Environmental Issues in the Workplace

Whether in an office or warehouse, the physical workplace has a significant impact on the workforce.

by Michael Davis, IWIRC Corp.

We’ve all been there. The office is either too hot or too cold. A beam of light coming through the blinds causes an irritating glare on the computer monitor, and even when you close the blinds, there is still a glorious glow coming through that hits the exact place on the screen where you’re reading. The guy next to you incessantly taps his pencil, fingertips or whatever else he can find. And someone is always turning the radio up or down or talking outside your office door.

The constant changes in the physical work environment can be maddening to employers—and costly. Whether in an office or warehouse environment, the physical workplace significantly impacts the workforce and its productivity. Over the years, many studies have addressed differences in temperature, lighting and acoustical features in the work environment and their effects on productivity. Here are several:

Lighting
There are many facets of lighting, including general illumination, glare, task lighting, colors and shadows. When it comes to workplace lighting, performance decreases when the room is too dim or too bright, when there is too much glare, and when the worker has no control over their lighting.

Noise/Sound
A co-worker’s voice, machinery around the worker, and even music intended to relax the work environment can drive some employees nuts. Employee performance declines when noise is loud or annoying, a worker’s privacy is compromised, and (again) when the worker has no control over these factors.

Temperature
Heating, cooling and ventilation systems play an essential role in workplace productivity as well. Research has shown that employee performance decreases when it’s too cold or too hot, when pollution is present, when the ventilation systems are too noisy, and (to be purposefully redundant) when the worker has no control.

Just how much do these factors matter? Taking just one of the above factors, workplace productivity shifts dramatically as the temperature changes. One study concluded that the temperatures that are most comfortable to employees will save the employer about two dollars per worker, per hour. In terms of computer work, as the temperature drops below an employee’s comfort zone, their keyboarding productivity wanes as much as fifty percent—with error rates increasing more than 100 percent as well. 

I encourage employers to take the time to listen to what your employees are saying about their work environment—or be proactive and ask them. Then look at the research. Too often, employees tell us about these factors, but the employer gives them little weight. Yet it’s these things which cost companies significant money, and it could end up being the difference between profit and loss if and when they’re addressed. 

Where can you begin? Some of the findings I’ve cited in this article may be accessed through Cornell University’s website at ergo.human.cornell.edu. PM

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