How the work environment affects productivity

  • 18 Sep 2019

By Mike Davis, Head of SME Direct, AXA PPP healthcare

The average full time employee in the UK works approximately 37 hours a week1, which means we spend approximately 33% of our waking hours each week at work. It’s therefore not surprising that our work environment can have a big impact on our mood.

The following are some ways in which the office environment can affect employees’ mood and productivity:


Noise can have a big impact on mood and productivity in the workplace, be it positive or negative. Some employees may enjoy having music on in the office to keep them motivated and energised throughout the day, however others may find it difficult to concentrate due to the background noise. Likewise with office conversations, some may like the vibrant, sociable feel that it brings to the workplace, however others may find it distracting. According to one study, noisy workplaces have, in part, led to over one-third of workers feeling disengaged2.



The issue of noise in the workplace could be affecting employees more than some business owners may think. One survey found that 75% of employees say they need to take walks outside to focus, and 32% use headphones to block out distraction. The same survey also found that employees in the noisiest office environments are more likely to say they may leave their job in the next 6 months3.

Office layout

Long gone are the days when a cubicle layout was favoured by companies looking to get the most out of their employees by minimising the possibility of distractions. Now, more and more businesses are opting for an open plan layout when designing their office space. However, this open plan layout could be having a negative effect on productivity as employees may find it hard to concentrate with the associated noise and distraction that open plan office designs can bring. According to one survey, 63% of employees say they lack quiet space for focussed work, which has a negative effect on their productivity, satisfaction and wellbeing3.

Many business owners may have the best intentions when opting for an open plan layout, in an attempt to encourage peer to peer conversations and collaboration across different areas of the business. However, one study has found that employees in open plan offices actually spend 70% less time in face-to-face interactions4. This may show that, although they may suit some people, open plan offices could actually be having more negative effects on employees than positive. This could therefore be contributing to lower concentration levels and subsequently, lower productivity.



Providing a mixture of sociable workspaces with more quiet, private work stations could be the way forward for businesses looking to get the most out of their employees.

Office politics

Office politics can have a huge impact on employees’ wellbeing at work, and ultimately their productivity. Whether it’s disagreements between colleagues or lack of direction from line managers, many workplaces may experience a certain level of office politics. However, if left unchecked, it can affect all areas of employees’ lives. According to one study, a third (33%) of UK workers cited office politics as a major contributing factor to feelings of unhappiness in the workplace5.

Office furniture

It may not be the most obvious contributor to employee wellbeing at work, but office furniture could be having a big impact on your people. Many office jobs require a lot of time being spent sat down at a desk, therefore it’s important to ensure that employees’ desk spaces are set up correctly in order to avoid any potential spine, neck and muscle strains. When it comes to working days lost  due to work-related ill health in 2017/18, 35% of days were lost as a result of work-related musculoskeletal disorders6 (issues affecting the bones, muscles and joints). This shows the importance of implementing preventative measures for MSK injuries in the workplace. Health and Safety Executive has created this guide to working with display screen equipment.



Looking ahead, to begin building a work environment that suits all of your team, you could start by simply asking your employees what they want from their workplace. This could help you gauge whether there are members of your team who are struggling to find quiet spaces when they need to concentrate on projects, if they find that the music is too loud and distracting or whether they’d value the opportunity to occasionally be able to work from home. This can help you to build an office environment that works for all of your people.

AXA PPP healthcare small business health insurance

At AXA PPP healthcare, our small business health insurance is designed with businesses like yours in mind. That's why you can tailor our health insurance plans to the needs of your team and your business, providing your people with the healthcare cover that best suits them. As standard, all our small business health insurance plans come with:

  • Working Body service. If you or someone in your team (aged 18 and over) is suffering from a bone, muscle or joint problem, you can speak to a physiotherapist over the phone without the need for a GP referral through our Working Body service.
  • Access to 24/7 health information and support. All our small business Health at Hand insurance plans come with access to our 24/7 health information phone helpline, Health at Hand. With Health at Hand, you can speak to a nurse, counsellor, midwife or pharmacist at a time and place that suits you*.
  • Unlimited access** to our online GP service [email protected] (provided by Doctor Care Anywhere). With [email protected], you and your team can get a 20 minute online or phone appointment with a GP at a time and place that suits you - 24/7, 365 days a year.***


Find out more about our small business health insurance, including what we do and don’t cover, and get a quote today

*Health at Hand nurses and counsellors are available 24/7. Midwives and pharmacists are available 8am-8pm Monday to Friday, 8am-4pm Saturdays and 8am-12pm Sundays.

**Fair usage policy applies

***Subject to appointment availability

Sources and reference

1Office for National Statistics

2Steelcase via BBC

3Plantronics, 2018

4Ethan S. Bernstein and Stephen Turban, 2018 (via Royal Society Publishing)

5Adecco research via OnRec,2015

6Health and Safety Executive

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