Happy Humans in Healthy Offices
"There is a delicate ecosystem that has a profound effect on the contentment and quality of life for office workers. It is the “ecosystem” of the office," says Paul Watson, Managing Director of Style Office.
Just as ecosystems in nature occasionally suffer the ravages of inferior air and water quality, reckless land use, and careless waste management — so the ecosystem of the office can suffer from poor planning or indifference.
The office ecosystem is made up of many basic elements. Among them are air quality, lighting, ergonomics, worker demographics, psychological factors, acoustics, communications, waste handling, organizational influences, and workplace design. When any of these are disturbed or poorly managed, the impact on worker satisfaction and productivity becomes remarkably apparent.
The quest for healthy offices has been taken up by enlightened businesses and office workers alike, who see the office environment as an area that should contribute to enriching the general quality of work life, not endangering it.
In the past, a safe work environment meant simply a place where the risk of accidents could be avoided. Today, concern for the physical characteristics of the workplace is only part of what constitutes a safe environment. Over the past twenty years, technological advances have revolutionized the way office work is done. The quality of office work has improved, many businesses have been able to increase productivity and profits but with all the enhancements brought about by computers and changing job designs, a new strain of health-related issues has also appeared.
Much is reported about forms of physical injuries that result from uninterrupted work with computer terminals with repetitive stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome being linked to the workplace. However, in addition to these physical maladies, office workers report increased mental stress caused by job demands that are changing.
Workers in the Information Age are engaged in new forms of “knowledge work.” Toiling in jobs that have less latitude than before with less variety and greater pressure to perform. With increased office automation has come fewer staff, heavier workloads, and tighter deadlines that require a faster pace of work, more task specialization, and greater autonomy of workers.
Understanding the healthy office requires awareness of how an office functions. People are the focus of the healthy office and the concept embraces the ethical responsibility of employers to become advocates for the health and safety of their workers. The goal is to help people in offices work more effectively, while eliminating dangers to their health. Becoming aware of the source of the problems is a first step in finding solutions.
The physical health and safety of employees involves such issues as proper posture, improved air quality and circulation, adequate and proper lighting, noise control and correct use of computer keyboards and screens.
Valuable solutions to many of these issues have come from office furniture manufacturers with the development of highly adjustable furniture and accessories to enhance the overall comfort and health of workers. Issues with lighting and acoustics can also be addressed by a furniture related solution.
Assuming a physical environment in which employees feel safe and comfortable, office workers are also in need of a sense of well-being. Health problems decrease when employees feel positive about time spent in the workplace. People are social beings who welcome interaction with their colleagues and a productive work environment allows time for some personal interaction on the job.
Opportunities to meet for discussion and support not only reduce conflict but help develop a sense of group cohesion and group control. In fact, research shows that one of the main topics of casual conversation among employees is their work... even when they re not working. And much of that talk is problem-solving.
The need for privacy in the office is best expressed as a “continuum with appropriate levels of privacy changing over the course of a day. Some tasks are nearly impossible to perform unless there is a near total absence of distraction. Other tasks can be performed in a totally public and accessible space. Individuals should be able to choose the level of privacy that is appropriate for the moment.
People spend a significant amount of time at their place of employment and they want to feel at home. Employees are requesting more of a say in how their work spaces are arranged, furnished and managed. More and more, employees are expressing the need to control more of their immediate office environment than just their furniture.
Aware of potential hazards in the workplace, employees are asking for more control over temperature, lighting, ventilation, and noise in their immediate surroundings. While such direct control may not always be practical, the issue is one of growing concern to both workers and managers.
Clearly when people are unhappy or uncomfortable in their workplaces, health problems escalate, performance suffers, absenteeism rises, productivity drops and profits decrease.