Why Office Setup Plays a Large Role in Employee Happiness

by Michael Haberman on March 3, 2015 · 0 comments


Offices have an impact on the attitude of employees and their ability to work.

Offices have an impact on the attitude of employees and their ability to work.

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By the end of the 1960s, human resource professionals had already discovered the link between office design and the productivity of employees. Soon after that, it was apparent that workplace happiness played a direct role in worker retention. With people spending one-third or more of their lives at work, the atmosphere of one’s workspace heavily influences employee happiness and productivity, not only at work, but also in their personal lives.

The Privacy-Communication Trade-Off

The cubicle, the fishbowl and the warehouse are all in reference to the kind of open space office design you see in hip software companies and ultra-cool fashion manufacturers. For some employees, this is the height of workplace comfort but others hate it, comparing it to being an ant under a magnifying glass. The name for it is privacy-communication trade-off; although this setup allows free-flowing communication without the physical or psychological barriers of walls, it doesn’t offer a space for privacy or retreat. To create the best Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ), companies like software manufacturer Livefyre have a wall-less area in the middle of the complex, surrounded by smaller workrooms for mini-conferences or for workers who need to step away from distractions.

The Right Light

In the Tom Hanks film “Joe Versus The Volcano,” the lighting quality of the movie changed when in the office, to the point that the viewer felt a little ill when Joe was at work. Joe even goes into a rant about the lights sucking away his life. Joe was just telling his boss what scientists already know: lighting significantly contributes to IEQ and worker happiness. Research on the quantity and quality of natural light in the workplace have found that flexible levels of natural light positively affect workers aesthetic judgment and mood. To get the right balance of indirect sunlight, use drapery and blinds to mute some of the sun’s brightness and reduce glare.

Redesign For Redesign Purpose

Another discovery of human resource researchers is that the act of redesigning your office is enough to make your employees happy. In a study published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, researchers looked at 257 employees, exposing half to an office redesign. The employees in the redesign group experienced feelings of innovation and collaboration within the company, and also felt greater possibilities for personal growth stemming from a perceived commitment from the company. Using social interference theory to explain this idea, even just moving furniture and letting employees chime in with suggestions gives them a sense of fulfillment.

Minimalism + Greenery

The minimalist, or lean, office may have some benefits especially when it comes to scalability, as it is easy to add an extra desk or work area into a large, open space; however, rigid office design poorly affects worker happiness and motivation. Sterile environments are perceived as cold, soulless and dehumanizing. Scientists studying lean workplaces found that green plants counteracted the negative effects, making the empty areas feel comfortable and lived-in, and increasing productivity by 15 percent. These studies were longitudinal and even if they were studying some other aspect of office environment, it was the plants that seemed to make the biggest difference to employee happiness.


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