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For Employers

5 Tips for Creating a Healthier, More Productive Work Environment

"The floggings will continue until morale improves." We've all heard the saying, a tongue-in-cheek way of criticizing workplaces that are neither healthy nor productive — and no employer or employee wants to be that workplace. Create a healthier, more productive work environment with these tips.


1. Ditch the open office

The classic open-office design, with no privacy and everyone in one communal space, was supposed to encourage collaboration and productivity. Yet multiple studies show it doesn't work. Employees seek privacy and respite from the noise by clamping on earphones and tuning out.

So what should you do if you've already invested heavily in an open floor plan? Try changing the layout to afford your employees more privacy, which in turn leads to more productivity. If a complete redesign isn't possible, you still have options. Consider letting employees book time in empty conference rooms or other quiet spaces to do their work. Or offer work-from-home days. Sound-masking, in which you pipe in subtle white noise, can also help employees feel like they can concentrate without hearing other people's conversations.

2. Change the lights

. A significant number of American workplaces have harsh fluorescent lighting that glares down from overhead. That kind of lightning causes employee fatigue and doesn't improve anyone's mood. Your best bet here is to allow natural light into the workspace. If that's not possible, changing light bulbs to daylight bulbs will help. Bringing in lamps is also beneficial, which emanate light at eye level instead of overhead.

3. Add some green

A few green indoor plants may help your bottom line get a little greener too. That's because green plants are shown to have a beneficial effect on mental health. They also clean the air, helping to avoid sick building syndrome (SBS). (SBS is a common issue where office employees experience symptoms similar to that of the common cold while in the office, only to find themselves feeling healthy sometimes almost immediately upon leaving the space.) Putting an indoor plant on every desk will mean healthier, happier workers overall. Some popular options for office plants are peace lilies, spider plants, and philodendrons.

4. Reduce presenteeism

Presenteeism makes employees feel pressure to be at the office no matter what, oftentimes ignoring their own physical or mental health. Presenteeism decreases employee productivity and happiness, which in turn impacts coworkers, whether by passing on germs or merely being present while battling depression or stress. The key here is creating a workplace culture that encourages employees to take care of themselves. Presenteeism can be improved by training managers never to question or argue when a worker calls out sick. Employers can also help employees understand that the most important measuring stick is productivity, not attendance.

5. Unplug

A dead battery is no use to anyone, and good employers understand that employees need to disengage during time off to recharge their batteries. Managers should honor workers' personal time by giving them space to detach from work. Don't email when they are on leave or vacation, or if you do, make clear that an immediate answer is not expected. The same goes for texts, phone calls, messages on Slack — any work-related communication unless it's urgent. Help your employees to treat each other with that same respect by making it a part of your work culture. You'll have people who are refreshed and ready to work, instead of emotionally exhausted employees who take extra time to get into work mode.

It's true some of these five tips for creating a healthier, more productive work environment seem counterintuitive to creating healthier, more productive employees. It's okay to feel hesitant about moving away from an open-plan workspace, or encouraging mental health days. Just remember, it's all backed by science. Your bottom line will thank you.

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