Do You Suffer From Being In An Unpleasant Workplace Environment?

Sewage Smells, Plumbing Leaks & Poor Lighting:
We’ve Uncovered The Most Common Workplace Complaints

From sewage smells and vermin to shabby carpets and grotty bathrooms, many of the UK’s workplaces are unpleasant, uncomfortable and at risk of driving down productivity and morale, according to new research* from Aspect.

A nationally representative poll of 2,000 people found that 83% of UK adults consider their workplace to be an “unpleasant” environment, with many citing uncomfortable temperatures, lack of natural light, unpleasant smells, damp and mould, poor ventilation and even vermin and insects among their complaints.

Top workplace complaints

  • Uncomfortable temperatures; too cold / too cold
  • Poor lighting and lack of natural light
  • Poor ventilation
  • Bad smells, including sewage
  • Condition of bathrooms and toilets

The study was designed to identify the most common causes of employee discomfort at work. On the whole, issues related to physical comfort were the most common complaints. 46% complained of workplaces that were “too hot”, 43% complained of workplaces being “too cold” and 28% complained of workplaces having poor ventilation.

Amenities were also a cause for concern. 21% complained about the condition of bathrooms, 16% cited shabbiness of flooring and carpets and 14% bemoaned a workplace’s poor quality fixtures and fittings. Other issues included intrusive noises, food smells, insect problems and dripping taps.

Workers aged 25-34 were the most likely to complain about their working environment and workers aged 55 and over were least likely. The condition of the UK’s workplaces appears to affect women and men differently too. While women were only marginally more likely than men to consider their place of work to be unpleasant, women and men do tend to have different complaints.

Water temperature, shabby flooring, condition of bathrooms, workplaces being too cold and food smells were more likely to be a problem for women. Sewage smells, intrusive sounds, insects, leaks and pests were more of a cause for concern for men.

Employer responsibilities for the workplace

Professor Sir Cary Cooper is a specialist in organisational psychology and health with a focus on workplaces. He believes employers are failing to get the basics right when it comes to creating a decent working environment.

“As we saw with the burst water pipe in the House of Commons, a physically unpleasant or even unsafe workplace is obviously bad for productivity and for an organisation’s external image. Issues like intrusive noises, uncomfortable temperatures and general shabbiness can be a distraction, but it’s also a matter of respect from employers toward their people.”

Professor Cooper thinks employers ought to go further than simply meeting health and safety requirements to ensure workplaces are as pleasant and comfortable as possible.

“Those that don’t are sending a signal to their people that their physical comfort and freedom from distraction are a low priority, which can be demoralising for any workforce. That’s not to say organisations need to invest in high-spec fit-outs and luxurious surroundings, but they should focus instead on meeting a basic standard of environmental comfort appropriate for their industry.

“The complaints highlighted in the study suggest a wide spectrum of failure when it comes to meeting these basic standards. Workplaces should be a comfortable temperature and well-lit where possible, free from intrusive noise, bad smells and other avoidable sources of unpleasantness.”

Simple ongoing maintenance

Nick Bizley, Aspect’s commercial director, says organisations could significantly improve workplace comfort with a few simple changes:

“The majority of the big complaints revealed by the study relate to issues that can be fixed or mitigated quite easily. For example, we visit organisations who would have significantly more natural light if they just rearranged some of their furniture. It’s quite surprising how many windows are obscured by whiteboards, shelves and sometimes even posters.

“Some of the other problems are just down to a lack of proper maintenance. Damp, leaks and sewage odours are a sign that these firms need to call a plumber or drainage engineer. The fact that more than one in ten people have complained about pests and vermin in their place of work is worrying.

“Some of the complaints don’t even necessarily require anything more than better communication. The fact that more than half of women complain of workplaces being too cold tells us something important. Studies** have shown, for example, that office climate standards were set at a time when most workplaces were male-dominated, so the ‘ideal temperatures’ are really ‘men’s ideal temperatures’. If employers were to ask their people if they were happy with the temperature and to allow them to work in different areas with different ambient temperatures, this could help tackle that particular problem.”

83% of respondents rated their workplace environment as “unpleasant”

Too cold46%50%42%
Too hot43%43%43%
Lack of natural light31%32%30%
Bad lighting29%28%29%
Poor ventilation28%28%28%
Bad smells in general26%25%26%
Food smells22%24%20%
Condition of bathrooms21%24%18%
Intrusive noise/sounds20%20%21%
Sewage smells17%15%19%
Shabby carpet or tiles16%18%14%
Poor quality fixtures and fittings14%15%14%
Damp and mould13%13%12%
Pests and vermin11%11%12%
Water temperature11%13%9%
Plumbing leaks11%10%11%
Dripping water9%9%9%
Never been employed in a workplace2%2%3%
None of the above15%15%15%

About the study

*OnePoll surveyed a nationally representative sample of 2,000 UK adults on behalf of Aspect, between 09/04/2019 and 10/04/2019. OnePoll are members of the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research and employ members of the Marketing Research Society.

**Energy consumption in buildings and female thermal demand

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