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Designing the workplace and culture to promote employee wellbeing

If we look at the research around mental health in the workplace, we realise how much of an issue it is – and why it’s so important to address it. Statistics show 526,000 workers suffered from work related stress in 2016/17, which accounted for 12.5 million working days lost, and one in four people in the UK will have a mental health problem at some point in their life.

A healthy and happy workforce equals a productive one, therefore has a positive impact on company’s results and finances. Nearly three-quarters (71%) of UK companies now have a wellbeing strategy in place to improve the health of employees. HR leaders are using employee wellbeing perks to attract new talent into the business and retain the best talent, as people increasingly look for evidence that an employer prioritises the wellbeing of its staff.

The environment we work in has a profound effect on our mental and physical performance, so what can employers do to improve this and reduce stress in the workplace?

1: Social interaction

As well as designing an office space that creates a vibrant, inspiring and innovative place to work in, it needs to be a place where we can connect, have social interaction and feel at ease. With the rise in hot desking and use of technology, we are a ‘heads down’ generation connected to our devices, and this has created a rise in mental health issues.

Having a space to socially interact at work and spend time with colleagues promotes good mental health, social skills and enhances collaboration, which also boosts team morale. Employees with positive relationships at work are much happier and more productive in their job. Social interaction is vital to the success of an organisation and to supporting our mental health.

2: Quiet zone

Whilst there is a need for social interaction, many workers still need quiet spaces for high focus tasks and to make personal phone calls. Productivity in the office can be diminished by noise and interruptions.

Noise pollution in an open plan office affects our performance by 66%. It has a negative impact on our wellbeing as noise levels stimulates our nervous system, raising blood pressure and releasing stress hormones. It is costing the UK millions and impacting staff morale.

Quiet zones are a private space to hide away in to be more productive. They also send the polite message of ‘don’t bother me’! They’re a place to feel calmer and less stressed, which has a positive impact on our mental wellbeing and productivity.

3: Wellness room

In addition to quiet zones, a wellness room or nap pod is a private space for employees to take a bit of time out during their day for a number of reasons – to rest, meditate, de-stress, get their thoughts together, put their head down. They can also serve as a lactation room for new mothers.

Lack of sleep has a negative impact on our stress levels and has a knock on effect on performance at work. A 20-minute power nap is enough to turn off the nervous system and recharge the whole body. A short nap can give you as much energy as two strong cups of coffee! Well rested employees also make better business decisions.

Wellness rooms reflects a growing trend in business and part of a wellbeing programme to improve productivity and ensure happy and engaged employees.

4: Biophillic design

Incorporating nature into the built office environment by biophillic design is also important for our health and wellbeing. Interacting with nature can help people suffering from stress, anxiety and depression to relieve their symptoms and increase their levels of happiness.

There are many aspects to biophillic design such as natural light, natural finishes, colours, air quality and acoustics. Workers in office environments with natural elements, such as greenery and sunlight report a 15% level of higher wellbeing, are 6% more productive and 15% more creative. Plants within an office space can also prevent fatigue when completing tasks that demand high concentration or attention.

Exposure to natural daylight is another important element of wellbeing in the working environment. Employees with windows in the workplace received 173% more white light exposure during work hours, and slept an average of 46 minutes more per night, than employees who didn’t have the natural light exposure in the workplace.

5: Amenities

As well as improving the design of the office to reduce stress and improve the wellbeing of employees, the amenities provided also plays a major part. Companies such as Facebook, Amazon and Google are leading the way by providing amenities such as high quality canteens, cafes, massage rooms, nap pods, games/fun zone, gyms, cycle hubs and rooftop gardens.

Google’s new headquarters under construction this year in London boasts a wellness centre containing a narrow swimming pool and multi-use indoor sports pitch, and a rooftop garden split over multiple storeys, themed around three areas: a “plateau”, “gardens” and “fields”, planted with strawberries, gooseberries and sage.

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