Work-related stress can come from any physical conditions that we perceive as irritating, uncomfortable or unpleasant.

Six months ago, a new client, a Marketing Assistant called Linda, came to see me just after starting a new job. She was originally very excited to get this position but when I saw her in June, she seemed very “down” and demotivated. In talking to her about this, it seems she did not find that her office environment was conducive to optimum working for the following reasons.

After a very long daily commute into work, by bus and train, her open-plan office meant that she was seated with ten other office workers whose desks were all very close to each other and she was constantly disturbed by their conversation and telephone calls. She found it very hard to concentrate as everyone raised their voice louder than the next in order to compensate for the lack of privacy. In addition, the lighting was poor which made the office lack energy in terms of its atmosphere and ambience. During the winter months, the heating was also inadequate and during the summer, the insulation was poor.

She noticed that most work stations were small and also very untidy as no one took any pride in where they sat. Dustbins were never emptied regularly and dirty coffee cups were just left unwashed in the tiny kitchen at the back.

Improving working conditions
So during the summer we discussed what she could do about it. We came up with some recommendations that might work for the whole department and interesting enough, her boss was very keen to hear what she had to say and even asked her to head-up an initiative to revamp the office – albeit she was given a very small budget to do what was required.
Fast-forward six months, and the situation had changed considerably and these are some of the actions that were put into practice:
•Linda called a meeting of the entire office and asked for ideas. She was surprised how many people came on board immediately with suggestions. They said that they all felt the same way as she felt but hadn’t really thought about taking it to their director but just accepted the status quo. Linda told them very quickly that the status quo was going to change and that they were all going to be a part of that change process!
•Firstly, the room was completed tidied. Rubbish sacks filled and were taken to the tip and all papers and documents properly filed away. This was a huge effort but everyone pulled their weight.
•Next, the room was painted with a soft-tone peach colour. As budgets were tight, the department appointed a “painting team” who came in at the weekend to do this.
•Other members were chosen to select pictures for the office walls and to buy potted plants to stand in every corner and on the window shelves. One person had a fish tank that they no longer wanted which she brought into the office, complete with two large goldfish, and this was a great success.
•Halogen uplighters were purchased to make the room less gloomy, limit the risk of eye strain and increase energy levels.
•An ergonomics consultant was invited in to speak to all of them about the positioning of their chairs and computer monitors and how they should adjust their seating positions.
•Noise screens were bought to block and absorb background noise and create a quiet space around each work station. Rugs were placed on the floor which also helped to diffuse the ambient sound.
•Everyone was encouraged to put a photograph of their family or friends on their desks, which helped personalise their own space.

All this work having been done, the whole team now take responsibility for keeping the office and the kitchen clean and tidy. There is a rota for keeping the kitchen stocked with coffee and tea and people are individually responsible for washing their own cups. Furthermore, a Suggestion Board has been put up on the wall for any new thoughts or ideas that come to mind during the week.

So I wonder what your own work station is like? Would you be proud to invite a visitor to it or not? I wonder!”

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Carole Spiers FISMA, FPSA, MIHPE is the Chair of the International Stress Management Association (ISMAUK) and founder of International Stress Awareness Week. She is an acknowledged authority on corporate stress and CEO of the Carole Spiers Group (London ... (Read More)

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