How can the physical working environment impact employees’ morale, health and wellbeing?

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By Marion Beauregard

Which business owner would not wish for employees and managers that:

  • get on well and enter the workplace full of vitality, motivation and focus?
  • work productively and efficiently on their own as well as in teams?
  • communicate their needs and expectations clearly?

That would be ideal and definitely at the heart of a business’ success.

Unfortunately, such a situation rarely happens. What company doesn’t experience friction and tension within the workplace and count unhappy, tired and stressed out staff members amongst its workforce? We all have different personalities, life values, expectations and stress threshold. We are all unique and react differently to communication styles, stressors, workload, etc. There is no “one size fits all” recipe for a business model and organisation that will satisfy everyone. However, with some thought, you can make small changes that will improve your workforce’s morale and wellbeing in the workplace.

When talking about wellbeing in the workplace, we rarely think about the physical environment as one of the factors that can make a big difference to the workplace’s dynamic and individual’s sense of wellbeing and job satisfaction. It is where all interactions take place and small improvements will positively impact not only the quality of people’s interactions with each other but also their level of happiness at work.

Think about it.

I’ll give you the choice between these two working environments:

Environment 1: Artificial lighting. Dark coloured walls and furniture. No opening on the outside. Noisy environment. No dedicated areas for breaks. Small kitchen and meeting rooms. Crammed personal working space. Poor filing system and cleanliness. Very occasional social events within the team and across the whole business. Employees having to clock in and out. (yes – these places still exist!)

Environment 2: Vibrant colours throughout the office. Windows, being able to see out and get some fresh air. Well designed working space allowing quiet solo work without too much separation from the team’s dynamic. Regular social events and activities organised throughout the business, not just within departments. Clean working environment. Comfortable chairs and furniture. Dedicated social space to unwind and switch off. Spacious meeting rooms.

Which one would you prefer to work in? Which one do you think would foster people’s creativity, wellbeing and interpersonal communication more?

Yes – number 2. Why?

Because it creates a space and an atmosphere in which people feel valued and inspired, a space that the employer has designed with employees in mind, considering them as human beings rather than lifeless robots. You probably wouldn’t jump out of bed with joy and motivation at the thought of spending 8 hours in Environment 1 which would slowly burn your creativity and wreak havoc on your health, wellbeing and morale. Now, I am not saying working in environment 2 guarantees a happy productive and communicative workforce but it most definitely helps.

So what type of environment improves employee morale, health and wellbeing and consequently their level of productivity and the quality of their communication?

  • Personal work space: having your own dedicated personal space makes you feel like you belong and you are part of the company. Working spaces that are too open can affect our ability to focus and get work done whilst spaces that are toocompartmented isolate co-workers. There is a balance to reach here, as with the noise level which can distract employees and increase stress levels. The opportunity to personalise your working space with a few family pictures or personal items creates a sense of safety andcan be a positive anchor when feeling stress and overwhelmed.In most workplaces, employees work sitting down. Recent studies have demonstrated that sitting more than 6 hours a day is bad for our health, increasing our blood pressure and putting us at greater risk of diabetes, obesity, depression, certain types of cancer and an aggravating factor to existing chronic illnesses. Some businesses have taken the initiative to have stand-up desks and encourage their staff to spend 50% of their time working standing up and 50% sitting down. Why not try for yourself?

A comfortable working space in which you are not distracted with too much noise or movements around you preserves your energy and boosts your focus. As a result, your thoughts are more organised, you are calmer and better at communicating your needs and expectations to your co-workers.

  • Plants, fresh air and natural light: having plants in the office makes the place feel more welcoming. But that’s not all, studies have shown that live plants improve the quality of the air in the room, reduce stress levels and blood pressure, aid concentration and increases productivity and positive feelings.  Natural light and fresh air are healthier for your staff and increase general morale. By brightening up your working environment, you help lift employee spirit and wellbeing and you will find that, as a result, their interpersonal skills improve.
  • Health and wellbeing challenges or activities encouraging communication across departments: creating a positive dynamic within the organisation, making people interact and creating a sense of team purpose and camaraderie can do wonders on your overall workplace wellbeing and communication. Ensure that people have the opportunity to get to know each other socially across all departments, not just as workers.  It is not just important for morale purposes and better wellbeing but also to stimulate creativity, innovation, communication and job satisfaction. Employees are all working together towards the same goal and they must feel integrated and valued on an individual level to be productive, effective and communicate better. Organise activities and challenges throughout the year around health and wellbeing themes, for example a stop smoking campaign, a sport challenge, weekly meditation or Sophrology classes, etc.
  • Group work space : have an attractive area for meetings and group work; a space that inspires employees: colourful walls to stimulate creativity, boards for brainstorming ideas, comfortable chairs and tables for people to gather around and talk together.
  • Social space and dedicated break areas : Encourage mini breaks and a proper lunch break (45 minutes to an hour). Taking regular breaks throughout the day positively impacts productivity, concentration, communication skills, personal effectiveness and reduces stress levels. Employees who don’t take breaks tire themselves out and as a result, their listening skills and patience are affected. Create a welcoming space where people can disconnect for a few minutes, reset and come back to work refreshed and focused. Imagine a lounge area with comfortable seats, a picnic table, a dart board, etc. If you want your staff to take breaks seriously, you must lead the way and experience the benefits for yourself. If they don’t see you having breaks, they will not dare do it for themselves. You must be seen taking breaks yourself.
  • Teaching space: have spacious, welcoming rooms available for client or team meetings, performance reviews, company presentations, training courses and an IT system in place so that it is easy for employees to check room availability and book the space.

Working conditions like those I have described will not only improve employees’ health and wellbeing but also their level of productivity, job satisfaction and communication skills.

What’s your business’ working environment like? What types of initiatives are working well in your company?

For more information on health and wellbeing in the workplace, come along to the [email protected] conference in London on 12th June, gathering expert speakers on this topic.

About Marion Beauregard

Marion Beauregard is a Sophrology practitioner based in London. With a background in office work and a specialisation in stress, sleep and burnout, she works in partnership with businesses in the UK and in France to help improve staff’s health and wellbeing through tailored effective stress management programmes.

Marion’s approach is highly experiential, providing people with techniques that they can easily re-use at home and at work. The focus on practice over theory aims to integrate techniques at a deeper level and help people quickly and effectively access their natural ability to feel calm, relaxed and positive.

Marion has a particular interest in burnout prevention, burnout recovery and return to work post burnout.

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