June 22 ,2016 | by Helen Gould

Office atmosphere can affect employee health

In addition to obvious culprits such as eating habits, smoking, and exercise, studies are increasingly showing that work environment can affect the health of staff members.

Factors such as employers’ attitudes to sick leave, stress, and “presenteeism” (staff being at their desks more than necessary) may all contribute to the overall health of workers.

Fairness

The University of East Anglia recently released a study that showed perceptions of fairness in the workplace – such as how promotions, workload, and rewards are assigned – can affect how healthy employees feel.

For example, staff who experienced more fairness in the office reported that they felt healthier than staff who did not.

Dr Constanze Eib, the lecturer who conducted the study, commented: “People who feel fairly treated are not only more likely to be motivated at work and go the extra mile for their organisation, but they are also more likely to be healthy, have an active lifestyle and feel positive.”

This research, which was conducted over six years, seems to suggest that employees can be highly sensitive to changes in the workplace and to perceptions of their working environment.

Others have suggested that the impact can extend further than just how employees feel: ideas about how they are or will be treated by their employers can also affect how staff act.

Breaks

Last month, the CIPD website reported that only 30 per cent of UK workers leave their desk for lunch. This has been described as another form of presenteeism (mentioned above).

The study, which was organised by the National Charity Partnership, found that almost a quarter of employees work straight through their lunch break, and almost half spend it on the internet. Many blamed this habit on too much work, high stress levels, and their office culture.

The charity group stated that there could there be adverse mental and physical effects on employee health when staff spent whole days in the office.

Jacqui Kemp, Director at wellbeing consultancy Namasté Culture, said: “Some organisations have a culture of busy-ness; a belief that if I am sat at my desk I am being productive. Yet research shows that if we take short breaks regularly we can be far more productive, while reducing stress and improving our physical health.”

Employer attitudes

However, the issue does not stop at prevention; the policies and level of support of the employer towards sick staff may also have an effect.

ACAS recently found that 35% of employers would not pay staff on long-term sick leave any of their salary after the statutory sick pay period, with 43% saying they would pay part of it. In addition, only 8% had a wellbeing strategy in place, whilst 57% either ignored staff wellbeing or only considered it to a small extent.

Professor Sir Cary Cooper, President of the CIPD, commented that wellbeing had never been more important, adding that “the way we manage people and create cultures that enhance wellbeing are now bottom-line issues.”

Are you affected by your office?

With all of the above in mind, Calibre recently released a quiz to evaluate how healthy staff are when working.

A spokesperson said: "It’s well known that a happy, healthy workforce will produce the best work, allowing creative ideas to flourish [...] With the rise of the freelance economy, workspaces also must be responsive to employee’s needs. Whether it’s a home office, hot desking, or a 9 to 5 cubicle, there are aspects of the working environment that everyone can take into their own hands."

They added that they hoped people would consider what changes they can make to their work space, saying: “A good appraisal can reap massive rewards to your health happiness and quality of life, both in and out of work, literally adding years to your life.”

The quiz covers questions about commuting, time spent at the desk, eating habits, and sick leave, and can be accessed here.

Helen Gould

Helen is a News Writer for LSBF who writes about education, careers, sustainable business, and women in business.

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