Priorities in Workplace Happiness

When it comes to designing an ideal workspace, many begin with big and bold new ideas, but it’s important not to let the smaller necessities fall by the wayside.

While futuristic features or the latest furniture and equipment might sound more exciting on the surface, research has found that employees are actually far more concerned about the necessities. Like Maslow's hierarchy of needs, there are some important foundational pieces that must be in place within a functioning workspace before any additional features are added.

Why? Because unhappy workers are expensive, costing $450 to $550 billion dollars a year in lost productivity in the United States alone. According to research conducted by Gallup unhappy workers are absent more often, they drive customers towards competitors and result in lower team morale. In other words, missing the mark on the basics can ultimately result in significant costs and business losses for employers.

So what’s the key to ensuring employee happiness? Toronto based SDI Design have developed their approach “The Workplace Happiness Hierarchy.” The thinking is led by Creative Director, Noam Hazan, who commented that that team at SDI “developed the approach as a tool for companies to best understand the most important factors that enable people to be their happiest at work.” Here are the building blocks of a hierarchy that addresses the most vital elements of achieving greater workplace satisfaction.


1. Technology

Like electricity or running water, technology like Internet connectivity and server functionality is paramount in the age of technology. That’s because any outage can render the entire workplace unable to function. It’s the workplace equivalent of Maslow’s physiological needs, which include basic necessities like air, water, food, shelter, sleep and clothing. Without reliable technology, the workplace of today cannot function, meaning that all other needs should be secondary.


2. Environment

There’s been a lot of talk about superficial workplace perks like Ping-Pong tables and free lunches, but research has found that employees are far more concerned with environmental factors, such as sound, air and light.

In an open office setting, for example, ambient sound can be a distraction and a source of lost productivity. Studies have found that exposure to even modest amounts of noise can result in increased stress, irritability and loss of sleep. Providing a workplace that minimizes sound pollution, as well as offers quiet spaces, can go a long way in improving employee morale.

Just as sound impacts employee happiness, so too does air quality and temperature. According to the Future Workplace Wellness study, half of employees feel that poor air quality makes them sleepy. Furthermore, only one in three say the temperature in their office is ideal for doing their best work, and a third admit to losing more than an hour of productivity per day as a result of environmental factors. In fact, respondents were four times more likely to cite air quality as a top priority than access to a gym. Though few employers put as much time, energy and resources into improving air quality and temperature control, doing so could provide a much higher return on investment. 

Perhaps the most important environmental factor, however, is access to natural light. Light was recently called the number one office perk by the Harvard Business Review, which cited numerous studies that establish a correlation between natural light exposure and overall employee satisfaction. While it’s hard to give everyone a window view workplaces can provide more natural light to staff by positioning common spaces and collaborative workspaces around the perimeter of their open office plan, thus giving everyone equal access to sunshine.


3. Emotion

While open offices can help improve interaction and camaraderie amongst staff members, that always-on social environmental can have some emotional side effects that shouldn’t be ignored. One of the unintended consequences of open office floor plans is the lack of privacy, which can make life difficult for employees that need to make a personal phone call or have a private conversation with a colleague. Instead, organizations should strive to provide workspaces that feature more enclosed private spaces like sound booths and meeting rooms, available to all who need them.

Furthermore, despite the trend towards transparent spaces and glass walls, those private spaces should extend beyond just auditory privacy. Using blinds and drapes, sliding walls or even sound proof theatrical drapery in the workplace can go a long way in providing a private space during times of need.


4. Flexibility

The workplace has long been a one-size-fits-all environment, but today’s workers are demanding spaces that can adapt to their personal needs and preferences. It’s not just about providing work from home options or flexible working hours, though such perks offer a good start.

More importantly, however, is providing a space that’s just as conducive to the working habits of an introvert as an extrovert, a chatty dealmaker and a reserved programmer, an energetic presenter and a quiet behind-the-scenes fixer. In order to attract and nurture a wide range of workers, the workplace needs to be able to cater to an equally wide range of individual needs. Providing such diversity within the workplace is key to maintaining a positive and satisfied workforce amongst a diverse range of personality types.

Employee engagement and satisfaction have real economic benefits, but employers often fall into the trap of focussng on the latest perks while ignoring some of the most basic necessities. Before designing your next workspace consider this hierarchy of workplace happiness to ensure the most vital employee needs are being met.