Fueled by increasing media exposure, the stigma surrounding mental health is slowly being eroded, and, as a nation, we are beginning to have more open conversations with one-another about the taboo subject. Mental Health, or rather, poor Mental Health, is one of the biggest, silent drains on the NHS and society. It may surprise you to know that 1 in 4 adults experience at least one diagnosable mental health problem in any given year, according to the mental health charity, Mind. This means that in an average sized office of 20 people, 5 of your colleagues are likely to be going through something right now, all whilst being expected to maintain peak levels of productivity and pretending that everything is fine.
The same report from Mind cites that 1.3% of people will suffer from OCD. To put this into context, try to recall all those people you know that openly admit to their obsessive compulsions. I bet there are quite a few. Now multiply this ten fold and you’re still well away from the number of people secretly harbouring their anxieties and depressions which severely affect their mental health.
Generally speaking, around 6% of people suffer from a generalised anxiety at any point in time; 3.3% suffer depression, 4.4% PTSD and 7.8% suffer from mixed anxiety and depression. You times this by the population and suddenly the numbers become quite shocking. This just goes to show how much of a hidden, secretive problem poor mental health is.
It’s a depressing fact to read, but a staggering 20.6% of people have suicidal thoughts and 6.7% actually attempt suicide; Last year, on average, 84 males committed suicide every week in the uk; Now that’s a sobering thought! Suicide is now the leading cause of death for men aged 15-49; It’s reported that Men accounted for four out of five suicides in 2013, which makes Men three times more likely than women to take their own lives.
A yearly 'Mental Health at Work' study by Business in the Community showed that, in a survey of 3,000 employees, 60% had experienced a form of mental health issue directly related to the workplace. Of those 60%, 15% said they had faced disciplinary action when attempting to raise the issue with management and some were even let go from their respective companies. These kinds of statistics don’t help the cause. It shows that people are afraid of coming forward in fear of retribution or of losing their jobs if they “speak out of turn”, or from fear of being ridiculed by peers.
People in all walks of life can be affected and at any point in their lives. Mental Health problems represent the largest single cause of disability in the UK and cost the economy an estimated £105 billion per year - Which is more than the cost of the entire NHS England.
People deal with different pressures in different ways. Some better than others at any given time. But it’s the cumulative effect of several pressures in several areas of an individual's life that can trigger anxiety and depression. So the same pressures that you can easily handle today, may become too much tomorrow when your life is suddenly given a new stressor to deal with. People need to be mindful that the straw that breaks the camel’s back may seem trivial to some, but it was that last straw which made that person's emotional bucket overflow.
The good news is, however, that the tide is slowly turning. Whilst all these statistics are shocking and full of doom and gloom, we are at least beginning to talk more freely and openly as a society about the subject. We are acknowledging the problem and this openness is giving us an opportunity to start working on resolving, as best we can, as many of the underlying causes that may lead the vast majority of us to head towards poor Mental Health.
It is, in the very least, a platform that enables us as a society to quickly diagnose an issue and perform corrective action before it gets out of control. This is by no means a magic bullet and will not resolve all mental health issues, but will certainly help the vast majority of sufferers.
In other good news, when it comes to the workplace, the office environment doesn’t have to be a catalyst for poor mental well-being. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. As Workplace Consultants, we firmly believe that a well designed office space can help promote mindfulness and positivity within individuals. Often having a calming effect and easing easing potentially confrontational situations with peers.
Research from initiatives such as the WELL Living Lab has helped pave the way for a better workplace and a better standard of living. The WELL Lab are the proponents of the WELL Building Standard certification scheme - which in itself is changing the way we look at how the buildings we inhabit so frequently affect our health. Launched in 2014 the WELL building standard implement, validate and measure the features of a building that support health and wellness, driven by the idea that “better buildings can lead to healthier people” – Rick Fedrizzi, CEO.
Office design goes hand in hand with standards such as WELL. Great, well thought out designs can be leveraged to create a healthier, more constructive work environment which is perfect for fostering positivity amongst its occupants.
So, how can we use good design to create a better place to work? We can look towards the following:
Office furniture is one of the primary influencers on mental health within the workplace. It will come as no shock that the human body isn’t designed to be sat down for 8 hours a day. Combine this with poor posture an ineffective furniture and it can have a negative effect. So, companies began introducing standing desks and ergonomic task chairs, followed by the rise of resimercial design featuring domestic furnishings such as sofas and coffee tables with the aim to provide employees with different seating options that allow posture to be varied throughout the day and encouraging them to get up and move around whilst making the office feel more like home and promoting a more relaxed atmosphere.
Noise, distractions and lack a of privacy like those found in open plan offices can add unnecessary stress to employees. That is not to say that every company should work in individual privatised offices or cubicles and avoid interactions at all costs, but it can be beneficial to ensure employees have access to spaces where they can ‘get away’ from the hustle and bustle of the office to really focus on the task in hand or to just get some peace and recalibrate. There are a whole host of booths, enclaves and pods available such as the Phonebooth and Railway Carriage from Spacestor. Giving employees some control over their environment even simply dimming a light or changing the temperature will help add a more personal feel to the space making them feel like they have tailored the space to their needs which in turn would help improve mood and increase productivity.
Colour has been proven to influence a person’s mood. There has been a seemingly endless amount of studies undertaken on the subject ranging from how colours can affect students before taking exams to the effects different coloured uniforms have on professional athletes.
One study from the University of Texas, led by researcher Nancy Kwallek Ph.D.examined 3 colours and the impact they had on 90 employees. Workers in the red office displayed higher negative mood traits than workers in the white and blue offices. The study did however also find that a person’s reaction to colour may be dependent on the individuals characteristics and their environmental sensitivity with some workers becoming more productive in the red environment. So what colours should be used in the office? It really depends on the desired effect. Blue is calming whilst promoting concentration and focus. Yellow and Orange are perfect for creatives as they stimulate the production of ideas.
Reds can be used to rally employees undertaking physical tasks but as mentioned isn’t the best choice for promoting calm and helping with stress, depression or anxiety. The effects of Green on a person are dependent on shade. Lighter shades can help ease anxiety and create a welcoming feel to the office.
One colour to steer clear of is white. White creates a sterilised, surgical feel which can have a negative effect on people when used on a large scale and not supported by other colours. Tailoring colour to specific departments and the work they undertake is a simple way to improve the mood in the office and contribute to that overall goal of improving well-being.
Biophilia is the idea that humans possess a hardwired tendency to search for connections with nature and other forms of life. This link between humans and nature is the keystone in biophilic design where the aim is to bring the outside in. It has been proven time and time again that plants, flowers and other greenery have a positive effect on us as humans, helping to improve mood, memory, ADHD, stress, anxiety, inflammation and immunity just to name a few. Something as simple as installing some potted plants in the office is a good way to start and can aid in the reduction of employee absence.
Lighting is an important and sometimes overlooked aspect of creating a positive work environment for employees. For time spent in the office poor or harsh lighting can be detrimental to productivity and health, causing eye-strain, lack of focus and potentially migraines due to the eyes having to work overtime so finding a balance is key.
Whilst not always the most achievable, the most beneficial option is to utilise natural light as much as possible. Where artificial light is used it is important to make sure that there isn’t any glare on computer monitors and that light can be controlled as much as possible.
Healthy and content employees are crucial to the running of a successful business so the environment they work in is just as much a tool of the job as computers or phones and whilst it can be challenging it’s important to get it right not only for the benefits to the business but because a person’s health and well-being should always be a priority.