We can't get no workspace satisfaction

May 30 2003 by Brian Amble Print This Article

British managers are willing to make big sacrifices to get a better workplace. Nearly half would sacrifice £1000 salary, their company car, private medical insurance or one week's annual leave, for a better workplace.

Forty-five per cent would consider changing employer - even if the role, salary and benefits in the new job were no better - in return for an improved working environment.

The findings of the Workspace Satisfaction Survey, carried out by Management Today magazine and property developers Stanhope, suggest that scrimping and saving on the working environment could prove a false economy for British businesses.

Matthew Gwyther, editor of Management Today, believes that the survey shows many UK employers are just not getting it right. "What intrigued us was whether our passionate interest in the built environment extends from our homes to the constructions in which we work.," he says.

"Bearing in mind that property costs are normally the second-largest incurred by most companies after wages, we suspected that many firms neglect their obligation to accommodate their employees properly. What we have found is that people's awareness and expectations of good working conditions are not being met by the companies for which they work."

Managers in Britain are increasingly aware of the importance of their work space, agreeing that a better work environment can reduce stress, improve morale, reflect corporate culture, reinforce brand identity, retain staff and drive up productivity. But more than a quarter of those surveyed said they would be ashamed to bring clients into their workplace.

Over half of managers of the 600 managers who took part in the survey said that they would rather have a thinking space away from their desk than social facilities such as a bar, restaurant or shopping area. Currently, only a fifth of workers have a designated 'thinking space'.

And almost all managers dislike hot-desking - more than nine out of ten prefer to have their own designated work space

Public sector managers are more likely to have facilities such as a gym or shower than their private sector counterparts. They are also more likely to be able to rearrange their local work environment and benefit from flexible work practices. There is also more willingness to change jobs or trade annual leave for a better workspace than among private-sector managers.

Sir Stuart Lipton, chairman of Stanhope, the developer behind Chiswick Park, Broadgate and the Treasury Building in Whitehall, and chairman of CABE (the government's architecture advisor) says: "In the future, I think we'll see office buildings becoming more like hotels - more individual, more comfortable, with more personality and greater focus on work/life balance. It's the factory farming versus free-range argument. Most people are against factory farming."

Good news in the survey is that more than half of managers sit within a metre of a window. Gone are the old days of senior executives in private rooms hogging the best views while others sit in semi-darkness in the middle. The growing trend is towards open plan, with circulation spaces around the edges of buildings. Two-thirds of those surveyed are even allowed to adapt their local work environment to their individual needs.

Nearly six out of 10 managers say that the layout and design of their workplace has been reviewed within the last 12 months and nearly a quarter have physically relocated within the past year. But only one in 10 of such projects has involved qualified architects. The in-house facilities team accounts for nearly two-thirds of such office design jobs and as architects have pointed out, work spaces will inevitably suffer as a consequence.