Evidence keeps piling up that healthy workplaces produce big benefits for employers. Studies show offices and other work areas designed to enhance worker health and wellness not only reduce employee absences and reported illnesses, but also improve productivity and help to attract and retain employees.
Results differ, however, depending on the variety and extent of the changes. Designers and their clients need to be aware of which strategies will likely have the greatest impact.
Modifications and improvements that impact employee health and wellness tend to fall into one of two categories. One is what we might call “healthy.” These are factors that can be controlled to prevent employee illness and injury.
Among those shown to be effective are:
- increased daylight
- elimination of toxins, allergens, and other substances that affect indoor air quality
- reducing environmental noise
- use of natural materials
- switching to more ergonomic furniture
Post-occupancy studies of buildings that incorporate these elements have found reduced levels of employee work-related illness, injury, and absenteeism. A recent article on the website Phys.org reports that there is some evidence people are happier in these buildings, which in turn can increase worker productivity and, potentially, customer satisfaction.
The other group consists of enhancements we might call “healthful.” These include active design strategies, such as providing employees with sit-stand desks, encouraging the use of stairs instead of elevators and adding areas for physical recreation.
Offering a variety of work environments, from open and collaborative spaces to private, quite spaces, also encourages employees to move around more during the day and to reduce their overall sitting time. Such environments also encourage more employee socialization, which has been shown to improve mood, reduce stress, and increase retention.
Experts consulted for an article in The Guardian say taking such steps to improve employees’ physical and mental health can cause productivity to “go through the roof.” In one instance, changes implemented during a retrofit “resulted in annual energy savings of about $20,000, but the 6.2 percent improvement in perceived productivity was equivalent to $300,000 in salary costs.”
In a survey conducted last summer by Work Design Magazine and CORT furniture, 81 percent of respondents said the workplace environment is important to attracting top talent, and two-thirds (67 percent) had undertaken changes to their office spaces to make them more competitive and attractive to talent, such as increasing the variety of work spaces.
Yet many of these employers had done little to improve the overall health and wellness of their offices, other than switch to more ergonomic furniture. Nearly 9 in 10 (88 percent) said ergonomic considerations influenced their furniture choices and overall office design. And nearly two-thirds (64 percent) said they would be willing to spend an additional 5 percent to purchase ergonomic furniture.
At the time of the survey, however, only 20 percent had made adjustments in their offices to improve employee health and wellness, suggesting that employers are not yet fully aware of benefits to be gained from doing so.
How effective these changes are depends on how they are integrated into the overall work environment. Combining both healthy and healthful improvements will produce more positive results, provided certain other conditions are met. Employees are happiest and less distracted when they have some degree of personal control over their work environment.
In addition, employees must feel confident that the work culture supports their moving to different work locations during the day and, if applicable, taking time out for nonwork-related physical activity. Perceiving that their employer shows concern for their health and well being, through the physical environment and company policy, provides the greatest boost to employee happiness and, thus, productivity.
About the Author
Michael J. Berens is a freelance researcher and writer with more than 30 years of experience in association communication and management. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was provide by Multibriefs.