Wellness Together is a syndicated research project carried out by Sapio Research, of 1000 UK based office workers and 50 Facilities Management experts, to uncover the link between people feeling catered and cared for by their workplace/employers and how this impacts business performance.
The survey provides evidence of a strong correlation between productivity, creativity and even profitability with employee working conditions, focusing on key elements of light, air, noise, health, culture, design, movement and the quality of furniture.
Acoustics and Wellness
In creating working environments that promote wellness, both physical and mental, every element must be considered. From the floor layouts and structure, the company culture and the furniture, materials and fittings used.
The findings of the research showed that accommodating a variety of acoustic environments is advantageous when creating environments for high performance work. The findings showed that psychoacoustic elements (the branch of psychology concerned with the perception of sound and its physiological effects) come into play here:
Of all the types of noise distraction, shrieks of laughter or variable volume conversations are the most distracting to many of the studies’ respondents, with 30% stating highly distracting (only 27% aren’t distracted by this type of noise). These types of noise are the 4th biggest distraction overall.
Those with analytical and objective thinking personalities are more likely to be distracted by shrieks of laughter or variable volume conversations than those that are passionate, empathetic, and warm (37% vs. 28%).
Of course, having a space where staff can openly talk and discuss ideas is also important and not as counter-intuitive as it may seem. Says Michael Tyerman of Woven Image: “Companies which have noisier areas where staff can choose to work together and collaborate have considerably more profit than those who don’t encourage it.”. This emphasises how important choice is for employees.
30% of respondents cited being listened to while on the phone a distraction too (only 29% aren’t distracted by this).
Colleagues conversations are an issue for a quarter of respondents, 25% being very distracted by them.
Constant traffic or outside noise (20%), low level background noise (17%) and silence (12%) aren’t as distracting as variable noise.
The added availability of quiet working spaces is one of the most important characteristics of companies that consider themselves to be highly innovative or creative. Quiet spaces are also important for highly productive companies. The availability of quiet spaces is found to be one of the biggest differentiators between high and low performing companies.
Those in higher managerial positions are more likely to find silence distracting (25% compared to 12% average).
The Wellness Together study found that the availability of quiet working spaces, preferably enhanced with acoustic panelling, was the second most important characteristic cited, after employees being consulted on the way space is used, of companies that consider themselves to be highly innovative or creative.
34% of highly innovative or creative companies have these facilities, compared to only 23% of the less innovative/creative.
The availability of a range of acoustic environments was the most important characteristic of the most productive companies: 41% of highly productive companies have these facilities, while only 21% of the less productive do.
Break-out & collaboration spaces alone don’t have this same positive impact. Quiet working spaces are needed in addition.
A few quirks of the contemporary office provide spaces for staff to switch-off, relax, socialise and open their creative minds. But, given the above, beware the ping-pong table without proper acoustic proofing:
The 7% of companies surveyed with a ping pong table in the office have 24% more profit compared to those that don’t. It’s the 9th most important characteristic of profitable businesses!
Having a space whose purpose creates noise is not as ridiculous as it may seem as companies who have nosier areas where staff can choose to work have 22% more profit than those who don’t encourage the practice.
Other key findings include:
Profitability, productivity and innovation
On balance, companies that have good environmental conditions at their workplace and have supportive/flexible working practices tend to be more productive, innovative and profitable.
Highly profitable companies are more likely to have staff that say they have better physical and mental wellbeing. (Employees with a high sense of mental wellbeing work in companies that have gross profit margins that are 3% higher than companies with average/ neutral self-rated wellbeing)
Higher profitability is also associated with companies that have greater agility and flexible working practices and that demonstrate greater innovation and creativity. (companies with a high level of flexibility and agility have 6% higher gross profit margins, on average, than companies with low flexibility and agility)
Higher performing companies are more likely to have a wide range of facilities in place for their staff and include features that promote wellbeing such as showers, cycle parking, personal lockers, plants, quiet working spaces, variable lighting control, workstations that promote healthy posture and amenities for social.
Employees in high performance companies say they have more freedom to choose how they work and move about. (e.g. move to another space in the office, choose between sitting and standing, have some healthy food or go home to finish work)
Those working in more senior roles are more sensitive to distractions and also more reactive to improvements in their environment.
Jane Hales, Managing Director of Sapio Research said:
“Given the apparent inverse relationship between productivity and absenteeism currently in the UK, it’s no surprise that over half (55%) of employees recognise there is a problem with their own company’s productivity. Of course, there is no single quick fix to this but it’s great to be able to identify a number of key facilities and behaviours that companies can change to overcome the challenge, many of which are often very low cost. The presenteeism phenomena of staff working while unwell is costing the UK twice as much as absenteeism, so it’s in everyone’s interest to stimulate greater engagement amongst the most vital resource: employees.”