Why lean is mean… (in the office)


Work productivity and morale could be improved by a third through giving employees the freedom to develop the look and feel of their own office environment. These are the findings of a white paper published today entitled “Enrich the office and engage your staff: why lean is mean”, featuring psychological research developed over four years and backed by Ambius, interior landscaping provider and a division of the Rentokil Initial plc group.

The evidence suggests that empowering employees to explore their creative side and ‘make their desk their home’ has a marked impact on their performance and sense of well being.

The research, developed in partnership with the University of Exeter, suggests that the prevailing preference for ‘lean space’, which is typified by a uniform approach to design, generally leads to a heightened sense of alienation among employees, discomfort in the workplace and symptoms of sick building syndrome. The study’s findings particularly resonate in these tough economic times, when companies are more reliant than ever on productive and energetic workforces.

In comparison to colleagues working in a lean environment (i.e. a spartan office with cleared desks), people empowered to develop aspects of their own workspace showed average increases of 27per cent in their feelings of well-being and 32 per cent in their productivity.

The study squarely challenges modern methods of space management. In particular it confronts head on the idea that employees perform more productively in a ‘lean’ space where displays of personally or socially meaningful artefacts are forbidden.

The research also suggests that even considerate – and potentially expensive – office design will, on its own, fall short of contributing a full sense of identity with the host organisation. Managerially imposed design which enriches the working environment resulted in productivity increases of over 15 per cent, when compared to a lean space. This is quite an improvement, but it is markedly less than the gains achieved by office workers empowered to develop their own space.

Kenneth Freeman, international technical director at Ambius, comments: "The simple approach of involving office workers in the design of their own surroundings proves to deliver the best levels of organisational identification, citizenship, well-being and productivity. We advise businesses to factor in these findings when organising work space and recruiting employees to help with design. The good news is, it’s relatively simple to unlock employee potential – you just need to engage with them."

Craig Knight, the principal researcher behind these findings and managing director of Prism at the University of Exeter, said, "Given that we spend so much of our lives in the office, it’s vital that we get the balance between control and empowerment right. Enabling workers to determine the look and feel of their environment makes a significant contribution to improved business profitability, as well as employee loyalty and wellbeing. When looking at the effects of a sparse office space, we can draw some parallels with how zoo animals, placed in situations devoid of stimuli, start to exhibit signs of stress."

The Ambius whitepaper, "Enrich the office and engage your staff: why lean is mean’, can be downloaded here.


About the research "The Psychology of Space":
The research included surveys among office workers and several experiments to discover how design and space management affected comfort, wellbeing and productivity.

Two online questionnaires were compiled. The first was completed by nearly 300 British and American office workers from four companies. The participants were all volunteers and represented a broad demographic spread of males and females, aged 18 to 70. A second questionnaire was completed by over 1,600 people. Once data had been collected and analysed, statistical relationships were tested and a model developed.

A series of experiments was then designed to examine a set of hypotheses developed from the questionnaire data. These investigated whether or not empowerment within office space impacted upon a) well-being (in particular, feelings of psychological comfort, physical comfort, a sense of identity to an organisation and job satisfaction) and b) productivity. A series of office-based tasks were completed by volunteers in a variety of conditions. The data indicated that a lean space in which employees have no control was the least productive working environment.

About Ambius
Ambius is the world’s largest provider of plants, replica foliage and flowers for commercial environments. Ambius also offers a broad range of products and services including ambient scenting, and artwork which can help improve employee productivity, reduce absenteeism and boost well-being in the workplace. Ambius is a division of Rentokil Initial plc (LSE: RTO).

About Rentokil Initial
Rentokil Initial is one of the largest business services companies in the world, operating in all the major economies of Europe, North America, Asia Pacific and Africa. The company has over 78,000 employees providing a range of support services in over 50 countries.

For more information, please contact:

Sara Downey/Amy Watt
0207 592 1200

010-470 49 60

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