Most of the arguments put forward for an enlightened workplace are fact based. That is of course useful and a good starting point, especially in the design stages, but this approach ignores the fact that we respond to our surroundings on an emotional level as well as a functional one.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman believes “What really matters for success, character, happiness and life long achievements is a definite set of emotional skills – your EQ – not just purely cognitive abilities that are measured by conventional IQ tests.”

Businesses can have a tendency to shy away from dealing with the emotional facets of working lives. But there is a growing movement that advocates not only greater awareness of the importance of emotional intelligence but also the benefits it brings to organisations and individuals. Once you accept that offices, and their design, are as much about how people feel as how they help them work, then the workplace design process can be as much about EQ as it is IQ.

Employee relationships are hugely important in the workplace – they not only strengthen the bonds between individuals but also increase engagement and improve performance. For example, managers who hold weekly face-to-face meetings with individuals and encourage staff to keep track of their achievements can help reduce levels of stress and consequently sickness.

We know that workers benefit from being aware of their role and place in an organisation, and that generally they enjoy a degree of control over their work processes and surroundings. As Abraham Maslow highlighted when developing his famous ‘hierarchy of needs’, humans are fundamentally simple beings. Once our physiological needs for food, air, security and water have been met; they seek to address their psychological and emotional needs for things like self-worth, relationships and self-actualisation.

When these are not met, that is when we encounter a range of emotional and psychological issues ranging from: lack of motivation and underperformance through to disengagement, stress, depression and absenteeism. The design of our surroundings can be one element that helps us to meet our basic needs, to help us to be happy and more productive. The physical office has the ability to nurture relationships, offer privacy – but also create a feeling of connection with others – and is a place with a specific community of people with the same goals and (should be) a space in which we can feel valued.

One of the defining characteristics of the contemporary approach to modern workplaces is that we are able to offer people a greater degree of choice and control over how and where they work. This is not always a practical or task based issue, but can also be about the emotional needs of different personality types. When everybody is obliged to work in an open plan office, for example, they will respond to it in different ways. Often the best option is to design office spaces that give individuals some control over where and how they work, and with what level of privacy.

Offering staff some kind of control over their workspace satisfies one of their basic emotional needs. By giving them some degree of autonomy you help significantly in raising their emotional happiness, which they will attribute to being happy at work. Conversely, if they are instinctively uncomfortable in their workspace this will translate to general unhappiness at work, even though they may not realise it.

There is much about our human natures and thought patterns, which is innate and unconscious. Ensuring that workers are happy depends on them having their fundamental emotional needs met and satisfied.





Chris Powell is head of construction and workplace projects, Active.