I came upon a survey by Universum, a global employer branding company. They asked more than 65,000 college students to list what they considered to be the top 250 employers. No surprise Google ranked #1. Consulting companies such as McKinsey, Bain, and Boston Consulting were high on the list as were brand names such as Coca-Cola, Disney, and Proctor and Gamble. Just like workers in other age and education groups, the students rated job security and an ability to advance in their careers as very important. What was a bit more surprising was how high the atmosphere — the physical and general feel of a place -- rated.

We’re a long way away from the sweat shops of centuries ago. Regulations, tragedies, and worker intolerance, have made the workplace safer and healthier. However, there is a new kind of environment being created that may be detrimental to the emotional and intellectual health of employees.

Real estate is expensive and for fast growing or merging companies space can be at a premium. I coach in companies where two or three people share a desk, not because they are collaborating on a project but because they just don’t have an inch more room. We’ve all seen photos of “operators” in the garment industry, shoulder-to-shoulder, bent over their sewing machines, manufacturing clothing for America. Yet at this very moment, in offices all over the world, there are people bent over the keyboards for hours on end producing the intellectual collateral we now create as product.

I was wondering “what could we do to make this situation better?” “What do employees want?” Going back to the Universum survey, it seemed clear employees wanted, required, a more supportive physical environment and what that looked like was a workspace that expressed their idea of comfort and in its own way, a place where working would actually be invigorating and fun. This could mean a discussion pit -- a place where comfortable chairs and sofas allow people to physically relax while being mentally alert. It’s blank wall space for people to follow and contribute ideas and/or solutions, publically, anytime. There needs to be a designated area to eat that isn’t a desk and an abundance of water and healthy snacks to feed stomachs and brains. They want reliable tech and web access for personal use not just professional. And then there is the intangible “cool” factor. Granted, each of us has a different perspective of what that might look like but I doubt anyone would vote for harsh ceiling bulbs, no natura light, and no or non-descript wall and furniture colors.

I’ve always made a point of having original art in my offices. If you visit local art shows, you can purchase fabulous works, and support an artist, for the same price as you can buy framed posters. I attempt to adjust the room temperature to suit my clients. In general, the men like it colder than the women do. Fine, I crank up the heat or cool as necessary. It’s not for my comfort, but theirs. I never use ceiling lights -- too much glare. I try to soundproof the rooms, so clients feel a sense of privacy and are protected from the goings on of the outside world. I guess my cool factor is mid-century furniture in memorable colors and side tables that reflect the period I have in my office and the reception. I always have water for visitors and coats are hung -- like when you visit my home. I should offer WiFi but I find most can “steal” it from adjacent buildings. The proof this works is that clients prefer to come to my office rather than stay in theirs and speak with me on the phone or have me come to them. Is the décor the only reason? Of course not but it’s a factor.

If you work for yourself or in your home, you have more leeway in this area. Take advantage of it. Been in a space a long time? Try what I do -- clear everything away and rearrange or swap out. Nothing brings new life to a photo or a table than a new home.

A lot has been studied and tested to make sure our chairs are ergo dynamic and that’s great. However, what about the rest of the environment in your office? How does your office rank on the cool spectrum? Who has say about how things look and what would make life better? Is one generation making the call, when in fact you want to attract variety and diversity? What do you owe to yourself since you probably work more hours than you sleep and notice more about your surroundings at work than you do in your living room?

Here’s my challenge to you:

Change one thing in your workspace. If it seems to make things better, share the idea with someone. If that works, promote it to the company.

Next make a list of what in coaching we call “tolerations;” those annoying things we put up with -- too small a monitor, the malfunctioning door knob, the hard to find recycling bin, etc. -- fix it or get it changed.

Measure the level of satisfaction you experience and see how it affects your attitude toward work. I bet it will be a big difference.

Then… repeat.

Just a thought.

(c) Jane Cranston.

Author's Bio: 

Jane Cranston is an executive career coach. She works with success-driven executives, managers and leaders to reach their potential, better manage their boss and staff, as well as develop a career strategy to reach goals and aspirations. Jane is the author of Great Job in Tough Times a step-by-step job search system. Click here to subscribe to her twice monthly Competitive Edge Report.