Studies show workplace art improves productivity and employee experience, if executed properly. A stimulating visual environment, in which art plays a major role, is shown to increase employee well-being and output, especially when employees have a say about it. Read on to learn best practices, based on peer-reviewed research, for integrating art into the workplace for maximum benefit.
A University of Exeter study found that workers in an “enriched” environment (decorated with art and plants) were up to 32% more productive, and experienced 45% more wellbeing and 60% more engagement than those in a “lean” or “functional” workspace (one that’s undecorated and stripped of all items deemed non-essential to the task at hand).¹
To reach these findings, organizational psychologists measured the impact of various space management strategies on the subjects’ organizational identification, well-being, and various forms of productivity (attention to detail, information processing, information management, and organizational citizenship).
Superior outcomes were observed when offices were decorated (“enriched”) rather than “lean” (undecorated). Even better improvements in well-being and productivity were observed when workers had input into office decoration. Or, as the study puts it, when workers were in an “enriched” and “empowered” environment. But the positive effects were diminished when workers allowed to select artwork and plants for their workspace later had those items moved by the experimenters.
The authors say these studies point to the need to involve employees in the design of workspace to allow for expression of their identities. Due to the fact that, in these experiments, empowerment (the ability to choose the art and plants) was the key differentiating factor in increasing productivity by up to 32%, they say industries concerned with space management, such as business, architecture, and design, need to move from a philosophy of identity imposition to one of identity realization.²
Psychologists have argued that when employees are allowed to decorate their immediate space with meaningful artifacts, it allows them to project their identity onto their own environment and to give some sense of permanency, control, and privacy. This so-called social identity approach to workspace management is what Knight and Haslam sought to test with their experiments. They hypothesized that giving workers the opportunity to project their social identity at work through decor would have a positive impact on their well-being and productivity. And, as we covered in the previous section, they were right.
Getting employees of a large organization to agree on workplace art might sound impossible, but our clients at a global professional services firm in Dallas, Texas proved otherwise. When they moved their corporate headquarters into a new 200,000 square-foot building, they needed art for 7 floors of office space. They gave the job to a committee of employees. The art selection committee, made up of employees from different levels and departments throughout the organization, decided which themes they wanted represented in the art and how they wanted the art to exist in their workspace.
Since the organization was founded in Dallas, the committee decided they wanted to work with local artists only. They also chose different Dallas themes to be represented, such as Dallas neighborhoods, Dallas philanthropy, and the history of the company’s founding in Dallas.
During the art search process, Art + Artisans created a system for the committee members to rate how well various pieces met their criteria. “They could look at the work and see if they liked it on a gut level, but also see if it met their criteria,” A+A Founder and President Jennifer Seay says. After multiple rounds of elimination, the committee arrived at their final selections.
Once the artwork was installed, employees from the art committee could go back to their departments and advocate for and explain the art to their colleagues, clients, and job candidates. “They could build excitement for the artwork and that spread within the company,” Jennifer Seay says. “It gave them talking points about Dallas and the organization’s culture because those values are integrated into the art.”
Now that we’ve made the case for including employees in your workplace art planning, here are some suggestions for how to do it at your organization.
- Put Together a Committee of Employees from All Departments and All Levels of the Organization — Most organizations create an art selection committee for workplace art, but they tend to be made up of executives. For a truly inclusive art selection committee, ensure that all departments and levels are represented. Not only will the artwork be representative of more employees, it allows employees who normally don’t interact with one another to do so.
- Develop Criteria for Your Workplace Art — The committee’s job is to decide the themes, media, colors, and artists they want displayed at work. If locations are open for discussion, that should be decided by the committee, too. In our case study above, an employee committee for our client in Dallas decided they wanted local artists only and they wanted different Dallas themes represented in the artwork because their organization was founded in Dallas.
- Encourage Committee Members to Become Ambassadors for the Art — One of the byproducts of including employees in the selection of workplace art is that they feel a sense of ownership. This makes them excellent ambassadors for the art to their colleagues and other workplace visitors. Consider providing committee members with talking points and printed material about the art and artists so they can share with coworkers, clients, and job candidates.
- The Earlier You Plan the Better —The earlier you plan for art in the workplace, the more options you have at your disposal, and the more cost-effective you’ll be. It takes up to 18 months to cost-effectively acquire large, statement art. And your preferred artist might need a year to produce the piece, especially if they’re in high demand.
- Consider Hiring an Art Consultant — The art selection process can be daunting. Art consultants like Art + Artisans can walk you through it. We have a deep database of artists to help find exactly what you’re seeking. We’re also able to advise you on the best and most cost-effective ways to incorporate your art into your workspace.
- Hold an Employee Event to Introduce the Artwork — We love the opportunity to do a workplace art event for our clients after installation. This might involve us giving a tour and inviting the artists to participate if they’re available. Our client Jackson Walker in Austin held a wine and cheese event where we guided employees around the office and explained why the different pieces were selected. Everyone enjoyed learning about the art and they got to socialize with colleagues they don’t interact with every day.
- Art works: how art in the office boosts staff productivity [The Guardian]
- How to make the most of art in the workplace [University of Oxford, Saïd Business School]
- Cubicle, Sweet Cubicle: The Best Ways to Make Office Spaces Not So Bad: Why some office spaces alienate workers, whereas others make them happier and more efficient [Scientific American]
- Knight, C., & Haslam, S. A. (2010). The relative merits of lean, enriched, and empowered offices: An experimental examination of the impact of workspace management strategies on well-being and productivity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 16(2), 158–172. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0019292
- Knight, C., & Haslam, S. A. (2009). The Psychology of Office Space [Slide show; PDF]. University of Exeter.
- Ledain, S. (2015). Exploring the role of social identity in building engaging workplaces: a systematic review. ResearchGate. https://doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.1.3605.5927