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Takeaways – Wellbeing & Economics Event (Jan 2018)

On 24th January, Elina Grigoriou, Simon Rubinsohn and Jonathan Schifferes got together to discuss ‘Wellbeing and Economics – How to make strategic value-based decisions’ and these are our takeaways:

Simon Rubinsohn, Chief Economist at RICS very honestly opened the session acknowledging that he does not consider himself that knowledgeable on the concept of wellbeing, yet very aware of it and that it is ‘on the agenda’ policy wise too. Key points and messages Simon shared are:

  • Policy makers think of wellbeing in a bit of an abstract way and are not close to having a core focal point for policy actions.
  • Wellbeing on the Davos talks ‘horizon’ …
  • Looking at the global and country ranking reports, when all other factors are taken into account, a country’s ranking is not much different to the ranking where only the ‘crude’ economic/GDP ranking is considered.
  • As an economist, he is interested in broader concepts rather than detail, but if looking at the more specifics, wellbeing is subjective when related to corporates, according to research released last year.
  • A lot more work needs to be done to encourage property valuers to think what drives value but also the research needs to be done to support them.
  • We all have a feel about what a good place to work feels like and the outcomes it is likely to encourage.

Jonathan Schifferes, Interim Director – Public Services and Communities at RSA (Royal Society of Arts) shared the following thoughts in his opening remarks:

  • Money’s relationship to the broader value of wellbeing is partial; the social value is experiential, its like ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. It is difficult to measure but emerging ways keep coming out on how to measure it.
  • However, measurement is not the biggest problem; it is looking after our wellbeing and doing actions for it where we have the challenge.
  • We place a huge premium for garden space because we know that if we sell a house with a garden, other people will pay a lot for that garden.
  • He would encourage the build environment professionals to read more anthropological and sociological research to get informed on the behavioural biases.
  • We all take social value into account in our day to day decisions and financial value: how much we value them each time is what varies.
  • Thinking in systems is the thing we need to do. Instead of: ‘Why is my local book shop more expensive than Amazon’ we should ask ‘Why is Amazon so cheap’? Why does everyone have to pay for a business to have free parking? Where do costs show up in the system?
  • We have to recognise that we won’t be successful in integrating wellbeing valuation if we use ‘pretend economics’ for everything.
  • We need to broaden our perspective on value, especially if we want to create it for the longer term.
  • St Christopher’s place was never designed by anyone; it was just space left in between buildings but it has become very valuable as its a lovely environment to spend time there. Observing each other, learning to coexist with strangers, people watching, looking at pigeons, looking at kids playing, all of this is the best wellbeing stuff yet we are not able to capture the value of this.
  • Paul Morrell, the govt’s Chief Construction Champion, suggested that in a 25 year life-cycle of a business, 80-90% of operating costs are staff costs with property a much lower cost, mainly for maintenance and servicing.

Elina continued from Jonathan’s thread on St Christopher’s Place and talked about the busker, Bernard, who is based there and always sings Bob Marley. Her wellbeing levels are always high walking past there, talking to him, getting a coffee, buying shoes etc… How can one measure the value of this?

She then continued with the following thoughts:

  • So far we have been creating ‘mean’ spaces. It is important to set KPI’s at the beginning of a project and measure total value. These can be:
    • do we want more interaction between staff?
    • do we want them to meet one or two new people per month? Etc.
  • Retailers know how to encourage impulsive sales because they know how people ‘tick’.
  • We want every project to add value to the people who are going to use it, yes? If we don’t say this, we are acknowledging that this project does not add value, and knowingly removes wellbeing and value from the people who are working in here….
  • Speak up in design team meetings! Don’t stay silent. Ask the questions: how do we improve people’s lives in this space? When you talk about project timelines, warrantees, costs etc. bring the subject of ‘value’ into the mix.
  • How engaged are people in the business, their role, their teams, the brand? This is measurable. It is also linked to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The way we design space will either encourage or inhibit engagement.
  • Do we really need a scientific study that has cost loads and taken 10 years to tell us that good design makes people happy?! Why do we need a triple layer financial report to include human happiness in financial growth?
  • Elina mentioned an example from a recent Wellbeing Evaluation case study we completed: the company introduced a joint breakout space for staff breaks and the difference it made when two new teams who had never previously worked together, started to use it was captured by this sentence: ‘They now know my name so if they ask me to interrupt my break to clean a spillage, I am more likely to do it now’. What does this mean to the business?  Reduction in health & safety incidents. => Value to the company: priceless.

Points from Panel Discussion between Elina, Simon and Jonathan:

  • Discussions held in higher levels are important in creating the frameworks. All these wellbeing discussions need to come together and economists like Simon are needed to bring it to the economic level and measure it. Then the conversation can filter down.
  • Macroeconomic indicators need to be critically destabilised.
  • Interior design is easy to experiment with; with engineering its not that easy.
  • The biggest resistance is the way change is managed not actually starting to talk about wellbeing and/or sustainability and seeing how to integrate it into a project. The human response to change is a massive uncovered issue that inhibits the adoption of more wellbeing into our projects.
  • LNQ housing who manage 100,000 properties have bought maintenance back in-house which not only saves money but also gives a better service which is one of their KPIs.
  • Central and Eastern Europe is working a lot more with wellbeing in mind, developers building places for the longer term with a huge emphasis on building social value.
  • We should all relax about getting the answer to quantifying health and wellbeing value. Whether a building is 18% better or 20% better for your wellbeing is academic; we need to know whether a building is a lot better for your wellbeing or not. We can definitely achieve this level of accuracy and this will help us as a society.

If you would like to know more about how to value wellbeing in your workplace or how to ensure the interior design of your space enhances people’s wellbeing, feel free to drop us a line at or call us on 0207 580 0611 and we would be delighted to help you find the right answers for your business!



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