**A talk given at Frem’s Clerkenwell showroom (@Frem_Furniture) provoked a little Twitter discussion.  It concerned the evidence for demonstrating good and bad workplaces and the influence of change management, leadership and design.  There are some things that 148 characters can’t quite achieve so here is a brief precis of the robust data of the past decade or so:

The foundations

  1. The people and teams with which I have been involved, have always operated using the modesty of science. That is, we test different ideas and practices against each other using a playing surface that is as level and honest as we can make it.
  2. We work to peer review standards in the hope that when we find something interesting we can:
    1.  Publish it
    2. Guarantee some standard of excellence
    3. Reduce any accusations of bias
  3. We work with people relevant to the environments in which we operate. Specifically, this means that when we investigate the world of work, we consult/test/use participants from the working population, whether in a laboratory or their places of employment.

That said whether working with students, older adults in care or those in and out of a job, the data have been remarkably robust and consistent.  What they tell us is as follows: 

The results

  • There is no excuse for Six Sigma/lean working practices. All evidence indicates that any cost savings made are swamped by degradation in organizational identity, well-being, and productivity.  Since we began work in 2003/4, Six Sigma/lean has – without exception – been the very worst condition in which to operate.
  • Using lean conditions as our control, we have found that enriching a working environment (e.g., with art, plants, light, smell) has seen significant improvements in organizational identity and well-being (of up to 40% in both cases) and. productivity (of up to 17%). These improvements come about without changing management or leadership practices.  As somebody put it yesterday “I suppose it’s only like improving the conditions of captive animals”. Consequently:

o   Companies developing interesting or funky environments are generally correct when they claim that their employees are happier and more productive

o   These companies are incorrect to claim that they are promoting best practise

  • When management relinquish environmental controls, and allow employees to develop their own working space (i.e., without the constraints of consultancy based change management practices) we see the best improvements published thus far. Well-being and organizational identity increase by up to 45% compared to Six Sigma/lean spaces and productivity by up to 32%.
  • The conclusion we draw is that if organizations give people an interesting environment, those people feel and perform better than if put to work in sterile controlled spaces. However, treat employees like adults, let them develop their own methods and conditions at work, and they perform at their optimum.


Reversing the telescope

In some ways, it is unfortunate that our figures are so spectacular.  It makes them look unreal; unbelievable even.  Perhaps we need this different perspective

If we used a managerially controlled enriched space as a control (i.e., one with ski gondolas in the canteen, cars on the wall or more simply, spaces dotted with interesting art and plants) then the data tell us that:

  1. Easing change management controls and letting employees develop their own space and working patterns increases well-being by about 10% and productivity by about 7%.
  2. Conversely:
    1. Removing enrichment/waste/ephemera from a managerially controlled space reduces well-being by up to 28%
    2. These lean, Spartan spaces reduce productivity by up to 14%



Treating employees like children and putting them in a nice, comfy working environment, with ping pong tables and slides, is one thing.  However, treating them like trustworthy adults who understand their own jobs rather better than their leaders or leaders’ hired helps, sees much better results.  But beware, if you treat workers like untrustworthy juveniles that you pen in sparse, ‘agile’ joyless spaces – very often under surveillance and tight working restrictions – then you will reap from the sick seeds you sow.

Making the necessary changes is logically easy, but emotionally difficult.  That’s where we help, because almost every business can enjoy startling improvements in performance, engagement and inter staff relationships.

A couple of papers that speak to these data are attached.  I hope you find them useful.2010-jep-space-experiments 2014-green-vs-lean-offices-1

Bye for now,



Addendum: Re-applying change management and design ideas using psychological principles is having further, significantly incremental impact to those discussed.  We are finding that people are effectively cleverer, happier and more creative in one space than in another.  The commercial implications are rather exciting.  Anybody interested in pursuing these opportunities with us to extend what seems to be a global lead please make contact.


15-4 Bene 5**