Making meaningful changes to the physical workplace can improve wellbeing

A recently published study shows a healthier physical work environment makes for happier workers

Kevin Cheung

You and your staff spend the majority of your days in an office. It follows that workplace environment is a significant factor in one’s mental wellbeing., but ignoring environmental factors in the office can be more costly than you realize.

Decreased productivity, increased sick days, and general dissatisfaction with work can all be symptoms of an office space that is not working. Making meaningful changes to the workplace environment requires an understanding of what areas most affect staff wellness.

A recent Future Workplace Wellness Study of corporate offices across the United States and Canada, by View, Inc. and Future Workplace LLC, highlighted the correlation between a workplace environment and employee wellness. Temperature, access to natural light, air quality, and noise levels were key areas of dissatisfaction. These areas were ranked more important than fitness facilities, technology-based health tools, and access to healthy food choices.

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Almost half of the respondents felt their companies could improve wellness by providing fresh and allergen-free air. Poor air quality was cited as increasing fatigue and discomfort due to irritants in the air. Solutions to poor air quality can range from air filters to no-fragrance policies to bringing in plants. In addition to enhancing air quality, plants can have a beautifying and calming effect, and can add an organic feel to a sterile workspace.

 A view of the outdoors and comfortable lighting was noted as important to daily health. More natural lighting can reduce eyestrain and headaches, improve mood, and create a more inviting office. If there is no ability to access outdoor lighting, consider offering warm lights at workstations.  

About two thirds of respondents were not satisfied with office temperature. While this is sometimes solved with personal heaters or fans, ideally one would be able to control the temperature for their workspace otherwise. 

Irritating noise includes co-worker conversations, ringing phones, the sound of typing on keyboards, and heating and cooling systems, which can all serve as distractions that interrupt concentration. If noise is a problem in the office that cannot be effectively reduced, consider offering a quiet room that allows an escape from the noise.

The ability to personalize the office was emphasized in the Future Workplace Wellness Study as the highest rated factor in terms of wellness for employees. To a great extent, employees have come to expect permission to personalize their workspace. The study found that the ability to personalize workspace was more important than having a pet-friendly or unlimited vacation policy. Personalization goes beyond putting pictures of family at the workstation, though. Ideally,  it includes the ability to control temperature and light settings, acoustics, and areas of an office that are frequent sources of environmental dissatisfaction.

Making staff feel as comfortable as possible in the work environment goes a long way to maximizing the opportunity to improve office wellness. Take some time to sit down with your staff to brainstorm what an ideal workspace would look like for them. Involving staff in the process of creating an ideal workspace can help you easily target meaningful areas of improvement. From a no-fragrance policy, lighting at workstations, to investing in quieter keyboards, soliciting your staff’s input is the best way to creating a tailored workspace that works for your office, and reduces barriers to productivity.

Talking to your employees might also reveal some surprises in terms of your current allocation of resources. The perks or benefits you are currently investing in may not be of highest importance to your staff. For example, you might be offering your staff a gym membership when they have minimal interest in this. You might be paying a portion of their phone bill without any direct benefit to office wellness and productivity. And you might be paying for staff parking when many employees do not drive. The funds for unused perks may be better allocated to things like ergonomic office assessments, air filters, plants, artwork, and more. 

Once you have started the process of improving the workplace environment, be sure to monitor whether the investments are having the desired impact on wellness and staff satisfaction. Check in with staff periodically to see if the improvements are working. Compare absenteeism pre- and post-improvement, and track whether there is an increase in billable work being performed.        

Smart investing in the office environment can result in solid returns. Increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, and the overall happiness of your staff are benefits of an office environment that considers the needs of the people who spend the most time there.

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