How can workplace design cut stress levels?

With workplace stress and burnout a growing issue for companies, good office design can boost well-being and help employees to stay on top of their job

October 09, 2019

It’s one of the great challenges for the modern office; how to create a buzz while also helping employees to chill out. 

With workplace stress on the rise globally as employees spend long hours rushing from one task to the next, companies are becoming increasingly aware of the toll it can take on their staff. Indeed, stress has been linked not only to reduced productivity, but also to ill health, from anxiety to insomnia.

While managerial policies and company culture are predominant factors in workplace well-being, office design has a role to play too.

“Designing a workspace is a balance of possibility and practicality,” says Todd Burns, President, Project and Development Services, JLL Americas. “Every company is unique and an office is an expression of not only the brand, but also the people that work there.”

Offices with a view

Natural light and views of the great outdoors are highly valued by employees and have mood-enhancing benefits which can translate into better sleep, higher energy levels and the ability to deal better with stressful situations.

“Workplace design can have a massive impact on employees’ mental and emotional well-being by reflecting and reinforcing the type of environment that companies want to create,” says Raymond Chu, Senior Pitch Designer at Tétris. “Ideally, meeting rooms should be placed away from the windows, so that daylight can flood open-plan space where the majority of people spend their working day.”

In areas located in the middle of buildings, white walls and frosted glass partitions can help to maximize the light. Then there are innovations like smart glass; at Overstock headquarters in Salt Lake City, for example, smart glass that reacts to sunlight to minimize glare without obstructing the view has replaced window blinds.

Biophilic design is more than dotting a few plants around

Dotting plants around an office, creating a feature with a living wall or indoor garden, or even showing images of the natural world on TV screens can promote a sense of calm in busy office environments. Plants not only provide a mental boost by improving air quality, but can also help to lower blood pressure and reduce stress hormones.

“Human beings are drawn to nature, and there’s growing evidence that adding easy-to-maintain plants to offices can lead to happier and healthier employees,” says Chu. “By incorporating biophilic design into the workplace, greenery becomes an integral part of its function and can help to fuel creativity and productivity.”

It’s not just about plants; natural materials such as wood and stone can also be used on walls or furniture to bring more of the outdoors, indoors.

Breakout areas

Being deskbound all day can have a big impact of mental and physical health; well-designed breakout areas with comfortable furniture, coffee machines and even walking meeting routes can encourage people to be more active and mix up their work environment.

“More companies are building in breakout areas that can be used for informal meetings, eating lunch or a quick coffee break,” says Chu. “Well-designed breakout areas are viewed positively by employees and can be a good way to support well-being in the office. And employees are who like their work environment are less likely to be looking for another job.”

Controlled noise levels

With noise a major contributor to stress in the open-plan office, acoustic design to control sound levels can go a long way to reducing workplace stress.  

For example, sound-absorbing ceiling rafts are used to create quiet areas at a Fora coworking space, while heavy curtains help contain the noise of conversation in social spaces. Many companies are also using workplace pods that can offer secluded, soundproofed areas where people can work for a few hours to meet deadlines.

Coloring the workplace  

Smart uses of color can have significant benefits. “Colors can give psychological indicators as to how a space should be used,” says Chu.

Collaborative and agile working spaces generally utilize brighter, more vibrant colors to inject energy and creativity while areas designed for concentration opt for softer, more muted tones, with blue and purple being popular choices. Green can have a calming impact and as it is less harsh on the eyes, it can reduce fatigue.

Equally, ceilings — especially exposed ceilings, tiles and carpets are ripe for splashes of color while bright furniture and additions like plants or living walls can also set the mood of a room.

“Creating a workspace that “vibes” with employees will increase productivity, attract and retain star talent, and provide an environment where everyone feels comfortable, ultimately supporting an organization’s long-term success,” says Burns.

The right amount of space 

With space at a premium in many offices, employees can feel crammed in — something which can raise stress levels and hinder productivity. Flexible working areas that allow employees to choose spaces from a mix of shared tables, open nooks and quiet desks according to their needs that day can create a more positive environment.

“People need to feel they have personal space,” says Chu. “Without a feeling of privacy, it can be difficult — and stressful — to work.” For companies, it can optimize available space.

As Chu concludes: “When designing for well-being, the focus is on creating different spaces for the different ways that people want to work.”