Six ways environmental factors can influence employee performance

6-ways-awa-cognitive-performance-heroThe service industry, which makes up 80 per cent of the British economy, is built on ‘knowledge workers’ – people who think for a living.

From lawyers to accountants to engineers, their ideas, knowledge, experience and relationships form the crux of their organisation’s offering to its customers. Their performance comes down to one thing: their ability to think and to process information, also known as cognitive performance.
Cognitive performance can be influenced by hundreds of factors and scientific research has only really begun to scratch the surface in understanding how these factors interchange and interact. Based on our analysis of scientific studies into cognitive performance, we have identified six key factors that need to be considered in order to create a workplace experience that encourages and stimulates performance.

Environmental factors that influence cognitive performance

1. Noise – The ability to retain and manipulate information is vulnerable to interference with noise most disruptive. In the workplace sensors should be used to assess noise levels in different area, with results used to create rules around noise levels and identify areas where people could go to find better conditions.
2. Light – Light creates a range of physiological responses, with studies showing that higher levels of lighting can increase alertness, while different types can impact mood, memory and speed of working. In the workplace lighting systems can be matched to the function of a particular space.
3. Scent – Smells are known to affect physical, emotional and mental health and, in some cases, to directly impact cognitive performance. In the workplace the widespread delivery of a particular scent in a communal working environment has practical challenges but in breakout area certain scents could be used.
4. Temperature – Trends suggest that higher temperatures (<30C) have a negative impact on cognition, and that reaction and response times improve under cold temperatures. However new research suggests that the impact of temperature on our brains is predicated by personal preference. In the workplace everyone knows it’s difficult to get a perfect temperature for all. However, providing information about temperature levels throughout a building could help users to find areas suited to them.
5. Nutrition – Links between nutrition and cognitive performance are clear, not just in terms of the types of food eaten but the time at which it is. In the workplace companies should not just encourage teams to consume the right food and drink, they should use mealtimes as an opportunity to encourage greater socialising by providing areas where people can gather to eat together.
6. Hydration – Dehydration has a clear negative effect on brain function, interfering with perception, spatial ability, attention and immediate memory, as well as causing physical symptoms such as headaches, tiredness, confusion and mood swings. In the workplace fresh water should be provided in multiple, easily accessible locations.

Why is this important?

In a knowledge or service-based industry, the cognitive performance of employees is fundamental to their productivity – and the workplace experience can significantly impact this. It has always been clear that sensory inputs such as noise, light, scent and temperature all need to be considered when designing an effective workplace experience but we now better understand their affect on cognition.

Find out more…

You can read more on this in a full version of the AWA report here.
The research has been carried out on behalf of Interserve by leading workplace change experts Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA) and the Centre for Evidenced-Based Management (CEBMa). It analyses over 100 reports and studies, drawing out key insights that relate to commercial environments and how these environments influence those using them.

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Jeff Flanagan

Jeff Flanagan is a managing director - commercial, at Interserve.