How Employers Can Promote Joy in the Workplace

Designing for Joy

It comes as no surprise that the physical environments around us have a powerful impact on our mental health; the spaces where we live and work can boost our mood just as quickly as it is depleted. And with the average in-office employee expected to spend roughly 90,000 hours on the job over the course of their lifetime, it makes sense that more employers are feeling a responsibility to prioritize their employee’s mental health and well-being.

As problem solvers in the industry, we feel an obligation to ask: Is It possible to promote joy in the workplace through design? We believe through intentional, mindful design choices—it is possible. Consider the following design solutions for a more joyful workplace.

Legible Workspaces

Gone are the days of workers trundling into the “traditional office” made up of a confusing maze of cubicles. In recent years, more employers have started leaning into the concept of “legible workplaces” — that is, offices that are easy to navigate and contain spaces where the intended use is clear. For companies committed to the idea, the above strategy is a good move. One study found that the legibility of a workplace was a design feature that has a large impact on whether employees feel valued, a factor that, unsurprisingly, increases employee happiness.

A legible workplace is one that uses an easily recognized pattern for the overall configuration with visual access to landmarks, signage and architectural elements that help us create mental maps of the space we are inhabiting. When first entering a space, the average person will scan the environment and mentally outline the different areas, their intended uses, and how to navigate through them. If the space is a homogenous maze of cubicles, it takes more cognitive effort to identify dedicated spaces for focus work or collaboration. In contrast, an office that has clearly defined spaces, simple wayfinding and an intuitive layout requires less effort to navigate therefore reducing stress.

Natural Light

It has been long understood that natural light plays an essential role in our overall health, with sunlight aiding in the production of Vitamin D and melatonin, regulating our circadian rhythms and improving sleep quality. Additionally, a lack of sunlight is associated with a drop in serotonin, which can lead to symptoms of depression.

Whether it’s through the inclusion of windows and transparent partitions to allow sunlight to filter through, the use of materials that reflect light deeper into the space, or the addition of lights with color temperature settings in darker areas — incorporating the benefits of natural light is a must.

Sense of Belonging

Humans are social creatures and, as we’ve all recently experienced, isolation and loneliness are linked to higher rates of anxiety, depression, suicide, dementia and other health conditions.  And with nearly half of employees reporting feeling lonely at work, it’s more important than ever for employers to ensure that their workers can connect with others, creating community among them. Some of that comes down to the culture within the organization—employees who feel empowered to mingle and chat with their coworkers, for instance—but it’s also important to create dedicated spaces for connection.

That’s why a healthy workplace should provide the right balance of space for teams to focus on solo work, collaborate with others and decompress through connection. Designing comfortable breakout rooms and dedicated areas for groups to gather and socialize away from their desks can go a long way to boosting the mental health of the workforce.

As employers look ahead to the future, considering the emotional and mental needs of their employees must become a top priority. Along with cubicle farms and windowless conference rooms, the singular focus on employee productivity should become a thing of the past, to be replaced with a well-rounded, holistic approach to designing joy in the workplace.