Do your employees suffer from workplace stress? If they do, they are not alone. Concerns about job security, the economy, the pressure to perform, and being ‘always on’ 24/7 are all contributing factors. So too are our sedentary lifestyles that lead to many employees spending long hours sat in front a computer for most of the day.

Workplace stress impacts adversely on businesses and organisations. It affects performance and productivity, morale and company culture, and can result in absences, long term sick leave and retention challenges. No wonder that business owners and HR departments are exploring and implementing workplace health and wellness schemes to combat this debilitating problem.

While many schemes focus on managing stress and helping individuals cope with the demands of their job, there are other more holistic approaches that can help reduce workplace stress across the company. One such approach is to look at office design and the impact the office environment is having on employees’ health.

Office design audit

If you think your office design could do more to reduce workplace stress, conduct an ‘office design audit’ to identify areas where there is room for improvement. These might include:

  1. Overall ambiance: If employees are feeling the strain then the mood in the office is naturally going to affect the overall ambiance, but you can also see where physical changes can be made. If the office feels dull, uninspiring and lacks energy, then you have something to work with to create a healthier and happier environment. Colour is one way you can transform an office and also reinforce branding and culture. This can have a positive impact on morale and increase loyalty and retention. Wall graphics are an effective way to achieve this.
  2. Natural light: Just as lots of natural light is a highly prized feature of our homes, and the reason many of us are installing light wells and large amounts of glass, so too is it in the office. Natural light helps us regulate our body clocks and also elevates our mood. Studies show that offices with plenty of natural light have less absenteeism, higher levels of productivity, less illness and happier workers. While you may be limited by the structure of your building and how many windows are available, it is important to ensure that you are using all available light. That filing cabinet that’s partially obscuring a window has to move!
  3. Office layout: Many employees feel like they are chained to their desks. If everything they need is within the swivel of their chair, they have little opportunity to move around and be active. Our bodies are not designed for a sedentary lifestyle and the impact of this has been well documented. However, the other issue for employers is that staff who remain seated for long periods of time are not as productive as those that get to move about and interact with others. Movement and interaction creates a happier workforce, one that encourages collaboration and also offers support through human contact. It also helps to improve focus and re-energise employees, who then return to their desks ready to crack on with their next task.
  4. Storage: Clutter can be very depressing and makes it difficult for people to focus on their jobs. If you are surrounded paperwork, tottering piles of files balanced on cupboards and shelving, and boxes stacked down walkways, it can feel really overwhelming. Even if those files are not in the ‘to do’ pile, their presence can add to employees’ stress levels as they represent the endless hamster wheel of work. De-cluttering the office can instantly improve employees’ mood and ability to focus on what they do need to do. Therefore, find effective storage that removes paperwork and files from plain sight, and introduce measures to reduce the amount of paper generated in the office.
  5. Breakout areas: Where do employees go for a break? Many offices provide a kitchen for making drinks and facilities for storing lunch items, but nowhere to sit apart from returning to your desk. Or there might be some seating but the room and furnishings don’t encourage employees to take sufficient time out to unwind. We all need regular breaks that take us away from our desks, and somewhere to relax, connect with colleagues, and recharge our batteries. While some employees may leave the office at lunchtime to go to a local café or park, it is really advantageous for the employer to provide an attractive area within the office complex. This can be an important place for staff to unwind with colleagues, talk about their work and get support if they are under pressure – all in a pleasant environment that shows that their employer values them.
Many of the problem areas identified above can be solved inexpensively. However, sometimes an office can really benefit from a complete redesign to create a much healthier workplace for all employees. The costs involved in doing this can be offset against the benefits this brings in terms of increased productivity and performance, less absenteeism and sick leave, higher retention levels and a decrease in workplace stress.

By Phil Green, managing director of CBS Office Interiors