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Most work in unpleasant environments

The majority of employees (83%) feel that their office environment is 'unpleasant' , citing poor temperatures, poor ventilation and lack of natural light

Aspect surveyed 2,000 employees in the UK to identify the most common causes of discomfort at work. It found that the most common complaints related to issues with physical discomfort. Almost half (46%) complained of workplaces that were too hot, 43% of being too cold, and 28% of poor ventilation.

Workplace amenities were also cause for concern. Nearly a quarter (21%) were unhappy with the condition of bathrooms, 16% cited shabby flooring and carpets, and 14% complained about poor quality fixtures and fittings. Other issues included intrusive noises, food smells, insect problems and dripping taps.

Employees aged between 25 and 34 were the most likely to be dissatisfied with their working conditions, with 89% of this age group having at least one complaint, compared to 81% of those aged 55 and over.

Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at the University of Manchester, said that employers are failing to get the basics right when it comes to creating a decent environment. "As we saw with the burst water pipe in the House of Commons back in April, a physically unpleasant or even unsafe workplace is obviously bad for productivity and for an organisation's external image," he said.

"Issues like intrusive noises, uncomfortable temperatures and general shabbiness can be a distraction, but it's also a matter of respect from employers towards their people. Employers ought to go further than simply meeting health and safety requirements to ensure workplaces are as pleasant and comfortable as possible."

Cooper told HR magazine that employees should be given more opportunities to shape their own environments: "If the number of people who are complaining about this seems high, that's because employees are never asked what they want from the workplace. People in the UK work more hours than anywhere in Europe, but they get little input on basic things like if they want an open-plan office environment or natural lighting."

He warned that complaints about the office can sometimes disguise bigger cultural issues: "It's worth noting that some people who complain about office environments might do so when working somewhere with a really punitive management style. It's not unusual for people who don't feel like they have control over their culture to point to something physical, and use the environment as a way to avoid bringing up corporate behaviour and potentially becoming blacklisted.”