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Cutting work illness but boosting productivity

By Eve Pearce

Work-related illness and work-related injuries cost businesses huge sums every year. In 2011/12, in the UK alone, for example, a staggering 27 million working days were lost - 22.7 million of those were down to work-related illness, with an average of 17 days being lost per person. That's a staggering cost for businesses (whether small or large) to shoulder. There's also the related problem of poor productivity. Are your employees missing important details or lagging behind because of levels of stress or tiredness? Well, the good news is that we can show you how to boost productivity but radically reduce injuries and illnesses, simply by rethinking the organization of the office.

Well-being Essentials

The work environment reflects your business, and it's important that employees enjoy being there and making a contribution to the company's success. With so much of peoples' time tied up at the workplace, it's crucial that modern companies take care of their employees' well-being. This runs from office layout and workloads to out of work care and health provision, and taking time to ensure that workers get an allocated time for lunch and snack breaks. Not only does this provide ample time for socializing and taking a step away from office-mode, but it also ensures that workers are eating healthy. It's tempting to express dedication to the job by skipping lunch, but in the long-term this produces less satisfying results for the company. Companies will substantially improve their productivity by enforcing a policy which makes sure that their employees eat well, ranging from mandatory and flexible lunch times to offering healthy eating options on-site or nearby. Equally important, implementing policies which will help employees to maintain a good level of physical and mental fitness means that more companies are providing access to gyms, daycares, and even spa rooms and gardens, as well support for employees who might be struggling with family issues or personal challenges. Access to counseling and information such as Illinois anorexia treatment resources are always key to have on hand, as anxiety disorders are commonplace and linked to the workplace. By taking away with stigma surrounding these issues and letting employees know that they can work in a safe and open-minded environment, the incentive to give that much more will improve the working environment considerably. 

Improving the work environment

Open-plan offices may be rife now, and with good reason - the ability to easily communicate and swap information with other employees coupled with improved light and space seem to make it the ideal solution. But a lack of privacy and increased noise levels can cut productivity levels. Indeed, employees cite noise as the factor that affects them more than any other. Luckily, these effects can be reduced. Try and restrict hard shiny surfaces as these reflect sound more easily, creating a confused environment where sounds bounce off each other. Use thicker carpets and padded furniture so that noise is absorbed more easily - this'll make it easier to pick out individual noises. Acoustic wall panels run along these lines, and can dramatically improve the intelligibility of speech.

Sound-masking systems introduce artificial sounds (often called white or pink noise) into the office. The new noise proves surprisingly unobtrusive and easy for the mind to phase out. This results in fewer fragments of distant conversations drifting through the employee, increasing privacy but making it more straightforward to hear people talking directly to you. Acoustic screens can also block noises. Older designs may have been tall and wide and, consequently, a touch overbearing. Newer designs are smaller, though, and rely on absorbing sound rather than deflecting it.

Adding color and light

Don't neglect wall color. Don't use bright white walls, as these can create overly light environments where employees find it hard to get to work. Conversely, light green and pink are a little too relaxing, while red makes employees feel aggressive and angry. Yellow can be good for increasing concentration and creativity, although its effect can cause an overload of emotion if not used sparingly. Instead, look for beige or off-white or, for the very best results, light blue. The latter induce feelings of tranquility, but without making employees feel sleepy.

Let natural light stream in where possible. A study by the CEC found that exposure to daylight created higher levels of concentration and better short-term memory - showing a 13% improvement in the ability to instantly recall strings of numbers. Dim lighting, though, often results in higher levels of eye-strain and headaches. If you want to increase productivity and keep strain to a low level, position as many employees as possible close to windows. Make sure the lighting is working well. For fluorescent lights, use tubes with a color temperature of at least 5000K, as these more successfully simulate daylight. If a firm requires high color accuracy, it can insist on lights with a high CRI (Color Rendering Index) of 85 or more, as these will bring out a better range of shades and tones. 

Focus, rest, and posture

A carefully placed painting acts as a good focal point for employees, and gives them something to focus their eyes on to cut down on eye strain - computer or document workers need to look up from their work for at least 20 seconds every 20 minutes, or for a couple of minutes every hour. Also, introduce some plants to purify the air and remove harmful bacteria - plants can also decrease the temperature, making for a cooler environment when used in significant numbers.

Also pay attention to posture. Use the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons' guidelines on this where possible. Chairs must be at the correct height to allow employees to sit naturally, and forearms should be supported with adjustable armrests used to position the elbows near to the waist. Padded seats need to have a pan one inch wider than your hips and thighs. Monitors should be positioned between 20 and 26 inches away, and the screen must be positioned so that it doesn’t pick up glare from windows. 

Try and take regular breaks. A walk around the office will suffice, although getting a bit of sunlight is better. The employees who work the most productively are those who periodically rest their minds with tasks that are relatively undemanding but that still exercise part of the brain - placing shapes in different holes, sorting out keys etc. Employees who relax with more brain-bending pastimes, like crosswords, often display lower levels of concentration afterwards.

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