Employee Health Benefits of a Greener Workplace

Did you know that going green benefits both the environment and your employees’ overall health? Since healthier employees make for more productive employees, any business can reap the rewards by switching to more environmentally-friendly policies.

Research indicates that exposure to certain toxins impacts the respiratory system, the central nervous system and even the digestive system. If your office contains a ton of toxins, higher absenteeism follows.

Taking simple steps to green up your workplace pays off in fewer absences and makes it easier for employees to focus on the work at hand.

The Impact of Environmental Toxins

Many common office items contain toxins known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from chemicals used during production. New paint, office furniture and machinery, carpeting and more all may contain VOCs. As these compounds decay over time, they release dangerous fumes in the process.

Research reveals that exposure to VOCs irritates the lining of the nose and throat. Inflamed tissue makes the affected individual more open to infections.

The result? In offices with a high amount of VOCs, when one employee gets sick, the rest follow shortly after that. This creates undue absences and labor shortages, especially during cold and flu season.

What’s even scarier is that long-term exposure to VOCs can damage the liver, the lungs and the central nervous system — including the brain. This can have serious consequences, including cancer or death.

Per OSHA requirements, employers have a legal obligation to remove preventable workplace hazards under the General Duty Clause. While OSHA issues no fixed-in-stone standards for hazards due to poor indoor air quality, for example, failing to take measures to improve can still result in an OSHA citation.

Beyond OSHA compliance, employers should consider the high cost factor involved in training new staff members. Employee retention costs far less in both time and money than continually bringing in new recruits.

Research also shows that converting to greener practices improves the perception employees have of their position. Satisfied employees work harder, produce more and stay committed to their employer.

greener office
Credit: Marco Bellucci

How to “Green Up” Your Workplace

Regardless of the size of your organization or the breadth of your budget, you can take simple steps to help make your workplace more environmentally sound. Here are a few to try:

  • Recycle: The easiest way for companies to go green is to institute a recycling program and provide bins. All employees can see and appreciate this measure.
  • Use Low-VOC Materials: When redecorating your workplace, seek out low VOC-producing materials. In particular, avoid products high in formaldehyde and radon, as both substances can cause cancer.
  • Arrange a Green Committee: Get your team involved in your green efforts by appointing a committee to discover new ways to make your office more sustainable. Employees tend to react more positively to suggestions from peers versus orders mandated by the boss.
  • Embrace Natural Light: If your organization is in the process of relocating, opt for buildings with lots of windows for natural light. Exposure to natural light helps alleviate depression, stress and fatigue. Better yet, choose a building with windows that open at least partially to improve ventilation.
  • Clean Ducts Regularly: Speaking of ventilation, make regular duct cleaning a priority. Experts recommend cleaning your ducts every two to five years to eliminate built-up contaminants such as dust and mold.
  • Add Indoor Plants: Go ahead and hang that ficus tree or four. Indoor plants beautify your workplace while also improving the overall air quality by releasing more oxygen into the air. Think of plants as nature’s air filters!
  • Consider Going Paperless: Paper waste makes up the majority of office refuge. Even if you recycle, using a lot of paper means more trees are tumbling down. Going paperless makes document revision smooth, and switching to direct deposit saves your employees a trip to the bank to cash their checks.
  • Save Electricity: In the habit of leaving on lights, computers and other equipment overnight? Control your office electric with a master switch and draft a policy that the last person to leave work in the evening must turn the power off before exiting. Consider switching to green energy, too, if it is available in your area.
  • Provide Organic Beverages: Who can work productively without a cuppa Joe or two? Choose fair trade and organic coffees and teas to stock your employee break room.
  • Allow Work-From-Home Opportunities: Commuting costs time and money, and it floods the environment with carbon emissions. Consider allowing your employees to telecommute whenever possible. New technologies make this easier than ever, and most employees will jump at the opportunity to work from home a few days a week.

Prioritize Going Green and Watch Your Company Flourish

Our personal health and the health of our planet intertwine. Taking action to establish an environmentally-friendly atmosphere in your office keeps your employees healthy and productive. By switching to greener workplace policies, your business will enjoy improved morale, attendance and performance.