Hiring and keeping good people is—no argument—the number one challenge I hear among my clients and other small business owners.

Many of them, like me, struggle to offer compensation and benefits that are competitive with the larger organizations that compete with us for talent. Every year, we revisit these benefits and ask ourselves what more we could be doing: Higher salaries? Better healthcare? More flexible paid time off? A generous retirement plan?

While all of these things are important, it turns out that employees actually desire something more: light.

Yes, light. Natural light, to be more specific.

Let There Be Light

In a recent survey of more than 1,600 workers in North America, an HR advisory and research firm called Future Workplace found that the number one attribute desired by employees in a workplace environment was access to natural light and/or views of the outdoors. So much so, that this benefit outranked such popular employee benefits as employee cafeterias, fitness centers, and even onsite daycare.

“The notion that the creation of the workplace environment is solely a real estate concern is an outdated concept,” Jeanne C. Meister, one of the study’s authors and a partner at Future Workplace wrote in Harvard Business Review. “Today, employers recognize that the workplace environment is now part of the overall employee experience equation and a key lever to attract, engage, and retain top talent.”

The study found that not having natural light or outdoor views is actually detrimental to the happiness and productivity of employees. More than one-third of employees said that they don’t have enough natural light in their offices, and 47% said they felt “tired” or “very tired” because of the lack of light or a window (43% reported feeling “gloomy”).

This Topic Is Trending

Many big companies have already taken notice of this trend. According to Meister, Airbnb’s Portland call center features a large open space with access to natural light and views of the outside. Overstock.com’s 230,000-square-foot office has panoramic views of the surrounding Salt Lake Valley with “smart” windows that automatically adjust to optimize the natural daylight and shield the glare of the sun on computer workstations.

Amazon’s downtown Seattle workspace has enough natural light flowing through it to support more than 40,000 plants. The trend toward providing more workplaces that use natural light has even led to some European Union countries’ mandating that employees have proximity to windows as part of the national building codes.

I know what you’re thinking—sounds nice if you’re a big company like Amazon with deep pockets. You’re right. Creating this kind of environment can be expensive and, if you’re running a small business, resources are tight. But I’m sure you agree that providing access to sunlight and the outdoors does make sense. It does have a biologically positive impact on human beings and the more you can offer this kind of exposure, the happier and more productive your workforce might be.

What Options Do You Have?

You could redesign your offices, get rid of the cubicles, and create more open spaces. That way, if you do have windows, the people sitting toward the middle of the room have a better chance of catching a glimpse of the sun. Plus, studies have shown that this environment provides for a more conducive and friendlier team experience. Prospective employees, particular younger ones, are more inclined to be drawn to offices with this type of open plan arrangement if only because it’s more contemporary and common in larger offices.

You also could encourage more outdoor activities. Stick a few picnic tables or benches around your building, if possible, so that people can eat lunch or take a break outdoors. Bring in a basketball net for when employees want to let off steam. Even arranging with a food truck to come by once a week entices workers to leave their desks and catch a few rays while picking up a sandwich. A grocery store near me conducts yoga classes outside twice a week before the doors open. Another client I know put shuffleboard courts outside their offices and there is literally nothing more fun in this world than a competitive game of shuffleboard—even if you’re under 85 years of age.

What’s the Takeaway?

Data shows that the more you give your people access to natural light—the sun, the outdoors—the happier and more productive they’ll be, and the better work environment you’ll create. This, in turn, will help you retain the best of them and perhaps attract a few more. Sunscreen, anyone?

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