Designing an Office for Stronger Mental Health

12 November 2018 - 15:20, by , in Uncategorised, No comments

Being happy and engaged in the workplace are important factors that determine your success. While it can be easy to ignore negative emotions in favour of pushing forward to meet your next deadline, how you feel while at work has significant impacts for your productivity, creativity and health. Happy employees are 20% more productive and three times more creative than their unhappy counterparts, while companies with engaged employees perform up to 200% better than companies without. However, with changing seasons and shorter days, the routine of going to work can feel monotonous, especially when waking up to and leaving the office in darkness. During fall and winter, workers are especially prone to developing seasonal affective disorder, also referred to as SAD, a form of depression which can threaten happiness, engagement and performance while at work.

Work environments that encourage employee wellbeing demonstrate that the organization places importance on the mental health and wellbeing of their employees. As Dr. Richard Jackson says, “we now know that developers and architects can be more effective in achieving public health goals than doctors in white coats.” Below, find some of the ways your office could be influencing how you feel.

Noise is important factor as sounds from conversations, phone calls and machines travel – disrupting employees’ ability to focus and be productive. Excessive noise has been shown to increase stress and workplace fatigue while lowering cognitive ability. Offices that have sound-absorbing materials, such as carpets and soft panels, or contain a mix of cubicles and private offices can reduce noise distractions and are more effective workspaces to concentrate in.

Sunlight exposure is directly related to job satisfaction. Office spaces without natural light or have fluorescent lighting can induce migraines, fatigue and mental strain. For employees who are more prone to developing SAD, sunlight and warm lighting which mimics natural light can significantly improve their mental health. Natural lighting regulates circadian rhythms – the body’s biological clock – and helps with improved sleep and other health functions. Workers in offices with optimized natural lighting have been shown to experience reduced eyestrain, headaches, and insomnia.

Dominant colours in the workplace can impact your mindset. A bright yellow accent wall can generate feelings of alertness while entering a room with blue and green paint can be instantly calming. Colour psychology – the study of how hues can impact and change emotions – determined green to be a key mood-enhancing and stress-relieving colour with the ability to support recovery from illnesses. With the average adult now spending 90% of their time indoors, bringing in elements of nature – such as plants, access to views of nature, and photographs or paintings of nature creates a temporary buffer for stress, creating a calmer environment.

Office furniture and ergonomics shape employees’ behaviours and lifestyles. Active workstations – desks, chairs and other accessories that allow for more movement throughout the workday – have been shown to improve posture, happiness and energy levels, reversing many of the negative side effects of a sedentary lifestyle. Given the fact that sitting for the entire duration of the workday has been associated with symptoms of depression, offices that offer employees the option of using standing desks, desk risers, and ergonomic chairs, not only encourage employees to pay greater attention to their physical health, but their mental health as well.

The current trend of open-concept office layouts, emphasizes constant collaboration and communication. With the prevalence of offices slowly turning into glass bubbles, little room is left for employees to retreat and recharge by themselves. Although increased workplace interactions provide more opportunities for employees to get creative, there is also a need for offices to include spaces that allow for reflection and mindfulness, and for employees to arrive at creative solutions without feeling self-conscious. The presence of mindful areas of the office – such as a mindfulness room or a quiet zone – represent an acceptance for self-care and mental health in the workplace culture.

When we acknowledge mental health, we become more effective employees and leaders. In the modern workplace, human capital is the most valuable asset but there are still gaps when it comes to our understanding of how to create a culture of acceptance for mental health. However, starting with the built environment of the office can have resounding impacts that open up productive conversations about mental health, for both employee and organizational success.

For more information, please contact Jennifer Chen at (647) 245-5897.

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