Your workplace can be affecting your employees’ wellbeing. Look around for ways to keep everyone happy, healthy, and productive – even in times of stress.
Back in May, the World Health Organization predicted a “massive increase in mental health conditions” caused by pandemic-related anxiety and isolation. Since then, digital platforms such as Talkspace have reported spikes in activity; and a Kaiser Family Foundation survey says that more than half of American adults report that the pandemic has worsened their mental health. Despite your best efforts, many of your workers may be hurting. Consider how you can change and adapt their environment to boost their mood and reduce their anxieties as they return to the workplace.
Among the possibilities:
- Have ample space, including drawers, cabinets, and closets, for storage. A clean, uncluttered workspace helps people feel more in control. At the same time, disorganized spaces can stimulate hormones that contribute to stress.
- Encourage the use of outdoor spaces such as walking paths/trails for exercise. Physical activity can help promote psychological detachment and give employees a needed break from work-related thoughts and worries. Walkways, breezeways, patios, and courtyards also can give workers a chance to stretch their legs and enjoy some fresh air.
- Implement olfactory fixes. Odors can alter mood, cognition, and behavior. Aromatherapy and efforts to restrict or dispel bad smells can positivity impact how employees feel and function.
- Incorporate natural, tactile materials, such as wood and stone, into office design.
- Illuminate mood with lighting. Circadian lighting, which mimics natural light, has been shown to improve sleep cycles, reduce anxiety and agitated behavior, and increase energy levels. Elsewhere, large windows, skylights, and other design features that bring in natural light also have a positive impact. Employees with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in particular will benefit from working near a window or someplace where they’re exposed to natural light.
- Manage air quality by keeping air vents open and unblocked, replacing air filters frequently, maintaining a healthy level of humidity, cleaning up spills immediately, having windows that open to let in fresh air, adding plants, and inspecting/cleaning air ducts regularly.
- Keep work spaces clean. Dust, pollutants, and infectious agents can cause or exacerbate respiration problems and other issues. These, in turn, can negatively impact mood and even contribute to depression. Keep offices and other work spaces clean. Whenever possible, use natural, fragrance-free products.
- Promote the idea that there is an instinctive bond between humans and outdoors surroundings (called biophilia). Incorporate live plants, waterfalls or fountains, aquariums, and views of parks, gardens, and other outdoor space into the building. Natural building materials and artwork also can hark back to nature.
- Reduce distractions. Exposure to noise is a predictor of irritability, somatic complaints, anxiety, and depression. Sound masking systems, acoustic wall and ceiling panels, and acoustic room dividers are a few ways to keep noise down.
Experts stress the tremendous impact the physical work environment has on mood, particularly during times of stress or crisis. Mental health professionals such as psychiatrists with occupational or organizational experience can help determine what changes or innovations may help your teams and manage behavioral risks company-wide.