In an effort to support a healthier and more productive workforce, employers are increasing their spend on well-intentioned wellness programmes such as onsite gyms and standing desks. 

But Linda Trim, a director at workplace design specialist company Giant Leap, said that while employees do like the extra facilities, they want the basics first, which is something companies tend to forget. 

“Employees want better air quality, access to natural light and the ability to personalise their workspace more than anything else. It makes sense, as these factors are the biggest influencers of employee performance, happiness and well-being. 
“We are increasingly asked to consult to CEOs of South African businesses on how to improve poor workspaces that prevent people and companies from progressing. For them it has become a pressing need to have people-first workspaces.”
A high-quality workplace can reduce absenteeism up to four days a year. That can have a major impact on the bottom line. Employees who are satisfied with their work environments are 16% more productive, 18% more likely to stay and 30% more attracted to their company over its competitors.

Here are three steps you can take to improve your work environment and the well-being of employees:

1.  Stop spending on barely used office perks

“A good rule of thumb is to never assume that you know what your employees want, instead find ways to ask them,” Trim advised. 
They might then put less emphasis on office perks that only a minority of employees will take advantage of (like an onsite gym) and more on changes in the workplace environment that impact on all employees such as air quality and access to light. Interestingly, we find that many employees want a view of the outdoors. 

2. Personalise when possible 

We’ve all got used to personalising our outside-of-work lives. We watch the shows we want to watch and listen to the music we like to hear. 
“Employees are beginning to expect these same privileges in the workplace,” she added. “Specifically, employees want to personalise workplace temperature, overhead and desk lighting and noise levels.”
Research by global acoustics company St Gobain showed that good acoustics could mean a 15% reduction in cognitive stress for staff working in an open-plan office. 

American technology company Cisco manages the acoustic levels in its space by creating a floor plan without assigned seating that includes neighbourhoods of workspaces designed specifically for employees collaborating in person, remotely or those who choose to work alone.

Other companies such as US biotech company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals allow employees to control natural light streaming in through their office windows with a cellphone app. “The same strategy applies to light or temperature. You can position employees who want a higher temperature and more light around the edge of your floor plan, and those who like it quieter and cooler in the core,” she said. 

3. Create a holistic view of workplace wellness

Workplace wellness includes physical, emotional and environmental wellness. All three need consideration:

• Emotional wellness: Give employees access to natural light and quiet rooms where they can focus on their work comfortably.
• Physical wellness: Provide people with healthy food options and ergonomically-designed workstations.
• Environmental wellness: Make sure your workspaces have adequate air quality, light, temperature and proper acoustics.

Linda Trim is a director at workplace design specialist company Giant Leap.

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