“We’re just numbers to them. Desks and numbers, not people.”

Few would argue that the UK workplace stands at a crossroad. Absence from work costs the UK economy more than £14 billion a year, with an estimated 23.3 million working days lost due to work-related mental health illnesses such as depression, stress and anxiety.

In response to this workplace ‘wellbeing deficit’, experts are increasingly looking for ways to do things differently at work – for ways of ensuring workplaces are part of the solution, not the problem.

In the midst of this, Kinnarps has been part of an extensive research study aimed at understanding the potential for workplace design to help improve employee wellbeing. The key question this research raises for UK workplaces is:

Are you making the most of participatory office design to address the wellbeing deficit?

Off the back of the recently-published results from year 1 of the study, Kinnarps have identified the top three ways that participatory design can improve employee wellbeing:

1. A sense of control
Want higher levels of productivity amongst staff? Want employees to feel their office is ‘comfortable to work in’? Research suggests you could do with some participatory design. When staff are consulted or in some way involved in workplace design decisions, it gives them a ‘sense of control’ – arguably the number one driver of wellbeing and happiness at work.

2. The power of invitation
Sometimes, it’s enough just to know that you’re invited. That is the surprising conclusion of the study’s interim results, which reveals that the level of participation in office design is actually less important than the invitation to get involved. Involved or simply invited, the end result in both instances is essentially the same: an improvement in wellbeing.

3. Small input, big impact
It’s easy to think that participatory design involves input into the big decisions – the floor plan, the desk type, the furniture selection. In fact, it is often the small inputs that can have a big impact. Simply allowing workers to choose the decorative elements – plants, paintings, etc – has been shown to improve productivity and a sense of contentment with their surroundings.

If your workplace is feeling the pinch of the ‘wellbeing deficit’, perhaps it’s time to take a look at how staff can be involved in shaping what their place of work will look like moving forward. It may just be office planning’s best-kept secret.