Increasing employee productivity should be at the forefront of any successful business strategy. Ensuring that you’re getting the most from your employees is paramount to achieving your brand’s goals and growing as an organisation. HR departments can have a positive influence on employee productivity in a number of ways; these ideas are all in plain sight – part of everyday office life – and, in some cases, are easily achievable.
1. Adjust the lighting
Good lighting in the workplace not only makes it easier to see what you’re doing, but it’s also much healthier than a dimly lit office.
Constantly straining to read text and sitting in front of a glaring screen for hours on end will result in lower productivity and have a negative effect on workers health.
Eye strain leads to headaches and general drowsiness, which, at best, means that less gets done and at worst increases absence rates and their associated costs.
It’s not just a case of increasing the intensity of light in the workplace either. Artificial lighting (in particular) has a number of negative effects on your employees, it can cause eye strain and it is also believed to be a trigger for migraines.
Harsh lighting also makes it more difficult to focus, so using natural lighting where possible should always be a priority.
In a study called ‘The Responsible Workplace‘ it was found that windows ‘were the number one determinant of the occupants’ level of satisfaction with a building’.
A study by Northwestern Medicine and the University of Illinois concluded that employees who had windows at work received 173% more white light exposure during their work day and slept an average of 46 minutes more every night than employees who did not have the same natural light exposure in their office.
A good night’s sleep is known to be much more beneficial to our health and productivity than feeling tired all the time and struggling to maintain a sufficient sleep pattern.
2. How comfortable are employees at their desk?
There have been countless articles written over the past couple of years pertaining to the benefits of not sitting at all during your working day. Standing desks have been touted as the only way to stop the inevitable health issues – and even early death – that sitting at our desk for long periods can cause. There have even been reports that sitting all day at work will knock years off of the average life span!
As well as health issues (which are obviously a priority), there are also the negative effects that discomfort will have on an employee’s productivity.
Constantly fidgeting, getting up and moving around the office to escape an uncomfortable seat, and having to frequently adjust a chair to suit posture will all eat into valuable time.
A good chair is a start, but employees may need to be educated as to the best position to adopt when seated. Making guides readily available on the wellness section of your company intranet will allow employees to correct their posture, improve comfort and increase productivity as a result.
Ensuring that monitors are at eye height is also important to reduce back and neck pain, while screen filters will help to reduce headaches and eye strain.
Other gadgets to improve wellness while sat at a desk include: HOVR, which produces unconscious movement that promotes healthier living, temperature-regulating chairs and TableAir, a desk that adjust with a wave of your hand!
Desk comfort can also be affected by the amount of unnecessary clutter you have on your desk. In a recent survey of British employees, 77% of workers stated that a messy desk negatively affected their productivity. Simply clearing desks at the end of the day could improve productivity among workers, whilst simultaneously improving the look of your office.
3. The ‘Hawthorne effect’
In an experiment carried out on workers in the 1920/30’s, in which working conditions were adjusted either positively or negatively, it was found that the productivity of the control group improved regardless of the change.
The researchers carrying out the experiments concluded that it was not the changes in physical conditions that were affecting productivity, it was the fact that someone was actually concerned about their workplace and was being given the opportunity to discuss changes before they took place.
Simply showing that, as an employer or HR department, you are concerned for the welfare of those working in your offices you can improve productivity and morale.
Discussing proposed changes in the working environment allows employees to engage with and feel more part of the decision-making process.
4. How hot is the office?
Getting the temperature right in an office isn’t easy. It’s a battle that’s been forever raging around the world, between those who prefer a cooler environment and those who want to feel cosy and warm at their desk. This problem is exacerbated by the finding that the female metabolic rate is an average of 20-32% lower than males, which might be why we can never get the temperature ‘just right’ in an office.
But what temperature is best for the productivity of employees?
A study conducted by Cornell University tried to solve this puzzle by tinkering with the thermostat of an insurance office. Lower temperatures (68 degrees) resulted in employees making 44% more errors and becoming less than 50% as productive, compared to working in a warmer environment (77 degrees).
The resultant dip in productivity could cost employers 10% more per employee, per hour. When we’re cold, we use energy reserves to try and warm ourselves up. This extra energy consumption is at the detriment of concentration, focus and getting on with daily tasks.
About.com reported the following statistics relating to temperature and the resultant productivity in employees:
As temperature increases:
- At 77 degrees F we’re about 98% productive
- 82 degrees F = 95%
- 87 degrees F = 90%
- 92 degrees F = 85%
As temperature decreases:
- At 66 degrees F we’re about 98% productive
- 63 degrees F = 95%
- 59 degrees F = 90%
Warmer temperatures in an office environment also affect how employees feel towards their colleagues. Humans associate warmth with trust and this helps to nurture the formation of relationships.
“In one experiment, they varied temperature in a room from the low 60s F to the low 70s F. They then showed a group of 52 volunteers a short film clip and asked them to describe in their own words what was happening.”
IJzerman and Semin hypothesized that room temperature would influence the volunteers’ perceptions, and hence the kind of language that they used in their descriptions. Those in a warm room would write concrete descriptions of the scene, while chilly volunteers would write more abstract descriptions.
That’s exactly what they found. When the language from the volunteers’ narratives was coded, they found that temperature did indeed affect the volunteers’ choice of words: The group of warm volunteers expressed greater feelings of closeness toward the experimenter.
“We showed that temperature differences are directly tied to differences in social proximity.” The researchers wrote, “Environmentally induced conditions shape not only language use, but also the perception and construal of social relationships.”
Any successful business requires a level of trust and collaboration between its workforce. Getting the temperature right is one subtle way to encourage this culture to grow.
5. Can employees hear themselves think?
The American Society of Heating and Air Conditioning Engineers recommends that the noise level in an open plan office is between 49 and 58 dBA, so as not to adversely affect verbal communication. To give an idea of different noise levels: whispering is 34dBA, a vacuum cleaner is 69dBA and our pain threshold for noise is 120dBA.
It’s difficult to determine when a noise becomes disruptive and interferes with productivity, as there are so many factors involved, such as the pitch of the noise, whether it’s sudden or ongoing, or if individuals find a particular noise, which may not even be loud, annoying.
Researchers have found that the particular mix of sounds found in many open-plan offices negatively affects employees’ memory and their ability to perform basic tasks, such as maths.
Cornell research reported that individuals in an office environment exposed to low levels of office noise had increased levels of epinephrine, compared to those workers in a quieter environment. These findings indicated that the workers in the more noisy environment were more stressed.
Tasks that require reading comprehension and/or memory recall are particularly susceptible to the effects of noise, particularly verbal noise from co-workers. When trying to perform tasks in a noisy environment, concentration becomes more difficult and the likelihood of making an error increases.
According to Stanford University cognitive neuroscientist Anthony Wagner, when multitasking in a busy office an employee will have a hard time returning to a task once they’ve been distracted by ‘irrelevant environmental stimuli’, such as co-worker noise.
6. Are you a flexible employer?
Personal responsibilities are no longer something that employees need to fit in around work. Flexible working reduces personal costs, such as childcare, while allowing workers to select the times to work when they’re most productive.
The knowledge that an employer is open to flexible working is also great for employee morale and engagement. Displaying that you, as an employer, appreciate that employees have responsibilities and priorities demonstrates that you have their best interests and quality of life in mind.
The ability to work from home or other location also allows an employee to remove themselves from a potentially distracting environment. This in itself increases their productivity for that time period, while further reinforcing your brands flexible approach to working.
7. How happy are your employees really?
The Social Market Foundation and University of Warwick’s Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy carried out a 700-person experiment to determine whether happy employees were really more productive.
Individuals were chosen at random by researchers and either shown a 10-minute comedy clip or provided with snacks and drinks.
Once the researchers were convinced that the group were indeed happy, by way of asking a series of questions, they were given tasks to measure their levels of productivity.
The results were that productivity increased by an average of 12%, and reached as high as 20% above that of the control group.
Showing your employees comedy clips every day is probably not realistic for most business leaders (maybe it should be!!), however, there are many ways that employee happiness can be improved.
Creating a culture of mindfulness, communication and collaboration will improve morale and motivation among a workforce. Ensuring that employees are recognised for their efforts, whether this by way of a reward or a simple ‘thank you’, will help to nurture a happy environment to work in.
8. Encourage the right fuel
Making the wrong choice of lunch can have a profound effect on an employee’s productivity level during an afternoon. Encouraging employees to eat well will improve productivity, the health of your workforce and their happiness.
Trying to concentrate on an empty stomach is tough, we all know that. This is because everything we eat is turned into glucose, which fuels our brains and enables us to stay alert and focused.
What we eat determines how fast and for how long this energy is released, therefore controlling the length of time that we can remain productive. Once that fuel runs out, we get an energy slump and our productivity drops.
Foods such as pasta, bread, cereal and fizzy drinks, which are all common, quick and easy lunchtime meals that we make at work, release glucose quickly and only provide a short burst of energy.
It’s better to encourage employees to eat fruit and vegetables throughout the day in order to maintain an even level of energy and productivity. An energy bar can be mixed in as an occasional snack of course!
In a study by The British Journal of Health Psychology it was reported that the more fruits and vegetables people consumed (up to 7 portions), the happier, more engaged and more creative they tended to be. Happy and engaged employees are more productive, loyal and less likely to take time off – all qualities that can be influenced by what they eat at lunchtime.
9. Tools of the trade
Introducing flexibility in the time and location that employees can work, using the tools that you, as an employer, provide, will increase morale and allow employees to work the hours that they’re most productive and improve their work-life balance.
SaaS solutions are no longer a luxury, over the past few years they’ve become the default way to implement new systems. The ability to access a system from anywhere, and at anytime, removes the restrictions an in-house system imposes, whilst reducing the ongoing costs of building and maintaining an IT infrastructure.
The knowledge that SaaS solutions are always up to date (and accessible all the time) increases the confidence that employees have in the tools that they’re using and increases productivity as a result.