How to dodge the sick building syndrome bullet

7 minutes read

It’s 2022, and your daily routine is much the same as it has been for the last couple years. Your office job takes up a big chunk of each day, and by the afternoon you often have a headache and a bit of a sore throat. It makes it hard to concentrate by the time you’re ready to head out, but as soon as you get back to your home you start feeling better and end up thinking nothing of it.

Nonetheless, it keeps coming back. In a few weeks, when you start to develop a cough at the office, it hits you: this all started when you moved to that new office a few months ago. 

This little story is an accurate take on what dealing with sick building syndrome can be like for workers everywhere. Knowing that your building makes you physically ill while you are at work is a reality for many thousands of workers all over the world, and it can lead to decreased concentration, lower job satisfaction, and diminished productivity. 

The symptoms that lead to sick building syndrome come from a wide range of sources, many of which come down to Indoor Air Quality (IAQ).

In the era of ESG and wellness, a property that makes its occupiers physically unwell is about as great of a cardinal sin as you could imagine. So much for better occupier experience, boosting retention with yoga classes, and demonstrating value to your occupiers. When a building directly causes its occupiers illness, the rest of those things are just pipedreams. 

The symptoms that lead to sick building syndrome come from a wide range of sources, many of which come down to Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). The offgassing of materials like plywood and carpets, where chemicals like formaldehyde seep out of these things over time, was a frequent cause in the last century, but other causes include fumes from heating, smoke or dust, allergens, exposure to cleaning chemicals, non-certified furniture and glues used in it, volatile organic compounds, and even, as the British National Health Service points out, improperly bright lights. Increasingly, according to WebMD, it’s biological elements like mold and bacteria that cause sick building syndrome. 

The best time to address these issues is early in the building process. Ensuring that the right materials like low-emission paints are used and that adequate ventilation is built into building design is easiest to ensure during planning and construction. Regardless of that fact, it is nonetheless still possible for property owners to prevent sick building syndrome from negatively impacting their properties and occupiers. Here are a few strategies.

Increasingly, according to WebMD, it’s biological elements like mold and bacteria that cause sick building syndrome.

Get WELL Certified

WELL Building Certification is a comprehensive property certification program that rewards properties with various levels of certification for attaining and maintaining various standards of sustainable, effective, wellness-focused operations and construction. Getting certified with WELL is a great shortcut to ensuring that your property is proofed against sick building syndrome. We recently published a two-part article series focusing on helping property firms get WELL certified. Check it out!

Perform a self-assessment

Although a certification like WELL serves as a useful way to organize all of a building’s wellness considerations in a widely respected and well-organized (sorry for the pun) method, with the reward of certification at the end, it is also comparatively expensive and time consuming compared to doing an inventory yourself. Such a self-assessment should consider the full scope of factors that could contribute to sick building syndrome:

  • Ventilation: Is your building adequately ventilated, particularly in rooms where people spend long periods of time? If your HVAC system is insufficient for building use, could you easily add fans to make up part of the difference?
  • Harmful chemicals: Is there any chance that the materials in your building are offgassing? Do your cleaning protocols result in excess exposure for occupiers?
  • Is your IAQ situation otherwise in good order? Is filtration sufficient, or do components need servicing or replacement.

Listen to your occupiers

Finally, listen to what your occupiers say. This is easier said than done. Many buildings do not provide an efficient way for the feedback of individual employees to bubble up to building ownership. Typically, employees will speak to their managers or office managers, who then speak with your management team. But there is a lot of room for miscommunication or improperly expressed issues there. 

A more effective communication system that decreases the number of middle men would boost effectiveness of feedback collection in such a scenario. Spaceflow has a native communication feature that would make something like a complaint about sick building syndrome easy to lodge and equally simple to respond to. 

Sick building syndrome is a big problem but it doesn’t need to cause challenges for your company. With these tips, we hope you’ll be more prepared to face the challenge head on and avoid the negative possible outcomes arising from the issue.

11. February 2022
7 minutes read


Join the Spaceflow community! Get the newest insights & articles on tenant experience and more in your mailbox.