How To Design Your Workspace To Encourage Positive Emotions At Work

We're told to be passionate about our work—so why leave emotions out of the workplace? Here's how to tend to your employees' emotional well-being.

We’ve been trained to think that emotions and work do not mix. They’re something to manage, to control, and to check at the door.

But research is now showing that emotions can have an effect on employee and company success. Emotions are, after all, a vital part of who we are and what we bring to the workplace.

If we’re happy, relaxed, and focused, we’re more willing to be flexible, collaborative, and look forward to new challenges. We can overcome negative feelings that can get in the way of productive work. When we’re feeling depressed, unappreciated, or stressed, however, the quality of our work and how we interact with others can suffer.

Organizations have long looked at the physical well-being of employees: They’ve spent money on physical wellness programs, given gym discounts, and encouraged trends like walking meetings. And this focus on physical wellness makes sense: worldwide, rates of heart and lung disease, diabetes, and obesity are rising sharply, and stress has become a $300 billion global epidemic. The financial impact is clear to an employer.

But still, many haven’t considered taking a more holistic view of well-being—one that includes our emotional well-being—and how this affects a company’s overall performance.

Steelcase just completed a two year study of well-being in the workplace in which it found that, to foster a workforce of employees who are productive, collaborative, and creative, organizations need to consider much more than just the physical health of their employees. Rather, they need to take a holistic approach to well-being, understanding the emotional and cognitive, as well as physical needs of employees.

The combined emotional and physical toll of disengaged workers can lead to unproductive, and frankly, from a health perspective, expensive employees. It’s when people are in environments that promote positive emotions that they’re able to do their best work.

Companies can have a profound impact on shaping emotions—for better or worse—simply through the design of their office. When the physical environment impacts how an employee feels—and therefore, performs at work—workspace design becomes a lot more imperative to the bottom line.

So how can organizations create environments that support positive emotions and help build productive, collaborative, and creative workers? Here are three ways:

1. Encourage A Sense of Belonging

Feeling connected to others fulfills a basic need for belonging. Feeling useful to others is a powerful way to generate positive emotions, and relationships anchor people’s commitment to an organization, its brand, and its purpose.

Having close friends and positive interactions at work significantly increases engagement. In today’s increasingly mobile world, alternative and mobile work strategies must be intentionally crafted so that employees don’t lose their sense of belonging to an organization and still have meaningful connections to others—no matter where they are based.

Incorporate the following specific elements into a workspace to profoundly impact an optimistic sense of belonging:

  • Create welcoming entrances with visible hosting for people who don’t work there daily
  • Offer video-conferencing configurations that allow remote participants to easily see content and hear participants
  • Provide ample and well-equipped spaces for all workers to work individually or in teams
  • Design informal areas for socialization, both in person and virtually

2. Help People see their worth

It’s natural to want to understand how you impact and contribute to an overall organization. When people feel a sense of purpose, it can contribute to building a resilient enterprise based on trust and collaboration of employees. People need—and look for—a sense of meaning to know that their work is not going to waste.

To help cultivate a sense of meaning in the workplace organizations should:

  • Create spaces that give people choices and empower them to work alone or together—however and wherever they work best
  • Include spaces beyond the lobby that reinforce the purpose, history, and culture of the company
  • Use technology to display real-time information that can help employees feel connected and informed

3. Encourage Engagement by Promoting Mindfulness

When workers are truly engaged they are fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus; they have full involvement in the task at hand and a true enjoyment of what they’re doing. However, multitasking and cognitive overload often prohibit people from finding this level of focus.

To help people fully engage and focus, organizations should:

  • Create spaces that help people connect with others one-on-one and eye-to-eye, not just through their technology devices
  • Design areas that allow workers to control their sensory stimulation
  • Offer places that are calming, through the materials, textures, colors, lighting, and views
  • Create areas where people can connect with others without distractions

For many companies, creating a culture shift from stifling emotion to embracing and supporting it can begin with focusing on space and realizing that the decisions you make affect things far beyond real estate and facilities costs.

This is of course just one aspect of what organizations can do to support emotions at work, but it’s one piece of the puzzle that’s often overlooked and sometimes easily fixed.

Beatriz Arantes is a psychologist and senior researcher at Steelcase, a leading provider of workplace settings and solutions for companies all over the world. She has recently delved into the necessary conditions for worker well-being, which you can read about here.

[Image: Flickr user David Wall]

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3 Comments

  • Creating an environment where people can be who they are, have more advantages for the company as well. People that a positive emotional place at work, give more and come up with better solutions,

  • Great stuff, and interesting. All of this depends upon fostering a culture of courage. The leadership must be sacrificial, courageous leaders before any of this can have any real or lasting effect. IMHO.