Wellbeing in the workplace and its link to office design

Workplace design has shifted from what it once was many years ago and we are now seeing more emphasis on employee wellness. A healthy and happy workplace today is many things; a place for personal and professional growth, a place to be social, to learn new skills and be recognised, and many more. A recent survey found that up to 85% of office workers are dissatisfied with their workplace design.

According to the latest research from the University of Warwick, economists undertook various experiments testing the idea that happy employees work harder. In a trial environment they found that happiness increased the productivity of a workforce by 12%. This evidence shows office interior design as one of the main factors that has a direct impact on happiness and wellbeing.

However, happiness and wellbeing are subjective, which is the struggle many businesses face when trying to design a workplace to suit the individual roles and personalities within a company. The key not only lies in understanding the different types of activities and how they are carried out, but to also understand that company culture plays a part in elevating mood and health. To be able to answer key questions when designing the ideal workplace, workplace consultancies utilise the Myers Briggs personality type testing method to help set the foundation for an agile workplace design.

The benefit of Agile Working is ensuring the workplace is built with elements that will accommodate the demands of different tasks for different workers. Creating agile working environments will provide its occupants with pickings of areas specific to the user’s needs. For example; one area could be designed with muted colours, low ambient lighting and noise reduction furniture, whilst another could be designed loudly with bright colours and openly shared spaces.

However, office interior designers also need to look beyond the physical ergonomics and design an environment that positively affects its occupants psychologically. Failing to do so would most likely impact productivity and motivation, thus leading to economic losses for a business.

According to 2014 Wellbeing at Work Study by the British Council for Offices (BCO), 99% of the UK’s workforce is under pressure from being expected to perform highly at work while 96% are expected to feel relaxed in their environment. The contradiction here being that many businesses will opt to redesign or refurbish as a solution to improving productivity, but in a lot of cases this results in merely just a physical alteration; a simple visual change of the environment to give false impression that the company is adopting change or ‘the new ways of working’. The office interior may be designed to promote comfort and relaxation, but the company culture still promotes strict and inflexible ways of working. The culture then remains unchanged, unimproved, and causes stress for employees.

Most of the UK’s workforce believes that their workplace design supports their physical wellbeing. However, more than half (54%) cited poor corporate culture leading to stress and anxiety in the workplace. This results in poor mental wellbeing for employees that lead to absenteeism and other costly factors for organisations. Findings by Management Today Magazine revealed that 97% of workers gauge how much their employers value them by the company’s workplace design and culture. Only 37% cited that their office had been designed ‘with people in mind’ – a staggering number that should receive urgent attention from management.

Employee behaviour and health are influenced by company culture as well as space design. No matter how much effort goes into improving physical aspects of your workplace, if the intrinsic rewards and sense of being valued are missing then the outcome will be failure. The opposite is the same, if the culture is there but your office design lacks comfort and flexibility, your staff’s focus and motivation will surely deflate.

When designing an effective office it is essential to put people at the start of your journey. You must first encourage a positive change in working behaviours to inspire a new culture. As expert workplace designers, we carry out studies to understand the ways in which your employees tick. We then help companies to develop a strategy that will support the happiness and wellbeing of their workforce. By combining this with the latest in workplace designs and technology, we can create a truly agile workplace that is built to support its people as well as the business’ bottom line as a whole.