Art in the workplace: More than a welcome distraction

Could being distracted at work actually be good for you? Protecting employees from interruptions is often high on the agenda when it comes to workplace design but distractions, if they are pitched correctly can offer welcome respite from day to day office routines.

According to research carried out by Dr. Craig Knight, an expert in the field of psychology of working environments, art in the workplace has been proven to raise productivity levels, lower stress, and increase workers’ wellbeing and health.

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Dr. Knight heads up a research team at Identity Realization (based at the University of Exeter) and believes that an enriched work space, over the typical plain white walls and generic layouts, is more likely to ensure staff are happy and that their productivity levels stay high. Art is a powerful addition to an office environment, offering a window into a new world outside the potentially predictable patterns of working life.

Dr. Knight and his team conducted studies using four types of office space:

  • Lean: containing things that were necessary to complete their work.
  • Enriched: featuring pre-arranged art and plants.
  • Empowered: featuring art and plants that the participants could arrange themselves, therefore adding a creative element to their day.
  • Disempowered: participants could arrange the art and plants themselves, like in the empowered design space, but the experimenter would then undo this arrangement, and arrange the art and plants like the enriched layout.
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The study found that participants who worked in the enriched office were approximately 15% quicker than those who worked to complete their tasks in the lean office. They also had fewer health complaints. For those who worked in the empowered office space, the figure soared to around 30%; an astonishing rate when compared to the basic lean office space, which included no artwork or plants.

In the 12 years that Dr. Knight has been researching working environments, his team has never known lean office spaces to create good results. In an interview with the Guardian he explains, “There is a real tendency to opt for sanitised, lean workspaces, designed to encourage staff to just get on with their work and avoid distraction,” he goes on to say, “If you enrich a space people feel much happier and work better; a very good way of doing this is by using art.”

Dr. Knight is emphatic that ‘motivational posters’ do not qualify as art and make no impact whatsoever. Art means actual artwork, offering a welcome distraction and better still all the trimmings; enhanced wellbeing, creativity, productivity and human connection.