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STUDY: better workplace environment can improve productivity, cognition

A new study, introducing the concept of a Positive Built Workplace Environment (PBWE), has highlighted how positive workplace psychology extends beyond human resources functions into building design, interiors and the social environment of a workspace.

Towards a Positive Psychology of Buildings and Workplace Community: Delineating the Benefits of the Positive Built Workplace Environment, undertaken by the University of Sydney's Coaching Psychology Unit, found that a well-designed working layout and 'green' working environment can increase organizational productivity by 19 per cent.

Other key findings included that such an office environment increases individual performance on cognitive tasks by more than 61 per cent, reduces respiratory complaints and headaches by 30 per cent, and also helps people sleep better.

The study, conducted by Professor Anthony Grant, Sean O'Connor, Ingrid Studholme and Arielle Berger, used the International Towers at Barangaroo in Sydney as a case study for how PBWE promotes sustainable high performance, both organizational and employee wellbeing.

Professor Grant, commenting on the findings, said it was important for professional workplaces to expand the notion of a healthy working environment.

"For many years, we've seen the benefits of positive psychology in the workplace, including values-based leadership and values-based workplace environment or design on employee wellbeing," he said.  

"However, it is only now we are seeing the next wave of this workplace shift, where the two high-impact fields are brought together in a powerful integrated model."

There is a more sophisticated approach to the structure of the workplace environment beginning to emerge, he said, where open-plan, flowing workspaces are balanced with accessible private rooms and workspaces.

"This is facilitating a shift from a hot desk setup to a more genuinely cooperative workplace environment," he explained.

"Beyond this, there are now fantastic examples of where this purposefully wellbeing-oriented environment is structured to allow serendipitous ways of meeting, which is of course where we see some of the best workplace innovation emerge."

The study also advocates an onus on the building property management team to move beyond the mere profit motive, to actively promote positive values such as inclusiveness, respect and engagement via a PBWE.

The case study, International Towers Two and Three, has shown itself to espouse these principles with work environments that are designed to encourage and inspire "cross-functional team interaction", according to International Towers general manager Tony Byrne.

Mr Byrne said the savings to industry from such implementation couldn't be underestimated.

"By taking an inside-out approach to wellbeing, employers would be rewarded with greater innovation and customer-facing outcomes, while reducing work-related stress at the same time," he noted.

"Creating optimal conditions for employees, in collaborative settings such as International Towers, has an added bonus of being a drawcard for new and top talent, particularly millennials."

Further to this, the design and management of such workspaces can better satisfy the three basic human needs of self-determination or autonomy, competence and relatedness, Professor Grant argued.

"Lots of organisations have open-plan, free flow workspaces, but very few have also harnessed a specific set of human needs and values and encouraged the eladers to enact those values across all levels of the workplace," he said.

"It is the synergy between positive leadership, positive design, and positive values that makes the real difference."

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