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Emotion Management through Workplace Design

Anat Lechner , Leslie Harrington , Peter Lawrence , J.C. Spender , Fritz Steele

The quest to design work environments conducive to the needs of their inhabitants has long been the central challenge for architects and designers. Still, existing workplace research offers limited guidance to the question of how can workplace design enable organizations and people in coping with emotions of uncertainty and fear that accompany change, an emerging dilemma of critical importance to the business and architectural communities.

In an era where managing change becomes central to the managerial conduct, when the failure rate of companies’ change initiatives is now identified to exceed 70 percent, and where the ‘recipients of change’ are emotionally distressed and cognitively disoriented understanding how to facilitate emotion management during times of change becomes key to individual well being and organizational success.

Among the prime reasons for the dismal change management results is organizational members’ resistance and difficulty in confronting uncertainties. Many develop symptoms of anxiety, fear, aggression, confusion, and frustration manifested in over-employment of defense mechanisms like repression, regression, reaction formation and denial. What often results from the emotionally-threatening change experience is a cocooning behavior where people withdraw to protect their emotional self.

Our work is centered on the presupposition that the affect of designed workplace environments on organization and individual change management is understudied and perhaps under-exploited. We integrate several perspectives including change and adaptation, architectural design, and industrial psychology to frame the workplace design - emotion link and discuss possible way by which workplace design can enable organizational and individual management of emotions conducive to change.

Workplace design, emotion management, change