Making Workplaces Less Stressful

The Deloitte ‘Mental Health and Employers’ report makes for a sobering read, finding that a sixth of workers are experiencing a mental health problem at any one time, with costs to UK employers increasing by 16% since 2017, to a massive £45 billion.

Workplace stress is an epidemic.

The Covid crisis has sparked a dramatic rise in the numbers of people experiencing mental health problems, with 1.6 million waiting for specialised treatment and another 8 million who cannot get on the waiting list but would benefit from support.

So it’s a situation which isn’t improving.

The Deloitte Report is essential reading for anyone in the mental health field, but particularly for those responsible for employee wellbeing at work.

It gives a deep insight into how employers and employees can work together to improve standards, as well as gain ROI from wellbeing programmes (on average for every £1 invested, employers received £5 back).

But one thing is missing from the report: the workspaces themselves.

Put simply, they overlook the fact that most workplace environments still aren’t designed to maximise positive mental health. Yet office design barely got a mention in the report.

Science shows that our environments affect our mental health and yet most workplaces have plenty of space, but no dedicated private areas for people to take five; let alone a section dedicated to boosting mental health and employee wellbeing.

We need change– and urgently.

But how?  

Designing for wellbeing

At a recent co-living event on the topic of designing for wellbeing, some of London’s most promising up-and-coming designers and architects discussed how we can address mental health issues such as loneliness, head on.

It’s a growing issue, and one that Natasha Reid, the other speaker on the night, spoke about: “Loneliness can be as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day”.

The need to design environments – both at home and work – that combat issues of mental health, are much needed it seems.

When you think about the balance between private and public spaces in our lives, we can go from one extreme to another. On the one hand, loneliness is becoming a huge issue. On the other, overpopulation makes can make cities feel like they’re at bursting point at times, causing another type of anxiety; in particular given people’s natural hesitation to be in large crowds now.

So designing shared spaces where we can co-exist harmoniously and help lonelineness has never been more necessary, but, conversely, what thought is given to private spaces where we can have a moment of peace on our own, to help combat other types of anxieties?

The office design process doesn't seem to plan for this.

Simple solutions can be the most impactful

Wellbeing areas are becoming more common in offices, and these are a great step forward in terms of how we improve mental health at work.

Perhaps one of the most simple tools to really help supercharge employee wellbeing though, is meditation and mindfulness.

The benefits of meditation, have been clearer for some time now.

It’s scientifically proven to help a myriad of mental health issues.

The issue, however, is that we have a real lack of suitable quiet spaces at work, for those needing a bit of time-out amidst growing to-do lists and stakeholder pressures.

Wellbeing areas are fantastic, and a step in the right direction, but if employers really want to shift the needle and combat mental health and employee wellbeing issues in the workplace, they need to provide better spaces for meditation

Often the only option for employees is to meditate in the toilets; and we don’t need to spell out the obvious disadvantages of this as a location for tranquillity.

Surely we can do better than this.

A quiet moment to ourselves can help in many ways; to help refocus, reset or recharge. We’ll all work better as a result, says the Deloitte report.

There are lots of interesting innovations in this space, such as these meditation pods from Yinshi, which provide the perfect space for people to take 5 and gather their thoughts.

The need for some respite at work is nothing to be ashamed of. It should in fact be celebrated. It’s not about hiding away from people but taking a positive step to improve your mental health and effectiveness, as well as productivity.

History is full of examples of people stepping out into nature on their own to find solitude and peace; for some tribes, time in the wilderness is still an essential rite of passage.

So, time spent alone isn’t a new human need - we all long for it at times - but it’s something that’s become harder to access in our always-on world and open plan offices.

We need to bring some of the fundamentals of human-centric design into workplaces, in a way that blends the need for productivity and creativity with the space we all need to look after our mental health and each other.

It’s time we really started designing workplaces that are happier