As most people spend a large proportion of their lives at work, it may not come as a surprise that the work environment has a significant influence on overall employee wellness. Fortunately, employers and their personnel have similar incentives here, as both generally prefer the type of comfortable environment that produces happier employees, leading to greater efficiency in the workplace. Here, everyone's a winner!
The limiting factor, in this case, is mostly one of information: what do organisations need to focus on, to make this improved workplace wellness a reality?
While most conversations around this topic tend to revolve on health plans for the workforce, an upgraded break room or ergonomic chairs and desks (even sitting or standing), there are other types of modifications that can also make the difference between happy, productive employees and unsatisfied ones. These relate specifically to the kind of office space available and how it is used.
Indoors and isolated: how many workplaces fail to accommodate their employees
Most modern work environments are detached from sunlight and fresh air, although people need these natural elements to keep their bodies in internal balance. By working all day indoors and going home in the evening, there is minimal opportunity for people to be otherwise exposed to direct sunlight, however badly they need that hit of vitamin D.
In some workplaces, even the indoor lighting can be inadequate. Much of our experience of the world is taken in through the eyes, and so it is essential to ensure that light levels are visually comfortable and appealing.
Failure to achieve adequate lighting standards can have a detrimental effect on a working day for employee engagement, occasionally leading to headaches and other conditions that are likely to have an adverse impact on productivity. Better lighting is healthier on the eyes, and many believe it can also lead to more positive moods and a higher state of alertness.
Office cleanliness and ventilation are other key areas to address. A workplace that isn’t properly maintained can host alarming levels of bacteria, which in turn can increase health risk amongst employees – once again leading lower productivity as well as more sick days.
A healthier, more natural approach
Fortunately, each of the above issues can be dealt with one at a time, through a clear and focused approach.
For example, better ventilation alone has been shown to boost productivity by 11%, according to the World Green Business Council. The same organisation found that improved lighting can raise productivity by 23% – with positive effects on health and morale accompanying the increased efficiency. These are fixes and upgrades that quickly repay the cost of their investment through greater efficiency.
Regular maintenance and waste disposal efforts, along with the removal of hazardous material from the office environment, can also have a positive impact on employee health. Even regular cleaning and dust removal can improve employees’ breathing, giving their bodies extra energy to function.
The Healthy Workplace Project, a 90-day educational programme to improve overall awareness of workplace risks and hazards, was able to produce a 33% reduction in bacterial contamination in office environments. As a result, these cleaner workplaces showed a 13% decrease in employee absenteeism.
Natural lighting may prove to be a more difficult goal to reach for some office, factory and warehouse environments, but much can be done with an improved floor plan that maximises the use of light from outside. Even a simple view out the window, where nature and the outdoors can be seen, can have a positive effect on employee mental health and wellbeing.
Of course, if means are available to produce an overall increase in natural light throughout the office space, these actions should be taken. As a measure of the positive health effects of such a change, it is worth noting that absenteeism has also been reduced in some environments as a result of improved natural lighting conditions.
Healthier environments make better companies
We all depend on our bodies to carry us through life and fulfil our professional obligations. By failing to provide for the human needs of their workforce, employers may soon find that their personnel are suffering from ailments both physical and mental, which can, in turn, be costly for everybody involved.
Exposure to natural environmental features can measurably improve people’s physical experience during the work day, but other improvements can also help. The feeling of privacy, for example, let's employees relax and feel at home in their work environment, allowing them to settle in and work with reduced levels of stress and lower blood pressure, ultimately improving their quality of life.
While the work environment can play a pivotal role employee wellness, peace of mind knowing that your team are covered by an extensive group health insurance plan, can also reduce any stress that they may face, allowing them to better focus on the work in hand.
The critical lesson is that people need to be in a state of physical and social harmony to perform well in any given environment. A clean, natural, private setting offers an excellent opportunity for workers to devote their full energy to the task at hand, increasing employee health, happiness and productivity. Such an environment takes an effort to achieve, but the rewards are likely to repay the investment many times over.