Office environments can play a part in regulating the health, wellbeing and productivity of employees.
Bond University Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour Dr Libby Sander said she knew of a case in Australia where an employee was happy to take $20,000 less to work in an office with a better environment.
Recognising the importance of surroundings on staff, some employers provide perks like hammocks, table tennis tables and video games rooms to give their staff avenues to de-stress, take a breather and engage better with their jobs.
Take Google’s Sydney office for example. The workspace accommodates approximately 1200 workers and is filled with interesting office furniture and zones.
There you can swing on a tyre, head to your next meeting on a scooter, chill out on a hammock, play some instruments in the music room or video games in the ‘tech stop’.
Other perks aimed at lowering stress levels include a meditation room, sleeping pods and massage spaces.
But does a game of ping pong really lead to increased productivity or are these just gimmicks?
“It’s important to know that a great office doesn’t overcome poor leadership or poor culture,” Dr Sander said.
“Google’s office is not going to work for everyone.”
This sentiment was echoed by The Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychology Australia (SIOPA) President Justine McGillivray.
“No one size fits all,” she said. “What I would recommend is organisations consider the nature of the work they do, what is the demographic profile of their workforce and what the needs of the employees are.
"If work is stressful it might be a good idea to have break rooms where workers can go during lunch time.”
“Table tennis for example may work if you have a stressful job that may benefit from some kind of time out.
“It is important any recreation facility is resourced properly and leadership actively and visibly participate so they are shown to be supportive of these initiatives but they need to be convenient and well-timed otherwise people probably won’t use the facility.”
Bland offices with poor volume control were often the number one complaint of employees.
We need to look at the nature of the job itself, management, leadership and the culture of the organisation.
Access to natural light, greenery, sound control, natural materials, visual privacy and generally designing the office around the work done there were all important factors in office design, according to Dr Sander.
However, she said other factors came into play when discussing employee performance and wellness.
“When we look at employee engagement and productivity it’s a lot more complicated than office design,” she said. “We need to look at the nature of the job itself, management, leadership and the culture of the organisation.”
Not everyone hankers for a fancy work pod (Google) or a spaceship-styled campus (Apple). Some workers prefer traditional perks like flexibility, access to promotion and increased financial opportunities.
“It does really depend on the individual and the type of work they’re doing and obviously their stage in life,” Dr Sander said.
Employee mental health and stress in the workplace need to be taken seriously by employers.
According to Indicators of a Thriving Workplace 2018, a survey by Australian mental health organisation SuperFriend, one in five employees suffers from a mental health condition.
“The majority of the things we can see when talking about mental health in the workplace concerns work-related stress and difficult interactions with colleagues or managers,” Ms McGillivray said.
“Stress and burnout are particularly significant factors as well as other issues like anxiety and depression,” Dr Sander said.
A structured health and wellbeing program provides a good return on investment and can improve employees' wellbeing.
“We see productivity increase because people are happier, people feel more satisfied, they want to stay, they become more loyal and continue to work there,” Ms McGillivray said.
“We see injury rates and sickness rates decrease because people start to feel cared for. That’s really the outcome of a successful health and wellbeing program that has been well thought out and developed in consultation with employees to achieve a specific purpose.”