This week’s study about beautiful workspaces is even more interesting than last week’s. It was carried out by Elizabeth Siler as part of a dissertation to earn her Doctorate in Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. It’s a small study, but Ms. Siler delved very deeply into the insights of about 20 people working in a variety of older and newer buildings. Some of the facilities were lovely and some of them were ugly. Here are some key insights from her 100 page paper entitled “How Does Beauty Matter? An Exploration of Employee Perceptions of Office Aesthetics”.
Siler found that people’s responses tended to fit into one of four basic categories: “One group of participants loved their work and saw their offices as an avenue of self-expression, an extension of themselves. Another group experienced considerable emotional distress because their offices did not reflect the quality of their organizations’ work. For a third group, functionality was primary. For the last group, the office stood in for the organization as a whole– their feelings about their workspaces mirrored their feelings about their organization.”
Youth and Beauty Don’t Always Go Hand in Hand
Interestingly, while functionality was important and generally ranked higher for the newer buildings than the older ones, aesthetics could be just as bad in a new facility as in an old one. For example, a fully renovated office space that enforced total conformity with bland and utilitarian furnishings was often considered unaesthetic. Employees who had the desire and ability to decorate their own workspace expressed more satisfaction with the appearance of their work environment than those who did not.
That being said, ancient facilities did take some hard knocks for their appearance. Employees tended to feel bad about signs of neglect that made old buildings less attractive. They felt it showed their employers didn’t care about their hard work. Even worse, they said that a poorly maintained facility reflected badly on the quality of the work they did.
In fact, many respondents had difficulty separating their feelings about their work from the ambience of the workspace itself. That could be positive or negative, depending on the aesthetics of the building and furniture. For example, some respondents said they found their workplace depressing. Others found a beautiful workspace made them feel more organized, productive, and creative. The study had a small sample size, but you’d probably get similar responses if you interviewed employees at your own company.