Designing a workplace that employees want

Thank God, it’s Monday, I’m off to work. Dear Lord, do I really need to go to work?”

These are sentiments of two workers on a Monday morning. This could be describing employees in the same organisation and yet contrasting statements.

I have been on both ends of this spectrum several Monday mornings in my working career. Now as a HR person, I ask myself, what do employees really want in the workplace?

The workplace design is no longer what it was before March 2020. Employees have woken up to the realisation that they deserve better. This means leaders have to think differently to provide better work and better workplaces. This requires leaders who have a clear vision and lead by example.

Employees are looking for organisations that have proper value systems, which allow them to work within certain moral principles or frameworks as guidelines.


Perhaps it is time that modern workplaces demystify the title of bosses. Many bosses have corner offices overlooking great views and as an employee, being called to that office is very intimidating. Leaders need to get off these corner offices and walk to employees’ desks.

Give a high-five to a staff member who has done a commendable job. Bosses have no idea how cool it would be if, at tea break, they would offer an employee his mandazi.

Ask staff about their family, ask the new mother-to-be how far along she is, or joke with the new father about his lack of sleep. Employees then will end up realising that the bosses are real people, who care about them too.

I know a place where the boss once in a while will buy staff working late good lunch and some very good whisky to accompany it. And yes, even tea masala is a drink. Such an office is viewed as a good working environment.

Workers are also looking for organisations where rewards and recognition of achievement are celebrated – both as an individual and in teams. It beats the purpose of working so hard and smart, then no one sees that effort.

With all these changes, traditional models of work must change. During the pandemic, people learned that work can still be done – and done even in pajamas! Okay, this may slightly be perceived as bad manners. But some companies are still stuck on the conservative way of dressing, thinking that it is a reflection of the company.

What will happen if banks allow women to wear floral blouses and lawyers to litigate in neat-locking dreadlocks? Is it the brain that matters or outfit?

Strict working hours also needs to change to allow project completion versus time or hours put in a physical office. Remote working is now a reality, let us embrace it. As a business, if you choose to have brick and motor – let the space allow for both physical interaction and isolation at the same time.

Yes, employees need to work as a team, consult, and brainstorm, but they also need space away to think and apply themselves to the tasks at hand.

Offices should have desks facing the wall, or the city skyline or the seat itself can be egg-shaped, with piped music. Have a jar of energy boosters in the office. If need be have a fun 10-minute break.


Employers also need to factor in the number of staff who can dare say, 'I will retire in this company.' This crop of employees is fast-dying. Now Generation Z just wants to work, get paid, and move on. No ounce of loyalty. To them, the gig economy offers flexibility and more money.

Younger Kenyans feel they cannot be restricted to one source of income and that expansion of self in the job market is way better than awaiting an end-month regular salary for years on end.

And these employees want a salary that is commensurate with the work they do, not a salary scale that with time gets to the peak.

Lastly, does your company cater to the staff's well-being? Many employers imagine "that so long as I have paid you, what more do you want?" However, what about the mental state of the staff? What kind of policies cater to a sick child, parent, or even lack of a nanny?

The greatest asset in any organisation is the employee. So unless the employee is working within the right mindset and space, it is a waste of time to brag as an employer about having a good company.

Ms Kitheka is a HR, training and counselling expert

PAYE Tax Calculator

Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.