What's the No.1 Office Perk?
From stand-sit desks, to nap pods and “bring your furry friends to work”, enough has been written about on what kind of office space makes the workplace a happy experience for employees. A new study, however, has boiled it down to one simple element that workers actually crave for: natural light.
The study by the US-based executive development firm Future Workplace, which interviewed 1,614 employees in June this year, says over 50 per cent of the respondents believed natural light and views of the outdoors to be their most important office perks, leaving behind onsite cafeterias, fitness centres, medical care, and childcare.
Let There Be Light
In most offices, windows are covered with blinds or shades to keep a check on the unwanted heat and ensure that there’s no excessive glare on the occupants’ eyes and computer screens. This contributes to poorly daylit spaces.
The absence of natural light and outdoor views, the Future Workplace study found, affects the employee experience. Over a third of employees complained that they don’t get enough natural light, while almost half admit they feel tired or very tired from the absence of natural light or a window at their office. Four in 10 feel “gloomy” because of the lack of light, the study says.
The respondents said that access to natural light and views boosts their overall happiness and well-being (78%), work satisfaction (73%), work performance (70%) and organizational commitment (54%).
“While treadmill desks and nap pods sometimes get a lot of hype, the study clearly found that essential things such as optimized natural light and views are the most impactful and valued office perks. Employees say workplaces infused with daylight and views of the outside promote their well-being, engagement, and productivity,” says Jeanne Meister, the founding partner of Future Workplace, in the study, titled “The Employee Experience—Employees Desire Natural Light and Views Over Any Other Office Perk”.
Among the biggest reasons for desiring natural light more is the prolonged use of technology. The constant staring at the computer screen and taking “time out” to look at the mobile phone leads to eyestrain or headaches, making employees yearn for the fundamental need to look at nature. In fact, a research by the American media measurement and analytics company comScore found that adults (those over the age of 18) spend over 4 hours a day on their mobile phone. Small wonder then seven in 10 people in the Future Workplace study said that the longer they use their technology devices, “the more they desire a visual break such as taking a walk or glancing at the view outside.”
Previous scientific research has shown that more natural light translates to more alert employees, enhanced performance and improved quality of life. A 2014 study, published in the journal Sleep, said people who worked in a windowless environment had a disturbed sleeping pattern. The Northwestern University research said employees with windows received 173 per cent more white light exposure during work hours and slept an average of 46 minutes more per night. “The extent to which daylight exposure impacts office workers is remarkable,” said study co-author Ivy Cheung, a neuroscience doctoral candidate at the Northwestern University. “Day-shift office workers' quality of life and sleep may be improved via emphasis on light exposure and lighting levels in current offices as well as in the design of future offices,” said Cheung.
Earlier this year, Cornell University professor Alan Hedge reported in his study that workers in daylit office environments saw a 51 percent drop in the incidence of eyestrain, a 63 percent drop in the incidence of headaches and a 56 percent reduction in drowsiness, all of which can detract from productivity.
“Optimizing the amount of natural light in an office significantly improves health and wellness among workers, leading to gains in productivity,” said Hedge. “As companies increasingly look to empower their employees to work better and be healthier, it is clear that placing them in office spaces with optimal natural light should be one of their first considerations.”