4 Tips for Designing a Mentally Healthy Workplace
The social isolation, uncertainty, and economic decline resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic are damaging our mental health. In a study conducted by Qualtrics, 41.6% of respondents reported declined mental health since the outbreak. The Kaiser Family Foundation found 56% of U.S. adults have experienced at least one negative effect on their mental well-being. The repercussions of COVID-19 on mental health will be significant, and the mental health decline in the population will undoubtedly be felt in organizations by declines in engagement, productivity, and physical health. As we get through this crisis, having a workplace that supports health and well-being will be more important than ever. In addition to considering safety measures for re-entering the workplace, organizations can prioritize mental health through workplace design, supportive programs, and culture.
Here are four tips for designing a workplace that supports mental health and well-being:
PROVIDE A VARIETY OF WORKSPACE SETTINGS
Individuals with perceived choice and control over their environment are less likely to be negatively impacted by environmental stressors, such as noise and crowding. Organizations can provide employees this choice and control by supplying a variety of work settings – ranging from enclosed, quiet focus rooms to open, high energy collaborative spaces – and allowing individuals to choose where and how they work. This allows each individual to regulate when and how they are exposed to external stimuli, such as noise and interactions with colleagues, to best support their well-being. The variety of work settings should provide a range of sensory stimulation and technology levels. Quiet or meditation rooms are highly recommended as a space to support mindfulness practice, which has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety and increase focus and memory.
ENSURE ACCESS TO NATURE AND NATURAL LIGHT
Access to natural elements through window views of nature and indoor greenery has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. Biophilic design supports mental health by bringing the outdoors inside through the incorporation of plants and other natural elements in the workplace. Having a workplace located near parks or green space and allowing employees access to those spaces can also greatly support employee well-being. Exposure to both direct and indirect natural light has shown to reduce depressed mood. Workplaces can support this by prioritizing the location of individual work areas near large windows.
PROMOTE THE IMPORTANCE OF MENTAL HEALTH AND PROVIDE SUPPORT
When organizations frequently communicate the importance of mental health and provide support through programs and resources, employees are more likely to feel the organization cares for them and are more likely to seek help. Employee Assistance Programs continue to be a valuable resource for counseling and coaching. Other programs, such as providing onsite therapy, meditation, and yoga, and having frequent speakers talk about mental health topics can also be beneficial. Promoting and supporting an employee resource group focused on improving mental health can help create an environment of psychological safety.
CREATE A CULTURE OF TRUST AND INCLUSIVITY
A psychologically safe work environment is one where individuals feel comfortable expressing themselves, speaking up, and sharing ideas without embarrassment or retribution. Trust and inclusiveness are at the heart of creating an environment of psychological safety. Organizations can exhibit trust by providing flexibility to employees in managing their work schedule and allowing choice in how and where they work. Inclusion is modeled by supportive leadership that are proactive in engaging all employees for their input and ideas and frequently sharing recognition equally. Organizations can support this by identifying, supporting, and promoting leaders with high emotional intelligence who value autonomy and flexibility and can adjust their leadership style to best support each individual team member.
Making mental health a priority and taking steps to support it in the workplace will help both employees and organizations weather this crisis.
Julie is an Associate Principal and the Director of Organization Consulting at PDR, a workplace consultancy and design firm. She has a master’s degree in psychology from Houston Baptist University.