Emotional Security in the Workplace
By Stella Donovan, Jacob Simons, and Joel Fariss
The way we work is changing. The way we feel at work needs to follow suit.
Workplace designers are increasingly called on to design innovation labs, hubs, and zones for businesses looking to create groundbreaking products and streamline their work processes. However, the rise of remote and alternative work styles poses unique challenges to these goals. How can designers help foster organizational innovation when employees increasingly work outside the office? In the age of technological mobility and efficiency, it turns out that we need to prioritize our humanity more than ever.
Emotional Security in the Workplace, a new white paper from the Gensler Research Institute, finds that designing for innovation isn’t about creating the most optimal or efficient workplace. After conducting an extensive literature review and interviewing theorists in the fields of business, sociology, psychology, and corporate leadership, researchers found that creating an environment where employees feel empowered to take risks, ask questions, pose new ideas, and fail can be more important than the environment itself.
The quality of employees’ interpersonal relationships plays a key role in the effectiveness of an organization. When individuals feel emotionally secure at work, they show increased trust in themselves and others. This trust provides the foundation for team cohesion and personal agency, both of which encourage employees to be creative, explore new ideas, and feel confident. Employees who feel safe will develop and propose innovative solutions within their organizational setting.
When security is absent, shame most often becomes the default emotional experience of work. Shame mutes an individual’s ability to produce original, innovative work. Rather than realizing their creative potential, workers who experience workplace insecurity expend emotional energy seeking approval, ignoring personal needs, or isolating themselves from coworkers. If managers use fear, shame, and manipulation to drive outcomes, it’s unlikely that there will be a large appetite for risk within organizations. Beautifully designed innovation labs will be empty if team members don’t trust each other enough to collaborate.
These findings indicate why designers need to think about the social structures that exist within an organization just as much as physical space. Designing for innovation requires addressing stress, health, and wellbeing far beyond programming the work environment. We need to understand how to build great cultural experiences and physical workplaces in tandem—in doing so, we will deliver the innovative, fulfilling workplaces our clients need.
For more information about the relational conditions that promote meaningful and engaging work, download Emotional Security in the Workplace.