(By Drew Hendricks)
“Often when we feel tired or blocked, our focus is internal. We assume we simply aren’t getting enough sleep or we ate too much at lunch. While both of those things may be true, there may also be an external reason for our lack of focus. We may be experiencing the effects of a toxic work environment.“
It’s two o’clock in the afternoon and your mind has gone blank. Your fingers hover over the keys as you struggle to capture your last thought. You can’t think of an immediate reason for your lag in productivity, but you suddenly feel distracted and restless.
Often when we feel tired or blocked, our focus is internal. We assume we simply aren’t getting enough sleep or we ate too much at lunch. While both of those things may be true, there may also be an external reason for our lack of focus. We may be experiencing the effects of a toxic work environment.
If you’re a worker, chances are there are only certain things you can control. For business owners, however, paying attention to the research on various workplace issues can make a big difference in the daily output of each worker, not to mention overall morale. Whether you’re boss or employee, here are a few major adjustments that can make a big difference.
The Right Temperature
When it comes to climate, employees are most productive when they’re comfortable. Unfortunately, “comfortable” means different things to different people. Some people are happy in an office that maintains a steady 68 degrees while others break out the space heater until their work area reaches 80 degrees or more.
But when it comes to science, those who prefer sub-tropic temps win. According to research reported inMen’s Health, workers are most productive in temperatures ranging between 71 and 77 degrees. After analyzing hundreds of workers, researchers found cooler temps were the top cause of afternoon productivity lags. This confirmed a 2004 study from Cornell University that found that temps of 68 degrees or lower in an office increased worker errors. As the temperature increased to between 68 and 77 degrees, typing errors dropped by 44 percent and typing output increased 150 percent.
Lighting and Glare
Fluorescents have long been the light bulb of choice in office décor. But telling your boss that’s a bad idea may not be sufficient. For scientific proof, there’s a 2012 study by Mirjam Muench that studied two separate groups of people—one who spent multiple work days in daylight and another who spent multiple days working in natural light. The study found more dramatic feelings of sleepiness at the end of the day in those who worked in artificial light. Scientists have theorized in recent years that artificial light has disrupted our body’s circadian rhythms, leading us to fall out of sync with the sun.
By increasing the natural light available to workers, employers may find those workers sleep better and show up for work more rested, leading to increased productivity. For workers who are forced to remain in artificial light throughout the majority of the workday, taking frequent breaks outdoors could provide a natural rejuvenator that increases alertness.
In today’s “collaborative” environment, noise can be a real problem. In fact, it might be one of the most scientifically-proven workplace drains today’s worker encounters. In a study published by Cornell University, researchers reported finding higher levels of epinephrine in workers who were exposed to low levels of noise, when compared to workers exposed to no noise. This indicated workers exposed to noise were under higher levels of stress. Studies have shown office noise can lead to negative moods, inability to concentrate on a task, and even health issues after prolonged exposure.
As a worker, noise-canceling headphones are a great way to silence the noise. But while workers may believe listening to music helps them focus, studies have also shown music can decrease productivity when a worker is conducting a task that requires focus. But when it’s a task a worker performs on a regular basis, music can actually increase concentration.
Business owners can help reduce noise-related stress by providing workers a quiet place to go when extreme focus is needed. Whether this is accomplished through an enclave located in the office or allowing employees to work from home, this can be a great alternative to trying to tune out worker gossip and ringing phones.
Worker Comfort and Safety
Ergonomics are a real issue in today’s typing-heavy work environment. But ergonomics are not just a safety issue. Studies have found when a worker is comfortable and safe, that worker is more productive. When employees sit up straight and type, they think more clearly and have a higher work output than an employee who sits slumped over his or her keyboard.
Many experts feel that color has a definite impact on a person’s mood. The color of an office’s walls, floors, and furniture creates an overall office environment that influences how workers perform, experts feel. Frank Mahnke, author of Color, Environment, & Human Response says that when done correctly, workers will be able to get a different visual depending on which way they are facing during the course of the day. As you decorate your office, keep these color associations in mind.
Yellow: stimulating, bright, cozy.
Red: arousing, fiery, aggressive.
White: open, neutral, sterile.
Keeping this in mind, a worker may see why an office covered in red paint might experience more hostility than one that utilizes more subtle tones. However, many offices are decorated in neutral grays, which might be more versatile but has no positive impact on productivity. Pastel yellow might be a good choice for a conference room where workers regularly work hold brainstorming sessions, while a more calming and soothing color like light green might be a good idea for areas where meetings with clients are most likely to occur.
Incidentally, grey is a color associated with intellect and wisdom, which might be just the look you’re going for in your office. Since this is often decided by property owners long before a business takes occupation of a space, even business owners may not have control over the colors in an office. If painting isn’t possible, a few extra accent colors in paintings and decorations may make a big difference in overall employee mood.
Small changes can be made in individual work areas to improve worker productivity. By getting to know the psychology behind the way an office environment influences the five senses, business owners may be able to see a measurable increase in worker output, adding to their own bottom line each year.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”