Sustainability Issue #2 June 2008

This is printed from sustainability.formas.se, last updated 9/29/2008 1:27:11 PM

Navigation

Change language

Search

Main content

PrintPrint Print all articlesPrint

Those who were most satisfied with their working environment were those working in their own rooms. The only thing people were dissatisfied about was the lack of meeting places. The photograph shows the dining room of Qmed, designed by Brunberg & Forshed Arkitektkontor.  Photo: Sten Jansin

Office environment affects health, wellbeing and work

By Lennart Bodin, Magnus Rönn and Christina Bodin Danielsson

The way the workplace is designed has greater significance than we think. It affects health, wellbeing and work. This is shown by an ongoing interdisciplinary research project.

Content related

Office environment affects health, wellbeing and work

• more pictures

In Sweden, sickness absence has been high among the working population in recent years. Ill health has become a macroeconomic problem. Research shows that psychosocial environmental factors have a great influence on mental and physiological health, and we know that job satisfaction probably plays an important part in this context. Psychological ill health is the most common cause of sickness absence among office workers.

On the other hand, we know much less of how the physical office environment affects office workers and their job satisfaction. A research based design and construction process would be needed. The relationships among form, function and health and job satisfaction are complex. It is not enough to design office environments only on the basis of practical experience and professional preconceptions. Management wishes to have more interaction and information sharing among employees, so that creativity and effectivity at the workplace may be enhanced in this way and better results may be achieved in the long run. The research issue is whether, how and in what way the physical office environment can help improve office work.

Broad approach essential

Research concerning the influence of the physical environment on the individual has ranged over a broad spectrum. In environmental psychology, researchers have studied individual environmental factors, such as sound, to see how it affects the subjective perception of stress. The study shows that noise gives rise to dissatisfaction with the physical working environment.

Stress medicine has focused on how the body reacts to different stimuli in the environment. This research shows that a view of roads and traffic produces higher stress levels in the blood than a view of nature.

In management research there are studies which have attempted to chart the effect of the physical working environment on performance and efficiency. The results indicate that a highly rated physical working environment results in greater job satisfaction.

In the area, architecture, that has a direct influence on the physical environment, there are few studies that show how design affects the end users.

In our opinion, it is important to bring together the different disciplines so that we may have an opportunity to measure and assess the influence of the physical office environment on the employees. In other words: an interdisciplinary approach is essential. It is also important to apply a holistic view to the office environment, since it is the totality of different factors that constitutes the actual office environment.

We who are participating in this research project have different backgrounds and competence in architecture, statistics, epidemiology and occupational and environmental medicine applications. With the support of Formas we are working within the framework of a cooperative project between School of Architecture and Built Environment, KTH and Örebro University.

Private room or flexible office?

In an initial study, 491 people employed by 26 companies were analysed with reference to self-reported health status, job satisfaction and perception of the physical office environment. The types of office we are studying are defined by their architectural and functional characteristics as outlined below:

  • cell office (private room)
  • shared room (2-3 people/room)
  • flexible office (no workplace of one's own)
  • combination office (team based office type) and
  • open plan office, broken down into
    1. small open plan office (4–9 people /room)
    2. open plan office of medium size (10–24 people/room) and
    3. large open plan office (>24 people/room)

We have compared the different types of office and have taken into consideration the fact that there may be differences among those employed in different types of office with respect to age, sex, appointment and the type of company.

The results reveal considerable differences. As regards health status, two types of office, flexible and cellular, had much better results than the others. The worst reported health occurred among those working in open plan offices of medium size, closely followed by those in small open plan offices. As regards job satisfaction, flexible offices and shared rooms were best. The worst were combination offices and open plan offices of medium size.

Those working in cell offices were best satisfied with their working environment - it was only when the social aspects of the office were considered that they were dissatisfied, for example with the support of the office environment for community spirit among all employees. Best satisfied with the support given by the office for community spirit and interaction were those working in flexible offices.

The worst rating with respect to contentment was received by open plan offices of medium size, followed by large open plan offices.

Open plan office the worst

That there were such large differences between people working in different types of office was surprising, particularly the differences that were revealed between the three types of open plan layout. The open plan office of medium size consistently figured as the worst type of office. What explains the difference in the perception of the office environment? We will now do further work on creating a closer linkage between the architectural design of the office type and the differences found in health status, job satisfaction and contentment. We are also hoping to have the opportunity to take a closer look at what stress levels are like among those working in different types of office. There are interesting differences in preliminary data. We have the opportunity through in-depth interviews to extend our knowledge beyond that obtained from the interview survey.

Future office design

We believe that, with scientific knowledge of how the physical office environment affects those working there,  expensive mistakes can be avoided. Our objective therefore is to translate the knowledge generated by this research into practical guidelines for the various stakeholders who are involved in creating our offices.

The practical side of the theory is its ability to give good advice. With such a research based design, we should be able to create office environments that support both those working there and the organisations.

Author :

Lennart Bodin is Professor at School of Economics, Örebro University.

Magnus Rönn is Associate Professor at School of Architecture and Built Environment, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH).

Christina Bodin Danielsson is a postgraduate student at School of Architecture and Built Environment, KTH.

Literature:

Danielsson, C. (2005). Office Environment, Health and Job Satisfaction. An Explorative Study of Office Design's Influence. KTH, Stockholm.

Responsible for this page: Birgitta Bruzelius

Journal links

Sustainability June 2008

Editorial

Cooperation is the key E NVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS are largely caused by mankind and its way of managing environmental and natural resources. If we are to have a chance of dealing with these ...

Focus: Across disciplinary boundaries

Environment and disciplines Environmental problems must be tackled by linking together studies of social scientific and natural scientific orientation. Formas has an annual call for grant appli... Interdisciplinary cooperation to understand the climate To understand the climate is to understand the interplay between the atmosphere, the seas, ice sheets, the biosphere and now also the anthroposphere. Research groups... Office environment affects health, wellbeing and work The way the workplace is designed has greater significance than we think. It affects health, wellbeing and work. This is shown by an ongoing interdisciplinary resear... Toxicants in combination An inflow of new chemicals to an already overloaded environment can give rise to unexpected synergi stic effects between environmental toxicants. Harvest time for genetics Billions of chickens all over the world have yellow legs. The reason for this is that mankind, over thousands of years, has greatly preferred this. But why just yell... The role of microbes in nature Six research groups from Uppsala Microbiomics Centre (UMC) at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Uppsala University are busy developing tomorrow´s t...

The Interview

Marine environment and climate the highest priority Greatly increased grants for civil research. This is what Minister of Environment Andreas Carlgren expects to see in the forthcoming research bill. He prioritizes no...

Articles

Storms and flooding damage the coast Increasingly Swedish coasts are damaged by erosion and severe flooding, overwash. At present, there are no tools to find out to what extent stretches of coast with s... Formas places special focus on three areas At its board meeting in April 2008, Formas allocated grants for research in three specially selected areas. One concerned environmental pollutants and gender differe... Nature’s calendar in network Now in the spring, a Swedish phenological network has started with the aim to collect phenological data, i.e. data relating to the timing of recurring natural events... Passive buildings – how to increase their numbers A very well informed and helpful project leader is essential to succeed in passive house construction. Increased fertility via pheromones That a cow or heifer shows signs of oestrus and can be inseminated is important for optimal production of milk. Researchers at SLU are now investigating whether pher... Stump extraction – the joker in energy supply? Stumps are an almost unused resource in the context of biofuels. A concentrated effort is now made at SLU in Uppsala into research on both the positive and negative ... Air pollution can give children asthma Children exposed to high concentrations of airborne pollutants in their first year of life run a greater risk of asthma, pollen allergy and impaired respiratory func... Stress resistant bacterium degrades pollutants Bioremediation utilises the ability of microorganisms to degrade environmental pollutants. Maria Unell shows in her doctoral thesis at SLU that Arthrobacter chloroph... Environmental archaeology database Umeå University has been given MSEK 4.5 to develop a database that will provide new knowledge on the interaction between ancient enviro­n­ments, climate and humans. Sweden values happy pigs Some consumers are willing to pay more for the meat if they know that the pig had had a good life, others because they believe that animal welfare makes for safer fo...

In Brief

Sea New marine environment institute Animals Sustainable development for reindeer husbandry Website Pesticides on the web Gender Bonus for choosing women as professors Birds Barn swallows acquitted Energy Nine good examples save energy Genetics Gene that regulates the growth of plants has been found Ethanol 100,000 ethanol cars in Sweden

Results from research

Risks and benefits of GM plants How did the research turn out? What were the findings? Researchers themselves report briefly on the research they have undertaken with funding support from the Forma... Fast food – help or scourge? How did the research turn out? What were the findings? Researchers themselves report briefly on the research they have undertaken with funding support from the Forma... The sea never shimmered so much How did the research turn out? What were the findings? Researchers themselves report briefly on the research they have undertaken with funding support from the Forma... Brick facades worth preserving How did the research turn out? What were the findings? Researchers themselves report briefly on the research they have undertaken with funding support from the Forma... Knowledge of wood required How did the research turn out? What were the findings? Researchers themselves report briefly on the research they have undertaken with funding support from the Forma... Better information, better work How did the research turn out? What were the findings? Researchers themselves report briefly on the research they have undertaken with funding support from the Forma...

People and News

The latest from the field of environmental researchNew appointments, prestigious awards, new research institutes – all the latest from the field of environmental research.

Further links

Footer