Psychology With Business In Mind


The physical environment of the workplace is a little like the water in a tropical fish tank: we tend not to notice how important the quality of the water is until the fish start to look poorly, or even die! In other words, from a behavioural perspective we tend to take for granted such issues as the interior design, layout and furnishings of the workplace, or any other organisational setting. People, we tend to assume, are flexible and versatile: they will simply adjust to and make the most of whatever design specifications they are faced with.

But is this true? A growing amount of scientific evidence shows that it isn’t. Rather, inappropriate design elements of the workplace and other settings have a real and measurable adverse impact upon human behaviour and well-being. Conversely, design specifications which ‘fit’ and support the behaviours required for the ‘task at hand’ enhance and improve well-being.

Neither are we talking here of issues such as ergonomics or the traditional topics of occupational health, e.g. the presence of toxic chemicals. The focus here is at a more holistic level, i.e. upon how the design of the physical environment might help or hinder us in our attempt to do what is required in an environment. Think for a moment about how difficult it can be to concentrate in a noisy and bustling office, or how irritable we can quickly feel when we are exposed to someone else’s noise. Even a cursory reflection upon such occasions tells us that the physical environment in which we operate is not an arbitrary factor in influencing our behaviour and well-being. Rather, aspects of physical design and layout have real and measurable impact upon behaviour.

Our own research to date, for example, has shown how:

  • Even low levels of office noise can result in diminished job satisfaction, lower commitment to the organisation and poorer staff well-being
  • Accessibility to windows and an outside view can help reduce the negative impact of stress at work
  • Pleasant and welcoming hospital ward designs that convey a feeling of ‘homeliness’ can improve patient recovery after medical procedures
  • Bright, cheerful and interesting out-patient waiting areas can help reduce the stress associated with an outpatient hospital visit.

Here at Zeal we can help you assess, understand and get the best out of your building design and layout by:

  • Conducting post-occupancy assessments of settings already in use (e.g. offices and other workplaces, hospital wards, waiting areas, leisure environments)
  • Undertaking pre and post occupancy comparisons where ‘new’ environments are being designed or envisaged
  • Advising and consulting on the likely impact, from a psychological perspective, of existing or planned environmental designs
  • Running training or awareness days to help keep necessary staff (e.g. Facilities Managers) abreast of
  • Conducting commissioned ‘reviews of the literature’ to help present you with useable knowledge on salient issues of design and layout