There are links between employee health and aspects of the physical environment at work, such as ergonomic furniture, indoor air quality and lighting. Aside from the potential decrease of sick absence, improvements of the physical environment can increase satisfaction at work and make your colleagues more productive.
Here are 6 steps to get you on the right track when creating a healthy work environment.
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Sometimes less is less. The time has passed when offices were supposed to be as minimalistic as possible. Research shows that people are happier and more productive with house plants within sight from their workstation. “If you are working in an environment where there's something to get you psychologically engaged you are happier and you work better”, according to Dr Chris Knight, who has been studying the subject for 10 years. He adds that other things could have the same effect as plants, like photographs or art. The researchers Waliczek Lohr and Zaijeckn Lineberger claims workers in environments with plants experienced lower levels of stress.
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Except for increasing the risk of premature death, bad sitting also causes musculoskeletal disorders, leading to less productivity and more sick leave. Promoting active breaks and introducing sit-stand desks is a positive step, but what about all the time people actually have to sit?
Human-centred workstations will keep employees healthier, happier and more productive. A study made by Angela Kennedy Miles in 2000 indicated that the investment in ergonomic tables and chairs for workers resulted in a 5-month payback time, in terms of increased productivity.
Hard time focusing? Struggling against sleep in front of the laptop? Everyone has been there. Workers energy levels often drops at some points during the day. The number one solution to this by far is refilling that coffee cup or trying to boost yourself with something sugary. Unfortunately this isn’t boosting your health at the same time.
Lack of water is the greatest source of fatigue, which makes it important to provide employees with easy access to high quality filtered water. Replace unhealthy alternatives in the vending machines or in the cafe with healthy snacks and provide baskets of fruits and vegetable to give your colleagues a better chance of boosting their energy levels in a healthy and more effective way.
Clean air is critical to our health. Air pollution is the number one environmental cause of premature mortality, which leads to 50,000 premature deaths annually in the United States and around 7 million premature deaths globally according to the International Well building institute. Even distant sources of pollution have a huge impact on the large amount of air we breathe in every day.
With poor ventilated buildings this will also affect our indoor air quality and health. Poor ventilation will also expose us more to volatile organic compounds (VOCs), that are chemicals released from products we use to build and maintain our homes, and microbial pathogens, that causes infections.
Many businesses don’t realize that air filled with VOCs is one of the leading causes of absenteeism at work.
A 2009 Michigan State study found that LEED design buildings (a popular green certification program for buildings), which also tend to filter and circulate air much more, reduced absenteeism by 50 %. Workers in these buildings were less likely to be affected by asthma and other respiratory illnesses and reported less depression and stress.
Air with high levels of CO2 causes drowsiness and general lethargy. Bad air quality can also reduce productivity and cause sick building syndrome (SBS), where acute health effects are linked to time spent in a building.
To keep the air as healthy as possible at your workplace make sure that the air is ventilated and filtered properly and allow natural air into the workplace when it’s possible.
The acoustics in a workplace plays a critical role in productivity and comfort. Researchers Robert Karasek and Lowel Tøres Theorell have discovered that constant background noise disrupts learning, leads to fatigue and also increases stress hormones – therefor quite bad for workers health.
Not only is too much noise harmful, but too little also has it's consequences. If you work in total silence, the smallest noises become a distraction. Conversely, a loud and hectic environment can become overbearing. It is widely thought that having a background noise similar to what is found in cafés is optimal for a productive workplace.
Try to use surfaces that absorbs sounds, use partition walls in open office landscapes and provide areas where workers can speak with each other or take phone calls without disturbing others.
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Architectonic details can have symbolic meaning that affect people emotionally. Things like colours, decorations, artwork or other design details can all contribute to employees wellbeing, according to Environmental Psychologist Jacqueline C. Vischer. With interior design you can also strengthen a workplace team spirit by using company colours or key landmark elements.
Encourage employees to personalize the environment, or at least their own desk. Vischer writes that interior details are likely to affect emotions in a way that makes people better at coping with workspace stress.