4 December 2012 — A whopping 92 per cent of workers said their productivity was down thanks to the workplace itself, with workplaces contributing to headaches, fatigue, eyestrain and general adverse health effects, a survey has found.

The survey, Sustainability in the Workplace, of 1051 Australians, mostly office workers, was done to help organisations gain an understanding of workplace attitudes to sustainability and how to promote positive behavioural change.

Sustainability at Work director Tania Crosbie said the survey, the group’s second, found that despite the pressure Australian businesses were experiencing, employees still wanted sustainable workplaces.

“This has increased by 5 per cent in 12 months with 73 per cent of employees saying it is very important and important their employers act in a sustainable way,” Ms Crosbie said.

Other findings included that employees had improved their own sustainable performance at home, up 8 per cent to 85 per cent, improved their performance at work, up 9.5 per cent to 67 per cent, with organisational performance up 10 per cent from 57 per cent.

Ms Crosbie said the survey results could come from the increasing attention organisations were giving to environmental sustainability in the workplace.

Just under 40 per cent of Australian workers felt their employers were more aware of environmental sustainability and 29 per cent of employees said their company had a sustainability committee/green team with 41 per cent having a formal sustainability policy, she said.

Tania Crosbie

Ms Crosbie said while there had been obvious improvement there was “still a long way to go”.

Just under 30 per cent of workers, up from 21 per cent, indicated their biggest barrier was a lack of facilities, “how to” and encouragement, she said.

And while 75 per cent of Australians surveyed in 2011 believed their workplace productivity was being undermined by the workplace itself, this had risen to 92 per cent in 2012 with workplaces contributing to headaches, fatigue, eyestrain and general adverse health effects.

Comments included:

  • “I cannot understand the point of open plan offices as it does not contribute to my capacity to focus and concentrate on complex problems.”
  • “Noise due to open plan leading to having to concentrate harder which leads to headaches.”
  • “Open plan has too much noise.  People come to work sick and share it around too much.”
  • “It’s been hard this winter in our activity based working offices because not everyone wipes down their mouse and keyboards before and after using them. We need to start being more conscious of this each day, especially during the cold and flu season.”
  • “I believe the building is sick and my organisation is very old fashion and often hostile towards workers.”
  • “I have an air vent that blasts me with drying air all day. No matter how much I drink, I constantly feel dehydrated.”

Sustainability at Work director Melissa Houghton said perceptions were “reality” when it came to self-reported ailments or symptoms.

“What is interesting is, currently 17 per cent of employees feel their workplace is an excellent example of a green office and the research reveals that employees in ‘green’ offices are less likely to suffer from ailments at work,” she said.

The survey also compared people’s sustainability behaviours at work and home, and between the sexes.

It found that people did not always undertake the same sustainability measures at home as they do at work.

“While people were more likely to report always recycling as much as they can at home(82 per cent)  than at work, (67 per cent) , this  does not extend to composting food, which is more common in the workplace (32 per cent) than in homes (28 per cent).

“This could be due to the facilities for green waste recycling often installed by Green Teams within organisations.

“(And) while 72 per cent of people will always put on a jumper if they are cold at work, only 58 per cent will do the same at home, preferring instead to turn up the heating.

“This could be related their ability to control temperatures within their homes – and their inability to do so at work.

“This is significant as it suggests that if people are given more control over the temperature within their work environment they may stop rugging up and increase their reliance on heating.”

The survey found that while there was no difference in the overall rating females and males gave themselves for environmental performance, there were differences in the environmental activities they chose to undertake.

“Females were more likely to always recycle, turn appliances off at the power point, wear a jumper instead of turning up the heating, use natural ventilation rather than air conditioning, buy free range or organic products, donate and purchase used clothing and use non-chemical cleaning products.

“Males were more likely to save water by not brushing their teeth with the water running, walk to the shops when they needed something, grow their own fruit and veggies, use a water tank to collect run off and use environmentally friendly paints.”

Ms Houghton said understanding current attitudes and behaviours towards sustainability and the impact it had on employees could provide insights and a platform for organisations to make meaningful change.

“This 2012 report continues to build on our 2011 benchmark and it has been exciting to see positive shifts in employees demanding sustainable practices in their workplace,” she said.