Control over their work space helps satisfy people’s basic emotional needs


Control over their work space satisfies an individual's basic emotional needsIn the second of two pieces to mark the seventieth anniversary of Abraham Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ Annie Gurton writes: Workers need an element of control in their surroundings. As Maslow said in the 1940s, humans are fundamentally, simple creatures. We need air, water, food and security, but along with those basic physiological needs we have a set of emotional needs. If these are not met we do not die, but we become emotionally distressed. When it comes to designing office space, it is important that our basic emotional needs are met if we are to feel happy. Workers need to have privacy yet feel connected to others. They need to have a sense of community yet feel that they are respected.

For some, this respect needs to be seen and may come from a hierarchical arrangement, perhaps with some personal spaces being larger or more privileged. For others these things don’t matter so long as they can feel they belong to a group.

So, in designing office spaces the ideal situation is if individuals can have some control over where they will be and what size and level of privacy they will be offered. Many people dislike others being able to see over their shoulders, for example, and don’t care whether the office is open plan or not, provided they can have their back to a wall and their computer screen angled away from others’ eyes.

Offering staff some kind of control over their work space satisfies one of their basic emotional needs. Giving them some degree of autonomy will help significantly in raising their unconscious emotional happiness levels, which they will attribute to being happy at work. Conversely, if they are instinctively uncomfortable in their work space this will translate to general unhappiness at work, even though they may not realise it.

There is much about our human natures and thought patterns which is innate and unconscious. Ensuring that workers are happy depends on them having their fundamental emotional needs (their Human Givens) met and satisfied.

There are therapists and consultants trained in Human Givens who you can call on for guidance and advice. By using their recommendations, ideal office spaces – whether open plan or not – can be designed to help ensure worker happiness.


annieAnnie Gurton is a Psychological Therapist and Counsellor based in Sydney. She has an MA in Psychotherapy, a BSc(Hons) in Psychology and a BS(Hons) in Humanities.  She is a member of the British Psychological Society (MBPsS) and a Clinical Member of CAPA NSW (Counselling And Psychotherapy Association). or email: