employee engagement
16 April, 2024
How to design your office for employee engagement and retention
The evolution in the way we work has given rise to much more intentional use of the office space and its impact both on teams and business outcomes in recent years.

In particular, with the competition for attracting and retaining top talent evermore fierce, how our working environments are used to support those goals is front and centre of the mindset for forward-thinking businesses. 

In this article we look at how office design can influence employee engagement and retention.

employee engagement

How many people are disengaged at work?

Quiet quitting was one of the buzzwords of 2022-23, with Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2023 Report noting:

“Quiet quitting is what happens when someone psychologically disengages from work. They may be physically present or logged into their computer, but they don’t know what to do or why it matters. They also don’t have any supportive bonds with their coworkers, boss or their organisation. Nearly six in 10 employees fell into this category.”

To put that into perspective, they went on to say: “When combined with actively disengaged employees, low engagement costs the global economy $8.8 trillion dollars, or 9% of global GDP.”

Influencing factors in those numbers are:

  • 44% of employees said they experienced a lot of stress the previous day
  • 51% of currently employed workers said they are watching for or actively seeking a new job
  • Engagement has 3.8x as much influence on employee stress as work location
  • When asked what they would change at work, 85% of quiet quitters responded in three categories: engagement or culture, pay and wellbeing
employee engagement

What are staff retention rates at the moment?

We often hear businesses talking about how difficult it is to retain employees, which is a challenge in lots of ways. Firstly, it’s not only difficult to find team members in an increasingly challenging market, but it’s always difficult to find good people – people who are good at their job, reliable and are a good fit for the company.

The HR Review wrote last year that: “On average, employee turnover rates have increased by 8.7% since 2019, and are estimated to increase even more in 2023 with a predicted 35.6% turnover rate in the UK and 46.8 percent in the US.”

Meanwhile, the cost of replacing an employee can range from one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary (conservatively), according to Gallup. Financial wellness platform Enrich goes a step further, suggesting it costs a company six to nine months of an employee’s salary to replace them  

That doesn’t include the intangible costs of training someone up, revenue loss while the position waits to be filled, the strain on other team members compensating for the missing role or supporting someone while they get up to speed, and the impact on clients. 

What influences employee engagement and retention?

There are lots of factors that influence employee retention and engagement, from job satisfaction to growth opportunities, work-life balance, compensation and company culture. The CIPD adds:

“Employees who have good quality jobs and are managed well, will not only be happier, healthier and more fulfilled, but are also more likely to drive productivity, better products or services, and innovation.”

It was notable that their Good Work Index recognised consistent patterns over a decade, where a recurring feature was: “a fifth of workers feel they are ‘under excessive pressure’, a fifth feel ‘exhausted’, and a fifth say they are likely to quit their job in the next year.”

A lot of these factors can be powerfully influenced by the design of the working environment, from the quality of light and air to the structure of space and what’s included to aid and support staff wellbeing.

For example, the British Safety Council says: “Environmental factors such as noise, air quality, temperature and ventilation can all impact on the health, wellbeing and productivity of office workers.”

In terms of workplace experience, understanding the pressures, wants and needs that employees face, ranging from stresses relating specifically to their jobs, to neurodiversity, disability and heath needs in their working environment can all have an impact. Adding in areas that support collaboration, community and enjoyment are also important. In our own office, a favourite feature is our in-house coffee shop – a hub of connectivity and serendipitous conversation as well as an expert espresso.

If we look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as a pyramid, we get an indication of what people need from their working environment as well as any other space they occupy physically or metaphorically:

  • At the base are basic physiological needs (air, food, water, shelter)
  • Then, a foundation need is safety and security, encompassing health, a sense of workplace security and support.
  • Next is a sense of connection.
  • If these former things are in place there’s space for self-esteem, including a sense of achievement, mutual respect and confidence.
  • At the pinnacle of human need is self-actualisation. When we have all these other things in place, we can be creative, spontaneous, have a sense of purpose, meaning and seek to fully reach our potential.

If we take this hierarchy of need into the design of the working environment, we need to meet all those core needs for team members to have the scope to be truly creative and meet their potential for themselves and the organisation.

employee engagement

What to consider in office design to support staff

The crucial thing about your office is that it’s designed for you and your team, rather than trying to follow a cookie cutter formula. Understanding your team and their wants and needs is crucial to creating working environments that support, engage and delight.

For example, when we worked with a company that had a very busy call centre, enabling staff to step away from stressful conversations and regroup made a dedicated wellness space pivotal for the team. For another organisation, catering to neurodiversity was essential, creating a focus on the ability to adapt individual working environments with personalised lighting and atmospheric features to support personal productivity and concentration.

That said, broadly speaking, community, culture, collaboration, concentration and personal wellbeing are key pillars for creating workplaces that focus on employee engagement and retention. On the one hand, people need environments that proactively help them to achieve in their careers (both generally and in terms of daily tasks) with the right facilities. However, offices also need to be places where people benefit from things they can’t get at home: engagement with colleagues, a sense of workplace community and fresh inspiration.

Key things to consider are:

  • Creating a multifaceted workplace with different areas for people to spend time in such as private workspaces, collaborative areas, breakout areas, soft seating as well as more formal desk areas.
  • Ensuring the right facilities for people to get their work done, including technology, dedicated equipment and suitable meeting spaces.
  • Inspiring surroundings that are visually appealing and inviting to spend time in, giving people pride in their work and incentives to come in.
  • Wellbeing areas so that people can move around, step away from their work, have impromptu conversations, eat, or even mediate, pray or workout without having to leave the office.
  • Creating environments that support health and wellbeing with high quality lighting, environmentally friendly credentials, optimum temperatures and so forth.

You can formalise the quality of your environment by designing with key certifications in mind to showcase to employees, such as:

  • WELL certification: recognising buildings designed and constructed to support the health and wellbeing of their occupants.
  • Fitwel healthy building certification: Measuring how effectively an office building supports the health and wellbeing of its occupants.  
  • BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method): Specifying and measuring the sustainability performance of buildings.
  • RESET standard: Helping built environments become healthier and more sustainable.
Office occupancy

Designing workplaces for employee engagement and staff retention

Engagement manifests differently for different people, so part of the challenge in office design is creating spaces that a variety of team members can engage with. A combination of feeling supported in their roles and excited by their work is essential. Here are some of the ways we have achieved that for our clients:

Sociable and staff-focussed

Croud is a global, full-service digital agency that drives growth for brands through reinvention. In the dynamic surroundings of this East End district, their exquisite office in the contemporary Bard building was designed to be uniquely staff focussed, demonstrating initiatives to support individual wellbeing and create a positive working environment.   They wanted the office to reflect that highly sociable, inclusive mentality, so the central feature of the space is a visually impressive circular breakout area. It operates as a tea spot throughout the day, is where breakfast and other meals can be enjoyed, and in the evening, they host DJs, play music and make it a generally convivial, communal environment.  

A holistic move 

When leading international tobacco and e-cigarette manufacturer, JTI moved their offices from a vast estate in Weybridge to a smaller, more central location in Putney, the entire focus was on improving the staff workplace experience to support better engagement. As well as an impressive breakout area and rooftop terrace, the office is bookended with a wellness room in the basement, complete with massage chairs and design that encourages a moment of peace within the working day.  Underlining their commitment to team wellbeing, they sought BREEAM and Fitwel accreditations for sustainability, part of which included adding herb and vegetable gardens within dedicated planters, alongside other plant life and biophilic details to optimise wellbeing.   

Team wellbeing 

When Canadian company, Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, sought to expand their UK headquarters at the prestigious 10 Portland Square in London, they wanted it to reflect their focus on relationships, both with staff and clients. It was important that both groups had dedicated spaces where they felt comfortable and supported. For the team that included transforming the second floor with a stylish, dedicated breakout lounge as well as introducing a parenting room, prayer room and a small meeting room to make the floor more about dedication to the team, their wellbeing and workplace experience.

Are you looking for dedicated to engage your team and support staff retention?

Speak to the team at Maris