News & Politics

5 Ways to Make Your Office Awesome

It's possible to have a gorgeous office that promotes productivity. Take a look inside Framebridge's open layout design. Photograph by Lauren Joseph.

We can’t all clock in at one of the 50 best places to work in DC. So here are five simple and not so obvious ways to make employees anywhere happier and more productive, according to Ron Friedman, a social psychologist who specializes in human motivation and author of The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace.

1. Give each employee a small budget to customize his or her workspace.


A photo posted by Fleek. Office. Decor. ( on

DreamWorks has done it. Etsy, too: It provides every staffer with $100 to decorate.

“There is some fascinating research on this,” Friedman says. “When people work in an environment they’ve customized, they have a greater sense of control, and that feeling of control influences the way they experience the work they do. In one study, a group that first customized their space performed a task 32 percent more effectively.”

Couldn’t a worker customize a cubicle on her own dime? Giving employees the money, according to Friedman, sends a message that you want them to be comfortable: “The more comfortable we are,” he says, “the more we perform.”

2. Go beyond employee-of-the-month awards.

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“The idea of the employee of the month is well intentioned,” Friedman says. “The reality is that it creates competition between employees.” This is especially true, he explains, when the awards are chosen by managers: “If you do a really good job, I am disincentivized to recognize you in front of the manager, because I’ll be less likely to win the award. And if you have 100 people and only one wins the award that month, then everyone else thinks, ‘My efforts weren’t recognized this month.’ ”

The solution? Create a culture of constant recognition from both managers and fellow employees: “What you can do as a leader is, at the beginning of every meeting, start out by recognizing someone for some effort. If you model that behavior, it ends up being mimicked around you. That’s how you create a culture that works.”

3. Encourage on-the-job reading, and pay for the books.

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One of an employee’s greatest psychological needs, Friedman says, is to feel competent, and to increase that competence.

“How do you provide people with a feeling of growth on the job? One simple solution is providing a reading budget. Imagine you have the opportunity to go to Barnes & Noble every month or every three months and pick out a book related to your job, and your company will pay for it. That feeds into our feeling of competence. If you don’t have that budget, you can encourage them to read industry blogs during the workday instead of on the weekends or evenings. You’re telling them it’s something you value.”

4. When someone new is hired, let everyone know if he or she likes to play the trombone or bake cookies.

Employees are also happiest when they feel connected to colleagues. One technique of fostering connections is to find out what people have in common. “When someone is brought new into your workplace, introduce them not just by their professional experience but by what they like to do in their spare time,” says Friedman. “That gives us something to talk about in the kitchen or when we’re waiting for a meeting to start.”

5. Invest in some greenery and fish.

Photograph by Naphat_Jorjee/iStock.

Says Friedman: “When we’re around plants, it encourages creative thinking. Also, an aquarium. Both put you in the mode of thinking where you’re relaxed and attentive without focusing too hard.” Best, he says, is if the plants and aquarium are in a common, quiet area with windows where anyone can go to get away and think.