Workplace wellness has customarily been an overarching term. It can signify various things to different people and be adhered to in a variety of ways. In recent years, the increased focus and education involving mental and physical health have provoked a rethinking of what the ideal work set-up should entail.
The holistic belief that a pleasant operating environment creates productive employees has prevailed as companies have looked at keeping their most precious assets engaged, positive and focused.
It goes without saying the matter of a global pandemic has added to the physical and mental health concerns within a work setting. This, says Fellowes Brands Head of European Marketing – Workplace Health Solutions, Louise Shipley, has had a transformational impact on the workplace and workforce. “How, where, and the length of time we work for affects the way we feel and perform. Now, with extra burdens to cope with such as rising energy and living costs, staying energised, healthy and productive is essential.
“Peak performance can only be achieved by those in the right frame of mind and level of wellness to focus on the task or project at hand. Today’s employees expect help and support, and those organisations prioritising health and well-being, along with working flexibility, will be the real winners in attracting and retaining top talent,” she adds. (Read Backchat for more of Shipley’s views on wellness in the workplace).
Mitigating risk factors
Nowadays – thanks to COVID – part of keeping staff happy and healthy revolves around cleanliness in the working environment. Employees have become increasingly savvy when it comes to awareness of keeping the transmission of germs low – on surfaces and circulating in the air – and expect their employers to provide peace of mind in this respect.
Says Anna Königson Koopmans, Marketing Director Commercial for Essity’s professional hygiene business: “It is becoming evident that cleanliness and sanitation in the workplace are no longer just a matter of pleasantry, but represent a vital factor for productivity. There are increased hygiene risks than before as workspaces become open plan and staff are back to socialising and sharing facilities and technology.”
As the home of professional brand Tork, Essity knows that, by implementing an on-site hygiene programme, employers can reduce sick days and address cleanliness concerns. A comprehensive study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine demonstrated that executing the correct sanitation and disinfection strategy can decrease the amount of sick leave by over 20%.
This, in turn, helps to simultaneously lower worry as well as improve morale and the attitude staff have towards their place of work.
It’s all about the mindset
One manufacturer at the core of ensuring workplaces are kept clean is AF International. The company harbours no doubt about the effect COVID has had on altering the wellness mindset. AF Brand Manager Margaux Lefaucheux explains: “We can clearly see the modifications required during the pandemic: the schedule adjustments, so staff didn’t crowd into the same space; the hasty modifications in office design; and the work-from-home options.
“Following the return to normality, many businesses realised some of the necessary changes over the past few years could deliver real benefits for managing the company’s human resources. Post-pandemic wellness at work means fostering a healthy, comfortable and happy environment in which people feel safe and confident to talk about any essential arrangements.”
This latter point is fundamental. Well-being is now firmly on the agenda and organisations simply cannot afford to overlook it, or disregard employee concerns should they be raised.
Indeed, as Essity has noticed, improving cleanliness without impairing operational efficiency has become the priority for facilities managers and commercial building cleaning companies.
Koopmans notes that no matter the industry, caring for the health of employees and visitors is key to long-term success. “Shared space means shared hygiene. Facilities managers need to provide the appropriate equipment and conveniently accessible products to institute a high standard of personal health within the work setting,” she adds.
This is to be celebrated as something constructive to come out of the COVID-19 crisis since we are becoming increasingly conscientious about our own well-being and that of those around us. Says Lefaucheux: “Health and safety has never been more critical. It’s well-known that a clean space is synonymous with wellness.
“Consequently, there are substantially more jan/san products available for staff to use. Education has proven vital, not just around hygiene, but how to clean effectively for the benefit of all.”
She also believes having the advantage of rethinking the office layout represents an opportunity, as many traditional workspaces were not designed with employee well-being in mind.
The current redesigning of offices and other areas includes a heavy focus on healthier spaces for the workforce. Becoming part and parcel of the modernised workspace are air purification systems and ergonomic equipment. Once a source of ancillary revenue for dealers, these two categories are presently at the forefront of growth.
The coronavirus crisis certainly highlighted the importance of dealing with airborne bacteria and viruses in closed environments. Companies such as Fellowes Brands, Renz and ACCO Brands have all seen sales of air purifiers skyrocket.
Even as the prevalence of COVID subsides, there are plenty of reasons to increase air quality at home and in the workplace, as ACCO Brands Regional Marketing Director UK & Ireland Elisabete Wells explains: “In the winter, airborne illnesses such as the flu thrive. However, cold and damp weather means it isn’t always possible to open a window to allow in fresh air.
“Expect to see customers and employers looking into solutions to clean the air in their spaces. Air purifiers are excellent well-being tools often overlooked. They’re plug and play, non-disruptive, and offer some wonderful benefits for respiratory health.”
The implications of sedentary office work are well-documented, with ergonomic furniture and accessories sales already rising before 2020. The impact of lockdowns – with staff forced to work from home, often in less-than-ideal working conditions – has shifted ergonomic set-ups from ‘nice-to-have’ to ‘must-have’.
According to Health and Safety Executive statistics, 72,000 individuals recently reported a musculoskeletal disorder directly caused or exacerbated by the pandemic. Furthermore, recent ONS data indicate a 31% growth in the number of people who have dropped out of work because of back and neck problems.
Fellowes Brands’ Shipley says the rise in remote working has delivered many advantages for employees, including a greater work-life balance and a reduction in stressful commutes. But, she notes, it isn’t without its challenges – namely, overworking and the physical impact of unergonomic home offices.
She comments: “Despite employers’ responsibilities to provide comfortable homeworking set-ups, many aren’t complying with their obligations. However, they are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.”
Wells supports the sentiment: “Ergonomic accessories make working from home much more comfortable for people still set up at dining tables or on sofas and can help prevent discomfort and misalignment. Poor positioning when doing desk work has been linked to numerous serious health and bodily issues, so combatting those is a priority for both employers and employees.
“Desktop peripherals like laptop risers, computer mice, keyboards, monitor arms, backrests, and footrests should be essentials for everyone. These tools are massively beneficial for preventing aches and pains and promoting proper body alignment when working.”
Mark Powell, ACCO Brands Manager & Account Manager at wholesaler JGBM, agrees that a healthier workforce is more important than ever in the post-pandemic world: “As employees settle into hybrid arrangements, the idea of wellness spans locations and includes both mental and physical well-being. They need to look after themselves on both their remote and on-site days and require the proper products to do this.”
With the current trend towards increased wellness in all its forms in the workplace, dealers need to ensure solutions are available for all staff – wherever they happen to be.
Wells concurs that dealers shouldn’t solely focus on the office environment, as most people have two working spaces nowadays. She notes that while both might require the same types of products, they may differ in size, design, colour and weight.
“Dealers should be catering to customers’ needs across all locations and helping to tailor the appropriate solutions for each workspace. This offers an additional chance to target the facilities managers and those responsible for purchasing the equipment, as well as the homeworker. It also means double the opportunity for increased growth and margins.”
Fortunately, wholesalers, manufacturers and dealer groups are offering as much help as possible to provide the necessary tools to be successful. Support includes marketing assistance, free hygiene consultations, identifying opportunities to improve cleaning quality and introducing ergonomic and air purification solutions to help meet the needs of dealers and their customers.
JGBM, for example, has its award-winning ‘Supercharged Partner Programme’ with free online training across the various categories of products it offers, as well as an ‘Intelligent Street Price’ to enable dealers to be competitive in selling business supplies.
Sustainability is rapidly becoming a major component of health and well-being, with employees expecting companies to do better. A recent Tork Eco Office Survey revealed 84% of respondents wanted a more environmentally friendly setting, 78% think their employer could make a greater effort to transform the office into an eco-friendly place, while 43% are now more aware of how ‘green’ their workplace is than before the pandemic.
It’s a time of opportunity and the entire business supplies sector has a chance to play a role in creating healthier and more sustainable workspaces.
The drying game
We know keeping hands clean is a key component of preventing the spread of germs in the work environment and that effective hand drying is essential to a good hygiene regime.
Dyson has focused on tackling this vital area of workplace wellness, as Lead Scientist Dr Salome Giao explains: “Effective hand drying is key to ensuring clean hands stay clean – if it doesn’t happen, there are hygiene risks. It is known that wet hands can pick up more bacteria than dry ones.
“Likewise, damp hands can transfer up to 1,000 times more bacteria than dry ones, while wiping them on clothes can add bacteria to washed hands if the clothes aren’t clean.”
A typical office washroom will usually offer one of two hand drying options – electric dryers or paper towels. Depending on who you speak to and on which side of the fence they stand, both options have pros and cons.
Hygiene matters can arise from warm air dryers due to design issues such as physical buttons, long dry times, and other technological limitations. Meanwhile, the classic paper towel comes with concerns around sustainability and doesn’t necessarily fit with modern ideas of corporate social responsibility.
Research published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology compared paper towels, a warm air dryer and a jet air dryer, for their potential to disperse viruses and contaminate the immediate environment during use.
The study found that jet air dryers produced “significantly greater virus dispersal” compared to warm air dryers and paper towels at different heights and distances.
While the debate still rages over which drying method is best, the bottom line is that thoroughly and properly washed hands will minimise the spreading of germs.