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Want higher employee engagement? Engage their senses.

How to help employees move into the Green Zone with smarter use of scents, sights, songs, and snacks. 

When I was in high school, I realized that when my desk was in order, my homework felt easier to tackle. Maybe it was a form of procrastination, but a messy workspace left my mind feeling cluttered, too. A clean space left no room for lollygagging and encouraged me to focus. 

This practice has not only carried over to the present day but has also expanded to include sights, sounds, and smells that help keep me feeling motivated and productive. My home office has become my sanctuary.

Many of you may also enjoy the satisfaction of creating the ultimate work-from-home experience. This is all well and good until you actually have to go into the office, which in a hybrid landscape can feel less enticing for those of us who can work remotely for at least part of the week. 

So, how can we improve our shared workspaces to set the mood for peak performance and productivity? One way to get better engagement is by engaging the senses. 

When we tap into what makes our sensations tick, we create a fun, healthy environment that inspires on all levels. Incorporate “the four S’s” of sensory stimulation for an easy way to create a more productive and enjoyable work environment.


The power of scent can be particularly motivating and for good reason! In a recent Huffington Post article, the head of the psychology department at Northumbria University, Mark Moss, noted, “Aromas are made up of small volatile compounds, and when we inhale these, are passed into the lungs. Here, they cross into the bloodstream and get delivered straight to the brain; because these molecules are small, they can cross the blood-brain barrier and act directly on the brain’s neurochemical systems.”

Certain smells can, therefore, signal to your brain that it is time to take action. 

  • Need help with focusing? Try Peppermint or basil.

  • Want to boost your memory? Rosemary and Sage can help.

  • Need an afternoon pick-me-up? Use citrus scents like orange and grapefruit.

Remember that everyone’s sense of smell is different (and could trigger unpleasant memories!), so start with subtle amounts and work from there.


What we see around us while we work can affect our ability to pay attention. Wall color, pictures, and natural light can all make a difference. According to Fast Company, a study by the Institute for Color Research found that “people make a subconscious judgment about an object, person, or environment within 90 seconds of initial viewing. In that small pocket of time, 62% to 90% of that assessment is based only on color.” Neutral colors like gray give a feeling of calm. Colors found in nature, like shades of greens and blues, promote a peaceful state of mind.

Similarly, art in the workplace “can move our emotions, reduce stress, energize creativity, stimulate critical thinking, and provide space for personal reflection and shared conversation,” says Forbes Council Member Gregory Crawford. In his recent article, he notes how prominently displaying artwork around the office and campus can positively impact individuals, organizations, and communities.


Music can make us more productive, depending on the task and your particular mood. However, when it comes to music, everyone has their own taste and preferences regarding what gets played and when. As the Harvest Business Review explains, introverts may prefer a quiet environment without the distraction of background noise; extroverts may find that scenario boring and need the stimulation of sound to keep them focused—your personality plays a big role in determining which playlist is best for you. 

The key is to select songs that play up how you currently feel or would like to feel. Think of the last sporting event you attended and how the music pumped up the crowd; while you might not want to select arena rock while working on a high-level presentation, background music without lyrics can heighten emotions without signaling your brain to sing along—motivating productivity and stimulating creativity. 


It’s important to remember that hunger is a sense—and critical to critical thinking. Mindful eating can impact whether you’ll feel energized or ready for a nap before the end of the day. What you eat affects work performance, plain and simple. It may be tempting or easy to stock the office pantry with carb-heavy pick-me-ups, but too many carbs can impact mood and cognition. Instead, a better treat for our bodies is a healthy protein dose to stabilize energy levels without the crash that inevitably comes after a sugar high. Similarly, relying on caffeine too late in the day can affect our ability to fall asleep at night, which sets in motion a terrible cycle.

Optimizing comfort—a few words about temperature.

Are things heating up? The temperature debate is widespread among office workers. And surprisingly, for women, it goes beyond the gender cliche of them constantly feeling cold. A 2019 research study found that women increased “their performance on math problems by 1.76% for every 1.8-degree increase in temperature.” As CBS News reported, raising the temperature in the office to 75 degrees provides an ideal atmosphere for both men and women to be productive. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends a comfortable thermostat setting between 68℉ and 76℉.

One final thought on coming to your senses…

Employee engagement is hard enough—we need to make sure our workspaces set us up for success. Before incorporating any sensory tactic into practice, discuss them with your teams and get their input. Use these facts and tips to get people talking about how they love to work.

My challenge to you: Track your changes and measure how employee satisfaction and productivity improve. You might be pleasantly surprised by your findings.

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