• 4 min read
The right resources can provide stress relief for employees worldwide
by Eric Novotny
For many of us, the past few years were some of the most stressful of our lives. Anxiety and uncertainty surrounded decisions that used to be simple, like how and where we worked. Even though pandemic-driven stressors have largely subsided, stress continues to plague many of us. Research from Zippia concluded that 83% of US workers suffer from workplace stress, with 25% saying their job is the #1 stressor in their lives.
Defined as a physical, emotional, or psychological strain induced by change, stress can cause profound physical and mental health effects, including burnout: exhaustion, disengagement or negativity toward one’s job, and reduced productivity. The resulting financial impact of burnout to organizations is astronomical, with an estimated $322 billion cost measured by lost productivity.
Fortunately, how we respond to stress plays a major role in its outcomes. When we adapt to stressors and perceive them as challenges to overcome—rather than threats to avoid—we withstand their damaging effects. We become resilient.
Resilience is the remedy for negative stress. It is the ability to adapt to and bounce back from adverse conditions. But how can the workplace impact resilience? Over the past few years, Haworth has sought to answer this question through our research on resilience in the workplace. Expanding on our US-based 2020 study, we surveyed a global sample from 8 additional countries. In doing so, we explored how resilience is shaped by where we work and live.
Resources that can help build resilience at work include the objects and conditions of our external environment, as well as intrinsic things we value (e.g., our skills and energy). Though workplace features do not have a direct impact on our internal resources, they can provide support for external resources through user control, varied spaces for work, a pleasant ambience, and workspaces that are sensible and easy to navigate (i.e., legible design).
Our previous work showed that external resources, and the support provided from them, are perceived to be more beneficial as stress increases. When this happens, productivity subsequently improves.
For example, a legible workplace is one resource that has shown a direct impact on performance. Most likely, you have been to a grocery store or airport that is not legible: a lack of signage and landmarks, confusing layouts of pathways in the environment, and a lack of visual access. These issues can add unneeded stress to your day and impact negatively whatever task you are attempting to accomplish.
Legible workspaces, adequate signage, and variety in spaces (not a cubicle farm!) allow people to seamlessly access their coworkers and navigate to different workspaces—to relieve stress and get the most productivity out of their day. However, there is no universal code for building resources into the workplace. Let’s look at how different regions around the world value resources at work.
People from different cultures vary in many ways, including what resources they value. For instance, regions with individualistic cultures emphasize resources that promote personal goal pursuit and autonomy, whereas collectivistic cultures emphasize social harmony and relationships. In the workplace, these differences could manifest via a focus on user control over objects and conditions in the environment (autonomy) as opposed to having a supportive work culture (social harmony), for example.
To explore these potential differences, the Haworth Workplace and Insights team conducted 3 studies from 2020 to late 2022. In total, our global resilience studies featured responses from 1,360 participants from 9 countries:
We explored how various resources were perceived as benefits when workers faced stress, and subsequently, how resources improved participants’ ratings of their own performance. In doing so, we considered both on-site and remote work variations of 6 resource categories:
Legibility was also considered as a 7th resource category within the on-site environment.
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For resources in the workplace, the initial US sample aligned with the Asia-Pacific sample: Both leveraged tools and technology, such as virtual collaboration tools, and a supportive workplace culture as primary resources for performance.
Conversely, the participants from Europe and the 2022 North American study valued legible workspaces to improve performance.
In addition, the European region preferred user control (the ability to control and adjust aspects of one’s environment) within their workspaces.
For resources in the home office, both the initial US sample and the Asia-Pacific sample valued user control and ambient qualities, such as natural elements, adequate lighting, thermal comfort, and freedom from noise.
The European sample and the 2022 North American sample again aligned, this time preferring quality tools and technology in their home workspaces.
A quality workplace provides the resources workers need to manage their stress and perform at their best. Legible workspaces, the proper tools, and a pleasant ambience were found to be universal and surefire ways to relieve stressed employees around the globe. Although we saw some alignment, the global populations did show some differences in how they value workplace resources for mitigating stress and driving performance.
In the end, understanding how people in your region—or organization—leverage resources can help inform the design of your workspaces, with the goal of prioritizing features that maximize value for your employees.
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