According to a new Bupa report, employee mental health is now a bigger concern for companies than physical health issues. Bupa has seen the number of people claiming on their health insurance for mental health treatment double in the last decade, and 65 per cent of businesses surveyed say that employee mental health is now a boardroom priority. Emily Wells, Business Development Manager at CBS Office Interiors looks at how working environments can have a huge impact on both physical and mental health of employees.
From policies and initiatives to reduce stress, to providing employees with opportunities to access support when they need it; many companies are already tackling mental health head on. Mental health awareness is also an important part of the equation. While there have been significant steps made in this area in recent years, with people talking about mental health issues more openly, for many there is still a stigma associated with these conditions.
Office Design and Mental Health
More and more research is showing that the office environment, including the design and layout, can have a positive (or negative) effect on mental health. ‘Unhealthy’ offices can be responsible for a host of mental health issue, for example:
- Poor acoustics are linked to rising stress levels: Excessive noise can trigger the stress response, where our bodies release cortisol and adrenalin. Long term this can cause anxiety and depression.
- Lack of daylight can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): This form of depression typically affects people in the winter months when light levels are seasonally low. However, when people work in offices with limited natural light they can suffer the same symptoms throughout the year.
- Overcrowding causes stress and anxiety: It has been proven that overcrowding can also trigger the stress response.
- Air quality and office temperature also impacts health and wellbeing: Poor air quality is linked to respiratory conditions, and offices that are either too hot or too cold are uncomfortable to work in.
Fortunately, there are lots of ways to improve the office environment and make it a more mentally positive place to work. Ambient lighting, climate control, acoustics and air quality solutions can be implemented to address the negative impact of the existing office design. With some creative thought it may be possible to find a better office layout, which provides employees with personal space while ensuring they can interact and socialise too.
Creating collaborative spaces, as well as areas to relax and de-stress, are also important. Breakout areas, hot desking and informal meeting areas, and creative spaces for brainstorming and collaboration all help to improve mental health in the office. Employees benefit from working in different ways and appreciate having different options so that they can choose the best place for them. This has a positive impact for the business too, increasing productivity and reducing absenteeism because of health issues.