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What we really, really want

What do employees really think about their workplace and wellbeing? We report on a recent survey examining the attitudes of those who are the target of the trends

Prevailing workplace trends appear to be moving in a progressive direction. All the talk is of agile working and wellness, given new momentum by the WELL Building Standard which links different aspects of the workplace to employee wellbeing and performance.

But there is always a danger of being swept up in a movement for its own sake – because everyone is doing it. Too often change is initiated without asking what the people most concerned actually think about it – the staff.

AJ Products recently conducted a survey asking 122 employees about their working conditions, how their workplace impacted on their wellbeing and productivity, and what changes they thought would benefit them the most. The results were illuminating, suggesting that people’s attitudes are not as clear-cut as some might imagine.

It is certainly true that employees are still largely desk-bound. Eighty per cent of respondents agreed their job was desk-based. The number of hours spent sitting at work remains high: almost half (48 per cent) said they spent six to eight hours each day on a chair, followed by 30 per cent who estimated three to six hours. More than one in 10 (11 per cent) claimed an alarming eight to 10 hours sitting down every working day.

This could well be linked to the fact that almost one-fifth of 95 respondents said they have taken a day off from work in the previous year due to musculoskeletal problems, such as back or joint pain. Added to this, many people still do little exercise outside of work: 31 per cent said they managed between nought and two hours per week, while a quarter (25 per cent) said two to four.

All of which reinforces the arguments in favour of getting people to move around more in the workplace, through measures including office layout, standing meetings or sit-stand desks, for example, as well as provision of ‘active seating’ such as balance stools and saddle chairs.

One encouraging finding was the number of people who believed their organisation actually cares about their welfare. Asked to agree or disagree with the statement ‘The organisation I work for cares about my health and wellbeing’, fully 82 per cent (of 95 respondents) agreed. This did not, however, prevent 61 per cent of the same sample agreeing that they would consider changing jobs for a healthier and more active work environment.

In fact, opinion on the effect of the workplace on physical and emotional health was divided. Asked to agree or disagree that ‘My current work environment has a negative impact on my physical wellbeing’, of 92 respondents 45 per cent said yes and 55 per cent said no. Of the same sample, 46 per cent agreed their work environment negatively impacted their emotional wellbeing, with 54 per cent disagreeing.

Reinforcing the link between a sense of wellbeing and perceived performance, a similar split characterised the response to ‘My current work environment has a negative impact on my productivity’. Of 92 respondents, 48 per cent agreed and 52 per cent disagreed.

POSITIVE ACTION
Given that there are real issues to address, what do employees (as opposed to managers and consultants) think will benefit them the most?

The survey asked two interesting questions. First, what workplace health initiatives would people like to see introduced within their organisation? And second, what factors did they think would increase their productivity?

For the first question, respondents were asked to rate in order of importance seven health-related initiatives they would like their employer to implement. These were: sit-stand desks; standing meetings; organised fitness classes/activities on site; healthy eating options available on site; more support for cycle to work schemes; active seating, such as balance stools and saddle chairs; and anti-fatigue matting.

Overall, sit-stand desks came out the winner, with 38 per cent of 95 respondents putting this option first. Second was healthy eating, with 41 per cent ranking the option either first or second. Organised fitness classes were close behind.

The second question asked respondents to rate five factors according to their perceived impact on personal productivity: better acoustics to reduce noise levels; better lighting; access to quiet work areas such as privacy pods and huddle rooms; active office furniture; and more social spaces.

Overall, access to quiet areas and active furniture scored highest. Over a third of 92 respondents (35 per cent) put active furniture first, while half rated access to quiet areas either first or second.

Perhaps the most important message to emerge from the survey is that facilities managers should not make assumptions about what their people want. Employees’ perceptions of what they need and what would work best are not necessarily correct, of course. But change will not work without proper research to make the case, and proper consultation to ensure everyone is fully on board.

Which of the following workplace health initiatives would you most like your company to implement?

38% Sit-stand desks

21% Organised fitness classes/activities on site

20% Healthy eating options available on site

6% Active seating (balance stools, saddle chairs etc)

6% Standing meetings

6% Anti-fatigue matting

2% More support for cycle to work schemes

Which of the following factors do you think would most increase your productivity at work?

35% Active office furniture (sit-stand desk, active sitting chair, balance board etc)

25% Access to quiet work areas (such as privacy pods and huddle rooms)

18% Better acoustics to reduce noise levels

15% More social spaces

7% Better lighting

About Sarah OBeirne

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