Does Your Work Environment Help or Harm You?

03 Aug 2017

Employers are constantly in pursuit of discovering new innovative ways to increase productivity and profits. While many potential methods exist to achieve amplified profits, one attention-grabbing technique is to improve the quality of environmental conditions in which individuals work in. This method was put to the test in 2015 by Joseph Allen and his team at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The study conducted by Allen was intended to prove that it is possible to have an energy efficient building while also increasing employee health benefits and productivity. The first part of the study was conducted at Syracuse University Center for Excellence on architects and engineers. One imperative factor in this study was Allen did not want to study an environment in which the individuals would be in an unrealistic “dream-state” workplace. By ensuring the individuals were working in environments that were replicable, worthwhile results that employers could incorporate into their work environment could be produced.

The improved environment included: adjusted ventilation, carbon dioxide levels, and extent of airborne VOCs (Volatile organic compounds that are used in manufacturing and maintaining building materials, interior furnishing, cleaning products, etc.). The study was conducted by assessing individuals “cognitive functions” which produced results of “131 percent increase in crisis-response questions, 299 percent increase in better information usage, and 288 percent increase in strategy” (Babur). This drastic surge in employees work aptitude in completing tasks demonstrates how imperative it is for employers to replicate such a work environment. To further prove these results, there was a second part to the study that was conducted in ten “green-certified” buildings. Individuals that worked in these green work environments performed 26 percent higher in cognitive functions when compared to those who worked in non-certified buildings.

If this is the case, then the next logical question is – will this benefit outweigh the cost? Allen and his team found that if an employer wished to double the ventilation rate, the cost would roughly be $10 to $40 per person per year. Though this may be a high cost depending on the number of employees, it is imperative to consider the benefits of increased production. This could equate to a benefit to an employer of some $6,000 to $7,000 per year per employee, and this doesn’t consider additional benefits such as fewer sick days. It is evident that potential savings and benefits outweigh potential costs.

Mahesh Ramanujam, COO of the US Green Building Council, stated that instituting green-certified buildings is not “rocket science” but rather the result of hard work. Five simple ways to create a healthier and green-certified work environments include these key qualities: indoor air quality, active employees, water, sustainability, and community. Indoor air quality includes checking ventilation rates and filtration policies to verify standards are met. Employees with sitting jobs are two times more likely to have cardiovascular disease compared to those with standing jobs. A way to resolve this issue would be to purchase standing desks or incorporate walking meetings into the work day. Water audits can help discover possible lead in plumbing, cooling towers with Legionella bacteria, and if the building’s water is safe to drink. Sustainability ensures the energy and water in the building are used efficiently while employees are given “thermal comfort,” natural light, and clean water. Using “green” cleaning products is another key factor to creating a “healthier” building. Lastly, community is an imperative factor as it allows your business to interact with other groups dedicated to health and wellness and learn new “green” methods for the workplace. An example would be taking part in your communities Earth Day events and other related volunteer programs.

As individuals utilize nearly 90 percent of their time within artificial environments, it is vital to understand how certain key qualities of work environments can significantly impact both your employees and business. With technology taking on mundane tasks and employees expected to complete more analytical and thought provoking work, employers must also provide a work environment that encourages this level of thinking to ensure productivity.


This article was also featured in the Bottom Line Vol. 16