Study Suggests Companies Provide ‘Places of Solitude’ for Employees

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More than 40 percent of workers claim to have a difficult time concentrating at the office, with nearly half reporting the workplace does not provide adequate space to support mindfulness, focus, and solitude, says new research from Steelcase, a Grand Rapids-based furniture manufacturer.

The study, based on a 14-country survey of employees at companies with more than 100 workers, found that the average person loses 86 minutes per day due to distractions.

“Mindfulness means balancing the intense pace of life with being fully present in the moment,” says Donna Flynn of Steelcase. “With the proliferation of technology and growth of distributed work across time and space, workers are facing unprecedented distractions combined with pressures to be always on, leaving them stressed, tired and overwhelmed.”

In an effort to enhance an employee’s ability to concentrate amid distractions and disturbances, Steelcase researchers suggest that companies implement spaces where people can seek solitude or connect with others without distraction. There should also be areas where employees can control the amount of sensory stimulation they are exposed to.

“Given the mental fatigue that comes with (a) high cognitive (workload), workers need physical spaces that help them manage the cognitive load and be fully present in the moment,” says Beatriz Arantes, a senior researcher and environmental psychologist with Steelcase. “The space can give workers a reason to want to be present … We want to help people reconnect with what makes their work fulfilling.”

Other changes employers can make include offering an area where employees can stay focused as they interact with each other one-on-one and eye-to-eye, Arantes says. They can also provide a calming environment through strategic choice of materials, textures, colors, lighting, and views.

“To foster mindfulness, and wellbeing, organizations need to provide a diversity of work settings employees can choose from based on the work they have to do,” Arantes says. “When employees have choices, they have a sense of control that helps them feel more empowered and less stressed.”

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