Can simple changes in the working environment improve engagement and productivity?

Peter Townshend of Know More investigates.

It’s a worrying thought that most of us don’t seem to like our jobs much. Figures from Gallup suggest that only 13% of global workers are “psychologically committed to their jobs and likely to be making positive contributions to their organizations.” Worse than this, nearly half of those unengaged employees are “actively disengaged”, meaning that they are “unhappy and unproductive at work and liable to spread negativity to co-workers”.

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Disengagement in the workplace costs companies around the world millions of dollars, due mainly to losses in productivity. Gallup estimates that a “somewhat disengaged” employee has an 80% return on their salary in value and disengaged employees return 60%.  So what should we be doing about this?

One significant contribution to engagement at work is the quality of the environment and suitability of the workplace. According to research by Steelcase, the employees who are not fully engaged at work are also the most unsatisfied with their work environment. Around 69% fell in to both these categories and of these:

85% could not concentrate easily at work. 

84% did not feel a sense of belonging to their company.

85% did not feel relaxed and calm.

This ties in with Gallup’s research indicating that one important way to boost employee engagement is to focus on their wellbeing. Both studies show clearly that the physical work environment can have a strong impact on employee wellbeing and therefore engagement.

The many benefits of creating a work environment that improves wellbeing have been known for a long time but change has been slow,  perhaps due to the perceived costs of addressing this.

However, surprisingly small changes can lead to big returns. For example, we have shown that simply improving the lighting in an office will improve productivity and better seating reduces absenteeism!

Workplaces that offer an accommodation choice,  promote mobility and have specific areas designed for working on specific tasks undoubtedly have a positive affect on wellbeing and engagement. Too many offices were designed solely to maximize the number of people per square meter without calculating the real cost in loss of productivity. Offices exist to enhance human productivity and should be designed with this in mind because by doing so, we will see greater staff engagement.