Sound familiar? Plain walls, identical desks, serious atmosphere; the functional office setting you may know all too well. Since the 20th Century, the logic of only providing the necessary materials for a job in a lean setting was the default setup for almost any office. Yet, in this day and age, this approach is not as stimulating for employees as was once assumed. In fact, the bottom line is, ignoring this reality can severely hurt a business’s performance and the office atmosphere.

More employers have noticed that the happiness of their employees and their outcomes are connected to the company’s environment. Still, not all know how to implement impactful changes around the office to make sure workers feel they can focus and consistently produce results. Although there is no shortage of blog posts and articles that provide insightful examples of how this can be accomplished, is employee happiness as simple as filling the office with brainstorming whiteboards, colourful cushions and cheerful foamex boards that compliment each wall? Short answer: yes and no.

While you want the office to be a place of familiarity, fresh ideas, and motivation fit for growing workforce performance there is a link that needs to be fulfilled. If missing it can make the decorative efforts of well-intentioned employers just as demotivating as strict and sanitised office buildings. What is that exactly? It’s giving employees the opportunity to get involved with how their workspace is decorated.

That simple? Social psychologists have studied this curious phenomenon and found that a person's environment has a profound impact on their working ability. One particular study "Cubicle, Sweet Cubicle" by Alexander Haslam and Craig Knight goes into further detail. The research found that though a decorated office did increase a worker's performance, allowing them to personally organise their space generated the highest productivity and led to less mistakes at work.

By observing workers in both laboratory and office settings, the researchers asked participants to perform regular office tasks in one of four spaces:


The Lean Office: Contained all the necessary equipment to do the job, but nothing more.
The Enriched Office: Decorated with pre-arranged plants and colourful art posters.
The Empowered Office: Allowed participants to organise the available plants and art in the room how they liked.
The Disempowered Office: Employers undid the decorative changes that had been made by the participants.

Their findings showed that the “enriched” and “empowered” conditions significantly improved employee productivity. This was not surprising as the enriched space was decorated to feel attractive and comfortable, while the empowered office went further by giving more control to the workers; this boasted the highest productivity rates. Notably, the "lean" and "disempowered" office spaces saw a decrease in worker efficiency. The lean space was intentionally sterile and bare, while the disempowered space allowed employers to make changes to the participants' empowered spaces, which was not met with employee enthusiasm.

If how you feel in your place of work can directly contribute to your results, giving employees the autonomy to customise their workspace will in turn improve their focus and productivity; a benefit to any company. This can be accomplished by individual workers using their personal objects to decorate their space.

A decoration kit that is gifted to each employee could strike a balance between what the employer likes in the office, whilst taking note of the employees' preferences in order to avoid undermining their concentration. For example, printing custom wallpaper is a simple way to add both individual styles and pattern motifs to areas around the office. This can be complemented by wall décor like textile posters and personal photos that employees can customise easily with many online printers in the UK. Including cushions is another way to create a relaxed ambiance fit for work, which can benefit employees but also clients or other guests that visit the office. Potted plants like Peace Lilies and Dracaenas could also be encouraged, as they add more colour to the office space whilst also purifying the air. A variety of business stationery can easily be used to empower each worker to decorate an area of the office building. Might even be the ideal setup for an office competition.

The essential point is ensuring that the employees are given the chance to decorate their place of work according to their personal preferences. Having this opportunity will help people feel more comfortable in their surroundings and become more engaged. Afterall, when long office hours means your place of work becomes a second home, it might as well feel like one too.

Haslam, S. Alexander, and Craig Knight. "Cubicle, sweet cubicle." Scientific American Mind 21, no. 4 (2010): 30-35.