Make Your Office the One Comfort Zone You Don't Need to Get Out Of
Think about your workplace. Is it comfortable? Do you like spending time there? Or do you take bathroom breaks just to restore circulation to your chilled hands, get home with a sore back and feel the looming specter of carpal tunnel syndrome at the ripe old age of 28?
Office comfort takes two forms -- physical and mental. Mental comfort relies on a good company culture. Those cut-throat corporate environments where everyone is always trying to scapegoat and rat each other out are demonstrably bad for employee health and retention. The Harvard Business Review reported that such high-pressure environments have employee turnover as much as 50 percent higher than other organizations.
Mental stress exacerbates physical stress. Employees don’t get enough sleep. They don’t feel comfortable bringing up minor issues that can become major issues down the line, for fear of reprisal, or of being ignored. About 60 to 80 percent of workplace accidents -- from paper cuts to fatalities -- are attributable to stress. And in the long run, workplace stress has been linked to everything from metabolic syndrome to cardiovascular disease.
A physically uncomfortable environment is stressful in and of itself. A chill box with artificial light, corporate-mandated chairs with no ergonomic benefits and a lack of support features for using a computer all day will stack up. Even something as seemingly minor as poor ventilation can reduce employee health and performance. A simple investment in ergonomic furniture, from chairs and desks to keyboards and monitor stands, can result in far fewer small workplace injuries, like sprains and strains.
Have you ever worked from home? In some companies, it’s an unheard of luxury. In others, employees get regular days a week where they can work from home. Telecommuting occasionally can increase engagement and productivity, both during the time spent working from home and the time spent in the office. It eliminates the stress of a commute, it minimizes time spent away from family, and it allows employees to work in an environment -- and in a uniform -- they find comfortable. If that means “casual Friday” turns into “no pants Friday,” why should it matter, so long as the work is done when it needs to be done?
Is it possible to be too comfortable? Certainly. If you’re giving your employees recliners, cocoa, blankets and pajamas, they’re just as likely to fall asleep as they are to get their work done. There’s a reason freelancers often suffer from distractions and lowered productivity, and why some of the most common advice for those who work from home is to set aside a dedicated office or work place and to make sure they get dressed for the day.
Comfort is a basic need, and discomfort is distraction. A study from 2014 showed that office workers lose an average of 86 minutes a day to distractions relating to comfort. Something as simple as a nagging pain in the wrist or a chill in the air is distracting in and of itself. Then you lose more time addressing those distractions or just thinking about how miserable they’re making you.
Just don’t confuse physical and mental comfort for complacency. If your employees or your team are too comfortable with the current state of affairs, it makes change more difficult. Change can be frightening. It can be dangerous, but it’s also where innovation happens. Teams that are too comfortable in their jobs and performance find it more difficult to innovate.
The solution to complacency, however, does not lie in dropping the thermostat or taking away the fancy coffee in the break room. It means sending people to conventions, provoking deeper discussions and addressing deeper problems.
For a modern company to succeed, physical comfort shouldn’t be a luxury. It should be a necessity. That can be difficult to address, as anyone who has fought a war over the thermostat can attest, but sometimes it’s as simple as opening the windows.