How to Create a Happy Workplace

Hanna Mansson
Hanna Mansson|


It’s official, happy employees are more productive employees.

A study carried out at the University of Warwick to explore how happiness impacts on a person’s productivity and work ethic concluded that a happy workspace made people 12% more productive.

So focusing on creating a happy workplace is a great idea. We spend, on average, more time in our workplaces than we do in our own homes, so it makes sense to put some thought into our working environment to make them as happy, healthy and productive as possible.

How to create a happy workspace

Winkley Street Studios, Bethnal Green

Warwick’s study found that, in general, workplaces that make us feel included, valued, cared for and competent bring out our best efforts.

But what else can we work on in our efforts to create a happy office?

Give staff control over their environment

According to another study by the University of Exeter’s School of Psychology, the real trick to keeping staff happy, healthy and productive is to let them design their own workspace. It found that the more control people had over the office space, the more happy and motivated they were.

Dr Craig Knight, who co-authored the research, explained “The best kind of workspaces are decorated by you and your teammates and not imposed on you. Variation in the workspace engages you psychologically – so if money has been spent on making you feel better, your wellbeing increases.”

Whilst it might be impractical to involve all of your staff at the office design stage, especially if your team is a large one, you can still see remarkable improvements in workers’ attitudes by allowing them to personalise their desks, breakout areas and office spaces.


Cook’s Yard in Whitechapel

This is backed up by a 2008 literature review, where a correlation was found to exist between workers’ perceived control over their environmental conditions and their productivity. This doesn’t just mean in terms of decor. Giving staff control over lighting, heating, air conditioning, the food and drink supplies in the kitchen and so on can all make a difference.

Air quality

The same literature review found that poor indoor air quality is attributed to an average productivity loss of 10%. Another experiment among office workers in Denmark found that their creative thinking, as well as their typing and proofreading, all improved in line with increases in ventilation.

Go green

If there’s only one thing you do to create a happier workspace, invest in a green plant or two. Not only do plants help reduce office pollution levels, helping with the air quality issue, but research has also repeatedly shown that the presence of office plants lowers stress levels, helps employees recover from demanding activities and increases happiness and productivity.

Plants help create a happy office

The Beehive, London

Scientists at the University of Exeter found that allowing staff to make design decisions in a workspace enhanced with office plants can increase well-being (by 47%), increase creativity (by 45%) and increase productivity (by 38%). And if you’re not sure which plants to go for, NASA’s done the hard work for you with some research into the best air-filtering plants, which include peace lilies, barberton daisies and spider plants.

Natural light

We all hate the glare of the fluorescent strip, and science is here to explain why. Studies have found that natural light significantly increases energy, creativity and productivity. And researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago found that workers exposed to natural light during the day slept an average of 46 minutes more per night. The result? A happy office and a more focused and alert team.

Natural Light helps create a happy office

Network Locum, Old Street

If you don’t have the luxury of lots of natural light, consider investing in lamps that imitate it. Setting up daylight lamps or bulbs around the office can improve mood and stave off seasonal depression and fatigue.

The power of curved furniture

When you’re choosing furniture for your office, or looking for a ready-furnished office space, bear this study in mind. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), neuroscientist Oshin Vartanian tested people’s reactions to pictures of interiors. They predominantly favoured rooms with curved features and furnishings over ones packed with straight lines and the fMRI scans revealed that curved contours stimulated the pleasure centres of the brain, while angles activated circuits in areas that detect threats.


Another study carried out by Oregon State University found that curvilinear forms elicited more pleasant emotions such as happiness, excitement and feeling relaxed compared to other forms. Curved furniture means an instantly happier, more relaxed work environment.

Find new ways to listen to employees

A new type of employee feedback tech has emerged, like Hppy, Motivii and Weekdone, where every worker can post queries and report problems so managers can spot broader patterns and identify inefficiencies more easily. Gathering regular employee feedback throughout the year like this is a win-win:

  • Employees have more autonomy and feel more connected – especially important in co-working spaces
  • Managers gain real insight into team performance and satisfaction levels
  • Problems can be highlighted early, before they have time to become major issues
  • Far more effective than the dreary and inaccurate annual review

Get people moving

Employees who stay glued to their chairs are more likely to suffer from job burnout and depression. So getting your staff moving is a great way to create a happier workforce. Getting moving throughout the workday improves overall cardiovascular health, but also helps us mentally, providing an escape from stress. Choosing an office space with gym facilities, kitting out your workspace with some gym equipment (or a ping pong table), using a meeting room for a daily yoga class, or offering a company gym membership can all help make your staff happier.

How to create a happy workspace: Exercise

Net.Works Islington

Clever colour

If your office building gives you control over the decor, it’s time to get creative with colour. The University of Texas recently discovered that, perhaps unsurprisingly, grey, beige and white offices induced feelings of sadness and depression, especially in women. Meanwhile, men were gloomier in purple and orange workplaces.

It’s the latest in a long line of studies showing that colour has the power to significantly change our mood and our productivity too. So, which colours to choose for your office?

  • Blue and green – these low-wavelength colours are restful and calming blue and improve efficiency and focus. Green is also a great colour for those who work long hours – it doesn’t cause eye fatigue and helps you remain calm and efficient
  • Yellow – optimistic and boosts creativity
  • Red – has been linked with superior performance on tasks involving attention to detail.


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