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Mental Health at Work: Improving the Office Environment


Have you ever thought about how the workplace you provide could impact your employees’ mental health at work? According to mental health charity, Mind, at least 1 in 6 workers experience mental health problems such as anxiety and depression and that work can actually be the biggest cause of stress in our lives.

With that in mind, it’s important to ensure the office environment can have a positive effect on mental health at work. But how exactly can the office environment impact mental health and what steps can be taken to improve it?

How Can the Office Environment Impact Mental Health?

According to studies, the average British employee will work for a total of 1,795 hours a year - that’s 20% of the entire year! So, it stands to reason that the workplace can have a significant impact on mental wellbeing. 

A dark, dingy, cramped office where people are carrying out high-pressured roles, for example, is not conducive to a good mindset. In this situation, the likelihood of suffering from stress and anxiety is high, which is something companies need to be aware of.

Today, in the age of hybrid working, many employees are looking for offices which replicate the comforts of home. From bright, airy rooms, to spaces for socialising, and dedicated areas to prepare healthy meals, bringing a touch of home to work can provide a whole host of benefits.

Studies have found that office design is one of the top factors when it comes to workplace happiness, so much so that it was found to make employees up to 33% happier at work. And if people are feeling happy in the workplace, then it’s likely that they will be less stressed and anxious and more productive.

Ways to Improve Mental Health at Work

When it comes to improving mental health at work, there are a number of steps that can be taken to create a more positive environment for your employees. 

From reducing stress and anxiety, to improving mood - implementing just a few of these key steps can help to promote a much happier workforce.

Lighting is Key 

Lighting is one of the most important aspects of your office design, as it can have a huge impact on your employees’ mental wellbeing. 

Natural lighting directly impacts our circadian rhythm, which is responsible for regulating a number of different functions, such as our hormones and moods. For this reason, natural light should always be favoured over artificial lighting in order to promote a more positive work environment. 

Some of the best ways to utilise natural light in an office include:

  • Install floor to ceiling windows

  • Carefully consider the colour scheme - lighter colours will reflect light

  • Place mirrors strategically to reflect light 

  • Remove obstructions or adopt an open-plan office layout

  • Place desks next to windows

  • Install glass doors and walls 

Whether you completely revamp your office, or you move to a rented office space with plenty of natural light - it’s something that is often overlooked, but can have a huge impact on mental health.

Socialising Should be Encouraged

The cost of loneliness to UK employers is estimated to be a staggering £2.5 billion every year. From staff turnover, to lowered productivity and an increase in sick days, the costs can soon add up. 

Many people think that remote workers are the most likely to suffer from loneliness, but being alone doesn’t always equate to being lonely - it can be felt even when surrounded by an office full of people. Some of the most common causes of loneliness in the workplace include:

  • High staff turnover, making it difficult to maintain connections

  • Long, stressful hours leaving little time for socialising

  • Uninspiring work

  • Working varying shift patterns

  • Having little in common with colleagues

Some of the best ways to tackle loneliness in the workplace include:

  • Adopt a hot desking policy to encourage people to get to know people outside their department

  • Organise regular socials and networking events 

  • Improve the workplace culture and build a sense of community

  • Train managers on how to spot the signs of loneliness in the workplace

Making a few simple changes to office policies can have an overwhelming impact on workplace loneliness, helping to promote a more positive workplace.

Turn the Heat Up

There are often heated debates about the temperature of the office, and for good reason - a SHRM report has shown that having a poorly ventilated, cold or hot office can impact productivity and mental health. Poorly designed offices where employees are freezing are not conducive to a productive or positive workplace, meaning the staff are more likely to be stressed out at work. 

It is thought that people work best at temperatures between 16°C and 24°C, depending on the type of work being carried out. 

Support Healthy Lifestyles

It’s no secret that a healthy diet and regular exercise can help to improve mental health. In fact, studies have shown that those who take part in regular exercise report 1.5 fewer days of poor mental health each month when compared to those who do not exercise, which may result in fewer sick days.

Similar studies have shown that sufficient vegetable consumption is directly correlated with more positive mental wellbeing. So how exactly does this relate to mental health in the workplace?

Long hours sitting at a desk and not enough time to source a nutritious meal at lunch time can result in increased feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. However, as an employer, there are a number of steps that can be taken in order to promote a more active, healthy lifestyle whilst at work, including: 

  • Access to fruits and vegetables 

  • Scheduling exercise classes such as yoga or running during lunch times

  • Offering subsidised gym memberships 

  • Implementing flexible work time to allow for physical activity 

  • Provide facilities such as cycle storage and changing rooms

  • Have separate, fully-equipped areas for people to prepare and eat food

Provide Breakout Areas

Another key thing to implement when trying to create a less stressful office environment is breakout zones. At work, people can often feel like everything is getting on top of them, which can lead to increased feelings of stress. 

However, according to Fresh Business Thinking, breakout zones can be used to reduce stress, anxiety and depression in employees by providing them with somewhere to disengage from the pressures of work.

And, although many people may think that these areas might negatively affect productivity, studies have found that the opposite is true, and that they can make people more productive.  

But it’s not just about providing these areas - it’s important to encourage employees to use them too. According to one survey, up to 55% of employees don’t feel like they can leave their desk to take a break. Therefore, it’s important to educate employees about the benefits of taking a break, as well as adjusting their workloads if they don’t feel like they’re able to leave their desk during the working day. 

Making some major or minor adjustments to the office environment can certainly have a positive impact on mental health at work. So whether you move to a serviced office that can offer everything you need to promote a more positive environment, or simply encourage more healthy, active lifestyles at work - a few simple changes can lead to a thriving workforce. 

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