Why Healthy Workspaces Matter
"It is in the interest of companies to provide employees with reasons to stay healthy, optimistic, and productive in today’s challenging jobs" Nimish Gupta, MD South Asia, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
With an average 40-hour work week, millennial Indian employees are spending nearly a fourth of their entire week at the workplace, mostly glancing at their computers or sitting long hours attending meetings or lengthy presentations. Coupled with the stresses and pressures of their job, it has enormous negative impact on health.
Numerous studies have shown that prolonged work hours can lead to employees falling sick more often, lowering their productivity resulting in business losses and employees switching jobs frequently. An analysis of a typical circadian cycle shows the hours spent by an average working Indian in office vis-à-vis other activities is a whopping 40 %. On an average day, he spends 3 % screen time, 9% on household chores, 8% for work commute and 29% on sleeping. Only 8 % is left for eating and leisure sports.
With work hours now becoming longer and screen time increasing greatly, coupled with sedentary lifestyles, employers need to think smartly in terms of creating work environments to sustain and enhance performance of their organisations. There are a number of ways employers can uplift employee morale and make work places healthier.
First, employers should focus more on creating flexible and conducive office spaces. They need to remodel design elements in workplace arrangement and master plan for better office ergonomics. For example, it is a well-known fact that sitting for long hours can cause many postural problems such as disc damage, strained neck and swayed back. Just a few tricks like a simple tweaking of chair, desk and screen configuration to adjust height of laptops at eye levels can help maintain employee spine health. Sit-to-stand desks can be a good option for employees to alternate between standing and sitting.
Second, the amount of natural light in a workplace should be another integral aspect of design strategy. If sunlight doesn’t stream into offices, employees can slowly start to lose their vitality and verve. Vitamin D deficiency and irregular circadian rhythms – a person’s daily cycles
of waking and sleeping hours can lead to higher stress levels, decrease in productivity, and fatigue. The answer lies in adding windows, other fenestrations, controllable window shades and task lighting so that there are no dark spots over worktops and lux levels are as per industry standards.
Third, a much-overlooked aspect yet vital for productivity levels is employees’ thermal comfort. Room temperature preferences of employees vary and no one temperature can satisfy everyone. An office which is too warm can make its occupants feel tired, yet, on the other hand, one that is too cold can make people restless and easily distracted. Optimum thermal comfort can be created by balancing the right combination of temperature and air flow with humidity. Under-floor air, individual control of airflow and small personal fans can all help employees control temperature as per their own comfort thereby increasing their productivity levels.
Fourth, offices need to keep a check on indoor air quality. Often the air we breathe inside offices can be stale and full of pollutants. Levels of such pollutants can sometimes be higher than outdoor levels and can cause respiratory problems like asthma, nosebleeds and even difficulty in breathing. Therefore, it is imperative that companies monitor indoor air quality by investing in equipment with energy star labels, check and clean air conditioning/ventilation equipment and use air purifiers. Indoor plants that absorb pollutants can also purify the air considerably.
Fifth, organizations should lay emphasis on sprucing up their environs with greenery. Being stuck in cubicles 8 to 9 hours of the day is not just unnerving but can also lead to anxiety, nervousness and disinterest in work. Greenery, plants and even a simple window view of trees can help build concentration levels. As nature tends to have a calming effect, incorporating elements of nature in office spaces can influence productivity to a great extent.
Sixth, workplaces need to alleviate stress levels. If employees are constantly being subjected to information overload and unending meetings, stress and blood pressure levels can shoot up. Therefore, organisations can ensure a relaxed environment by creating different spaces for different needs such as quiet workspaces, meeting rooms, collaboration spaces for informal discussions and wellness rooms (for sick employees). An ideal office should have both zones of privacy and informal spaces where employees can simply hang out alone or collaborate amongst themselves when they need to.
Seventh, companies need to integrate the concept of wellness breaks in daily routines. Impromptu music played at certain intervals or coffee shop meetings can uplift spirits and at the same time be relaxing. Employees should be encouraged to take breaks by walking to printer stations, washrooms and water coolers that are at a distance from their workstations. These small measures and actions can make a vast difference in improving the wellness quotient of employers and employees alike.
And last, but not the least, workplaces need to inculcate healthy eating habits amongst employees. Since junk and heavy food can make employees sleepy and lethargic making them lose out on productivity, workplaces can install vending machines that dispense healthy snacks. Cafeterias can start to offer more fruits or vegetables in their menus. Encouraging employees to eat at regular intervals can also help them stay fresh and alert.
An interesting example of how workplaces are changing the world over is the case study of the online retail giant, Amazon. The company has taken the workplace wellness concept to an altogether different level by erecting a set of glass orbs filled with ‘cloud forest’ gardens at its headquarters in Seattle in the United States. Almost 40,000 plants of 400 species from greenhouses around the world have been placed in these orbs. The orbs have rivers, waterfalls, and towering green walls and can accommodate almost 800 employees transporting them to the environs of a tropical forest.
Back home, India’s leading telecom company, Bharti Airtel has recently introduced an open-plan/cabin free workspace model to encourage more collaboration among employees. JLL India too has inaugurated its office in Mumbai last year with collaborative zones where people can simply exchange ideas in an informal setting. It has life-sized trees, sounds of nature, as well as energy-efficient mercury free, LED lighting. Enhanced air quality due to low volatile organic compounds (VOC) paints, adhesives, and sealants and an all-white room have all helped in inspiring enhanced intellectual discussions.
There is considerable evidence emerging to suggest that companies that invest in wellness programs not only achieve measurable improvements in their organizational wellbeing but demonstrate tangible performance gains in the long run. This holds true for companies across sectors and regions, cultures and diversity. It’s no wonder that such organizations which focus on wellness quotient, feature in the survey of ‘The Top Companies to Work For’.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house