How Workplaces Can Support Mental Health

Many workplaces are taking steps to provide an environment that supports mental health. And it makes sense – putting wellness first in your design process has virtually no downside. From WELL building standards, to biophilic design, there are many ways to build a healthier working environment. These three concepts focus on supporting mental health and creating a better employee experience.

Implement Biophilic Design and Elements of Nature

One of the best ways to promote wellness in the design process is through biophilic design.

In short, biophilic design is anything that helps connect occupants with nature. It’s also one of the most fundamental design concepts relating to health and wellness in the built environment.

It’s proven that working in an environment that’s more connected to nature is healthier and boosts mood. We don’t function well in conditions lacking natural elements. Someone stuck in an artificial, built environment for forty-plus hours a week is going to notice detrimental effects.

So, start by bringing in as much natural light as possible. You can read more about it in this revealing study, “Lack of exposure to natural light in the workspace is associated with physiological, sleep and depressive symptoms” (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25424517/).

Bringing in plants and living walls is another important aspect of biophilic design. But to put a plant or two at the reception area is barely scratching the surface. True biophilic design incorporates organic shapes, natural materials and textures, and natural colors in addition to natural light and plants.

Have a Balance of Quiet Spaces and Social Spaces

For those who don’t thrive on constant energy and background noise, provide spaces to slip away for a quiet moment or phone call. Make phone booths accessible and standard for phone calls. This reduces commotion and improves privacy. It has the added value of making communication easier for those with hearing loss or processing difficulties.

Offer a meditation space or a serenity room to encourage employees to take a few minutes away for themselves. Make sure that everyone knows that taking breaks or going to work in these quiet spaces is encouraged and supported.

Balance these quiet spaces with communal spaces separate from workstations so that employees have a go-to space for social interaction. Then they don’t feel like they’re distracting others just by socializing. After years of pandemic restrictions, we’re keenly aware that social interaction is a key to good mental health!

Create a Culture Where Good Mental Health is Prioritized

When taking care of your mental health is prioritized and modeled at every level of an organization, it’s far more likely that team members will follow suit. That means that taking mental health days as time off is as important as taking sick days when someone is physically unwell. These days do not need explanation or justification.

Standardize really disconnecting during paid time off and offline hours. If an employee will be offline and has planned accordingly, nobody should expect them to answer emails, chats, or phone calls.

Some European companies (especially Germany) take this value to a new level by shutting down their servers at the end of the workday so employees cannot continue working outside of standard office hours.

And offering flexible working hours can help people who might find a non-traditional schedule better for their mental health. People of all ages work best at different times. Facilitating this means it’s OK to start much earlier than is typical, but that never translates to excess overtime or working around the clock. An early start means an early finish.

Others who do better with a later start time are encouraged to do so, rather than chastised. Meetings can be scheduled at times that are optimal for the majority of the participants. Some companies coordinate this by providing a set of “core working hours” – often two to four consecutive hours – during which all employees are online. This simplifies collaboration and scheduling while still allowing for a lot of flexibility.

And it goes without saying that taking holiday/vacation time should be expected and encouraged—with no work obligations or demands during this time.

Workplaces are essential in many industries. Supporting mental health in these workplaces creates a virtuous cycle, where employees are healthier and happier, perform better, are less likely to look for other opportunities, and generally take fewer sick days. It’s truly a win for everyone.

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