Five steps for a happy workplace

happy workplace

Health and wellbeing tops the corporate agenda – but – while employees benefit from health & fitness programmes, flexible working and workplace counselling, the physical working environment has been slow to adjust.

A report by England’s Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, revealed more than 440,000 cases of work-related stress, depression and anxiety in 2015 costing the UK economy £70bn to £100bn. As a workspace designer, I believe the answer lies around us. The physical environment has a huge part to play in how we feel at work.

These are my five steps for a happier work environment:

Provide welfare facilities

We have been working with several game developers recently. Their employees are creatives whose work patterns aren’t a typical nine to five. They might not start until 10 in the morning and it’s not unusual for them to be pulling an all-nighter. Because of this, they want home comforts in the workplace. We’ve provided showers, so staff can pop out for a run in the afternoon, and a full kitchen, complete with ovens and hobs, and breakout area so they can cook a meal and put their feet up or continue to test games with a bite to eat. Some companies will hire a chef to cook for everyone or use a room for yoga or art classes. It’s about helping staff to unwind.







Sometimes peace and quiet is the most important thing. We’ve created designated quiet rooms where staff can get their heads down to write. They book these out when they need concentration time.


Disguise your office so it doesn’t look like one

The office of a gaming company we worked for was more reminiscent of an insurance centre than a global brand that developed and tested games and they realised that the environment needed to be better for productivity, wellbeing and staff retention. The message from them was that they didn’t want it to look like an office. An overly corporate looking office screams anxiety the moment you walk through the door. Transforming your space into something a bit ‘artist’s studio meets lounge’ will change the mind-set and make staff feel more at ease.


You can make a space look more industrial and raw by exposing the bare bones of things. We’ve stripped back offices to the structure revealing air conditioning ductwork and cables overhead as well as adding surface finishes such as micro concrete and wood floors with a reclaimed look.


Create a home away from home

There is no rule that says an office needs to look corporate and a formal client facing zone can be designed completely differently from staff areas. You can make staff feel more at home by incorporating domestic soft furnishings and bedside table lamps. We’ve filled spaces with toys and hung vintage lamp shades from the ceiling. This is a relatively affordable way to make a corporate environment look and feel more homely and will make people less anxious about the workplace so they can be more productive.


Turn open plan into broken plan

Open-plan offices landscaped with the inward facing cubicle-type workstations were born out of the need to save money. We now know these environments are not conducive to a happy workplace. Evolutionary psychologists argue that people – as a consequence of our hunter-gatherer past – look for settings that offer security and a view of our surroundings. We instinctively feel more comfortable when our backs are hidden and we can see in front of us.

Broken-plan, where the space is divided into zones, is a great way to make staff feel more comfortable. With new technology we no longer need to be tied to a desk and new cost-efficient ways of landscaping the office can be used to create different zones. We have landscaped offices with cocoon shaped chairs, high backed sofas and even geometric meeting pods to provide staff with more privacy and a view of the office, whilst creating a co-working space or coffee shop type environment that makes people feel more relaxed.







Add a touch of the green stuff

Evolutionary psychologists also argue that we’re happiest when we are close to the outdoors since being outside was essential to our ability to hunt. A 2011 study by Norway’s Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences found that the presence of indoor plants led to significantly improved performance on tasks requiring sustained attention and concentration. You can put plants on top of sterile items of furniture such as filing cabinets to make the space feel more uplifting.









Employers are increasingly aware that competition with rivals extends beyond the pay cheque. A happy workplace will help you to retain and attract the best talent as well as create a more productive workforce that will suffer from fewer sick days. There is no ‘one size fits all’ – the way people work varies from sector to sector. Try to understand how your staff work and what will make their lives easier and less stressful.