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Are trendy office spaces really the key to worker happiness?

Lydia Smith
·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
·4-min read
Businesses around the world have swapped traditional desks and chairs and the odd sofa for hammocks and nap pods. (Getty)

Forget free tea and coffee and drab interiors, many businesses are taking their workspaces to the next level. From Instagram-worthy decor to games rooms and indoor gardens for employees to chill-out in, offices are becoming trendier than ever.

Originally popular among Silicon Valley firms and tech start-ups, beanbags, standing desks, slides and scooters are just a few of the things found in these new, hipster offices. Tech giants like Google, Amazon and YouTube have been pioneering fun, quirky offices in the hope of keeping employees happier, healthier and more engaged – and in return, more productive.

And now, businesses around the world have swapped traditional desks and chairs and the odd sofa for hammocks and nap pods. In the Bristol-based Ovo Energy, employees work surrounded by hundreds of indoor plants and trees – and meetings can be held in a treehouse, a far cry from the standard stuffy room.

But are these trendy office spaces really the key to worker happiness?

If you’ve worked in a grey, airless office and felt uninspired, you’re not alone. Considering we spend an average of 42 hours a week at work, our surroundings at work make a significant difference to our levels of motivation, creativity and also our wellbeing.

Read more: Should we ban open-plan offices?

In 2014, Exeter University researchers published a study which found offices devoid of pictures or plants are “toxic” to workers, who were more satisfied and performed better with a bit of greenery around. Good lighting and access to natural light are also important. A 2016 study found that air quality and lighting at work can have a significant effect on brain function, with poor lighting contributing to headaches and stress.

There is a big difference between a bright, comfortable office and a workspace full of inspirational slogans, ball pits and hip furniture, however. When it comes to workplace contentment, too much emphasis is placed on the look of an office and how ‘hip’ and motivational it is. Important factors such as work satisfaction, a good culture and job security are at risk of being overlooked, in favour of creating an ‘Instagrammable’ workspace.

A putting green in an office might be fun once in a while, but the novelty of these office perks is bound to wear off. And as it turns out, more people care about core benefits, such as paid time off, flexible working and health coverage, according to a survey of over 3,000 professionals by LinkedIn.

When respondents were asked what factors were likely to keep them at their company for more than five years, 44% said strong workplace benefits, like healthcare and parental leave. When asked why they were proud of their company, 51% pointed to a good work-life balance and flexibility.

In 2016, the results of a study by the Society for Human Resource Management showed pay, prospects and feeling respected made workers happier.

“Respectful treatment of all employees at all levels was rated as very important by 67% of employees in 2015, making it the top contributor to overall employee job satisfaction for the second year in a row,” the study found.

“The second consecutive appearance of this aspect at the top of the list of job satisfaction contributors supports the theory that although employees do place importance on financial features of a job such as pay and benefits, they consider culture and connection to be of utmost importance. Feeling appreciated for their time and efforts creates a bond between employees, management and their organisation.”

Read more: Why cliques can be bad for business

In some cases, these ‘playpen’ offices are used to mask bigger problems in a company. The introduction of chillout zones and recreational rooms may be more about controlling staff and getting them to work longer hours, rather than promoting creativity and better wellbeing.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with a fun office or a meditation room, it’s important that they don’t mask underlying systemic problems at work, such as overstretched and mismanaged staff.

After all, leaving the office at a reasonable hour, having the time to socialise with friends and family outside of work and coping with a manageable workload is far more likely to reduce stress and improve mental health.