Good natural light, a clean space and a nearby source of caffeine - hopefully your office environment features all of these, but does it strike you as a place that employees can be their most productive selves in?
“Employees want to feel good about where they work. They want their physical location to be a source of pride”, says Victor Lipman, Author and President of Howling Wolf Management Training. “Pride motivates. And that’s good business.”
The 2018 Mental Health at Work survey showed that 30% of managers reported not having any workplace facilities or services that could help wellbeing and mental health, even though 1 in 3 of the UK workforce have experienced a mental health condition at some point during their lifetime. Indeed, the most recent CIPD / Simplyhealth report (also from 2018) revealed that “nearly two-fifths (37%) of respondents said stress-related absence had increased over the past year”, a sentiment undeniably echoed in further employer (and staff) surveys too.
While there are multiple interpretations of what wellbeing means for us in the general, in a workplace the CIPD strongly believe it should be about balancing the needs of employee with the needs of the business. They define workplace wellbeing as “creating an environment to promote a state of contentment, which allows an employee to flourish and achieve their full potential, for the benefit of themselves and their organisation” (CIPD Policy Report, 2016).
Achieving this ‘state of contentment’ in employees requires a multifaceted approach, with the physical environment playing a significant role. There is a definite move towards domesticizing the office environment in an effort to enhance wellbeing but the workplace is often still at risk of appearing clinical or generic.
Chloé Adams, director at Little Van Gogh UK explains, “Art in the office is key to a well-designed workplace. It brings a place alive and stimulates the minds of those working in it, encouraging discussion, promoting moments of mindfulness and impacting on employee wellbeing. Making paintings, sculptures or art installations accessible to people during their working day imparts the impression of being valued as well as providing opportunity for discussion with colleagues.”
“That to me is what having art in the workplace is really about”, says Lipman. “It’s less about aesthetics and more about pride in one’s environment. It shows management cares enough about the employee experience to have a thoughtfully maintained facility that people feel good about working in.”
Linda Cordair, of Quent Cordair Fine Art, believes that “having no or little art in a business space can project a lack of regard for the psychological needs of those who work in or visit the space”, as well as “a lack of permanence and dependability”, making a company feel much more temporary, less able to weather those inevitable storms. These feelings of transience can all-too-easily transfer to your employee, as well as to anyone visiting the space. “Visiting a workplace without art”, she goes on to say, creates “the same sense one gets when visiting a space that is not adequately and comfortably heated, cooled, or lit.” When clients arrive, you want to give the very best impression you can.
In her article for The Guardian, Kirstie Brewer echoes the sentiments of Dr Craig Knight, a stalwart in the field of work environment psychology. Art in the workplace “can actually boost productivity, lower stress and increase wellbeing”, she writes. In 2016, Dr Knight and his research group Identity Realisation stated that “in 12 years, we have never found that lean offices create better results”. By lean, he meant office spaces containing “only the things necessary to do the task”. Indeed, his team found the opposite to be true - those working in ‘enriched’ offices (i.e. spaces containing art and plants) worked 15% quicker than those in lean office spaces, and had fewer health complaints too.
In the US, a Business Committee for the Arts / International Association of Professional Art Advisors survey of over 800 employees reported significant positive results from those working in offices choosing to display art in the workplace. 94% of the staff who responded said art enhanced their work environment, 78% believed it helped reduce stress, 64% attributed it to boosting their creativity and productivity, and 67% said it enhanced their morale.
These statistics speak strongly for the power of positive transformation that art in the office generates, with tangible outcomes that make solid business sense. If the workforce is to flourish in a way that encompasses health, happiness and wellbeing to achieve its fullest potential, office art and all the benefits it brings must form part of the strategy.