1. Get Growing
One of the simplest and most enjoyable ways to start the productivity drive is to introduce plants into the work environment.
But why would you bother? Surely there are other, more important issues to be prioritising?
Plants (and interior pot trees) are your office superhero.
Not only does natural vegetation add some colour to proceedings, but they act as dust traps, purifying the air from pollutants and lessening the dust burden on other office furniture.
Having one or two might make the place look a little prettier- which is good, but ideally you want to ensure there is a plant within a few metres of most people in the office.
Plants and interior green spaces have been shown to have a positive effect on workers health symptoms, both physically and mentally They seem to encouraging feelings of well-being and promote an enhanced immune system.
A study by Roger S Ulrich as far back as 1986, showed that plant vegetation had positive influences on humans emotional and mental states – particularly for individuals already suffering from stress or anxiety.
So what is it about plants that induce these results?
Simply the more pleasing views seem to be responsible in part for the increased well-being and positivity, possibly a throwback to evolution and the reassuring landscape we are used to.
However, a main finding is that they are filters.
Indoor pollution is trapped by both a plants leaves and the soil it grows in – both effectively collect and absorb airborne dust, therefore giving workers cleaner air to breathe.
Plants also increase the indoor humidity, possibly counteracting the effects of dry air from air conditioning units.
TAKE HOME TASK
Using a variety of plants helps maintain a cleaner indoor environment, improving health, performance and productivity. Use the ideas and information in this chapter to create a cost efficient ‘greening’ plan for your company.
2. Ditch The Rug
Perceived Air Quality, Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) Symptoms and Productivity in an Office with Two Different Pollution Loads
Abstract Perceived air quality, Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) symptoms and pro- ductivity were studied in an existing office in which the air pollution level could be modified by introducing or removing a pollution source. The pollution source was a 20-year-old used carpet which was introduced on a rack behind a screen so that it was invisible to the occupants. Five groups of six female subjects each were ex- posed to the conditions in the office twice, once with the pollution source present and once with the pollution source absent, each exposure being 265 min in the afternoon, one group at a time. They assessed the perceived air quality and SBS symptoms while performing simulated office work. The subject-rated acceptability of the perceived air quality in the office corresponded to 22% dissatisfied when the pollution source was present, and to 15% dissatisfied when the pollution source was absent. In the former condition there was a significantly increased prevalence of headaches (P= 0.04) and significantly lower levels of reported effort (P=0.02) during the text typing and calculation tasks, both of which required a sustained level of concentration. In the text typing task, subjects worked significantly more slowly when the pollution source was present in the office (P=0.003), typing 6.5% less text than when the pollution source was absent from the office. Reducing the pollution load on indoor air proved to be an effective means of improving the com- fort, health and productivity of building occupants.
One of the most important things you can do to a workplace is to throw any carpets in the skip and replace them with hard flooring.
3. Temperature Check
‘Significant variations in temperature cause significant variations in productivity and morale’
We have all either heard (or been) the person who complains it’s too cold to work.At the other extreme, working in hot conditions causes fatigue and irritation ; decreasing the performance of affected workers and risking disrupting other members of the team.
Unless you work in a warehouse or similar, temperature is a very easy thing to fix.Buying a few plug in heaters for a small office is usually sufficient, and can be purchased cheaply.
For a larger business with multiple offices that are cold, improving the insulation would be a more cost efficient long term solution.
So what is the optimal temperature for employees to work in?
In 2006 Olli Seppanen et al found that employee productivity peaked at a temperature of 22° C
By the time it had reached 30° C, their productivity had been lowered by nearly 9%.The same research showed performance improves significantly when adjusting temperature from 15° C to the optimum range of 21-24° C.
Whilst it may not always be possible to satisfy everybody in the office, getting the temperature to this sweet spot will give you the best chance of gaining maximum productivity from most members of your team.
Some modern buildings have temperature sensors, so changing and maintaining the change in heating can be monitored effectively.
For those businesses without this luxury, just buy a basic thermometer and place it away from direct heat sources. Regular checking will ensure staff are happier and more comfortable.
Ventilation is the second part of the heating issue, and probably more important regarding worker health and well-being.
For the last twenty years there has been an increasing base of data which shows that empowering your workforce improves employee satisfaction, and achieves better overall business performance.
Despite this, the concept continues to be ignored as a potentially expensive strategy that is not on the company priority list.
If you’re committed to enhancing creativity and productivity in your business, that should change.
By delegating more often, involving employees in decision making and idea generation, there will be improved morale, and more engagement.
It’s no coincidence that the most successful companies of recent times (Google and Apple being just two) take employee empowerment to a different level, giving rise to a flatter organisational structure.
In short, the focus is on the team rather than an authoritarian approach.Empowerment is perhaps the most significant issue you can address that will change an employees perception of their working day. It can make the difference between a colleague looking forward to future tasks or becoming a reluctant work-er.
To really embrace the strategy, research shows that empowerment is achieved in four main ways:
By concentrating on giving your staff more freedom in each of these areas, you will be creating a more motivated and focused team.
Often overworked, with low morale, it has been critical to reverse this trend and allow nurses more autonomy and freedom to contribute..The results of this intervention have been encouraging.Joan Wagner led a team of researchers conducting a review of six studies investigating structural empowerment among nurses.
The review found that empowerment led to positive work attitudes, better job satisfaction and lower staff turnover.A separate study focused on employees in a Chinese Information Technology company.
They wanted to test the theory that an empowering style of leadership from managers improved employee performance.
Encouragement and support from managers meant that impacted employees were more motivated and more likely to engage in creative processes.This in turn resulted in more creativity throughout the business.
5. Food Is Medicine
If your business could benefit from happier, healthier employees, with less sick time and more productivity you would (or should) jump at the opportunity.Better still, if it was inexpensive to implement AND resulted in large rewards, you would say it was a no brainer.
However, when it comes to the workplace, it often seems all common sense is abandoned – A healthy eating strategy is as rare as a healthy vending machine!Most of us know how food can benefit the body and mind, making us more robust to life’s rig ours and tribulations. In the office, it is no different. Indeed, it is prob-ably needed more in this high pressured environment.
We expect more and more from our staff, while doing very little to assist them in having reasonably healthy choices.
Most vending machines have two staple products – coffee and chocolate. So not only are we limiting employees healthy food options, we are actually loading the mup with stimulants, and cannot understand it when irritability and moodiness prevail.
By implementing a diet intervention program, you can reverse this trend for peanuts – literally.
Here are a few ideas to assist your workforce in beginning to eat a more healthy and varied diet :
• Have a free fruit bowl for staff to indulge
• Put sandwiches, nut and seed snacks in vending machines too
• Give your workplace herbal tea and water options
• Increase the availability of vegetable containing meals in the canteen
• Retrain canteen staff on healthy eating recipes
Creating a more balanced food offering is easy to do. We have a duty to provide arange of options for our team and replace the ‘one size fits all’ policy. Too many healthy individuals change to a less favourable diet when working – simply due to the poor choices they are provided with.
It may be tempting to assess your staff as potentially having little interest in different foods, yet science says when healthier choices are introduced, the results can be surprising.
In 2011, Desiree Backman et al, investigated the impact extra fruit deliveries would have on employee health.
Low wage workers at 3 different sites in Los Angeles were the focus on a fruit intervention experiment. Fresh fruit deliveries were increased to the workplace. At 4, 8,and 12 week intervals, the subjects were assessed on their fruit intake, vegetable in-take, and their grocery shopping habits.
The researchers found that increasing the availability of fruit results in employees increasing their consumption of both fruit and vegetables. It also made them more aware of healthy eating practices and encouraged the purchase of more fruit over-all.
Improving diet choices results in the decrease of poor quality food purchasing.
One study showed that the eating of sugary snacks decreases when more fruit is made available, suggesting that fruit replaces junk food in workers diets.Education is a tool that empowers staff to make better decisions. Due to the wide-spread advertising methods of many junk food manufacturers, people can be for-given for being confused about just what is good for them.
It can therefore be very useful to have an accompanying education strategy among employees to help them understand which foods are beneficial. This is also likelyto make the issue a talking point between staff, giving the subject even more prominence.
Here are a few time efficient ways in which you can educate without being over-bearing :
• Distribute info graphics with an image of the food in question along with bullet points of the benefits.
• Send employees a weekly email with super-food of the week, or meal of the week if you have a canteen.
• Have a 15 minute huddle where workers can discuss the changes they would like to be made to the canteen or vending machine selections.
• Have a ‘free Friday’, offering staff free samples of low cost health promoting food such as porridge or vegetable soup.
The range of drinks to provide may also need freshening up. While water is an obvious and probably already available essential, a choice of herbal teas give additional variety.
If your lucky enough to have windows in your office, a feel good boost for your team is on the other side of the glass.
Natural Light is a massively important harmoniser and performance driver for our business.
On its own, it can produce these benefits :
• Better mental performance
• Better sleep quality
• Decreased headaches
• Decreased SAD
• Decreased eye strain
In addition, it has been shown that having desks near windows decreases absenteeism and reduces staff turnover!
‘Curtains’ or ‘window blinds’ should be banned words in the super charged performance office!
UV light stimulates Vitamin D within the body ,and this is likely to be a significant reason why health symptoms improve.
Also, natural light increases serotonin levels in the brain, making people hap-pier, more content and less argumentative – all great traits you need in your work-place.
A dark office or low lighting can literally tire us out – darkness produces melatonin,the precursor to sleep!
Harsh lighting is bad too, as well as being a recipe for headaches, it does no thingfor worker job satisfaction.
The solution for a work space with ample windows is easy – just use blinds when in direct sunlight or when a computer screen can not be moved out of glare thatcan occur. The rest of the time, you should allow light to flow naturally and reap the rewards it brings.
This ultra low cost strategy is unbeatable.
7. Becoming Flexible
As the complications of modern life grow , it is getting much harder to find time to effectively relax. Mobile phones aside, the concept of ‘recharging our batteries’ issadly becoming lost.
Let’s look at the daily routine of an average office worker :
• They commute to work on busy roads or overcrowded trains and buses
• Many work at ‘unoptimised’ offices with token regard for their health.
• They are internet available 24/7 on breaks and at home via smart phones Whilst some of these issues may be the persons fault, the businesses fault, or ‘just life
any ambitious company that wants to increase performance should have a flexibility plan in place.
Having such a strategy means that you are being proactive in supporting your employees health and you will reap the many positive benefits this brings.So how can you assist staff without it costing the business a fortune and taking a lot of time to implement?
A few basic ideas can go a long way to making a big difference :
• Hire an independent counselor to visit the workplace every couple of weeks.Staff can utilise this service to raise any work or non work issues that are causing them stress.
• Look at using flexible working practices to give options to employees who have long commutes or whose journey to work is particularly bad.
• Educate on the importance of downtime via a monthly wellness newsletter.When devising any new workplace plan, you should be focused on what specific results this way of working will bring about. After all, the aim is to improve the efficiency of all aspects of your business.
A happy, well performing team is the ideal for any ambitious leader. Let’s examine the positive factors employee support can have.
In 2001, John McLeod analysed a number of research papers regarding the effectiveness of having a workplace counseling service.
8. Office Design
This chapter deals with an integral part of the work performance equation – the lay-out of your office.
The design, type of furniture, and acoustics all have a part to play in creating the optimum environment. It is also a tricky subject as it will be impossible to please everyone.
Therefore, the focus should be on making your building a place where the majority of your staff can thrive.
By paying attention to small issues, it is possible to enhance creativity and productivity from your workforce.
Over the last few decades there has been a trend to move into open plan office environments because of the increased employee interaction this brings. The re-search shows that more interaction encourages more creativity – helping business performance in the long term.
However, there are also quite a few downsides with the standard open plan layout.Numerous studies have shown that job satisfaction decreases and ill health actually increase in this setting ,as opposed to working in older style, enclosed offices.
The problem is that although enclosed offices improve job satisfaction and privacy, they can hinder creativity.
So it seems that we are stuck between a rock and a hard place regarding office design, unless we can incorporate features that allow privacy while also allowing a good level of creativity.
Enter the Flex-Office.
In recent years, innovative companies, particularly technology businesses such as Google have operated work spaces that fit the description of a flex-office.In many ways, it is hard to describe the exact layout of such a design, as the style is constantly evolving.
9. Wellness Intervention
There is still a tendency on the part of some firms to ignore the benefits of an exercise and wellness intervention. Common reasons include :
• Perception of unnecessary expenses.
• The view that employee health is a personal issue.
• Fear of any real gains to the business.
If these views are holding your company back, by the end of this chapter, science will have proven you wrong.
By creating programmes to interrupt employee stress patterns before they become an issue, you are being proactive in maintaining a positive and harmonious work environment.
As discussed previously with the counselling service, workplaces with less stress naturally result in less conflict, and increased productivity. Having a comprehensive wellness process in place will also help to reduce sick leave and improve absenteeism.
A wellness strategy means you are saving your company higher costs in the long term.
As some larger and more modern businesses are finding out, one of the very best ways you can help your workforce is to bring some Eastern psychology into the of- fice.
10. Booster Breaks
For your business performance to thrive, having staff take all their allocated breaks is crucial. Although it may be tempting to allow or even encourage employees to do that ‘little bit extra’, the long term results are negative. Increased pressure can lead to more sick leave and lower job satisfaction, actually adding costs to your business and increasing the risks of conflict within the work- place.
So what is the best strategy to use for companies of any size?
The most obvious and easy answer is to adhere to all planned breaks and actively encourage staff to leave the office, or at the very least visit a different part of the work zone.
Ideally, there should be an area or outside space which employees can use as they wish to take time out from the work environment. NOTE – An outside space that is used by smokers does not qualify as a place for non-smokers to relax!
If you have a small business, perhaps you could recommend nice walks nearby or a park area employees might not frequent. The aim is to get staff to use their breaks wisely and help their health and your businesses performance. Science has shown that those people who use their rest periods to go for a walk, particularly in quiet green areas, experience feelings of well-being and reduced pressure .The break from work, along with fresh air interrupts any building stress pattern and revitalises their thinking.
Outdoor spaces may be ideal, but any break from routine is beneficial, so dedicating an area for staff downtime is a good idea. In large corporations this may mean a specific room, or even the canteen with a partitioned area. In smaller firms, a few comfy chairs with reading material can suffice, for days when the weather is not favourable.
Ambitious companies that really want to strive to create an excellent workplace should consider using Booster Breaks.
The concept is relatively new but an interesting way to improve morale. Basically, a Booster break is an additional daily break for around 10-15 minutes. This can be a difficult pill to swallow for some companies, with many worrying about how less work negatively affects productivity. The answer, rather oddly, is that it doesn’t.
In fact, it may contribute to growing your company and attracting good employees. A study in 2012, led by Wendell Taylor found that daily booster breaks reduced stress, improved work enjoyment and made employees more aware about their health .It also increased social interaction between employees.