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What’s in the Way of a Highly Effective Workplace?

Overwhelmed employee with people handing papers, cell phones and showing a watch at her.
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Today’s workplace can be dysfunctional leaving workers starved. We all have an appetite for effective and supportive habitats that feed our need for connection, ideation and production.

Simultaneously, companies crave talent that makes a difference – enhancing culture and thinking smarter to achieve innovation. The workplace is a complex ecosystem and very often stress is a symptom of an ineffective workplace and by tuning into the conditions that impact individual and team success, we can identify necessary changes to align place with worker needs.

The Compounding Challenge

Stress is an inherent part of life – most of us having a to-do list longer than our grocery list. Continued high stress plays a critical impact on people, their families and health.  The ability to accomplish work well directly correlates to levels of confidence, personal satisfaction and achievement. From our experience leading work sessions with teams, regardless of position and industry, we have found that typically half of the people report moderate stress levels and the other half report high stress levels; in fact, very few identify as having low or no stress. Stress levels inversely correspond to satisfaction levels. People reporting lower stress also report higher satisfaction.

Understanding the Underlying Factors

This begs the question, “What is occurring at the workplace that keeps people from achieving what they need to and causing stress to overflow into the rest of their lives?” In a nutshell – other people. At work, we are constantly battling interruptions and distractions, often by co-workers who mean well but are clueless to the impacts of interruption. It’s all too common that we modify our workday to start early and or stay late well beyond the traditional workday to get work done and stay on track. Why do we let our overwhelming to-do list and work demands trump the need to care for ourselves? Because getting work done feels good and falling behind causes anxiety and stress.

By observing workplaces, we tap into the interplay that occurs between people and spaces.  When studying employee patterns, behaviors and tendencies, we identify conditions that support work, but more often those that disrupt and erode a worker’s ability to work effectively, causing stress. It’s not about just getting work done, it’s about getting work done well. To do this we need to balance worker needs and group behaviors.

Defining a Course for Stress Reduction

The question becomes, “how do we truly best support employees?” The impact of a well-designed workplace with supportive team behaviors can be paramount to the way workers report stress levels. By creating awareness of conditions that are in the way and identifying changes that provide the workforce choice and control, we can identify the team’s ideal work environment. We can then open the conversation for behavioral construct agreements – honor zones for focused work, alternate strategies for calls in phone rooms vs. at their desk, duration of walk up conversations or a visual system for alerting others when in focus mode – amongst others.  When this all comes together, employees will feel balanced and connected, work more effectively and net even bigger results.

Ideal Future State

The sweet spot is achieved by fostering the good and changing the conditions that are critically in the way. It’s the best chance of advancing both the organization and the individual. When people feel confident in their ability to achieve, they are more likely to have a positive impact on culture and positive connections with peers, they are happy and do better work, and most importantly, they report lower stress and are more likely to stay.

When investing in a workplace environment, it’s critical that the design team act as a facilitator throughout the process to identify shifts to reduce employee stress, resulting in better quality work for the organization and greater fulfillment for individuals. Sometimes we find that it has nothing to do with a monetary investment, but an awareness and change in how we interact. The path starts with awareness, builds on a commitment to support better work and ends with a well-designed and aligned workplace. The payoff? A happier workforce and a better performing workplace.

Workplace Environment Expert Contributor