Monique Frings-Dresen (1952) is Professor and was Principal Investigator in ‘Occupational Health and Medicine’ and former director of the Coronel Institute of Occupational Health at the Amsterdam UMC (AMC). She is specialized in occupational diseases and their preventive means with a focus on work-related musculoskeletal diseases and mental disorders. We visit her in her office at the AMC hospital, where the Coronel Institute is based.
The concept of well-being must be hard to quantify. As a researcher, which methods do you use to measure well-being and happiness in the workspace?
“What is very important to understand is that well-being can continuously vary. I often use a happiness/satisfaction scale, where I ask employees to plot themselves on horizontal bars across different variables. These variables help to discover the underlying problems in the working space. To get a realistic understanding of well-being at work, measuring-inquiries should be taken several times a year.”
(See diagram for the happiness/satisfaction scale.)
What elements have you found that decrease well-being and performance at work?
“The main medical complaints of today’s working landscape involve burn-outs, and pains in the neck, shoulders, and wrists. To increase well-being at work, it is important to take these complaints into account and solve them. There are a couple of factors that cause malfunctioning and increase stress in the workspace: colleagues, interior (for example the lack of natural light and air-conditioning) and the misfit between tasks and spaces. A lot of the daily stress factors at work can be tackled by implementing small changes. Examples are setting a ‘mindset’ every morning by letting employees share how they feel to prevent miscommunication later that day, or by allowing them to move between tasks and work areas.”
Besides reducing stress, what are other advantages of investing in well-being at work?
“Investing in well-being offers a real financial benefit for employers. By increasing happiness/satisfaction levels across the team, more people become positively engaged to the company. If that is the case, fewer people change jobs withholding all knowledge within the company. Less money is spent on recruitment and education, increasing overall productivity in the organization.”
What aspects should we pay attention to if we want to increase the well-being in the workplace?
“Change and variety are significant for creating a healthy workspace. For example: routine-tasks are best performed in spaces with arousal, while people perform new tasks or challenging tasks better in silence. It is important that the working landscape facilitates change. These changes do not need to be limited to the interior. Host a thematic food week or have a
challenge to exercise for one minute after every half an hour of desk work – engage employees to come up with their own ideas to contribute to improving well-being at work.”
What are your hopes for the future of work?
“For me, the ideal working space offers a range of different working options. There are open spaces that facilitate interactions and closed spaces that foster concentration. Whether you prefer to work standing up or sitting down, there is an ideal place for everyone. The office is lit by both natural and artificial light, that changes from atmospheric to broad daylight. The ideal workspace doesn’t just offer a flexible workspace, it also offers an open work culture, where management is part of the team and doesn’t lead by a top-down approach.”
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