Employee Engagement: Impact Of Workplace Design

This article on employee engagement as it pertains to office design is contributed by Steelcase, a Grand Rapids, MI-based provider of office furniture, interior architecture, and space solutions.

In recent years, the idea of employee engagement in the workplace has reached an apex, and for good reason. When employees are invested in their job, studies have shown that they’re also more ardently motivated to contribute to their employer’s goals and achieve organizational success. Engaged employees are generally more enthusiastic about their work, too, and will often take initiative to further their company’s reputation through positive actions.

But even as the conversation around workplace engagement has grown louder, many employees feel anything but “engaged” during the workday grind. In fact, according to a 2015 Gallup poll, only 32% of America’s workforce identifies themselves as engaged at the office, which translates to an estimated $500 billion every year in lost productivity. And often, it’s not just the work itself that leaves folks lacking drive during the workday. In many traditional office environments, people are told where to sit, what to do, and how to do it. Dealing with the many distractions that inevitably pop up at work is a constant battle and poor workplace design leaves employees feeling like they have no place to go to get away and focus.

employee engagement
Photo: Steelcase

It’s unfortunate, but for a significant population of the world’s employees, work is something they simply put up with out of necessity. With their sole efforts set squarely and singularly on not getting fired and not much else, these disengaged employees can drag down teams and cost the company in lost time, money, and opportunities.

The Study
Recognizing that employee engagement is a serious issue in the workplace, a group of Steelcase researchers set out to shed light on the causes and see what impact, if any, the work environment could have on job satisfaction levels. During their information gathering, they realized that the physical environment greatly affects how employees feel, think, and behave in relation to their jobs. Probing further, researchers wanted to understand how the workplace directly impacts employee engagement, and identify the types of changes that can make a difference in reversing the lack of workplace motivation in both traditional and non-traditional office environments around the world.

Steelcase researchers partnered with global research firm, Ipsos, to conduct a study, “The Steelcase Global Report: Engagement and the Global Workplace”, in 17 countries with more than 12,000 office workers. Participants answered 13 questions about their physical work environment, such as the type of space they worked in, and nine questions about their engagement with their job, such as whether or not they were happy to go to work most days.

Mining The Results
After wrapping interviews and combing through the collected data, researchers ultimately learned the following:

• One in three employees worldwide, or 37% are disengaged at work.
• Conversely, 34% of workers report feeling engaged.
• Roughly 29% of respondents fell somewhere in the middle.

To keep this juxtaposition in check, organizations must practice a highly synchronized balancing act to keep disengaged workers from canceling out the efforts of their more engaged counterparts.

Space Is Key
Results from the data showed a direct correlation between employees’ thoughts around their workplace environment and how satisfied they are with it and how engaged they are while at work. To put it simply, people who expressed a more general level of happiness with their overall office environment tended to be more engaged, while the people who were dissatisfied with their work environment tended to be more disengaged.

Researchers also gathered insights that helped them identify ways to design workplaces that would make people feel better about going to work everyday, and not just to do their assigned work but really strive for a job well done.

Importance Of Flexibility
When comparing the differences between highly engaged and highly disengaged workers, a pattern emerged. Employees who have more choice and control over their work experience are by and large more engaged. But often, these conversations are centered on when people work (flexible schedules), or how often work happens in the office (working remotely). But, researchers also wanted to know what employees thought about where in the office they work?

A recent New York Times Magazine article, “Rethinking the Work-Life Equation,” says many companies today are actively looking for ways to give employees more control, providing them with solutions and options to complete their work in a way that works best for them. Oftentimes the challenge, as the article states, is overcoming the antiquated corporate culture that treats flexibility as a privilege.

In most cases, highly engaged workers aren’t chained to their desk and usually have the option to choose where they work based on the task at hand. When workplaces allow for this freedom of movement, employees can control their own need for privacy, are able to concentrate more easily and can work alongside teammates minus the continuous disruptions.

Turning Data Into Action
Ultimately, the workplace should be designed to give employees choices and enable them to have a higher degree of control over their work experience from task-to-task and day-to-day.

According to the research, 88% of highly engaged employees feel they have control over their work experience, while only 14% of highly disengaged employees feel the same. Which proves that when employees are empowered, organizations can leverage that feeling to help increase engagement levels.

Workplace engagement is a complex topic for many industries — one with many variables to take into account. Simply redesigning a workplace is not going to solve every engagement issue. But it’s a strong motivator when employees walk into an environment where they feel energized and inspired to do their best work. Wouldn’t it be amazing to experience that enthusiasm on the job, at least most of the time? According to the research, that feeling can impact employee engagement in a strong and meaningful way.


  1. I concede. Your office environment even your office furniture play an essential role in order to enhance organisational productivity. A couple of months ago our company change all furniture and i really feel a big change almost in every aspect as such employee’s performance, etc.

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