About GenslerOnWork

GenslerOnWork examines the modern workplace and how design can help us become more engaged and productive as we earn our livings.

Search GenslerOn
Work Topics
Connect with Us
« Nearshoring in the United States | Main | UK Workplace Survey 2016: The Science Behind the Data »

Why Shouldn’t We Feel Energised at the End of the Work Day?

Etsy’s New York headquarters. Image © Gensler.

This post is part of a series of blog posts on Gensler’s 2016 Workplace Surveys.

Amongst the many questions included in the recent 2016 UK Workplace Survey was a seemingly innocent question asking respondents to what extent they agreed with the following statement: “At the end of a typical day in the office, I feel energised.”

When the results came in, we discovered that just 33 percent of respondents felt energised at the end of a typical working day. “But who expects to feel energised?” I hear you ask. Perhaps you’re surprised that the number is even that high. The reality is, the majority of us are leaving the office feeling drained, and this is having a negative impact on our overall wellbeing, both physically and psychologically.

Why is it important?

Our job is just one element of our lives. We spend a third of our typical working life at work and ideally it should receive a third of our energy also, but (unfortunately) more likely, it’s receiving a whole lot more. The energy we have left at the end of the working day is the energy reserved for our family, friends and hobbies, so our relationships, physical health and psychological health suffer if we don’t have enough. The price we pay for giving too much of ourselves to our work is that we often don’t exercise enough, eat properly, maintain relationships or develop ourselves in other ways that contribute to our long-term happiness. Neglecting activities that maintain our happiness and not keeping on top of ordinary daily tasks culminate in stress, anxiety, depression and associated physiological conditions, such as high blood pressure. With workplace stress accounting for 43 percent of lost work days in 2014/2015, some employers are now beginning to realise that happy and healthy employees are also more productive employees—not to mention more innovative!

Aon’s new global headquarters in London. Image © Gensler.

Is the eight-hour day in the office still relevant?

Our UK Workplace Survey respondents spend an average of 39.6 hours a week at work, which is in line with the typical eight-hour work day introduced during the Industrial Revolution at the suggestion of factory reformers such as Robert Owen, who recommended that we spend a third of our time at work, a third at leisure and a third sleeping. Before then, little regard was shown for the wellbeing of workers. Nearly 200 years later, we are still seeking balance in our lives and trying to get the best out of our employees; but in today’s information overloaded society, our typical day can no longer be conveniently carved up into these thirds. The revolution in mobile and ubiquitous technology has been both a blessing and a curse, leading many employees to no longer leave their work at work and therefore the number of hours spent in the office are not always the same as the number of hours spent working. About a third of respondents, or 61 percent, respond to emails outside of working hours and more than half complete work at home that they didn’t have time to do during the (eight hour) ‘working day,’ which begs the question, what is the optimal working day, nowadays? Many find that working away from the office, either from home, or elsewhere provides an effective space for working alone. This is a damning indictment on the inability to focus in many office environments, along with the obligation for us to be ‘seen to be there’ for at least eight hours a day, is contributing towards the erosion of our work-life balance.

Whilst the open-plan office was designed to get people out of their siloes and isolated private offices, it still has many virtues and can be very effective when designed well. But for many of the UK’s estimated 8.2 million people working in open-plan environments today, it is a real challenge to concentrate.

What's behind it?

According to the Health and Safety Executive, almost half of workplace stress, depression and anxiety can be attributed to workload—tight deadlines, too much work, pressure or responsibility. Additionally, long working hours, too few breaks and long commutes are an obvious drain on our energy, but when we analysed the survey data, we found that those who felt the most energised were also the same individuals who reported a greater sense of meaning in the work they do. Just as innovation occurs at all levels of an organisation, so too does making a difference, only not everyone realises it. This is largely an engagement and management issue, but what’s even more interesting to us as designers, strategists and consultants is how workplace design can support these goals:

1. Do people understand and approve of their organisation's mission and values? More than a slogan in an email signature, an organisation's mission and values can be expressed through the design, look and feel of the whole workplace. When the values of an organisation influence and are visible in the choice of colours, materials, finishes and quality of a workplace (or any other place) it creates a consistent message for employees and visitors alike. Global design guidelines help to keep the message consistent from location to location and the very process focuses the mind on what the messages should be. Do you want to create a space that speaks of permanence and stability or of creativity and adaptability? Should it be home-from-home or another experience entirely?

2. Do they understand how their own work contributes to that mission? Especially at lower levels of an organisation, the survey revealed an alienation from the organisation's overall mission. This can be addressed through a greater awareness of what others in the organisation are working on and, therefore, how all of their contributions come together. Consider implementing dedicated space on a main circulation route or communal area to the display of people's work and achievements. "War Rooms," or similar collaboration spaces where work can be pinned up or written on the walls, are also very effective if they are visible to others.

3. Do they feel respected and appreciated for their work? The quality of the design, look and feel of employee space within the workplace and the provision of amenities can go a long way in making people feel valued by their employer. At a bare minimum, people should have the furniture and equipment necessary for them to work effectively and in comfort. In addition, nearby amenities that support better work-life balance, such as a supermarket or chemist, show consideration for the employee. And the positive impact of good, quality coffee should not be underestimated!

4. Do they feel part of a community? Respondents reported spending an average of only 5 percent of their time socialising at work, and perhaps felt embarrassed to admit to more, but it is still recognised as one of the four essential office work modes (focus, collaborate, learn, socialise). Often the first work mode to be sacrificed on a busy day; we know that at-work relationships are a major driver of job satisfaction and levels of innovation. Having more frequent interactions increases awareness within teams and across teams; therefore, it also enhances our understanding of how we contribute to the organisational mission. Spaces that increase both deliberate and accidental interactions, including shared kitchen or café areas, are becoming more prominent features of progressive workplaces because of this. Designated areas for personalisation by teams and utilising hallways and stairways all help to create a sense of community.

With the UK currently seeing almost 10 million working days lost due to work related stress, depression and anxiety each year, firms need to encourage employee empowerment and strive to meet new workplace goals. Indeed, additional research we are currently doing with the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design into psychological wellbeing in the workplace indicates that giving employees trust, autonomy and choice significantly contributes to their psychological wellbeing—and the power of this should not be underestimated. All things considered, even if we’ve come to accept that working and commuting saps our energy, there is still plenty we can do to help mitigate the impact of tiredness, stress, anxiety and depression by designing spaces that help everyone to understand the difference they make each day and support them in their work.

Just imagine, if you had an office that helped staff to feel as though they've made a difference, would you feel energised at the end of the working day?

Annelise Tvergaard is a workplace consultant based in Gensler’s London office who believes in architecture’s ability to improve people’s quality of life. She brings her knowledge of the history of art and architecture, academic discourse and visual analysis to Gensler, coupled with first-hand experience of cutting-edge architectural projects. Aside from researching current and future workplace trends, Annelise is involved with change management and building activity analysis. Contact her at Annelise_Tvergaard@gensler.com.