Workplace factors impacting on employee happiness

 In the workplace there are two environments to consider – the physical environment and the emotional environment. For employees to be engaged, happy and productive, the ideal balance of these environments is required. The physical environment relates to the actual building or workspace that employees need to function in, and the emotional environment is the feeling produced by a group of people, often driven by the culture of the company.

With Generation Y entering the workplace, and Google-plex making employees all over the globe jealous, there is much talk about office culture and workspace personalisation – and how these affect morale and workday productivity. According to, “… a comfortable, well-ventilated, well-lit, safe workplace increases productivity by as much as 16%, and job satisfaction by as much as 24%, while reducing absenteeism.”

Founder of Happy Monday CC and happiness guru, Liane McGowan, reports that researchers in the United Kingdom have found that a work environment has a significant effect on a person’s wellbeing and perception of happiness. “The study shows that the quality of one’s working conditions is key to employees’ happiness”. So, what is an effective working space? At its most basic, it incorporates natural light, functionality and the correct colour palette.

The first step is installing windows. “Research has found that employees stayed on task 15% more in windowed offices, as opposed to those working in windowless buildings. Natural light and fresh air are known to boost energy and overall satisfaction, keeping employees awake and alert for longer,” confirms McGowan. “Fluorescent lighting does little to nothing for employees’ energy and productivity. Installing natural lighting or allowing employees to bring in their own desk lamps can make a world of difference.”

Functionality is another important aspect. Are employees able to park near their offices? Are open air spaces, featuring plants, available? Are there sufficient plug points, cooling and heating facilities nearby, and sufficient toilets, disability-friendly facilities, and enough space for all staff members?

“One of the biggest issues that arises when it comes to employee happiness is the lack of functional workspace,” says McGowan. “Employers want their staff to perform miracles, but often provide them with tiny workspaces which are simply inadequate. This space should be a place where inspiration and hard work can be derived, and personal space for each employee should be of paramount concern”. As an employee spends eight to 10 hours a day in this space, it is essential that it is fit for its purpose. Employees also need a space that is their own. “The principle of contracted workers ‘booking’ a desk makes practical sense but it creates an environment which fosters unsettled feelings of belonging, often leading to high staff turnover. When you don’t really know where you ‘belong’, why would you stay?”

Colour introduces the opportunity for a creative and inspiring form of expression. According to McGowan; “Colour therapy has taken the world by storm over the past decade and it hinges on the fact that colour influences who we are, our creativity and our inspiration. Some experts believe it even has its own energy. No one is ever inspired by drab grey colours on ceilings and walls, so one of the key aspects in a work environment is colour selection. Colour does affect one’s feelings, moods, and emotions.”

Research indicates that different colours have varying effects on people. For example, the colour blue can have a calming effect which can then result in lower blood pressure, whereas the colour red might have the opposite effect. Green is another colour that may be used to relax people, while yellow may be used to help invigorate people.

“The most successful palettes at the moment include cool soft colours – creams, whites and browns, with pops of colour here and there to attract the mind but not detract from the corporate space,” advises McGowan. “Cool colours – which are said to relate to boosting the mood – include green, blue, and purple. Purple is often used to help spark creativity as it’s a mixture of blue (calm) and red (intense)”. In budget-conscious environments, converting a drab space into a positive space won’t cost a fortune; all it takes is a lick of paint.

McGowan concludes with a few ‘quick fixes’ to convert dreary workspaces into happy, inspiring offices; “Paintings can be used in older spaces to brighten up walls; rugs and throws can be used to cover old drab carpets; and additional lighting can be installed on desks to enhance light. Allowing (and encouraging) staff to decorate their own workspace, according to their own personal preferences, is key. These are cost-effective yet positive ways to encourage a happier environment.”

Happy Monday CC offers the first South African wellness campaign that focuses on mental health and happiness
at work, delivering employee wellness campaigns that make the difference! For more information please visit or contact Liane McGowan at

Happy Monday CC was founded by happiness guru, Liane McGowan. She obtained a degree in Psychology through UNISA in 2012. Liane has worked as an operations manager with Currin’t Events for over 12 years, working directly with medium and large corporates in South Africa. During these years, Liane identified a need for a mental wellbeing focus and began researching the topic of happiness within the corporate space. Liane conducted her honours research report in 2010 on the prerequisites for successful retirement for adults over the age of 60; where she found that happiness in retirement was linked to happiness in the workplace.


Report by Raynique Ducie

Director, Perfect Word


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