When the Workplace Feeds Happiness to Employees

Happy, yes; coincidence, no. How workplace design can drive happiness—and in turn productivity.


Designing heart and soul into an office may sound nebulous but bricks and mortar really can give shape to happiness, when designed with the human experience in mind. Core to that human experience is a shared desire for happiness so prevalent that some of today’s biggest companies such as
Google and Zappos, now employ an official Chief Happiness Officer. Others, like Virgin, offer staff unlimited holidays in the quest for happy talent.

Increasingly, employee fulfillment is being fed by changes through experience-based design, reward and recognition at work, sustainability solutions, and companies’ investment in philanthropic activities, as well as efforts to make workplaces happy places to live and work.

Desire Grows for Employee Happiness

Powering the workplace with human experience is becoming a must for employers looking to more deeply engage their employees, according to our recent JLL report: Workplace – powered by Human Experience. Happiness is a key requirement for the more than 7,300 employees who responded to the survey, which spanned across 12 countries. Nearly three-quarters say happiness was the number one element of a unique experience at work.

There’s good reason for this collective attention, considering the significant business value of an engaged, inspired workforce.

In addition to simply “giving them what they want,” offering positive, experiential work environments can help alleviate stress on the job. A recent study by American Psychological Association found that 65 percent of people say work is a top source of stress, while only 36 percent think their workplace provides adequate support. Stress can lead to an array of adverse health effects, which in turn can trigger absence, lack of motivation and ultimately poor performance. In fact, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has calculated that 70 million workdays are lost due to mental health issues that include negative stress responses.

There’s also the overwhelming body of evidence that shows clear links between employee well-being and organizational success. One example comes from the University of Warwick found that “happy” employees are 12 percent more productive, therefore giving an extra day of work per week. An optimal human experience can add value for the people who work there as well as for customers, visitors, and other stakeholders who might cross through the doors.

As the old saying goes, “you can’t buy happiness”. A happy workplace cannot be bought either, but can be made a priority:

  • Add a sense of play to work and turn the workplace into a fun and happy place.
  • Introduce spaces and amenities designed to encourage team building and random moments of fun.
  • Plan experiences and events within and beyond the office that unite coworkers, inject fun, and evoke joy.

Priorities in the Multi-Faceted Human Experience

The first step to a happy workplace is to understand that a workplace can be far more than “a place where work happens.” It can act as a living environment where people thrive not just professionally, but also personally.

Designing a rich human experience means looking at what inspires employees to feel their best. Rewards and recognitions play a big part in this. So while that might include simple additions like bean bag-filled breakout spaces, promoting happiness can and should go a lot further in terms of advancing priorities of engagement, empowerment, and fulfillment:

  • Engagement happens when employees find their work environment allows them to prioritize their personal and professional sense of purpose—which in turn can make them feel like they are part of something bigger.
  • Empowerment can be inspired by space that offers employees a sense of control in their work environment—with choices of space to collaborate, concentrate, or simply to breathe.
  • Fulfillment can be nurtured by ensuring people feel comfortable, healthy, and appreciated at work—and also have access to places where they can innovate, learn, and gain recognition from their peers and managers.

Together, these key priorities can help create greater commitment to the organization, a stronger performance and overall effectiveness, a sense of control over their working environment and a sense of comfort within the workplace.

How to Proceed Toward Happiness

So, what design elements directly support the human experience?

  • A thoughtful menu of space locations goes a long way. Organizations need to be aware of the changing nature of the diverse workforce, and specifically, what their employees prefer in terms of workspace options. For example, some may entirely embrace a hot-desk environment, but not everyone will be prepared to give up a space of their own (39 percent are ready to swap their allocated workstation for a shared one). Millennials might crave more communal spaces, while older generations might require more secluded spaces. Giving employees control over their day-to-day work setting gives them a sense of pride, freedom, and in turn, inspires their best work.
  • Low workplace density is not always a bad thing. Our research uncovered a clear relationship between workspace density and employee effectiveness. Open workplace plans with fewer than 50 people per shared zone were found to allow employees to work effectively. Above that, effectiveness begins to drop. The survey respondents report spending a whopping two-thirds of their workday at the same desk, and work remotely just a few days a month.
  • Cross collaboration is invaluable. When corporate real estate, HR, and IT leaders come together to gather data, share insights, and brainstorm new methods, they can form a powerhouse in supporting the human experience. Together they can create a blend of collaborative spaces and support services that drives employee effectiveness forward, from designing spaces that intentionally inspire co-creation, to ensuring a fully functioning digital and virtual workplace.
  • Tap into all five senses. It can be tempting to design for visual aesthetics alone. But to intelligently design a human experience, it’s important to look beyond what meets the eye. Sound, smell, touch, and even taste (think inspired café fare) can all contribute to a unique and positive experience. There are also less tangible qualities to consider, like the way a person can emotionally connect with a space. How does one feel about the workplace? Does it feel meaningful to them to be there?

It’s no accident that employee happiness has become a top priority for forward-looking organizations. The quest for workplace happiness is just in its infancy and would require organizations to decode what human experience is for them and how they can drive the transformation of their workplace around people first. A place of work is more than just a property. It is an environment that can help individuals and organizations drive and meet their future.

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