Do Flexible Workplace Design And Policies Promote Employee Satisfaction?

Workers continue to resist the one-size-fits-all mentality when it comes to the workplace, according to the 2019 Staples Workplace Survey. In particular, backlash to the open workspace trend persists, with over half of employees (52%) saying an open office layout creates distractions, and 40% reporting that their office space is too open.workplace design

But the solution to the open workplace isn’t closing it up; rather, employees crave choice when it comes to where they work and the environments that inspire them to be most productive. The employees surveyed see an upside to more choice — an overwhelming majority (90%) believe more flexible work arrangements and schedules will increase morale. Even more compelling for employers, flexibility and employee retention go hand in hand: Two-thirds of employees (67%) would consider leaving their job if their work arrangements became less flexible.

A dedicated work-from-home policy may be one of the most effective ways to introduce flexibility: 64% of workers say they work remotely at least some of the time — yet only one in three employers (34%) have either a formal or informal policy in place.

“The concept of work-life balance has given way to the simpler concept of ‘work life’ — one’s life at work. Employees no longer embrace the traditional 9-to-5, and instead seek an environment that accommodates the fact that their needs may change day-to-day,” said Chris DeMeo, vice president, Staples Brand Group. “The smartest employers are acknowledging this reality and offering their workers more autonomy when it comes to where, when and how they work. It may be a leap of faith for offices used to the old ways of doing things, but it’s one that could yield dividends in terms of recruitment, retention, and productivity.”

“Office policies alone are not enough to satisfy employees’ desire for flexibility,” added Susan Kill, vice president of furniture, Staples. “Workplace design has a huge impact on employee happiness and morale. You could chase the latest trends — like open versus closed offices — but if workers aren’t provided the flexibility to choose the setting that inspires them most, you’re unlikely to maximize their productivity and perhaps even their longevity with the company.”

Employers also do not have the technology in place to support employees working remotely, with a minority offering collaboration tools that allow workers to stay connected, such as cloud-based file management (offered by just 36% and instant messaging (34%).

Employees prioritize wellness, but employers aren’t making the grade

Flexibility is not the only thing workers want their employers to offer when it comes to work-life integration. Employees also want a healthy place to work. In fact, they’d be willing to sacrifice cash for it: Two in five employees (41%) would take a 10% pay cut for a job that cares more about their health and wellness. More than three-quarters (78%) believe their employers have a responsibility to help them stay mentally and physically well.

But employers have work to do when it comes to meeting these needs. Survey respondents only give their employers a “C” grade when asked to assess their focus on health and wellness. Less than half (42%) of employers offer some sort of wellness program, and just 22% of workers say their offices have a dedicated wellness room that can be used for things like breastfeeding and employees who need to take medication.

“We’re learning more and more every day about the connections between work and our overall well-being. We know that stress, extended periods of sitting, and the prevalence of unhealthy snacks in the office can all have serious physical consequences, and the mental impact of long, busy work days can’t be overstated,” added DeMeo. “But employers don’t have to accept this as ‘the way things are.’ They have so many options for improving their employees’ health and wellness and bolstering productivity, ranging from gym reimbursement programs and fresh fruit in the breakroom, to ergonomic furniture and standing desks, to even dedicated ‘mental health days’ for employees feeling worn down.”

workplace designAdditional trends identified in the 2019 Staples Workplace Survey include:

  • Mental health days — both official and unofficial — are common, with 41% of employees having taken them. Among those who explicitly told their supervisor they were taking a mental health day, 92% say their employer was supportive.
  • Nearly one-third of Millennials are unlikely to be at the same job five years from now, citing increased earning potential as their main motivator.
  • Across the board, employees with disabilities are less likely to find that their offices accommodate their needs. For example, two-thirds say their office space meets their physical needs, versus 82% of workers with no disability, and while more than three quarters (77%) of employees without disabilities say their office spaces enable productivity, only 64% of employees with disabilities agree.

About the 2019 Staples Workplace Survey
These findings are from a poll KRC Research conducted on behalf of Staples in October 2018. A sample of 1,001 office workers in the U.S. and Canada was interviewed online. To qualify, respondents had to be adults who spent at least 10% of their time working in an office setting.

Have you experienced backlash from building occupants to an open plan workspace? When it comes to flexibility in workplace design and workplace policies, where does your organization stand? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the Comments section below.