Creating better office spaces to reduce absenteeism – 12 Aug 2014 – BizCommunity
Post written by Paragon Interiors   October 22, 2015

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As employee absenteeism costs the South African economy between R12- to 16-billion annually, businesses need to understand, monitor and actively intervene on some of the causes of this, as there is a clear link between employee health, productivity and absenteeism.

According to Occupational Care South Africa (OCSA), on average, over 15% of staff could be absent on any given day. Of those absent, two out of three employees are not physically ill and sleep disorders are ranked as the ‘top cause of lost work time’.Some researchers have pointed to modern lifestyle issues, which include too much light from electronic devices before bedtime, excessive caffeine, not enough time in bed and even too much light in bedrooms.

The artificial (or blue) light emitted by TVs, mobile phones and computers can disrupt the body’s preparation for sleep by stimulating daytime hormones and should be turned off at least an hour before bedtime.

“While you might feel the need to stay connected with work at all times and are reading emails in bed just before you go to sleep, it is actually making you less effective and creates a negative cycle,” says Lucy Le Roux, marketing manager for office design firm Paragon Interiors.

“What is concerning in the OCSA data is the high percentage of employee’s who appear to be falsifying illness; this points to a deeper problem of being unhappy at work or just not coping.”

Staff feeling that senior management are sincerely interested in employee wellbeing is the top driver of engagement, with obvious spin offs for productivity and reducing absenteeism. While helping to keep employees healthy may contribute to productivity and overall wellbeing, it also helps make the company more attractive to employees.

A recent survey by global healthcare organisation Optum showed that 82% of employees working at companies with health and wellness programmes said these initiatives would encourage them to stay in their jobs longer.

Physical environment adds to stress

“It’s great to see that so many South African companies take the wellness of their employees as a serious business issue. We believe that another approach to achieve this is to look at stress prevention,” says Jillian Williamson, the company’s in-house industrial psychologist. “We follow a number of international research studies on the impact of office environments on staff. Several reports show that poorly designed offices are actually a major contributing factor to stress at work and employee unhappiness.”

In Discovery’s Healthy Company Index from 2012, physical work environment such as noise, ventilation and temperature are in the top 10 sources of stress for 43% of the 19 000 employees surveyed. Looking at research from the US, Gensler found that 75% of corporate employees do not work in optimal workplaces and are struggling to work effectively.

One study from Europe (The Leesman Index) also shows that only 55% of staff feel that their workplaces enable them to be productive.

“Proper office design addresses these issues,” says le Roux.

“The first way to do this is through designing your office around providing spaces that facilitate the different types of work and social activities that take place. The next step is to educate staff on which behaviours are appropriate in which areas and then to create a culture around productivity.

“This is not micro-management of people, where no one is allowed to have a coffee break, but rather staff being considerate of the fact that when you may want to be social, someone else at the office may be focussing on a time-pressured focused task.”

Creating a productivity culture

Here are ways to create a productivity culture in the work environment as well as some tips for improving your personal productivity:

  • Keep cell phone ring tones on low volume or vibrate when in open plan areas
  • Ensure office phones are on low volume, have non-obtrusive tones and are on a system where the call returns to switchboard after 4-rings
  • If you need to take loud, lengthy or personal calls, step away from the open plan areas
  • If you find that an impromptu conversation is taking longer than expected in the open plan, move it to a meeting room or an informal meeting area
  • Create a company culture where meetings are booked for afternoons when energy levels are usually lower. This leaves mornings open to get important projects done
  • If your company does not generally enable mobile working, consider at least allowing employees with laptops to work from home on projects requiring focus
  • Block your own diary during high-energy periods for focused work
  • Tackle important projects first when your energy is highest
  • Pack a good lunch with snacks to avoid excessive sugar dips and eat smaller meals to avoid the afternoon slump
  • Try work in focused bursts (25 min with 5 min breaks – Pomodoro technique)
  • Try having meetings where everyone has to stand and where there is a clear agenda, objective and outcome. Meetings will be shorter and more focused
  • Managers must be clear about their work culture. If company executives are saying, “We believe in work-life balance” but then email employees late at night and over weekends, then their words contradict their actions.