Creating a healthy, happy work environment

Written by
Oliver Heath

14 Oct 2015

14 Oct 2015 • by Oliver Heath

Happiness should not be underestimated

For employers, having a happy, productive working environment is not only pivotal to running a successful business, but also effects potential employees’ decision to join a company.

As the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveals that the productivity of the UK workforce is lower that it was in 2007, outlining an “unprecedented absence” of growth since World War Two[1],  we take a  look at the recent dip in productivity and why more access to natural elements could be the answer to attracting and retaining the highest calibre of staff.

There’s a growing body of research that demonstrates how biophilic design, or access to natural elements can improve well-being, such as the new Human Spaces report. The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace, which was commissioned by global modular flooring experts, Interface and led by Organisational Psychologist, Professor Sir Cary Cooper, really shines a light on the positive impact natural elements can have on productivity and creativity in a workplace.

Biophilia describes our innate attraction to nature and natural processes, and the many benefits that stem from its connection. With nearly half of workers studied reporting having no access to natural light and almost two thirds saying they have no live plants in the office, it is something which employees around the world are currently lacking.

This is definitely something that needs to change if employers want to improve staff mental and physical health, and there’s good reason for them to do so. The Global Human Spaces report found that employees who work in environments with elements such as natural light and live plants, report a 15% higher level of well-being, are 6% more productive and 15% more creative overall.

It is evident from statistics such as this that a purpose-designed office environment that incorporates biophilic elements can be effective in improving employee perception. These are valuable statistics when one considers that 90% of typical businesses operating costs are in staff salaries and benefits.

[1] ONS, 2015

Less stress

The report also highlights the link between lack of natural light and increased levels of employee stress. In Canada, 32% of workers reported having no windows, closely followed by Australia (28%) and the US (27%).

Interestingly, these three countries all reported above average levels of stress. Conversely, workers in Indonesia and India reported the highest access to light and space (93 and 92% respectively), and reported some of the lowest levels of unhappiness. 

Solo work space

Another aspect employers should be considering when designing an office is the preference for solo working space. The report found that 40% of office workers in EMEA feel most productive when in a solitary office, compared with 31% who preferred an open plan environment.

Some office managers have previously endeavoured to fit, say 60 people, into a space fit for just 45, which just isn’t practical. We need to ensure that our social, physical, emotional and cognitive needs are met throughout the working day by office furniture and landscapes that support these varied requirements. After all, how can we expect to retain staff for a longer duration of time in limited working conditions that simply don’t meet human needs? 

Alternative d??cor

There have been numerous studies on the contact with nature and a person’s sense of well-being, both in general and in the work force. For example, a 2013 study documented that hospital patients whose window views consisted of deciduous tress rather than brick walls recovered from surgery more quickly and had fewer injections of pain killers[1].

However, it’s widely acknowledged that there are spaces where an outdoor view simply isn’t feasible. In this case, the office should contain appropriate décor, using materials, colours and textures that mimic nature to replace its reduced or complete lack of contact.  This could take the form of colours, wall cladding materials, digital images or floor coverings.

It is the same principle as that of doctors’ waiting rooms. Decorative images of natural scenes are incorporated to reduce stress and anxiety in patients, while improving the overall perceptions of the care received.

[1] Stanford Professor Dr. Katie Curhan, Ed.D, 2013

Bringing the outside inside

Ultimately, the research in this area indicates that bringing elements of nature into the workplace, whether real or artificial, proves positive effect to employee outcomes. As such, when thinking about office design and its impact on employees, employers should seriously consider of the amount of nature contact provided in the workspace in order to maintain optimal levels of a high performing, happy and  healthy workforce.