Room with a view

18 August, 2017

Working in an office with no windows is enough to ‘do your head in’, according to Carmen Lawrence, Australia’s first female premier.

Lawrence, who is now Director of the Centre for the Study of Social Change in the School of Psychology at the University of Western Australia, will discuss the urban environment and its relationship with productivity at the CCI HR Conference on September 14.

“The place I had as a member of Parliament in Fremantle didn’t have any office windows and I hated it, so I tried to find all sorts of excuses to go somewhere else, and I didn’t need many being a Member of Parliament,” she says.

“I was out and about a lot, but if you have to work in a space like that all day every day, it does your head in. And the evidence is that it does.”

Lawrence, who was WA Premier and Treasurer from 1990 to 1993 then federal Member for Fremantle from 1994 to 2007, will run HR professionals through the research that shows how workplace design can impact productivity.

“It’s not just the positive benefits of overlooking or being part of a vegetated view, there is some evidence that the more biodiverse that view is the better the effect,” she says

“You get lower stress indicators, improved salivary cortisol, blood pressure, heart rate and so on, so people are generally speaking in a better physical state and there’s a whole theory called attention restoration theory that shows that when people are able to look out over a green landscape their cognitive capacity in particular is improved.”

In one of the studies, employees with a view of trees and landscapes took less sick leave—and average of 57 hours per year compared with 68 from employees with no view—so there is a considerable affect in that case, Lawrence says.

HR professionals should put a high priority on these sorts of issues.

“I suspect there are a lot of problems that are associated with the workplace that are put down to other issues when quite simple changes in thinking about urban design in particular, I know down here in the psychology building, the people in the administration block lock themselves in.

“The other thing is the general satisfaction with their workplace—the worst thing you can do to someone is to put them in an environment with no outside connection, like this building I am working in. I can see out but some of my colleagues have no outside view.

“I’m sure there are simple things like that that can be done.”

As a former regular employee at Parliament House, Lawrence says she and her staff had outside facing windows.

“The chamber itself did not, so maybe that’s an explanation for some of the bad behaviour,” she quips.

Despite being now entrenched at UWA, Lawrence says she still follows politics but “not with any sense of nostalgia, let me tell you”.

“I left when I was ready to leave and I have no regrets.”

She says the tenure and standard of debate and discussion in federal politics has degraded while “state politics actually looks more civilised than the national level and seems to be a little more sophisticated”.

Lawrence says being elected the first female premier has had a huge impact on her life.

“Apart from it being a great honour, people noted it and continue to do so in many ways,” she says.

“It caused me to think carefully about things like how people become involved in politics, questions of political leadership and the position of women. I always had a strong interest and view about that, and I have continued to.

“The fact that there are many more women in politics is notable. What is also notable is there aren’t many more in senior positions in the business sector.”

►Hear more from Carmen Lawrence at this year’s CCI HR Conference – book your tickets here.