Our ancestors lived in thriving Savannah-style environments that aided certain adaptive traits that allowed us to thrive. Since then, we’ve have replaced woodlands and the grasslands with concrete buildings and asphalt streets. Our evolutionary traits and our current environment don’t always work well together. We had to use our physical and cognitive skills to find food to survive — today, we simply have to pull up to a drive-thru window to receive our orders. We also over eat, which has led to a natural rise in obesity.
Alongside these mismatched phenomena, this could also be why employees who are inside concrete high-rise buildings are equally experiencing an epidemic of mental health proportions. We were not evolutionarily designed to be in offices for 8 or more hours a day. However, research has found that when we try to bring in elements from our historical connections to nature and the open plains, it has helped to reduce mental health issues.
The way that offices have been invented by architects impede social interactions and physical movement. Our cave-dwelling family members had easy access to both while communities eventually were transformed into cities. Unlike at home, most employees do no have control of their office environment which has massive effect on their overall health.
From closed cubicles to rapid lunch breaks, the lack of human connection lowers oxytocin which has also negative after-effects on how long we can live. Rather than being developed by psychologists, offices tend to be designed by interior designers and facility managers. However, research has shown that when offices begin to embrace our evolutionary hardwiring, it creates more productive, cognitively healthy, interactive, and optimized human beings.
There are 4 things that employers can do to ensure their employees are taken care of. These also apply to those employees who work from home.
The importance of sunlight has been thoroughly researched. Vitamin D has been shown to elevate mood and decrease depression. Although you can ingest vitamin D, it does not work as well as being outside.
One alternative is to use full-spectrum fluorescent which mimics sunlight. This has shown to help increase moods, cognition, and health. Having access to windows has also been shown to increase job satisfaction.
MRI’s have been done on people who live in the city and has shown that there is a rise in amygdala activity — the emotional fear center of the brain. Those who have grown up in the city have also shown to have more stress-based activity in their brains. Employers can add pictures of natural scenery, woods, and potted plants which decrease blood pressure, stress and anxiety. Employers should incentivize break times that encourage employees to spend time outside. Sitting in a room with plants have also influenced an increase in prosocial behavior.
Hacking your sleeping habits has become a fad. But, the science behind it has been shown to increase work efficiency. The demands of our current work culture has made our mental health less possible. Good sleep increases novel thought formation, visual discrimination, and motor skills. It has also increased depression and injury and a low quality of life. Lack of sleep has a massive effect on work motivation, reaction time and even memory recall. Employers can include sleep pods on site, encourage long breaks, and employees can start personal sleep journals to discover their own circadian rhythms.
(4) PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
Many employers have embraced the value and importance of investing in the physical activity of their employees. Exercise increases blood flow, oxygen into the body, focus, confidence, and a host of other beneficial things. Employers should to nudge their employees toward developing an exercise strategy, give free memberships to online gyms, have workplace gym buddies and reward physical activity which will increase productivity.
Our ancestors were on to something. Our environments, whether at home or at work have an affect on how we behave, how productive we are, and even our emotional state. It is the job of the employer to be responsible and care for their employee. Without a personalized care strategy in place, employers ultimately neglect their role in providing holistic training with their employees.