Mental health and wellbeing are essential elements of the workplace. If you overlook it or fail to provide employees with the correct environment or support, you will see a negative impact on employee productivity, morale and happiness.
Many organisations have turned their attention to improving mental health and wellbeing in the office, particularly since the pandemic as more people have returned to the office. A survey conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) showed that 67% of people working from home said that they felt less connected to their colleagues and 56% said they found it harder to switch off.
While the trend of remote and home-working has become more widely accepted, there is now more pressure on leaders and organisations to ensure that their workplaces are doing everything they can to support their people. The office is still a talisman for socialising, collaborating and being productive so it is important to ensure your workplace enables these activities alongside wellbeing. These are some of the ways in the workplace can be adapted to promote better mental health.
It can be difficult to understand the impact of mental health and wellbeing at work but it is not a new phenomenon. With many companies operating working models which create a more distributed workforce, workplace wellbeing is harder to regulate and control than in the past. This means that the office must be an exemplary environment for employees where they feel comfortable and supported. If mental health is not taken seriously in the office, businesses open themselves up to losing top talent and risk burning out their staff.
The Workplace Health Report 2022 showed that poor mental health was a factor that impacted productivity levels in 20% of employees surveyed. The result of this impact was costly levels of presenteeism. In the same way that losing talent can be an expensive process for businesses, presenteeism and low productivity levels can have severe financial implications on businesses. It is estimated that the cost of a single unhappy employee can cost a business around £16,000 per year. By not addressing mental health in the workplace, business success can be impacted through reduced productivity levels and prolonged impact on staff wellbeing.
There are several ways in which leaders can integrate or improve mental health in the workplace. Whether this is done through the workplace culture, implementing new benefits or redesigning elements of the office, there are steps which can be taken to create a supportive work environment. This will help achieve healthier, happier employees and create a more productive and loyal workplace that people enjoy spending time in.
Companies are increasingly looking for ways to promote better metal health at work through accreditations for their offices and buildings. Accreditations like the WELL V2 Building Standard™ are used by organisations as assessment to encourage health and wellbeing facilities in the workplace.
This accreditation is evaluated on a series of features within seven key areas of the workplace, covering the design and operation of a building as well as tenants wellbeing. The ‘Mind’ concept has 19 individual features that are assessed to identify the ways in which occupant health and wellbeing has been considered within the space. WELL and other accreditations like Fitwel are highly regarded industry standards helping to drive improved physical and mental wellbeing at work.
Wellbeing at work can be supported in many ways that range from increasing biophilic design elements in the office to more organisational changes and processes. The level of depth in which you need to go to may depend on the requirements of your staff but as a foundational level, there are some simple ways to give your workplace a lift.
Biophilic design refers to the human connection to nature which can be replicated in the office through natural light, plants and organic materials. Sometimes referred to as ‘bringing the outside in,’ it has been shown that adding biophilic design to your workplace can boost productivity by up to 20%. This is just one example of how office design can help with wellbeing at work but it is a well-recognised and effective way to boost wellbeing in the office.
The use of colour in the workplace can impact our productivity, focus-levels and wellbeing. Studies show that there is a psychology behind the impact of different colours. Red is well-known for being a colour that creates energy and excitement but can be powerful and overbearing, whereas blue is known for being more calming and relaxing. There are greater complexities to individual colours but it is also important to use the right balance of colours in the office. Vibrant, highly saturated colours can induce stress and monochrome colours can limit creativity.
One of the crucial elements that experts recommend is designing for diversity and choice. The workplace has to offer a variety of spaces to ensure that employee requirements are met. This will enable different generations, personality types and working styles can all work comfortably in the office in conditions that suit them. Companies should be aiming to provide a positive employee experience in the workplace which will help maintain focus and productivity levels. Giving employees autonomy and control of their environment will be the difference between retaining or losing members of staff.
Key design features to improve wellbeing
• Plants and greenery
• Natural light
• Soft furnishings
• Natural colours
• Sit-stand desking
• Organic materials
• Individual meeting booths and pods
• Yoga and meditation spaces
Employees that suffer with their mental health and wellbeing are more likely to be distracted or unproductive while at work. There may also be knock-on effects to their team or colleagues through a lack of communication or missing deadlines. There is a direct link between mental health and performance but companies are urged to not look solely at employee output and instead ensure that they can offer support to their employees when they need it.
The WHO states that a healthy workplace can be described as one where workers and managers actively contribute to the working environment by promoting and protecting the health, safety and wellbeing of all employees.
Company culture is the unwritten rule that governs a workplace and makes it feel the way it does when you walk in the door. Building an engaged, friendly culture is one that many businesses aspire to. Creating an environment that makes people feel good while at work and confident in the resources they have should they need them is a positive culture to move towards. There should be designated areas in the office that give people space when they need it as well as having individuals in the business, senior management, HR or otherwise, that can be seen as a figurehead for employees to talk to.
Occupational Health and Safety Management Consultant Ehi Iden believes that companies need to “identify mental health as a key workplace issue and make provisions for it within the company’s workplace health and safety policy.”
To create healthier workplaces, organisations need to offer solutions to help address any employee mental health concerns. This can vary from physical additions to the workplace to restructuring the business to help reduce the stigma around mental health in the workplace. While office design can contribute to improving mental wellbeing and providing a positive working environment for staff, there is more to it than simply creating a well-designed environment.
New working patterns and working models such as hybrid working promote greater flexibility and the opportunity to have a better work/life balance. However, with flexibility comes change and less stability, particularly for those that may be struggling with their mental health and moving to flexible working is not a guarantee for improving wellbeing or work-life balance. Dynata has shared their research which shows that Brits who partake in the hybrid-work approach, are both the happiest in their current job (67%) as well as struggling the most with work-life balance (43%) compared to those who work remotely or entirely in the workplace.
Improving wellbeing at work requires a dynamic approach rather than a one-stop solution. Mental wellbeing is more than just productivity at work and safeguarding staff mental health should be a top priority for organisations and leaders. There are some positives to be taken from flexibility being given to staff but communication channels, revitalised office design and positive company culture all contribute to improving mental health in the workplace.
For more information on designing a successful hybrid workplace, download our guide for key considerations to take into account ahead of making any workplace decisions.download