contributors to wellbeing – focus should be on fitness-centred design over “battery hen type working”.

A combination of convivial and secluded spaces is best for optimal working.

Noise pollution was revealed by Nathan as the number one peeve of office workers across most surveys, so private areas offer a place away from distraction.

In providing varied, multi-stimuli environments, workplaces become more attractive to employees who have adapted to working remotely over the past couple of years.

In a nation where wellbeing remains high on the mandate for employees, Nathan stressed it is essential for organisations to go beyond the bare minimum to meet the expectations of their workforce.

“We need to flip the office from being the health problem to being the wellness solution and we need to do that really quickly.”

Senior leadership is the key to workplace happiness

Despite the UK leading the way on mental wellbeing across the 60 countries Champion Health works in, there is still a long way to go.

In part, this could be due to the UK’s stiff upper lip mentality and pervasive mental health stigma; toxic masculinity is one of the big reasons male suicide is three times higher than females, Nathan said.

Fundamental to the generation of healthy workplace wellbeing everywhere in the future will be the engagement of senior leadership within organisations.

Without their input, Harry predicts leaders may find teams aren’t as productive, members will resign and employment of a new generation of keen workers who want to look after their mental wellbeing will be nigh impossible.

“A lot of senior leaders that I talk to are very similar to my friend and mentor and that story resonates with them. That is something which is really important for them to realise that they aren’t bulletproof either. We all have mental health, all of the time and we need to nourish it and take care of it,” Harry said.

According to the Champion Health CEO, senior leaders can be shown the need for wellbeing strategies through legally mandatory stress risk assessments, qualitative data and the positive impact wellbeing has upon business development.

From Nathan’s perspective, a multigenerational approach to wellbeing is a key consideration for senior leaders.

Orangebox surveys have revealed younger employees want their managers to be more supportive.

However, Nathan said it was just as important for reverse mentoring to be practised so that information is not exclusively trickling from the top down.

Moving from a hierarchy to more integrated structures means everyone can reap the benefits from a stronger connection to the organisation as a whole.

“Over the last two years we have got a sense of these more novel moments of home that actually start to rebalance us a little bit,” said Nathan.

“Skipping a commute means that I get a healthier breakfast. I get to see a friend for lunch or go to the gym class that I never made before. We are all a bit more in tune with how we like to work.”

Harry Bliss

Co-founder & CEO

Champion Health

Nathan Hurley

Research and Insight Manager


Jo Jenkinson

Design Director

Office Principles