Is your Physical Work Environment hurting employees?

Is your Physical Work Environment hurting employees? 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Yesterday, I spent some time at the WELCOA Annual Summit. If you aren’t familiar with the work of WELCOA, you should be. They are one of the leading voices in corporate wellness in the world and they are boldy leading the practice of workplace wellness into the future.

One look at the Summit agenda will reinforce this. Topics included finding purpose, inclusion, emotional brain training, gratitude, neuroplasticity, and love. Not just the help people “eat healthier and stop smoking” content you might expect at a wellness conference.

The session that really stuck with me was presented by Paul Scialla, founder of the International Well Building Institute.  Here’s how this organization describes what they do on their website:

Launched in October 2014 after saix years of research and development, the WELL Building Standard is the premier standard for buildings, interior spaces and communities seeking to implement, validate and measure features that support and advance human health and wellness.

It’s interesting stuff to dig into and learn more about, for sure. In short, this organization has set standards for buildings that requires that they be designed and maintained in a way that is best for the well-being of the humans that inhabit them.

Mr. Scialla cited a statistic during his presentation (that I haven’t been able to find a citation for, unfortunately) that our health is dictated only 5% by our genetics, 25% by our lifestyle behaviors, and 70% by the environment that surrounds us. Whether or not these stats are exactly right, it feels right that our health and well being is dramatically influenced by the spaces where we spend most of our time.

It is this idea that fuels that work of the Well Building Institute. If we can create spaces that help people experience greater well-being, then they will be more able to do good and productive work.

For example:

  • The correct lighting can make you feel more energy. But the wrong lighting can interfere with your bodies natural cycles and interfere with your sleep.
  • Air quality can trigger allergies, asthma, and other health issues. If you can’t breathe naturally and fully, you won’t feel healthy.
  • Individual comfort is also considered in this standard including temperature and noise level and ergonomics. When you are uncomfortable, you aren’t optimally productive. When you are perpetually distracted by noise or sound levels, you don’t feel great about work.

While we don’t typically focus on these factors in the work of employee engagement, it’s hard to ignore the impact. Engagement is driven by how we feel about work and our physical environment clearly plays a big role in that (if you’ve ever worked in an office that could double as a closet, you know what I mean).

When the work environment is distracting, uncomfortable or generally unhealthy, it’s far more difficult to create an engaging work experience for employees. But, the same is true in reverse. A healthy, positive work environment creates a headwind towards engagement.

And, as Mr. Scialla emphasized in his presentation, the work environment has a 100% participation rate. When you improve the physical workplace, it has positive benefits on every employee. Plus, realizing the positive benefits doesn’t require managers or employees to “buy in” to anything. They will simply experience a work environment that makes them feel better.

My take away is that we need to start thinking more intentionally about the physical workspace when we consider how to improve employee engagement. My bet is that if we look in almost any organization, we’ll find environmental obstacles in place that are negatively impacting the work experience.

Take some time and dig into the Well Building Standards and do some further research. Let’s make sure our work environments are working with us, not against us as we work to create engaging workplaces.

  • Kevin

    Hi Jason,

    I enjoyed your post and agree with the importance of a positive physical environment. It makes me think back to the days of feng shui.

    What I’d like to add is that a person’s environment does not necessarily end with their physical surroundings. A person’s environment is very much dependant on their social environment – the company we choose to keep and the company we are given, at birth, through childhood and beyond. As adults, the social interaction or health of our relationships at work and home have a very significant impact on our emotional and mental health which tend to drive our behavior more than anything else.

    While a nice office, break-room, lighting, windows, air and plants can improve one’s mood if you simply do not feel heard, valued, appreciated and part of something important that can quite easily destroy morale, the culture, engagement, productivity, retention, etc. not to mention EMOTIONAL health.

    In short, physical is important but I think emotional health drives behavior much more (beyond basic needs of life, of course). My $.02. -Kevin

    • Jason

      Kevin, I agree. And I didn’t mean to suggest that the physical environment was the only thing that mattered. My point is that I think we tend to overlook the importance of the spaces we create for employees and, in so doing, we put our engagement efforts at a disadvantage.

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Jason Lauritsen