How office environment can impact your employees' mental health

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As this year's Mental Health Week focuses on mental health at work, have you taken the time to think about how the workplace you provide could positively impact mental wellbeing?

Wellbeing is a big issue for any company. If an employee is not fit for work, there are implications for businesses, with lost hours, drops in productivity, and the potential for falling profits. However, in recent years, there has been a change in attitudes, with companies becoming more aware of their own responsibility for ensuring their workforce is both physically and mentally healthy.

Mental health in the workplace is one issue that's under the microscope this week, with the Mental Health Foundation holding its annual Mental Health Awareness Week. This year, the organisation has taken its focus away from why people have mental health issues, and is instead looking at how more people can benefit from and strive with good mental health.

This is a focus that businesses can look at as well, especially given the impact that environment and the workplace can have on the mental health of employees.

The business case for better mental health

While most of us would probably think of physical ailments as the most likely to affect employees, anxiety and stress are two of the biggest causes of illness that workers face in the UK. These two mental health issues alone, often brought on by the rigours of day-to-day work, account for as many as 49 per cent of all lost working days, according to the Health and Safety Executive.

Stress in the workplace is a prevalent problem as well. According to the official report, there were as many as 1,610 cases per 100,000 employees in the 2016/2017 working year. That's nearly half a million people affected by stress and anxiety in the space of just 12 months.

These statistics are obviously worrying for businesses, because lost working days means lower productivity and profits, but there's also the reality that staff who are not thriving mentally are not thriving professionally. When someone is not happy at work, they are unlikely to be performing at their best.

However, with businesses becoming more aware of their own responsibilities in terms of mental health, as well as the impact that they can have on their employees, the good news is that there is something that can be done for those businesses that are open-minded and have a forward-thinking attitude.

The impact of the workplace on mental health

The average person spends a third of each and every day in their place of work, so it stands to reason that the space they work in can have a significant impact on their outlook and wellbeing. This is no different when it comes to mental health.

A dark, dingy, cramped office where people are carrying out highly pressurised roles, for example, will not be conducive to a good mindset. In this situation, the likelihood of increases in stress and anxiety is high, and this is something companies need to be aware of.

According to a report highlighted by CMI Workplace, strong office design in general can make employees up to 33 per cent happier at work. If people are feeling happier in their workplace, then chances are they are less likely to feel stressed out and anxious about their job.

Important factors that can play into a strong workplace include:

Lighting: A bright and open space can make people feel more relaxed, less boxed in and more at one with the outside world, rather than being shut away from everyone during work hours.

Sociable: Somewhere people can move around, mix with and work with colleagues openly encourages dialogue and sharing, so that no one is left feeling like they are stuck with a problem on their own.

Temperature: An SHRM report has shown that having a poorly ventilated, cold or hot office can not only have an impact on productivity, but can affect mental health as well. In an old, badly designed office where people are constantly feeling freezing, there's more chance they'll be miserable and stressed out by work.

Modernisation: Workers in the modern world want their job to reflect their personality, so modern, well-designed work spaces with a new twist are important in terms of making them feel at one with the company, which can in turn lead to happier workers who want to be at the office.

Another major factor that can be considered when trying to make a lower-stress office a reality can be breakaway zones. One of the main causes of stress in the workplace is the fact people just feel like it's all getting on top of them. However, the unconventional, new approach to modern offices means companies can give their employees somewhere to step away from it all when the stresses of work feel like too much.

According to Fresh Business Thinking, breakout zones are one of the best contributors to a happier, stress-free workforce. Whether it's an area that simply has a bench and a table, or somewhere that gives workers the chance to interact, play games and catch up with others, providing somewhere more relaxing that allows people to take themselves away from their work and related stresses is a vital move towards improving mental health.

In the modern workplace, employers are more aware of the responsibilities they have towards their employees' health than ever before. But with smart office design and a relaxed place to work, they can give their employees the best chance of lowering stress, and thriving with good mental health.

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