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​5 Things to ask your employer to improve your workplace

18th October 2018

A healthy workplace environment is not just a right, but also a need. We spend a significant portion of our lives in offices, factories, service stations and more and when employers fail to deliver a healthy environment, employees and ex-employees can pay with their health for years to come.

While facing your boss down and demanding a better workplace is too vague a request to be taken seriously, you can target specific changes, which if implemented, would have significant benefits. And if your employer really needs convincing, you can let them know that a happy and healthy workforce is a more productive one.

1.Improve the lighting

It’s difficult to imagine, in this day and age, that we are still struggling to get the lighting right at work. We’re no longer living in Dickensian Britain, but poor lighting - the wrong kind of lighting - can still play havoc with our physical and mental health.

Several studies show that exposure to natural light improves mood and energy, greatly impacts focus and improves productivity. On the flip side, a lack of exposure to natural light causes sleepiness, fatigue, insomnia, depression and overeating. It’s also linked to more workplace accidents. To improve natural lighting at work, your employer should make sure nothing, such as cupboards or shelving, obstructs windows. They should also configure the room to bring workstations nearer to windows, while unpopulated zones take the middle of the room. Likewise, a corner office for one manager may seem like a reward, but this light could benefit the company better if more employees had access to it.

If it's not possible to gain more natural lighting through windows, or if you work in a factory, a lab or a kitchen, for example, artificial light can be used to supplement natural light exposure. UV lights, the kind used to supplement winter polytunnels, can also help stimulate the production of serotonin in humans. Blue light enriched bulbs help reduce fatigue and increase happiness and work performance too. Just remember, this colour should be removed from break rooms, where warmer tones can promote calmness and relaxation.

2.Invest and practice good ergonomic design principles

If you’ve ever had an employee initiation day at a new job, you’ve probably sat through a talk about good desk ergonomics. These principles, such as always keeping your feet flat on the floor and setting your chair, desk and computer screen to the right height, are designed to reduce back, hip, shoulder and arm injuries. However, many of us find it difficult to stick to these rules, simply because humans are not designed to stay in the same position - no matter how good it is - all day long.

You can tell your employer that the best way to bring better ergonomics into the office is with raised desks. Standing desks have been used for decades by companies who were seen as too cheap to offer employees a stool, and while standing for too long without walking can also be detrimental to your back, hips, knees and ankles, having the option to stand is essential.

The computer workstations that ergonomically-focussed offices use today go up and most importantly, back down too. They’re not cheap, but if you’re employing professionals such as architects and designers who may be at their desk for 12 hours a day, the cost of keeping them healthy far outweighs the price.

Office ergonomics extends beyond desks and computers and encapsulates almost every aspect of office design. A well laid out office or workspace will have wide open corridors between desks, which allow employees to see where they’re going and who’s coming the other way. Doors should be left open, with automatically-closing fire doors. Lifting heavy doors open, particularly while carrying boxes of folders, can quickly mean muscle strains.

In addition, staircases should be anti-trip. Carpets and fibres can easily catch on shoes to cause small stumbles that can quickly become aggravated. But uncovered stairs can become slippery when wet. A good ergonomic floor covering will absorb footfalls and prevent accidents.

3.Get flexible

As a hangover from our puritanical and industrial days, many employers are reluctant to allow their employees out of their sight. There’s an expectation that they will skive off, underperform or simply take a nap if no one is looking. The idea that employers should micromanage their employees is, in most cases, nonsense. Unless you’re a security guard or shop window dummy, employees are employed to produce work - not to be physically present in a space.

However, it’s reaching and staying in this physical space, which is often the most detrimental to our health. Travelling to work, sitting in cramped space, uncomfortable heat or lighting, snacking on junk food, and being exposed to cleaning product contamination and paper dust can make working in an office a pain. It raises the question, why can’t this job be done remotely?

If this is the case for you, it may be time to build a remote working proposal to deliver to your boss. In this report, you should outline what your job targets are and how these could be delivered remotely. For example, many roles, such as in sales, have targets, and if you can establish what the targets are in your role, you can develop a plan to reach them. Meetings can be dialed into using Skype or Webex type applications, co-workers can be contacted by phone and email. All of which could mean less fixed desk space and more hot-desking, which reduces office running costs too.

4.Implement a healthy eating framework

Many offices make no provisions for their employees to eat healthily. This is the curse of the industrial estate and office culture that rose up in the 2000s. Taking an office and placing it in a remote area away from shops, restaurants and cafes means that employees have to use personal, out-of-hours time to consider their food needs for most of the day.

While this might inspire some to use their evenings and weekends to create the kind of food-prep meals that populate Instagram, for the rest of us, it means buying in some muesli bars and raiding the vending machine in the staff room.

Eating unhealthily at work means eating unhealthily at home and making poor shopping decisions too. Coming home to an empty fridge late at night prompts us to order takeaway meals. Going to the grocery store on an empty stomach leads us towards buying high fat and sugar ready meals. It’s a vicious circle.

However, while not all offices are well placed to provide nutritious meals for their employees, all are capable of bulk ordering fresh food delivery over the lunch break. Plenty of companies have risen up to meet the gap in the lunch market, bringing sandwiches, noodle boxes and salads to offices across the UK. But even if your company is reluctant to sign up to supporting daily lunches, they should be able to make sure there is always a supply of fresh fruit for all employees. Supplying employees with just one piece of fruit per day can improve performance significantly and the cost can be less than 25 pence per person.

5.Make break times mandatory

We all love our breaks and yet somehow, we hate them. In many positions, a break is mandatory, but unpaid, even in the office environment. People resent being forced to take a half-hour unpaid break, when all they need is five minutes to wolf down a sandwich. And being seen to take your break while still working gives us the feeling that we’re offsetting, in the eyes of our bosses, the few minutes we take to get out of the office to beat the traffic.

However, another great way to create a healthier workplace is by taking your lunch break. Lunch breaks can be an opportunity to socialise and build relationships in the office and they’re a time to stretch your legs and eat in a healthy position too. To take advantage of this, there does need to be food and this is another argument you can raise in support of supplementing an in-office food program.

Outside of lunchtimes, regular breaks also help relieve muscle fatigue and eye-strain, and they help to restore concentration levels. Creating a standing area with bottled water and glasses can produce some great positive health effects.

So, whatever you decide to talk to your employer about regarding improving your office environment, remember - these aren’t just changes which can benefit you, the employee, but they’ll also help improve performance in the workplace and add to the bottom line too.

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