Recent research from Canada Life Group Insurance has revealed the extent to which working environments can have an adverse effect on employee health and wellbeing, with open plan offices rated as one of the unhealthiest environments in which to work.

When asked to rank how easy it is to be healthy in their working environment, employees gave an average score of 6.3 out of 10. Employees in open plan offices gave a score of 6.1: far less than the score given by employees who work mostly from home (8.1).

The working environment can cause stress, headaches and other illnesses, which is perhaps unsurprising given that over a third (34%) of employees in open plan offices suffer from a lack of fresh air, while more than one in ten (13%) experience headaches as a result of poor lighting. Just over a third (34%) agree that illness spreads quickly in their organisation.

  Open-plan offices Working from home
There is not enough fresh air/air conditioning 34% 3%
My working environment creates stress 28% 5%
Working in such close quarters means illness spreads quickly 34% 1%
It is poorly lit and I struggle to see/get headaches 13% 3%

Worryingly, over a quarter of employees in open plan offices (28%) say that their working environment creates stress, with those who work from home reporting a much lower figure (5%).

Employees who work from home and therefore have more control over their working environment are least likely to suffer from these health complaints.

Office lifestyle encourages unhealthy eating

Over a third of office-based employees bring food from home into the workplace because it is cheaper (36%). An additional 12% bring food from home because it is healthier; perhaps suggesting employers are not doing enough to provide healthy and affordable eating options in the workplace.

Excessive workloads also lead around one in five (19%) to eat lunch at their desk, as they don’t have time to take a proper lunch. Grazing throughout the day rather than eating a healthy lunchtime meal is far more prevalent among home workers, however. Almost a quarter (24%) admit to doing so, compared to less than one in twenty office-based workers (4%).

Healthy workplace checklist includes outside and relaxation areas as well as health benefits

When asked what features they would most like to have in their workplace, almost a third of employees (30%) chose an outside area with seating so they can get some fresh air or stretch their legs. This is particularly desirable among those with a private office (33%) or open plan office (32%).

Over a quarter (26%) would most like a quiet relaxation area with soft furnishings, so they can de-stress during the day, while exercise areas were appealing for more than one in ten (12%).

Paul Avis, Marketing Director at Canada Life Group Insurance, comments: “We spend the majority of our time at work, so it’s not surprising that the type of environment you work in can have such a significant impact on your health and wellbeing. Employers have a duty to ensure they are providing an appropriate and comfortable workspace and encourage their employees to take regular breaks away from their desks. Our research shows that many employees feel they are missing out on basic features such as adequate lighting and fresh air.

“With illness already prone to spreading in office environments, it’s crucial to offer a workspace that cultivates good health and wellbeing rather than damages it. It’s particularly concerning that a quarter of employees feel their mental wellbeing is being negatively affected by their work environment: stress is a major cause of long-term absence and can be hugely detrimental to both employee and employer.”