Longer working hours and growing job uncertainty means that work-related stress is reaching record levels. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 9.9 million days were lost to work-related stress, depression or anxiety last year, costing UK business over £6.5bn per year. Such evidence is compelling companies of all sizes to acknowledge the imperative of tackling stress in the workplace.
While this shift towards a more proactive stance by businesses is positive, many companies are overlooking simple, cost-effective changes that could be made to the office environment to positively impact employee wellbeing. Research has shown that 30% of employees aren’t happy with their physical working environment and that consequently they are less likely to report positive levels of psychological wellbeing, physical and psychosocial health and engagement.
Taking breaks is vital to wellbeing and time away from work-based tasks helps to prevent stress from building up. Create specific zones in the office so that people can find a spot away from their desks and find purposeful space for conversation, collaboration and relaxation.
To meet the diverse needs of your workforce, these relaxation areas should be as varied as possible. Including fun, collaborative areas for extroverts will tap into their need for social interaction, boosting their motivation and subsequently their productively. Conversely, providing quiet areas with little distraction and muted colour palettes for introverts to truly focus will harness their potential.
Switching on by switching off
Lighting is a fundamental feature of an office that can significantly impact workers’ productivity and mood. Dim, inadequate office lighting should be avoided to prevent eye strain, drowsiness and headaches. At the other end of the spectrum, harsh lighting should be minimised as it generates glare, triggering migraines and hindering the eye’s ability to focus - particularly when working on a screen. Poor lighting can also exacerbate other health complaints such as musculoskeletal and spinal injuries as staff adopt awkward postures to read in inadequate lighting.
Spending a day with no exposure to natural light can significantly increase an individual’s stress levels according to the Mayo Clinic, so where possible, the office’s architectural design should enhance natural daylight. Smooth surfaces can be used to reflect light, and skylights or light tubes can be used to funnel the sun’s rays, whist at the same time saving energy and reducing costs. When considering office design, try to position the areas where staff spend the most of their working day as close to natural daylight sources as possible, to maximise the benefits. This can be as simple as moving desks towards windows, and ensuring furniture, fixtures and fittings are arranged in such a way that they don’t obstruct windows or light sources. Additionally, when seeking to maximise natural light exposure, factor in the location of your building in relation to others that may overshadow or block out key sources.
Taking the time to evaluate your office lighting and asking employees how the light is affecting them will not only be appreciated by your workforce but will also pay dividends in terms of increased staff morale and productivity.
Colours have the ability to influence moods and induce specific, well documented physiological reactions. Businesses should carefully consider the colour pallet that they choose when designing a productive, healthy and happy workplace, taking into consideration furniture, paint, and other design elements.
In general, warm colours such as reds, pinks and oranges are considered to be stimulating, whilst cool colours – blues and greens - are thought to be restful. Black should be kept to a minimum as it absorbs natural light, whilst white and lighter can be used to enhance natural light.
Red can be used in areas designed to enhance creativity and motivation, but only sparingly as too much of the colour has been associated with stimulating a sense of alarm and stress. Splashes of yellow can help to boost optimism and positivity – ideal for brainstorming areas.
Tones of blue should feature in areas for collaboration such as conference rooms. This low-wavelength colour bolsters intellectual thought, and enhances focus. As a colour often occurring in nature, blue can be incorporated through window views of the sky or as part of biophilic designs such as waterfalls.
Similarly the calming, restful, rejuvenating effect of green can be harnessed through well placed natural features, such as plants.
Biophilic design as nature intended
With offices typically situated in highly developed, urban areas, the UK’s workforce is becoming ever-more disconnected from the natural environment. This can be partially combatted by incorporating natural living spaces into office design, ranging from simple pot plants to more elaborate foliage walls, use of natural materials such as wood and limestone, or even incorporating water features.
Natural features can have the psychological benefit of reducing stress, and enhancing creativity and well-being, as well as physiological benefits including; muscle relaxation, reduced blood pressure, slower heart rate and most importantly, reduced levels of the stress hormone, cortisol in the blood stream.
Where it may not be feasible to install a living space, even two dimensional images of nature can have a similar effect. Nature scenes are proven to stimulate a larger portion of the brain’s visual cortex, triggering pleasure receptors helping to improve concentration and emotional functioning.