With so many personalities and ways of working, your office design needs to cater to everyone to promote mental wellbeing.

Introvert or extrovert?

Not everyone works in the same way, yet offices are generally designed to support just one working style. While we don’t all neatly fall into the introvert/extrovert categories, they do provide useful insight for office design and configuration. Introverts can find noisy offices harder to deal with, and without quiet spaces to escape to, may find it difficult to recharge. On the other hand, extroverts may lack motivation or feel anxious about performance if their office doesn’t offer the stimulation they need to be productive.

Each individual responds differently to their environment, so there is ‘no one-size-fits-all’ approach to promoting good mental health in the workplace. Therefore, it’s important that businesses are more versatile by using numerous channels to promote good mental health. Companies should provide workplace environments that encourage users to experience psychological wellbeing – separate spaces to contemplate and concentrate, take a break or socialise and chat with colleagues. Change doesn’t need to be drastic, small things like a clean office, a good filing system and low levels of noise can help to create a less stressful environment.

Flexibility is key

It’s also important to provide flexibility to work in different locations, or at home if possible, and offer support for life outside of the office. Culturally, we are programmed to think of being present at work, 9am-5pm, but work is an activity, not a place, and managers should focus on output, rather than presenteeism.

Today’s “always-on” culture also interferes with detachment from work, an important psychological process where we recover from the working day. Staff should be encouraged to walk away from their desks or spend time away from the glare of the computer screen to help to relieve stress. Staff should also be able to take a break without being seen as slacking off but most organisations don’t provide space in the office to do this, adding yet another stress ‘pressure point’. Employees should not only be taking time off but rather taking quality time which involves switching off. This becomes harder if they feel that they have to check emails in the evening and at the weekend.

Mental and physical balance

Promoting wellbeing through physical exercise is one way to facilitate detachment from work for workaholics, although many offices don’t provide this. Locating equipment in a central place away from individuals’ work areas provides an opportunity for movement, and encourages a much needed standing break. In offices with staircases, employees should be encouraged to take the stairs, rather than the lift. As exercise is one of the most positive ways to reduce stress, providing a gym facility onsite helps promote a healthy work-life balance. If an onsite gym is not possible, a subsidised programme or health club are other fitness options.

Aside from office design, employers should make time to have regular contact with staff, and ensure employees have time to socialise and get away from their desk. There should be an equal focus on social and psychological wellbeing in company communications, not just on physical wellbeing.

Managers should ensure employees feel they can share their thoughts, and also demonstrate a bit of vulnerability. This builds trust and as a result, openness to share thoughts by sharing their own stories. Above all, by supporting mental health, employers will see increased productivity, efficiency and innovation, and improve staff morale and performance. It will also reduce absenteeism due to illness and help to retain staff. We all know the importance of work-life balance which is why businesses should address mental health in the workplace all year round.