People achieve amazing accomplishments each day in very difficult work environments: hot, cold, wet, noisy and hazardous. Real and unpreventable hardships are part of so many roles.
Why do we sometimes unnecessarily put employees in difficult settings, preventing their best work and hurting their overall job satisfaction?
I just met with a new economy worker employed in an urban, “cool” industry. She likes her work and co-workers. She is proud of the company’s products and services. She has a decent manager and fair pay. Just one big problem exists: The work environment is driving her nuts.
Beware of distractions
Imagine a room with long library tables pushed together like in a mess hall. Chairs are incredibly close to each other with no dividers on the tables. Look up from your screen and look into the eyes of the person across the table. Hear every announcement of “I’m going to lunch.” Enjoy each complaint that the restrooms are out of toilet paper again.
Smartphones chirping, music playing, text typing, people suggesting after-work plans, someone eating potato chips, coffee being spilled down the line, questions or expletives scattered about the room, sound bouncing off hard surfaces, “Where is the client’s file!?” … you get the picture.
Employees who need to focus on detailed plans or complex activities seek out dark corners away from interruptions.
Some arrive to work early and stay late to make up for time lost during the day. Others go out for coffee or seek a flexible work schedule to get critical tasks done at home.
An exhausted worker may go find another employer.
This particular employer spent good money on office furniture and hired professional decorators. The downtown office space was expensive.
This was not a problem with being “cheap.” It was about a mismatch between work expectations and the environment needed to meet those expectations.
Many work styles
Open work environments (we have some at our organization) can improve collaboration, communication and innovation. They may save money and improve natural lighting. When done poorly or in the wrong settings, a communal or disruptive workspace can become a “rock in every shoe” with outsized consequences on effectiveness.
Even if your workspace is not like lunchtime at Alcatraz, forgetting the variety of workstyles and preferences of your employees is a mistake. Some people get energy from regular interruptions. Others find it enervating. Does it make good sense to invest in wages and training and then put new employees in a space that prevents good work?
No work layout is always best or always bad. Open environments often include positive privacy features. The point is that a work setting is less of a space planning project for a facilities manager, and more about the “what, who and how” of the work. Look beyond the showrooms, indirect lighting and employees-per-square-foot. What work must get done to meet business goals, and who is doing that work?
Use future workspace changes to engage more employees. In the meantime, earplugs and headache remedies are available at all pharmacies!
Bruce Clarke, J.D., is CEO of CAI, helping more than 1,000 North Carolina employers maximize employee engagement and minimize employer liability. For more information, visit www.capital.org.