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Will Social or Physical Changes (or both) Improve Your Workplace?

The question for many employers large and small is whether making social changes or physical changes lead to better productivity or lower absenteeism.  Or would a combination of changes have the best outcome?  According to this research, an employer is better served by either making social changes or physical changes - but not the two together.

Here's the report:

Changes targeting the social or physical workplace environment have some positive effects on work-related outcomes —- but at least so far, evidence doesn't support a combination of the two approaches, a new report concludes. 

  • Social changes such as  group motivational interviews led to improved work task performance, while the 
  • physical change such as establishing specific areas for quiet work, meetings, and recreation was associated with employees being more fully concentrated and immersed in work tasks.
Researchers evaluated the effects of changes to the social and physical work environment at a financial services company. Departments were randomly assigned to 
  1. social changes, including group motivational interviews to promote physical activity and relaxation; 
  2. physical changes, such as different workplace zones for quiet work, meetings, and recreation; or 
  3. a combination of social and physical changes.
The study showed some "small but significant" effects on work-related outcomes. 
  1. Social intervention led to improved work task performance, while the 
  2. physical intervention was associated with improved "absorption" (being fully concentrated and immersed in work tasks).
  3. Combined intervention actually had small reductions in job dedication and contextual performance (additional activities that contribute to the organizational environment). 
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None of the interventions significantly affected absenteeism or presenteeism (time spent at work with reduced productivity).

There's growing interest in making changes in the work environment to promote employee health and productivity. It has been suggested that combining interventions to alter the social and physical environment might have a greater impact.

But according to these researchers, the social and physical environmental interventions evaluated in the study "demonstrated limited effectiveness" in improving work-related outcomes.  
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Story Source: Jennifer K. Coffeng, Ingrid J. M. Hendriksen, Saskia F. A. Duijts, Jos W. R. Twisk, Willem van Mechelen, C├ęcile R. L. Boot. Effectiveness of a Combined Social and Physical Environmental Intervention on Presenteeism, Absenteeism, Work Performance, and Work Engagement in Office Employees. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 2014.


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