Is Your Office Making Employees Sick?
Modern workplaces have steadily become more human-centric over the last few decades. As a result, we no longer have the poor work conditions we used to see coming out of the Industrial Revolution. Over the last 100 years, we have made distinct improvements in the average workplace. However, there are still areas for improvement, highlighted as more research demonstrates the need for human-centric workplaces.
There are many facets to personal health, but when we factor in the amount of time we spend at work, the impact of our time at the office becomes more significant. Workplaces and offices can go hand-in-hand with employee health and wellness — but only with some smart design choices.
On average, people spend one-third of their life at work. That adds up to more than 90,000 hours over the average American's lifetime. That means if our workplace doesn't foster health and well-being, employees are likely to suffer. This is where Sick Building Syndrome comes from and is why we need to be aware of the symptoms and consequences. Being aware of these can help us make vital changes that support the health of everyone working in an office space. Keep reading to learn how to tell if your office is making your employees sick, and how to improve it.
What is Sick Building Syndrome?
Sick Building Syndrome is the name associated with the very real illness developed by employees spending time in an unsafe office space. It is often caused by the poor air quality indoors, leaky roofs, mold in the ceiling or walls, dirty doorknobs, old, unclean carpets, and anything else that slowly wears away on the health of those working within it.
Even if you clean the building, a general dusting or a quick vacuum over the floors isn't enough to cure Sick Building Syndrome.
While Sick Building Syndrome is a real threat, even in modern office spaces, it isn't the only way that an office could affect employee health. Too much time sitting stationary, as well as the mental drain of time in a basic, gray office space, can also affect both physical and mental health.
Symptoms of the Modern Office
The national average for full-time employees during their first year of work is 11 sick days, increasing to 12 on average after their first year. Part-time employees average nine sick days a year. If your employees take an average of 12 or more days each year, it's important to take measures to determine whether the office space is a contributing factor.
Let's take a look at some of the common symptoms that come with working in an office, and that can affect employee health.
Sitting in one place for too long can cause some of the symptoms associated with Sick Building Syndrome, as well as depression, weight gain, and other health side effects. The lack of movement can lead to headaches, backaches, and poor posture. If the office or position doesn't encourage daily movement, you might see more people suffering from these common symptoms as a result.
Being inside a building for the vast majority of your time each day takes you away from nature. There have been countless studies done that demonstrate the correlation between human wellness and their connection with nature. For example, a study from Yale found that people who spent two hours a week in green spaces had a strong sense of health and well-being.
Those that don't get out of the office for long enough during the week to connect with nature are more likely to suffer from decreased well-being and therefore need to take more sick days.
Poor Air Quality
Air quality has a significant impact on the health of those breathing that air day in and day out. If the ventilation systems are outdated in your building, it is worth looking into maintenance and even replacement. Poor circulation or the re-circulation of moldy or dusty air can carry neurotoxins that damage employee health. If you notice that many of your employees suffer from itchy eyes or noses, irritated throats, coughing, and fatigue, poor air quality could be the culprit.
Even if your ventilation system is operating properly, in an enclosed office space, air quality can be further improved with the addition of living plants in the workspace.
The way an office space is laid out has a significant impact on the acoustics in the room. Noisy and loud workspaces quickly lead to increased errors and decreased efficiency as a whole. According to the Health and Safety Authority, studies have shown that it is best if the noise level is 5 dB or less. This allows for easy communication within the workplace without the need to enforce absolute silence.
Reducing noise pollution in the office space is one of the simplest ways you can improve both employee health and morale. The addition of Living Walls is one great way to reduce and absorb noise, while also improving air quality and boosting employee mental health.
The spacing between employee workstations is another essential feature of the design of an office. Although people need person-to-person interaction each day, having employees too close to each other can lead to the quick spread and contamination of other illnesses brought into the office space.
Combatting Traditional Office Risks with Living Walls
Now that you know what to look for, what can you do about it? If your office suffers from obvious health risks like old carpets or outdated ventilation systems, you'll need to invest in some upgrades.
However, there are