A statistics-oriented look at the importance of workplace environment and how it relates to employee productivity.

As an EHS leader, you probably understand the impact that employee health and happiness have on productivity and the bottom line. Clearly illustrating that link to your C-suite? That can be a bit tougher.

… Unless you let the data do the talking.

The statistics surrounding employee productivity and workplace environment tell a story that’s not only clear and convincing, but that demands action. Could lowering desks by an inch or changing the air temperature by a few degrees really increase employee output? (Spoiler: it absolutely could.) 

Obviously, the global pandemic that struck here in 2020 brings about new realities for EHS leaders. Implementing measures to keep employees safe is the utmost imperative. But looking beyond this essential priority, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that comfort and contentment are bottom-line difference-makers in the workplace, whether that’s a central office or the increasingly prevalent remote setting. Harvard Business Review featured an analysis of hundreds of studies showing that happier employees average 31% higher productivity, 37% higher sales, and three times the creativity.

So, what can you do to make the workplace -- wherever it might be -- the most conducive to employee happiness and health? Let’s see what the numbers say.

A Matter of Degrees

Americans spend 90% of time indoors, with the vast majority of working hours spent exclusively inside. Simply put: the average employee is spending about a third of their waking life in the workplace environment, be it an office, their home, or otherwise. 

The temperature of said environment can be cumulatively costing your company some serious money. We’re not just talking about days when the heater conks out — relatively mild changes in temperature can actually affect the way your employees think, and thus, the way they work.

A survey on office temperatures found that 53% of employees are less productive when working in an office that is too cold. Meanwhile, 71% percent are less productive when working in an office that is too warm. These studies also offer food for thought: 

  • A study on air-conditioned offices concluded with the following: “The finding shows that task-related performance is significantly correlated with the human perception of thermal environment that in turn is dependent on temperatures.”

  • Another small study measured the link between ambient temperature and productivity. It showed that a drop in temperature from 25°C to 20°C caused a productivity dropoff of 50% for a specific task.  

Other air elements can play a role as well, such as humidity and air quality. The takeaway here is that refining the quality of an indoor atmosphere can drastically affect the work that comes out of it. While employers have much less control over the environments of remote workplaces, it’s valuable to get this message across to your distributed workforce so remote employees are at least thinking critically about temperature and air quality.

The Flick of a Switch

If we ask you to picture your ideal workspace, rows of harsh fluorescent lights probably don’t factor in. So why have these eye-straining fixtures become a part of the office culture? A study conducted by the American Society of Interior Design showed that 68% of employees complain about the lighting situation in their offices.

So, what to do? If you’re one of the many companies whose office or facility has been quiet and empty of late, this might be a good time to think about enhancing your lighting setup going forward, as employees return to work. While not necessarily as urgent in the moment as hygiene and cleanliness, it definitely matters.

Human circadian rhythms naturally follow the cycles of the sun. This syncing explains why exposure to natural light can actually increase productivity. A report by the World Green Building Council found that exposing workers to daylight makes them 18% more productive.

It’s not just productivity — sales revenue can be affected by natural light too. A PG&E study of natural lighting in Walmarts showed that stores outfitted with skylights showed a 44% increase in sales versus stores with no skylights.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise Harvard Business Review concluded that natural light is the No. 1 most desired office perk. Again, this is a great insight to share with WFH employees who might not recognize the importance of opening the shades.

Respecting Ergonomics

If you’ve ever sat in an airplane seat, you know that sitting awkwardly can take a mental and physical toll. As bad as a cramped red-eye is, the unconsidered workspace can be even worse for the body in the long-term. 

Even mildly uncomfortable body positions can affect concentration and mental acuity. This could mean desks positioned too high or too low, forcing employees to type at angles beyond 90° (therefore putting stress on elbow joints). It could mean chairs that offer no lumbar support or properly heightened arm-rests. It could even mean making sure monitors are aligned to meet the proper eye height.  

The good news is: we can do something about it. Specific causes mean specific solutions. Plus, as we improve the ergonomics of our workspaces, we see reduced injuries, higher employee retention, and an improved bottom line. 

The numbers are clear: reducing physical taxation on your employees via ergonomics can lead to a 25% increase in productivity. A body-conscious workspace leads to a 48% reduction in employee turnover. One independent firm’s study showed that return on investment for ergonomics ranged from 77% to 1,513%, depending on the change, with an average 378% return on the initial investment.

It’s not just office workers. A steel company researched and implemented a more ergonomic torque hand-driving tool and saw production go up 50% across the board. While making hard labor more ergonomic makes clear sense, the reduction in injuries pays surprising dividends when it comes to reducing injury claims over time.

For employees who are remote, we encourage you to share our blog post highlighting basic ergonomic tips for setting up a home office

It All Adds Up

The human body is a flowing machine that is in constant interaction with its environment. Like any machine, small tweaks can yield different results.

While not always an easy story to pin down, the data is clear: By tweaking minor environmental factors, you can bring about significant, proven improvements in productivity, employee quality of life, and reputation. No matter where the workplace might be, it’s essential for leadership to be maintaining a strong focus on the surrounding environment. Investing in air quality, lighting or ergonomic improvements even for your homebound employees can pay real dividends.

If you’re having trouble getting these points across to the executive board, we hope the expansive evidence provided above can help make your case. By all accounts, a happy and healthy environment is a worthy pursuit.

Ready to make the push to improve the ergonomics in your workplace? Let our team at Antea Group help you conduct your own assessment with seven easy steps or learn more about ergonomic services

Want more news and insights like this?

Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter, The New Leaf. Our goal is to keep you updated, educated and even a bit entertained as it relates to all things EHS and sustainability.

Get e-Newsletter