The Psychology of Good Office Design

Is there room for psychology in office design? Absolutely! In fact, we believe that considering the psychological needs of the people who use an office is the best way to maximize return on your investment while attracting and retaining motivated, successful employees. That’s a big claim, and it’s backed by research.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow first published his Hierarchy of Needs in a 1943 paper titled “A Theory of Human Motivation”. He discussed the importance of meeting needs in stages, beginning with the most basic, and working up to a stage of self-actualization where individuals achieve their full potential.

Maslow believed that people were always ‘becoming’ and moving towards higher levels of achievement and personal satisfaction. Using his hierarchy, it’s fascinating to see how good office design contributes to efficient, effective, and energized employees.

Physical Needs and Basic Design

There are a variety of ways to address physical needs for things like rest, good health, and clean air in the office. These needs form the basis of good office design. Proper ergonomics at individual work stations sets the stage for physical comfort and reducing fatigue—which increases productivity. And good airflow does more than just help the office smell nice. A Harvard study found it did everything from improving cognitive functioning to decreasing infectious disease transmission!

Other ways to meet the physical needs of employees include having a wellness room where employees can escape from the noise and stresses of the office, and implementing effective policies for both sick leave and vacation leave.

Safety in the Office

Maslow identified the need for security and safety as part of each individual’s basic needs. This is addressed by things like having designated, logical purposes for each space, and creating opportunities for privacy—even in open plan offices. Office design can achieve this by providing screens for open workstations or creating areas in the office conducive to quiet conversations.

Inclusion and Belonging

Meaningful relationships, belonging, and inclusion all contribute to an overall healthy office and individual employee satisfaction. Having an accessible workplace sends a powerful message of inclusion both for employees and visitors.

Achieving this must go beyond standard accessibility to include lighting, different types of furniture, and adaptable spaces that take into account different needs within the office. Diversity is an advantage in today’s workplace where including employees with a variety of backgrounds and needs contributes to unique and effective strategies and problem-solving.

Room for Egos

In Maslow’s hierarchy, the ego represents a need for respect and recognition. Including the ego in office design starts with the plans for inclusion and belonging, which create space for self-esteem to grow. Then you can add physical ways to highlight this, such as having a place to call out employees for a job well done, and posting recognition in a space that’s clearly visible.


Employees who reach self-actualization are constantly seeking personal growth and peak experiences in the workplace. Their work is motivated by an internal drive to reach new goals and produce excellent work.

At this stage, good office design enhances creativity and autonomy. An activity-based working (ABW) environment takes into account extroverted and introverted employees, provides workspaces for a variety of tasks, applies employee feedback within the design, and is statistically superior to traditional, inflexible offices. This environment creates trust and gives employees the freedom to choose what works best for them.

Maslow continued to refine his hierarchy of needs throughout his lifetime. He noted the value of flexibility, as individuals will place emphasis on different needs throughout different phases. With our perspective on office design, this shows the importance of addressing all needs, and creating space that adjust as the dynamics within offices change.

In every stage of Maslow’s hierarchy, consideration in office design promotes a better employee experience, increased productivity, improved retention, and can even reduce real estate costs by maximizing use of every space. Prioritize the time and resources needed to implement an office that addresses the psychological needs of your employees, and everyone will reap the rewards for years to come.

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