Going green could lower stress in the Public Sector

10/11/2010

Public sector managers face the immense challenge of keeping workers motivated. Figures from the CIPD – which show government employees taking 42% more time off work than their privately employed peers – suggest that this group may already be struggling with increased levels of stress and illness at work. According to Dr Craig Knight, Managing Director of psychological research consultancy Prism* at the University of Exeter, the design of the working environment could have a key role to play in reducing employee stress.

Many managers in all sectors are favouring a ‘stripped down’ office that is depersonalised and ‘lean’ in a bid to save costs. “Implementing a lean office is the worst thing they could do”, says Dr Knight. “There is a growing body of evidence questioning methods of office design and management.”

Research conducted by Knight and colleagues at the University of Exeter has consistently shown that the lean office (i.e. one with clean desk policies and regulated practices) is the least productive and the most likely to contain unhappy, stressed and ill workers.

Knight found that simply enriching a work environment with plants and artwork improved productivity by up to 17% compared to a lean space,with measures of wellbeing increasing by similar amounts. Giving employees some say over their own environment saw productivity increase by up to 32% compared with the control, lean offices. This work was supported by Ambius, the world’s largest interior landscaping company.

Dr. Knight continues “What some managers may see as superfluous items of non-standard clutter are in fact key elements in creating a psychologically satisfying workspace. It is nothing new to say that happy people make for a better business but this research powerfully reinforces the case. In contrast, standardized environments and a lack of control are strongly linked with unhappiness, absenteeism, illness and stress.

“The good news is it’s not too late to address the problem. Yes, we are in an age of austerity but sickness absence costs £900 per worker per year according to the CIPD. If the public sector allows workers to realise something of their own identity at a very low cost in their own workspace, whether that’s through a piece of art or a plant, then this will play its part in creating greater organisational identity, job satisfaction and wellbeing. Psychology has given us a formula for a happier, more productive and much more affordable workplace.” concludes Dr Craig Knight.

** Prism (Psychological Research into Identity and Space Management) is a research-based consultancy based at the University of Exeter in the southwest of England, co funded by Ambius. With over 25 years commercial experience, most of it in the field of office design, Craig Knight has now applied his knowledge to academic research. Under the supervision of world-renowned psychologist, Professor Alex Haslam, Craig’s published PhD thesis (The Psychology of Office Space: Determinants of Social Identity, Wellbeing and Productivity) has already been acclaimed. Ongoing research within Prism is aimed at continually refining the workplace model and offering a research-backed consultancy service to companies around the world.

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