AECOM urges organisations to “detoxify” their work environments to improve employee wellbeing

London – 10 January 2017 –“Toxic” workplaces are jeopardising employee wellbeing, leading to poor productivity, long-term sickness and ultimately impacting staff recruitment and retention, according to AECOM. While most responsible organisations recognise the importance of keeping their employees safe, the same focus is not currently given to wellness. Organisations that do not prioritise employee wellness and design their workplaces accordingly will lose talent and potentially face bottom line repercussions, AECOM argues.


With 9.9 million working days lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in Great Britain in 2014/151, employees’ health and happiness can have a direct impact on business performance. Making improvements to the physical environment can help organisations create spaces and working cultures that encourage creativity, support wellbeing and increase job satisfaction.

Nicola Gillen, Global Practice Lead – Strategy+, AECOM, said: “The link between employee wellbeing and the built environment must not be overlooked in the drive to increase efficiency and the bottom line. Redesigning and reimagining the workplace to better support how work is done now and in the future not only enhances wellbeing, it also improves performance and productivity. With four generations occupying the same space, it is important the physical environment meets their different working styles.”


AECOM is therefore urging organisations to “detoxify” their workplaces to increase employees’ wellbeing and reap the associated benefits. The company has identified five key steps organisations should take to rethink their physical environment to improve employee wellbeing:

Reduce internal pollutants Invisible toxins inside offices can have a profound impact on how our bodies function. Reducing toxins within the built environment requires a multi-faceted approach. Companies should consider sustainable materials specification during building design. Sourcing furniture, fixtures and fittings, including paint, with low levels of contaminants called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can also help reduce toxicity. Consideration should also be given to air filtration standards, proper ventilation and operational policies such as green cleaning, each of which can have an impact.

Establish team neighbourhoods within offices that facilitate different working styles Create spaces for teams and departments so employees can work alone and collaborate, according to their changing needs and personal preferences. Neighbourhoods can be allocated to teams so that they work both as knowledge-sharing and social spaces, with a combination of workstations, meeting rooms and collaborative spaces. Agile working and desk sharing in a neighbourhood-based environment works well for most people and is better for the employee than traditional hot-desking.

Reflect the natural world in the built environment with biophilia Increasingly, studies are linking greater affinity to the natural world with decreased stress and enhanced mental wellbeing. Companies can achieve biophilic elements in design by integrating nature’s patterns, colours and materials or by incorporating natural features. Incorporating plants into the workplace, for instance, is an effective way to reduce toxins. Researchers at Cardiff University found that offices incorporating natural elements experienced a 15 percent increase in output among employees after three months.

Use data to design, prepare and measure high performance Explore the possibilities of using data to assess health and wellbeing risks within organisations. Use data to drive a change management approach – changing behaviours is far more impactful than changing space. People costs account for much more of an organisation’s annual spend and value generation than real estate costs. Track improvements using data, benchmarking or building assessment methodologies like the WELL Building Standard™ (WELL) to demonstrate performance. Data gives organisations the power to initiate change, communicate and market business insights.

Recognise that wellness goes beyond the built environment The health and wellbeing of a building’s occupants depend on a holistic, integrated understanding of potential impacts that influence health in the workplace. Job demand, content, resources, and level of autonomy can all influence occupant wellbeing for example. Companies that are interested in positive change need to commit to examining organisational policy, prioritise desired outcomes and initiate a successful change management process.


Case Study: AECOM’s UK Headquarters, Aldgate Tower, London

Designed by an in-house team, comprising workplace strategy experts, interior designers, building engineers, cost and project management consultants and sustainability experts, AECOM’s new UK headquarters put employees’ working requirements at the heart of the design process.

Designing for employee wellbeing

Teams and departments sit in designated neighbourhoods, with work stations, collaborative project spaces, quiet rooms and meeting rooms forming flexible and dynamic spaces. A quarter of workstations can be used in either a seated or standing position.

A sustainable environment free of toxins

Office fit-outs can introduce a range of toxins into the internal environment through microbial contamination of the ductwork and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the furniture, fittings and cleaning products. AECOM’s designers used SKA criteria to methodically select finishes, furniture and fittings with low VOCs to avoid contaminants.

Employee feedback

Transparency, collaboration and equality are all reinforced through the office design, with the workspace structured to eliminate silos and encourage creativity and innovation. Employees have responded well to the new office, reporting higher levels of collaboration and increased opportunities to connect with colleagues across different disciplines and functions. The office serves as a canvas for AECOM’s brand and values, enabling employees to showcase their projects and ideas. Photography, images, models and designs around the building tell the story of what the company does and convey AECOM’s vision of delivering a better world.


Notes to editors:


1 Health and Safety Executive

2 Biophilic Design in the Workplace, Human Spaces, 2015


About AECOM AECOM is built to deliver a better world. We design, build, finance and operate infrastructure assets for governments, businesses and organisations in more than 150 countries. As a fully integrated firm, we connect knowledge and experience across our global network of experts to help clients solve their most complex challenges. From high-performance buildings and infrastructure, to resilient communities and environments, to stable and secure nations, our work is transformative, differentiated and vital. A Fortune 500 firm, AECOM companies had revenue of approximately $17.4 billion during the 12 months ended September 30, 2016. See how we deliver what others can only imagine at and @AECOM.