Stress in the workplace is a growing problem around the world, affecting not only the wellbeing of employees but also the productivity of organisations.
In 2020/21 an estimated 822,000 workers were affected by work-related stress, depression or anxiety, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). This represents 2,480 per 100,000 workers.
As April is Stress Awareness Month in the UK, we’re sharing our top tips on how to design an office to reduce stress.
1. Bring the outdoors in with biophilic design
Wood finishings, stone floors and plant walls don’t just make office spaces look nice. They are all part of biophilic office design, which recognises the positive impact of natural elements on workers’ performance and wellbeing. Integrating biophilic elements into the office has been shown to reduce levels of depression and anxiety amongst employees.
Green walls, natural materials, and other elements of biophilic design can help to create a healthier work environment, tricking our brains to feel like we’re in a natural environment by triggering underlying patterns that we’re programmed to recognise and feel good in. These signals create an effortless mindfulness that promotes stress reduction and renewal while stimulating curiosity and imagination.
Here are some ideas:
- Green walls are a great option as they use minimal floor space and are easily scalable. The EnviroWall from Vantage Spaces makes incorporating greenery simple with their range of living, replica, and moss wall planting systems.
- Box planters like these from Jennifer Newman provide an easy and attractive option to introduce plants into your office space. The plants will also help to purify the air.
- Planters like these from Buzzi Space or the Woods mobile planters from Orangebox can also be used as boundaries to create smaller spaces within the open plan.
You can find more biophilic design ideas in this blog post.
2. Maximise natural light and air quality
Access to natural light is important for workers as it helps to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm, helping us to feel more alert during the day and restful at night. If you have limited windows in your existing space, you could add in glass or mirror to help improve the flow of light around the space and help it to feel more open.
Equally, air quality should be carefully monitored to ensure a healthy working environment. Air quality is finally getting the attention it needed thanks to the pandemic. Poorly ventilated spaces allow for viruses to be transmitted and pollutants and low humidity can cause all sorts of problems including dry skin and itchy eyes.
Light and air are two of the key concepts of WELL v2, the building standard that helps developers and organisations create environments that positively impact human health, wellbeing and performance.
3. Provide a variety of spaces
Employers are increasingly recognising the benefits of providing workers with a variety of working environments to suit their personal preferences and changing needs throughout the day.
Workers may need a quiet space when they need to concentrate and a more social, open setting when they’re craving interaction with colleagues. They may need spaces to collaborate, and spaces in which to simply take a break. Your office space should be able to cater for all of these needs.
4. Include dedicated spaces for rest and relaxation
We all need space to step away from time to time, whether we’re struggling with a work problem or something in our personal lives is impacting our ability to handle stress at work. Contemplative spaces can optimise employee wellbeing by providing them with a quiet space to relax, unwind and re-centre themselves.
Think calm, distraction-free spaces with soft chairs and day beds where workers can come to unwind. Or how about a no tech zone to help workers regain their focus? Short digital detoxes can reduce stress levels and encourage the brain and body to unwind. Leave out the sockets so there’s no opportunity to plug in laptops or other digital equipment. All devices are left at the door.
You could even consider having a dedicated space for meditation. The likes of Google and Apple offer mindfulness programmes to their employees, helping to reduce stress and anxiety and improve mood.
5. Create social spaces
Humans are social creatures and interaction is critical to our wellbeing. During the pandemic, interacting with colleagues was the biggest thing we missed about being in the office. Social spaces in the office can be created to host a range of activities, from grabbing a coffee to having a relaxed conversation with colleagues.
6. Encourage movement
We all know that sedentary lifestyles are not healthy. But keeping active also releases endorphins, which reduces stress. Sit-stand desks help inspire employees to get up and move while still getting on with their work.
WELL v2 specifies that 25% of all workstations should be adjustable for both seated and standing work.
Creating inviting social and lunch spaces will also encourage employees to get up and move from their workstations. You may even have space for workers to get active with a yoga or workout class over lunchtime.
Today, there’s certainly a greater awareness and understanding of the impact of stress at work. And things like flexible working policies are doing a great deal to help make life easier for workers.
But ensuring the office environment is optimised to promote healthy practices and reduce stress is a key way organisations’ can support the wellbeing of their staff, and to reduce the amount of work-related stress, anxiety and depression.
Hopefully, this blog has given you some ideas of things you can do this Stress Awareness Month to reduce stress for your employees.