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The work environment refers to the relationship between a worker and his environment that can be broken down into different dimensions like the social, technical and economic in which the work is normally viewed and designed. An attractive and supportive work environment can be described as an environment that attracts individuals into the professions, encourages them to remain in the workforce and enables them to perform effectively. The purpose of providing attractive work environments is to create incentives for entering the professions (recruitment) and for remaining in the workforce (retention). In addition, supportive work environments provide conditions that enable workers to perform effectively, making best use of their knowledge, skills and competences and the available resources in order to provide high-quality services. Many organizations have been trying new designs and techniques to construct office buildings, which can increase productivity, and attract more employees. Many authors have noted that, the physical layout of the workspace, along with efficient management processes, is playing a major role in boosting employees ‘productivity and improving organizational output.
In this literature, it is posited that the industrial revolution and the movement away from agrarian society was the pivotal point in history that instigated the concern with workers output (Koehler, 2000). The major schools of thought, namely, Fredrick W. Taylor and the Human Relations Movement have impinged on productivity since the mid-nineteenth century. Latham (1990) advocates that working conditions will influence employee’s performance, as employees are concerned with a comfortable physical work environment.
Working environment can be divided into two components namely physical and behavioral components. The physical environment consists of elements that relate to the office occupiers‟ ability to physically connect with their office environment. The behavioral environment consists of components that relate to how well the office occupiers connect with each other, and the impact the office environment can have on the behavior of the individual. According to Haynes (2008), the physical environment with the productivity of its occupants falls into two main categories office layout (open-plan verses cellular offices) and office comfort (matching the office environment to the work processes), and the behavioral environment represents the two main components namely interaction and distraction. Among a number of factors that were since that time believed to have some influence on performance are the growth of organized labour unions, technological advancement and the changing role of government. Work environment includes some factors, which either contributes positively or negatively to achieving maximum employee productivity (Landy, 2007). Moreover, there are two types of work environment according toWright (2005), which are conducive and toxic work environments. Conducive work environment gives pleasurable experience to employees and enable them to actualize their abilities and behavior. This type of environment also reinforces self-actualizing behaviors’. For instance, an irresponsible employee can change into a responsible employee in conducive work environment. Toxic work environment gives unpleasant experiences and at the same time, deactualize employees’ behavior. This environment reinforces low self-actualizing behaviors and it leads to the development of negative traits of the employees’ behavior. In toxic work environment, responsible and sensible employee can change into irrational and irresponsible employee as a survival strategy.
Working Environment Factors That Influence Employee Productivity
Open plan increases both auditory and visual distractions, and reduces job satisfaction, concentration and performance (Koehler et al. 2002). Speech is a large cause of interruptions in open plan work areas, with neighbours within 10 m causing impact (Jenkins, 2000). “Exposure to irrelevant speech has been found to impair performance on shortterm memory tasks, as well as reading comprehension and proof-reading” (Carnevale et al. 2000).
The less noise (fewer voices) in open plan areas, the less interrupting it is; frequent intermingled voices are more interrupting than isolated voices (Koehler 20002, Smith-Jackson 2009). Thus, the number of open plan workstations in each group should be kept as small as possible by using dividing walls – enclosed shared spaces rate much better for sound privacy than cubicles with partitions, although still well below private offices (Williams, 2002). Keeping employees whose work requires the most conversations and phone calls out of open plan is another strategy to reduce interruptions.
It has widely been found that open plan has poorer productivity outcomes than closed offices (Miceli, 2006). It has been found that noise level “greatly reduces the productivity, which drops to one third relative to what it would be in quiet rooms” (Treasure). Open plan has a large impact on knowledge workers. “Cognitively demanding work and phone conversations [are] most distracted by noise” (Wright, 2002). “Employees in the high need for concentration group reported more distraction in all office types except in cell offices and also more cognitive stress in all office types except cell offices and flex offices. In conclusion, cell offices may be preferable for tasks that require higher need for concentrations” (Dunford, 2001).
A survey of “38 000 knowledge workers in predominantly open-plan office space found that one of the biggest losses of productive time during the day stemmed from interruptions by colleagues” (Davis et al. 2011).
Workers in open-plan offices get sick more often (MacDuffie, 2002). The poorer health, job satisfaction and performance in open plan don’t improve with time after moving into open plan office environments (Locke, 2007).
Some people are genuinely more affected by open plan interruptions than others. “Satisfaction and performance [are] reduced for employees with poor stimulus screening or poor inhibitory ability” (Landy, 2007).
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