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Workplace & Wellbeing

Designing environments for individual needs

Download the Workplace & Wellbeing report here

The Workplace & Wellbeing research project was set up in 2015 against a backdrop of around 23 million working days lost in the UK every year due to work-related ill health, predominantly depression, stress, anxiety and musculo-skeletal disorders, according to the Health and Safety Executive. Long hours, heavy workloads and tight deadlines can adversely affect mental wellbeing at work. Referring to this as a ‘wellbeing deficit’.


The Helen Hamlyn Centre partnered with design and architecture firm Gensler, combining academic knowledge with expertise in workplace design, to find out how employees’ experiences of the workplace can be improved and productivity increased. This two-year project, supported by industry partners Bupa, Kinnarps, Millken and RBS, was conducted in three phases.

Three Phases
In the first phase, the research team completed a scoping study that gathered insights by visiting four different offices that had recently modified their workspace environment. An extensive literature review of wellbeing in the workplace and the results of 30 interviews at the four organisations found that a ‘sense of control’ is considered an important concept in relation to managing work-life (such as the configuration of the office space or the freedom to personalise individual working areas) and is therefore critical to personal wellbeing.

 In phase two of the study, the research team engaged with one of the organisations from the scoping study in a Participatory Design Project. Three teams were studied, each of which were given different levels of control (high, low and no participation) in designing their workspace in order to measure the effects this had on employee wellbeing. Employees with some participation (low or high), engaging in co-design workshops for example, recorded higher wellbeing scores than the no-participation team.

The findings from the first two phases of the study propose that employee wellbeing and satisfaction levels can be supported and maintained through a sense of connection, a positive and purposeful environment, a variety of spaces, control over space and the opportunity to participate in the planning and design of the environment. From these results, the research team were able to develop a ‘workplace wellbeing conceptual model’ that illustrates the need to address and balance the functional and psychological needs of the individual.

The third and final phase of the project saw the information gathered from the first two phases translated into a practical evaluation toolkit for organisations to use to measure workplace wellbeing and activate design interventions to improve the environment. The toolkit was tested in different working environments in London – including a health company, academic institute and architecture office – to see how well it could be adapted and tailored to individual organisations.

A Practical Framework
Offering a practical framework which includes three different forms of employee engagement – from in-depth workshops to more informal drop-in sessions and quick questionnaires – the toolkit will help organisations to analyse employees’ functional and psychological needs, as well as provide examples of interventions that can be employed in the workplace to improve employee wellbeing. Implementing changes to the working environment doesn’t have to be complicated. Even relatively simple interventions, such as allowing people to add more plants to the space, are a step towards engaging with employee needs, leading to a workforce that feels valued, useful and productive, and healthier and happier as a result.

Research Associate:
Andrew Thomson

Research Professor:
Jeremy Myerson

Gensler, Bupa, Kinnarps, Milliken, RBS