The Impact of Poor Office Design on Your Mental Health

The Impact of Poor Office Design on Your Mental Health

One-third of an adult's life is spent at the workplace. However, 15% of the working population worldwide is suffering from a mental disorder, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). More alarming is that depression and anxiety trigger reduced productivity, costing global businesses up to US$1 trillion annually (AU$1.4 trillion).

Protecting your mental wellbeing requires a multi-faceted approach. While taking steps to boost your own mental health is critical, there's no denying that employers are partly responsible for their employees’ welfare. Besides pushing for mental health programs, business owners can make a difference by rethinking their office layout and design.

Luke Sharpe, Project Consultant at Interite Healthcare Interiors, says “mixed-use healthcare space careful planning is required to achieve the best interior design and fit-out outcome. At all times the end-user is considered, that being clinical staff, administration, and their patients. Poor planning can have adverse effects on patient recovery, business health, staff retention and workplace efficiency, to name a few”.

Here are 5 key impacts of poor office design affecting mental health:

1.     Inadequate natural lighting may impact sleep and worsen mental health issues


Prolonged use of computers naturally increases a person's vulnerability to mental health issues and having access to natural lighting can help reduce this. A study conducted by Cornell University's Department of Design and Environmental Analysis showed that 84% of workers who sat within three (3) metres of a window experienced greater productivity and lower incidences of headaches, blurred vision, and eyestrain.

But the health benefits of adequate workspace lighting don't end there. Various studies show that natural lighting may help reduce stress levels, help manage seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and promote better sleep.

During the winter season, offices can use a circadian lighting system to trigger the release of melatonin, which helps enhance sleep quality, mood, and concentration.


2.     Poor air quality can affect physical and mental health


Poor ventilation can lead to air quality issues that negatively impact physical health, affecting one's cognitive functions, primarily the ability to focus.

Besides taking a toll on workers' performance, poor air quality and air pollution may aggravate mental health issues in children and adults. According to separate global studies, air pollution may increase anxiety and depression in children. Prolonged exposure to polluted air also contributed to increased cases of personality disorder, bipolar disorder, and depression in adults.

Besides maintaining higher ceilings and good heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, offices should consider placing indoor plants, and choosing sustainable furnishings like carpets and paint can help.  

3.     Lack of multi-functional spaces may increase stress levels


A recent survey found that up to 64% of Australian workers are stressed at least once a week at work. Various factors can trigger workplace stress in individuals, including poor physical conditions, unrealistic deadlines, long hours, heavy workloads, and safety issues in the workplace, according to the Australian Psychological Society.

An overcrowded workplace can trigger stress, anxiety, and agitation in some team members, which leads to poor performance. Employees may feel unappreciated with no available space to de-stress or collaborate with colleagues, reducing team member satisfaction. On the contrary, having therapeutic areas to meditate and practise mindfulness techniques can help lower blood pressure, stress, and depressive symptoms.  

Besides ensuring work-life balance, allocating recreational and safe spaces can help reduce stress levels in your employees. These additional rooms can also promote concentration, collaboration, and creativity.  

4.     Excessive noise levels can contribute to stress and poor performance


Offices are teeming with loud and often unwanted noises from conversations, slamming doors, and office machines like printers. A poorly designed workspace can cause loud sounds to spread out and cause distraction.

Studies show that excessively loud noises cause adverse impacts on mental health that lead to increased vulnerabilities to fatigue, stress, sleep problems, and poor cognitive performance.

Unwanted noises can drive irritability, frustration, and anger in some people, especially if they can't control them.

Barriers, cubicles, and acoustic ceiling tiles can be installed in open workspaces.

Larger indoor plants can also be used as sound-absorbing walls.

5.     Uncomfortable fixtures have psychological implications


A user-friendly working environment must focus on good ergonomics to reduce fatigue, musculoskeletal disorders, and mental health issues plaguing millions worldwide.

But ergonomics doesn't only affect an office worker's physical condition. An ill-designed workstation also interferes with a user's comfort and affects their quality of work. Besides leading to absenteeism and lower productivity, constant pain can lead to mental fatigue, stress, and frustration. In Great Britain, for instance, half of the 1.8 million work-related illnesses from 2021 to 2022 were identified as stress, anxiety, and depression, per the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report.

Providing workers with the right resources can help them perform their tasks well. Such provisions include ergonomic fixtures like standing desks and adjustable chairs, etc. Good ergonomics and a worker-centric office design must complement sound mental health practices to enhance your staff member's mental health.

Final thoughts

Promoting workers' well-being goes beyond providing reasonable salary rates, upskilling, career advancement opportunities, and other perks. It involves offering a well-designed workspace that enhances their physical and mental health.

Optimising staff comfort levels doesn't need substantial investment. Small changes like allowing access to natural lighting, placing indoor plants, and adopting a biophilic workplace design can show that you value them. When workers feel appreciated, they become more motivated and engaged, creating a positive culture that helps your business grow.

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