A Healthy Workplace: Your Physical Environment

As we have explored previously, a company’s culture—it’s people, how they interact and treat one another, how they are rewarded for a job well done—can have an overall positive (or negative) impact on the success of the business. But that is only a piece of the puzzle when it comes to creating a healthy workplace; a company’s physical space is also important.

When we think of how our physical environment affects our state of mind and well-being, we usually think of our homes, vacation destinations, or other places where we enjoy leisure activities. But if the average working American spends more waking hours in their office than any of these other locations, then our place of employment needs to be added to that list—if not somewhere near the top!

More Than Just Pleasing To The Eye
Why should you invest in creating a physical space that your employees want to come to? For starters, we have already determined that employee well-being is strongly correlated to employee productivity and performance—and even a small shift in well-being can have a dramatic impact. Employees who enjoy and like the environments they are a part of will be more engaged, productive, happy, and healthy.

Create a physical space that you want to work in. A properly designed office should be comfortable as well as healthy: the air is fresh, the temperature is comfortable, and the lighting well designed.

Indoor Temperature
Temperature is high among employee requests. People want to control airflow into their office, and teams want conference rooms with windows that open to let in fresh air (when possible). Numerous studies have found that the ideal temperature for productivity in most people is 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Interestingly, this temperature is higher than many people think as most people associate productivity with cold. The exact ideal temperature, according to most studies, is 71 degrees. At this point, personal productivity is maximized and greater than at any other temperature. Once the temperature starts inching over 75 degrees, productivity starts to see a significant decline. So, maybe set those thermostats at 71 and keep it there!

If you hate the lights in your office, you are not alone. A study conducted by the American Society of Interior Designers showed that 68 percent of employees were dissatisfied about the lighting situation in their offices. That is a large percentage of people across the country, indicating it is not a question of personal taste. Unfortunately, all too often this part of an office’s design is overlooked, rushed, or sacrificed for style.

Sometimes we err on the side of having lighting that is too dim. It is no secret that dim lighting can strain the eyes and cause headaches, lowering productivity and resulting in employee fatigue. Dim lights also result in drowsiness or lack of focus. Harsh lighting is a much more common culprit. It is just as harmful as dim lighting, causing eyestrain and even triggering migraine headaches. Cortisol levels drop significantly under artificial or poor lighting conditions, which means that we will be more stressed and have less ability to stabilize our energy levels.

The best light, as you probably guessed, is natural light. Windows are the number one determinant of an employee’s satisfaction with a building. Natural lighting not only affects how well we are able to see, but it can also boost our mood, energy level, and hormonal balance. It can reduce absenteeism, owing to fewer illnesses as well as less overwork fatigue, which means more time off for employees to recharge batteries. It can be as simple as opening the blinds.

If your office has windows, then use them! If you do not have a lot of windows, consider the addition of skylights. Use lamps, which can provide indirect lighting and help reduce glare. Consider installing dimmer switches on your overhead lights to give employees more control of the kind of lighting they prefer. “Daylight” bulbs mimic natural lighting. To achieve a balance between natural and artificial light and to avoid shadows and glare, it is recommended to place lights parallel to the window and the workspace.

Color is a visual phenomenon triggered by the response to the stimulation of light. It pervades every aspect of our lives, embellishes the ordinary and gives beauty and drama to everyday objects. Different colors have different effects on the human body. A recent University of Texas study found that bland gray, beige and white offices induced feelings of sadness and depression, especially in women. Men, on the other hand, experienced similarly gloomy feelings in purple and orange workspaces (unless they are LSU fans).

Similar scientific studies have shown that colors do not just change our moods; they also profoundly impact our productivity—for better and for worse. That is why it’s best to decorate your workplace with a vibrant medley of stimulating hues that increase output and spark creativity. Low-wavelength colors, like green and blue, improve efficiency and focus. They also lend an overall sense of well-being. Bottom line: If you want happier, more effective workers, green and blue are wise choices.

Red, a high-wavelength color, is active and intense. This color increases the heart rate and blood flow upon sight. That said, if there is something in the office you want to urgently draw employees’ eyes to, paint it red!

Meanwhile yellow, often viewed by color psychologists as the shade of optimism, is energetic and fresh. It is believed to trigger innovation and is best used in work environments of creative professionals such as artists, writers, designers, and developers.

Interior Plants/Personalization of Space
Interior plants are good for your health and not just for their visual beauty. Why? They essentially do the opposite of what we do when we breathe: release oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide. This process not only freshens up the air, but also eliminates harmful toxins. Extensive research by NASA has revealed that houseplants can remove up to 87 percent of air toxin in 24 hours. Studies have also proven that indoor plants improve concentration and productivity—by up to 15 percent! They also reduce stress levels and boost your mood.

Use larger, potted plants in the reception area and atrium spaces. You can also use them to provide more privacy between desks instead of using walls or cubicles. It would stand to reason that most people feel their best at home. So, let your employees bring part of home to their workplace: houseplants for their desks, personal pictures, trinkets, artwork for their offices or cubicles.

A healthy physical workplace is not a “one size fits all.” Explore the design elements that impact your workplace and then do what is within your power to provide an environment that supports your employees and enables them to do their jobs to the best of their ability—while also supporting their (and your) happiness and health in the meantime!