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Workplace Satisfaction Declines Over Time, Study Reveals

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A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Sydney has revealed a significant decrease in workplace satisfaction over time, a phenomenon they have termed the “honeymoon-hangover effect”.

The study, published in the journal Indoor Environments, utilises a decade-long database of Post-Occupancy Evaluation (POE) survey responses from 20,400 occupants of 226 office buildings in Australia, offering unprecedented insights into occupant satisfaction with Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ).

The primary finding of this study is that satisfaction with various aspects of the workspace, such as building image, maintenance, indoor air quality, spatial comfort, and thermal comfort, generally declines the longer an individual occupies the same workspace. This trend holds true across different gender and age cohorts. Notably, people who have occupied their workspace for over five years exhibit significantly lower overall satisfaction compared to those who have been there for less than six months.

The research also sheds light on gender-specific perceptions of workspace satisfaction. While the general trend of declining satisfaction over time was consistent across genders, women generally reported lower satisfaction levels with thermal comfort and indoor air quality than men. Furthermore, the study identified notable differences in satisfaction levels among different age groups. Younger occupants, particularly those aged 30 or under, showed a larger decline in satisfaction over time compared to their over-50 counterparts. This is particularly evident among those who have spent more than five years in their current workspaces.

Professor Emeritus Richard de Dear from the University of Sydney explained: “Post-occupancy evaluations are the industry-accepted method of understanding occupant assessments of indoor environments. Surveys are conducted at a point in time and contain questions designed to capture occupants’ long-term experience of the space. However, workspace satisfaction is influenced by factors unrelated to environmental quality, such as office type and spatial layout. Extraneous factors like job and life satisfaction can also influence evaluations of the indoor environment.”

He added: “Our latest study, published in the new Indoor Environments journal from the International Society of Indoor Air Quality and Climate (ISIAQ), looked at the change in occupant satisfaction with the amount of time that office workers spent in the workspace. We classified 20,400 questionnaire responses from 226 office buildings into five groups based on the length of time respondents had occupied their workspace: less than 6 months, 7 to 12 months, 1 to 2 years, 2 to 5 years, or more than 5 years. People who had occupied their workspace for more than 5 years expressed lower overall satisfaction with their workspace than those who had been there for less than 6 months.”

These findings suggest that occupants’ satisfaction with the indoor environment is associated with the duration of their tenure in their workspaces, with satisfaction declining over time. Similar trends of decreasing workspace satisfaction have been reported in other studies. This raises questions about how post-occupancy evaluations are utilised in both practical applications and research contexts.

The “honeymoon-hangover” effect raises critical questions regarding the conventional methods and applications of POE surveys in workplace design and management. The findings suggest that satisfaction scores in newer workspaces might be inflated due to the novelty of the environment, whereas scores in older workspaces could be deflated due to prolonged exposure and familiarity.

This study highlights the necessity of including additional questions in POE surveys, particularly concerning occupants’ tenure and job satisfaction. Such information would provide a more nuanced understanding of how various factors, including those unrelated to the physical workspace, can influence occupant satisfaction.

While the study’s findings are significant, it’s important to note its limitations. The data is cross-sectional and predominantly from Australian office buildings, which may limit the generalisability of the findings to other cultural and climatic contexts. Additionally, the study does not account for the recent shift towards remote work and flexible office spaces, which could influence the observed trends.

The study’s findings have profound implications for the design, operation, and evaluation of office spaces. Understanding the ‘honeymoon-hangover’ effect is crucial for facility managers and designers to maintain and enhance occupant satisfaction over time. Future research should aim to further explore these dynamics, especially considering the evolving nature of workplaces in the post-Covid era.

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