Talent management’s wonder strategy - the designer workplace?

It reduces worker stress! It encourages employee engagement! It improves attendance! It lowers turnover! It raises productivity! And it facilitates teamwork! Just what sort of a workplace wonder tool can do all that? If studies conducted in the UK over the past few years have reached valid conclusions, then apparently the physical design of the world's workplaces may be the greatest untapped business resource of the 21st century.

A 2008 article in the UK publication Human Resources recounts the findings of architectural firm Gensler, which reported a whopping 150% increase in retention experienced by one of its client companies following a move to new and improved office space. In fact, Gensler went so far as to predict the potential for a 20% increase in overall productivity for the UK as a whole if better workplace design were implemented on a nationwide basis.

The article went on to say that Gensler and other firms that have conducted research into workplace design have noted that physical office arrangements – traditionally the purview of an organization's engineering or maintenance departments – are finding increasingly greater interest among HR professionals, simply because of their stress reduction/engagement/productivity etc.-boosting powers.

Some UK businesses have embraced the concept of workplace design as a sort of human capital turbo tool and have added an array of enhancements to their offices in an effort to enrich the whole work experience for their employees. The Human Resources article describes one organization that offers its workers a game room and an on-site cafeteria that provides free breakfast for employees. Energy drink manufacturer Red Bull reportedly has offices that feature a bar and a slide. The company's acting HR director pointed out that amenities of that sort were chosen specifically for their ability to complement the firm's brand and to drive innovative thinking. "It reflects our brand values," she explained. "We're a very creative company and we want an environment that stimulates creativity. There is a [business] purpose behind everything here."

Most companies take a more conventional route to workplace design, choosing to incorporate such staid features as better lighting, plentiful space and meeting rooms or other areas that offer environments supportive of productivity and teamwork. Organizations that apply workplace design principles to support their talent management initiatives seem to report consistently good results. Gensler research found that 80% of surveyed employees say the quality of their work environment affected their satisfaction with their jobs. The Gensler study also claimed that office design has an impact on workers' behavior and their perceptions of their employers – undeniably factors that fuel (or derail) productivity, engagement and retention.

Given such good vibes in the UK about the physical design of the work environment, can it be long before we Yanks decide to try this long-unheralded panacea to cure some of our own workplace woes? Pleasant surroundings certainly can't hurt.

Carol Morrison
Carol Morrison is a Senior Research Analyst and Associate Editor with the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), specializing in workforce well-being research.