How to design a workspace that facilitates health

In the 21st century workplace, experiencing strains and work-related illness can be all too common.

The dynamics of work itself are changing, and specialists in the field of Industrial/Organizational Psychology (yes, it’s a mouthful) have been applying psychological concepts and principles to seek improvement for both the organization, and the individual who works within it. Interestingly enough, professionals are beginning to embrace notions that completely contrast assertions rooted in theories of scientific management, which sought the most effective methods of performing a task with little concern to laborers involved (Barling and Griffiths, 2003).

What are the consequences of laboring endlessly in a cubicle? Would you consider your mind and body well if you engaged in the same repetitive task for hours on end? How about if the demands for your job were incredibly stressful, and you lacked the support and control to adjust the manner in which you went about your responsibilities? Think about this, in the 1960 lawsuit Carter v. General Motors Corporation, a line worker successfully sued after claiming that working 8-12 hour days performing the same function, endlessly, actually made him mentally impaired!

Work is such a crucial component of our lives and our time is too precious to be spent on the mundane, day in and day out.

Photo Credit: Kent Nguyen

Workplace psychological health refers to a broad concept concerning the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of employees in relation to the conduct of their work (Muchinsky, 2012). Rather than just meeting minimum requirements put forward by the law, more businesses are now looking into the factors and conditions that facilitate personal well-being.

The field of positive psychology consists of the study of the factors and conditions in life that lead to pleasurable and satisfying outcomes for individuals. An application of it to the work context is believed to inspire greater motivation and performance.

Rather than chasing the dollar to define one’s success and happiness, the perspective is getting flipped. Instead, businesses are beginning to realize that greater gains begin with affording their workers greater job satisfaction.

Across various vocations, there may not be a universal “floor-plan” for organizations to implement when seeking to improve the quality of life in the workplace. Instead, Warr (2007) proposed that there are nine environmental influences which may serve as guidelines in designing a workspace that facilitates psychological health and greater performance in relation to one’s work:

  1. Opportunity for control: The ability to choose how you perform in a job grants greater autonomy and less supervision.
  2. Opportunity for skill use: The work environment should enable one’s abilities and offer the chance for variety in given tasks.
  3. Externally generated goals: An organization should provide opportunities and challenges to attain success through productive work behaviors. The expectation that one’s effort is instrumental in receiving a contingent reward can sustain greater motivation on the job.
  4. Environmental variety: Benefits arise from granting workers choices and options in how they engage in their work.
  5. Environmental clarity: The demands on the individual worker should be clear in what is asked of them. This may be accomplished by avoiding ambiguity in the expectations placed on workers, as well as the setting of standards for acceptable behavior.
  6. Availability of money: This one is a given. We all want compensation, but more and more, new data is showing that if employers can get their workers to a point where money becomes a non-factor, they will be motivated to not only engage in their work, but also share new ideas.
  7. Physical security: If your life or health is in jeopardy at work, the task at hand may be the least of your worries. The basics of life must be afforded.
  8. Opportunity for interpersonal contact: Social isolation can be a harm to mental health in the workplace. Maintaining relationships with others is vital in achieving social and emotional fulfillment. This is why team-based projects are becoming ever more prevalent in modern work arrangements.
  9. Valued social position: Lastly, self-esteem may be among the most important factors in determining effective performance. People want to know that they are contributing towards somethings bigger, and this sense of purpose can spur positive psychological health.

Companies like Google and Pixar, for example, are expressing forward thinking in addressing these challenges to job satisfaction among workers. Arranging office-space in a manner that allows greater social interaction among coworkers is one of their fundamental implementations. Taking consideration for their workers a step further, these organizations also indulge their staff by providing more common areas and amenities (food, recreation, etc.) than occupational laws require of a business. All in all, a new trend organizations are coming to learn is that compensating their workforce monetarily may get a person to join, but the conditions of life therein are what keep them around and inspired to achieve.

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