We can continue what we were excited about before COVID-19. Remember? Fruit in the office, the gym in the basement, and apps to climb Mount Everest with the team. A healthy work environment was trending. All kinds of things are thought up with good intentions around health at work. But what really works, and who should we involve?
Healthy work environment more important than ever
The need to create a healthy work environment has only increased. Healthcare costs amount to more than a quarter of the tax money spent in the Netherlands. What can we do in our work environments to reduce the need for care? Which approach is effective? The most well-trained bodies often visit the gym, and team challenges were fun once but had no lasting effect. So, what does work?
The role of the workplace in occupational health
Healthy living goes hand in hand with healthy behavior. Schroeder’s research showed back in 2007, that behavior has the most (40%) impact on health. Through nudging, coaching, incentives, and conversations, HR professionals are profoundly helping employees to work more healthily.
On the other hand, the physical work environment has little impact on health: only 5%. So, you could dismiss the effect of the work environment, but to leave the topic of ‘health at work’ solely to HR would be a missed opportunity. It is precisely a healthy work environment that can encourage the correct behavior.
An inviting-looking staircase, for example, can encourage more employees to take the stairs. Or you can utilize good acoustics to ensure that colleagues talk more quietly. By collecting the garbage cans at the desks, you can easily motivate employees to get up from their chairsmore often. These are all examples of how the environment can create the desired behavior.
So don’t just leave it to HR specialists to stimulate healthy behavior. As the guardian of the physical work environment, you must also take responsibility for this.
Turn the office into a focus forest
Now, occupational health is a broad term. Should we focus on physical, mental, or just social health? If anything needs to stay healthy among knowledge workers, it’s “our head.” Mental health, in other words. A recent CBS report shows that the mental health of the Dutch has never been as bad as it is now. Of course, COVID-19 has played a role in this. But even post-COVID-19, the number of people suffering from burnout rose every year.
In our own research of more than 8,000 respondents, using the-Work-at-Home Factor, we see part of the answer to this question. It turns out that we do focused work at work about 60% of the time and that employees prefer to do concentrated work at home because one can concentrate better there than at work. In short: the work we spend most of our time doing, we prefer not to perform at the office. That’s the world upside down! Let’s make our office, above all, a place where the knowledge worker is given maximum mental support.
A workplace concept must provide sufficient space for rest, smaller work areas, focus areas, and attention to acoustics and greenery. This peace is necessary to remain mentally healthy. Working at home for rest can then be exchanged for focused work at the office because it is lovely and quiet. Instead of an office garden, we should strive toward a focus forest.
The investment in a healthy work environment
There is something else that counts: the cost of a healthy work environment. A business case is often brought in to justify the investment in a healthy office. With a 5% investment in lighting, productivity increases by 6-16%. With a view of greenery, recovery in the hospital takes 20% less time. Someone who walks half an hour a day performs 8% more, and so forth.
Plenty of figures, but investments in, for example, healthy lighting or air quality are still challenging to get off the ground. Are they necessary? In our view, it should be a matter of pride to show that you are investing in people and the office should be better than it is at home.
The business case of the coffee bar
We can learn from the coffee bar in this. In recent years, coffee bars in offices have shot up like mushrooms. They are seen as indispensable for meetings between people and informal consultations.
All true, but I have yet to see the first business case that proves it. We can learn from this that it takes more than numbers to get things done.
Make the healthy work environment visible
Therefore, the investment in quality and healthy work environments should go beyond meeting basic needs and be made visible. You can be proud if you put a lot of effort into the health of your colleagues.
For example, if you do not have standard LED lighting that meets the criteria but personally adjustable office lighting that changes with the day. Instead of a staircase hidden behind the elevator with a routing to it, create an eye-catcher of a staircase in the middle of the building where everyone feels like the star of the show. Instead of one plant per three workplaces, add entire green walls of plants in the interior design.
While these options require a different approach from a CFO, I t pays off just as well as the coffee bar.
So: a healthy work environment is not an afterthought
Health at work is no longer about care and working conditions standards, but instead uses inspiration to makes us proud. If health really is at the heart of the organization, then it is already included at the beginning of the housing issues. Then you can be sure that the layout and use of the office are perfectly attuned to a healthy workplace. There’s no need to touch up afterward with yoga classes and team-building apps.
So, to help keep the Netherlands on top, the right healthy work environment is needed to guide people’s behavior by giving them a push in the right direction. And if it works, it should be shown and celebrated. This makes your company more attractive and helps to keep attract talent. Your employees and colleagues deserve that healthy work environment. The only “downside” may be that the office will be visited more often because it is such a pleasure to work there ;-).