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The right office is essential to employee trust - new study

The right office is essential to employee trust - new study

New research published in leading international academic publication, Academy of Management Journal, details how the physical work space affects new employees’ relationship with their employer and conditions their ability to become more productive and proactive on the job.

Trusting the “Look and Feel” (attached) is a study conducted by DCU Business School’s Dr. Lisa van der Werff and Professor Finian Buckley, in conjunction with Dr. Michael Baer from Arizona State University and researchers from the University of Georgia.

The study has found that new employees base their trust of an organisation on first impressions of the office where they work, with everything from the lighting to the colour schemes potentially having a bearing on this.

When joining a new organisation employees are likely to consider the following: ‘Does it look nice?’; and, ‘Does it look and feel like I expected?’ The research found that these ‘aesthetics’ and ‘normality’ played an important role in the employee/employer relationship, influencing whether employees felt their new employer was capable, had an acceptable value system, and whether they cared about their employees. These first impressions - sometimes made unconsciously - have long-lasting effects on employee behaviours and attitudes.

Trusting the “Look and Feel” examined the experience of 165 graduates at the Dublin base of a large international financial services firm, surveying them throughout their ten-week induction and training period. Their findings were later replicated in a separate follow-on study in the United States with 1,039 participants.

Dr. Lisa van der Werff said: “The study of trust between employers and employees has previously focused on a very careful, logical assessment of the organisation ignoring how quickly new employees often make these decisions. Our research suggests that the physical space within which people work has a huge impact on how we regard the company we’re working for and our capacity for learning and settling into a new organisation. If newcomers feel comfortable in their new environs, they are far more likely to ‘stick their neck out’ when it comes to making an investment in their work.”

Professor Finian Buckley commented: “Work spaces are something that is broadly within the employer’s control. Empty, soulless open plan offices that have few affordances for the people who work there actively limit what can be achieved at work and often leave employees feeling disengaged and disinterested. This is not only a factor in overall productivity, but also staff turnover.”

The Academy of Management journal has been published for fifty five years and is widely recognised as being among the most authoritative and prestigious journals for management scholars. It is cited in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Economist.


  • The physical workspace environment is essential to how new employees relate to their employer
  • This environment affects productivity and learning on the job
  • First impressions of an employer are made unconsciously and are long-lasting
  • It is important that the workspace does not feel strange or alien


  • Dr. Lisa van der Werff, Dublin City University
  • Prof. Finian Buckley, Dublin City University
  • Dr. Michael D. Baer, Arizona State University
  • Prof. Jason A. Colquitt, University of Georgia
  • Jessica B. Rodell, University of Georgia
  • Kate P. Zipay, University of Oregon