The danger of a boring office

In this article, the links between art in an office environment and wellbeing become clear and I would argue, are irrefutable. Research shows that the presence of artwork has a positive impact on those that inhabit a space. But, if the office environment does not stimulate its employees, then what?

For people that work in offices, a whole host of adjectives can describe those spaces, but by and large the workplace is associated with negative identifiers. Drab, soulless, bland, stressful, bleak, boring. I think it’s fair to say that most of us will have worked in spaces that conjure up these adjectives. Or, and potentially worse, the office space itself is completely unremarkable. This unstimulating kind of environment can have a negative impact on employees and clients alike.

“Today’s office is a wasteland. It saps vitality, blocks talent, frustrates accomplishment. It is the daily scene of unfulfilled intentions and failed effort” – Robert Propst, president of the Herman Miller Research Group in the US. This quote may come from 1960, but it is an important notion to revisit today. Propst sees the office as an active influence on the workforce; it is both the scene in which work happens and crucially, an invisible player that affects the employees. It is essential to understand the workspace as both of these things. Yes, an office is a place where workers work, but to neglect its role in a company and its impact on those workers is ill advised.

According to the Leeman Index of 2014, only 53% of respondents agree that their workplace allows them to work productively. The report convincingly argues that this is an area that UK policy and businesses have traditionally neglected and that a better use of workspace could boost productivity.

Shockingly, in 2016 The Stoddart Review reported that UK productivity is around 18% below the average level of the other members of the Group of Seven advanced economies. In the same year, The Mental Health at Work Report found that only 2 in 5 employees are working at peak performance. Research in Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2017 shows that 19% of UK and EU employees are actively disengaged in their work. These three studies speak to each other and create an image of the dissatisfied workforce, as well as revealing how damaging this can be to business. Gallup concludes that the cost of disengagement to the UK’s workforce is between £52 billion to £70 billion.

So how do we curb this disengagement? By ensuring that an office space stimulates its inhabitants rather than turning them off. By scrutinizing and adapting the workplace. “Any space without change can become un-stimulating with time” says cognitive neuroscientist Aracelli Camargo, and this is exactly what we need to avoid to ensure a productive workforce.

There is so much potential for a workplace to look and feel like a place of inspiration. Add colour. Add plants. Change things up. Make the space somewhere that employees and clients are happy to spend time in. Shed the traditional and the stagnant to avoid employee disengagement. The research shows that a boring office is a productivity killer, so be anything but boring.

Featured artwork on this page – Top image; artist Lisa Mounteer-Watson.