7th Dec 2021
Designing your Workplace to meet Human Needs: Sari Vanska
You might have heard us talk about the Human Givens approach before. The model is an incredibly effective way of looking at how we humans function, both in the workplace and society.
Although the Human Givens approach originated in the field of psychotherapy 25 years ago, its framework has been found to be so universally applicable that its principles are now also being used in education, business and even in diplomacy.
The model suggests that we all come into the world with a number of basic survival needs, both physical and psychological. These needs must be met every day, in every environment, in order for us to live and work in the healthiest possible way.
We have the same basic needs wherever we are, whether this is at home or in the office. This is why we asked Human Givens expert, and Muutos founder, Sari Vanska to talk us through the human needs, and give us some examples of their connection to office design.
When we have all our needs met in a balanced way, our brain is at ease, we feel comfortable and ‘well’, and we are much less likely to be stressed. What’s more, when our brain is at ease, we have optimal access to our brain’s higher functioning, to our human intelligence and abilities.
However, if we work in an environment that hinders one (or more) need(s) being met, our brain will exhibit a stress reaction, which impacts our ability to function at our optimum capacity. If many of our needs aren’t met, it can lead us to suffer considerable stress and/or distress. Prolonged stress can lead to anxiety, depression and even addictions.
It is important to realise that even if we all have these same needs, we each may need to get them met differently and in different measures. This is essential to understand in office design as we all need slightly different things from our work environment.
The first group of needs relate to our physical needs. These are the most obvious, and therefore most studied group of needs. If these needs are not met, we quickly suffer, and in some cases, become extremely ill.
It sounds obvious, but we need air to breathe. However, the truth is that many workplaces provide inadequate ventilation and/or low-quality air. If we work in an office environment with little or poor ventilation, it deprives our brain of healthy oxygen. Not only can this be harmful for our physical wellbeing, but it can also have a direct impact on our cognitive performance.
Food and drink
Our brain needs energy to keep going. It needs to be watered and fed to stay healthy and working, which is why workplace cafeterias are so important, allowing your workers to store and prepare healthy meals to keep hunger at bay.
Office tip: A hybrid workspace/café allows communication and collaboration, and a change of scenery helps to create free-flowing ideas.
Sleep isn’t something you inherently consider when thinking about your workplace, (unless you’re considering Google-esque nap pods) but it does play a huge part in our wellbeing. By reducing workplace stressors, people will sleep easier and better. Basically, less stress = better quality sleep = even less stress!
Office tip: By ensuring your office culture embraces a healthy work-life balance, it makes it easier for your employees to ‘switch-off’ and get a good night’s sleep when they get home.
Physical work environment
Whether it’s our home or our office, we need a comfortable, clean, safe work environment with sufficient space, lighting, and temperature in order to facilitate healthy working. Sometimes, our homes aren’t fit for this, at least in the capacity of work. This is why many businesses come to office fit-out companies such as Blueprint, in order to create spaces that allow their workers to thrive.
When it comes down to it, our brains don’t really know anything about the world unless our senses tell it what is happening. Too much stimulation from our senses can overload the brain, disorientating and debilitating us, while too little stimulation can dull the brain, leading to boredom.
However, humans are complicated creatures, and different people work effectively at different points across the spectrum. Some prefer less stimulation in order to concentrate, while some need more in order to overcome boredom.
Office tip: To be truly people-centred, designing your office with ‘agile’ working in mind allows it to be accommodating to all work styles.
We need to be able to move our bodies and exercise our muscles, and at work that means we need to be able to have regular breaks to “stretch our legs”.
Office tip: Breakaway rooms, open spaces, standing desks, walking meetings and nearby amenities all encourage us to stretch our muscles every now and then. Going for a 30 mins brisk walk starts burning off body’s stress hormones, calms the mind and brings the brain back “online”.
Although our psychological needs are less known and less talked about, they are hugely important to us at work. Not getting our psychological needs met at work has a direct negative impact on our mental health, intelligence, cognitive performance, and productivity!
Psychological Safety is a much talked about topic at the moment, but often people don’t understand what it means in practice. You can build a work environment that is Psychologically Safe by designing a workplace that enables people to get all their psychological needs met. As simple as that. With tools such as WeThrive, these needs can be easily measured in a workplace, enabling managers and employees to focus on areas for improvement.
We need to feel safe physically, emotionally, and financially. Our own safety and security is our brain’s top priority. Therefore, if this need is not being met, we get easily stressed. This doesn’t necessarily mean locked doors and burglar alarms, something as simple as bad office design can make us feel unsafe. Busy passageways in your periphery, lack of personal space, or having your back to an open door can trigger your ‘fight or flight’ response, causing stress levels to spike.
We need to have some sense of control over the things that happen to us and around us, we need to be able to make our own decisions, both at home and in the workplace. In the office, flexible, agile office spaces can give individuals control over where or how they work. However, in the case of ‘hotdesking’, many workers might feel as though they have lost some control and stability at work, as they have no permanent desk.
Our brain needs time every day (or multiple times a day) to take a break from stimulation and take in all the information it has been receiving from the environment. These quiet periods allow us to collect our thoughts, organise and plan our work and day ahead.
Office tip: Quiet/privacy pods and solo working booths allow our brains to focus when we need it.
Human beings are, innately, pack animals. We need to feel a sense of belonging, togetherness, and connection with others in order to be truly happy, and therefore function properly. Our brains have evolved to connect with other human brains and therefore we need to be able to have two-way communication with colleagues to exchange ideas, come up with new ones and problem solve more effectively.
Office tip: Encourage conversation and community togetherness with break rooms and community/social spaces, and exchange of ideas with physical idea boards.
We need to feel that we can achieve and do something useful every day, that we have right skills, knowledge, resources, and competence. A sense of achievement, and sharing our achievements, is hugely important to the brain, and connected technology helps us to do that.
Office tip: Smart meeting spaces and shared digital whiteboards/screens help employees to showcase their own, and their colleagues’ achievements.
Finally, we need to feel that our work is meaningful, that we have a reason to go to work, other than money, and can look forward to the day ahead. Work feels more meaningful when we are needed, when we are learning/developing new skills, or when we are involved in something bigger than ourselves.
Office tip: Corporate branding, values and goals around the office help to remind employees what your company is doing, how it is helping the world, and what it means to be a part of your company.
I would dare to say that understanding these human needs, these human fundamentals in a workplace, is just as important as understanding the Mental Health First Aid concept. First aid responds to problems that already exist; the human needs approach can prevent work related mental health problems from happening in the first place by developing workplaces that enable us to meet all of our human needs. It also empowers each of us to take charge of and improve our own mental wellbeing and productivity.
How can Blueprint Interiors Help Businesses to do This?
Our aim is to help companies to design workspaces built on intention, and that enhance human health and wellbeing.
We’ll design a workspace that aligns with the Human Givens needs model to ensure the end result is an environment where health and wellness thrive which, in turn, improves the productivity of the business.
We can design and build a workplace environment that delivers against the specification of the WELL Building Standard™. We’ll identify and explain ways to achieve the standards required within your budget and time frame.
Let’s discuss how we can help with your workplace design, environment, and resources your organisation needs to invest in to improve and maintain employee wellbeing. You can drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 01530 223111.