Ethonomics: The Formula For Workplace Happiness

Posted by Heidi Schwartz

Ethonomics: Designing for the Principles of the Modern Workplace, a new paper released by furniture manufacturer Teknion, outlines how design can have a significant impact on happiness among employees, making the important connection that many of the same tenets that make us happy and healthy in our lives outside of work can—and should—be applied inside today’s workplace.Chair isolated inside of a box illustration.

Ethonomics combines ethics and economy. In the paper, Teknion looks at the role of design through this lens and what it means to the well-being and productivity of today’s workforce. Ethonomics uncovers that there may, in fact, be a “formula” for the architecture of workplace happiness—and it revolves around companies looking cohesively at four core areas within the workplace and their impact on employees: promoting physical activity, incorporating nature, reducing noise, and employing materials that help to create a safe, comfortable, and inspiring environment.

In the U.S., workplace wellness is a $6 billion industry, yet it’s no secret the majority of Americans are unhappy and unhealthy in their workplace. In fact, according to Gallup’s last State of the Global Workplace Report, less than one-third of U.S. workers were engaged in their jobs in 2014 with a majority of employees (51%) who said they were “not engaged” and 17.5% who said they were “actively disengaged.”

The paper, a collaboration with leading experts in the design community such as Joan Blumenfeld, a Principal of Perkins+Will, and Suzanne Tick, founder of Suzanne Tick Inc., reveals that many of the trends in urban planning parallel changes in thinking about the workplace, such as how cities, buildings, and their interiors need to be designed to be sustainable and to promote health and wellness. Just as civic leaders and city planners are focused on cultivating urban neighborhoods that address human needs—and the health of the environment and all living things—architects and designers must also create healthy, people-first buildings and workspaces. The paper addresses several key themes necessary to create a formula for workplace well-being, engagement, and productivity.

Ethonomics: Formula For Workplace Happiness

  • Active design strategies that promote movement
  • Human-centered workplaces that offer privacy from noise and distraction
  • Biophilic design—borrowing from nature to bring the outdoors in
  • Creating rich, sensory landscapes that help balance our everyday engagements with technology
  • Sustainability’s role in color and textile selection

“There is an enormous opportunity for sustainable design and architecture to grow beyond preventing environmental degradation and to become truly restorative, to not only alleviate the damaging effects of work but to make work a catalyst for health,” said Steve Delfino, vice president of corporate marketing and product management for Teknion. “Workplaces that want to incorporate these principles of ethonomics will need to acknowledge that design is a shared responsibility across a business, however. In order to holistically put this formula for workplace happiness to work, it will include the partnership and commitment of design as well as leadership, HR, IT, finance, and facilities management.”

One of the important active design strategies that Ethonomics mentions is a first-of-its-kind research finding that supports the actual health benefits of a sit-stand workstation. According to the first scientific study on sitting vs. standing guidelines (commissioned by Teknion and done in partnership with the University of Waterloo), people should be standing for a minimum of two hours of an eight-hour workday or following a 3:1 sit-to-stand ratio.

“Workspaces should flex to provide a variety of spaces and destinations for workers to inhabit that promote movement throughout the day,” said Joan Blumenfeld, Principal, Perkins & Will. “While many companies are doing a good job of incorporating some of these elements into their workplace design, there’s a need for more awareness and implementation of this way of thinking holistically about the workplace. Ethonomics illustrates that it’s the incorporation of a number of these key elements and initiatives at all scales that will provide an architecture for workplace happiness.”

“A well designed space can be a catalyst for physical and psychological health,” continued Delfino. “The field of design and architecture now has an ethical responsibility and opportunity to go beyond sustainability and instead consider the broader ethonomics of design – that is, to integrate humanistic, biophilic and economic principles into all that we do. This paper explores what companies need to collectively consider if they want to create a workplace that results in not just happier but healthier employees.”