Workplace mental well-being & why you should be considering your environment…
The intrinsic links between stress and poor mental health have been well documented, as have the key contributors/inhibitors of stress in the workplace:
- Demands: Employees indicate that they are able to cope with the demands of their jobs
- Control: Employees indicate that they are able to have a say about they way they do their work
- Support: Employees indicate that they receive adequate information and support from their colleagues and superiors
- Relationships: Employees indicate that they are not subjected to unacceptable behaviours e.g. bullying at work
- Role: Employees indicate that they understand their role and responsibilities
- Change: Employees indicate that the organisation engages them frequently when undergoing an organisational change.
Health & Safety Executive, 2016
Employers are wise to focus on these areas, in particular when consulting and developing workplace health and mental well-being strategies, and also when undertaking stress risk assessments and developing related action plans.
But has your business considered the impact of ‘environmental stressors’? These stressors are caused directly or indirectly by the environment in which people work, and create a so-called ‘stress response’. They include:
- Air quality
- Natural disasters e.g. flooding
- Manmade disasters e.g. war
- Insects, and/or vermin
One would hope that for many businesses a number of these ‘stressors’ are less likely, though it may be the case that they are real considerations, if for example, your business is located next to a significant river source. However, what may seem like less significant factors, should still be given due consideration.
Discomfort due to noise, heat, or lack of light can have a significant effect on emotions. There is real evidence to show that aggression levels increase during summer months when environments are hot, and result in issues such as increased crime levels and negative behaviours e.g. road rage. Noise can also create a similar ‘stress response’. When played out in the workplace, these ‘stressors’ can increase the risk of conflict and potential litigation.
Conversely, exposure to light is extremely beneficial for mental well-being, whether that’s making behaviour changes such as encouraging staff to take time away from their workstations e.g. lunch breaks, and going outdoors for a walk, or ensuring suitable lighting is available within the premises.
Colours are also well known for their ability to manipulate mood. For example, green is associated with growth and reductions in anxiety and tension. Sensory deprivation or overload can be created by too much or too little colour, so it’s important to think about such things if you’re having an environmental makeover. What may be suitable for one space may not be suitable for another and result in problems such as nervousness, poor motivation or concentration. Similarly, it’s important to think about the affects of colour on particular personality groups e.g. introverts versus extraverts, where sensory ques play a significant role in increased/decreased energy levels. We’re thus reminded that it’s important to consult staff from the very start about workplace changes, including environmental change. Aesthetics are noticeably important, but even more so are safety, mobility and sensory access for users of your premises.
As humans, we’re very good at adapting to most environments, but if we can employ effective processes for change, we can minimise the need to adapt on a substantial level. If you want to improve your environment and workspace while ensuring mental well-being and environmental stress is considered, help and support is available in the form of businesses such as Whitespace Consultants.
Written by Jane McNeice
Mind Matters Training
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