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Post-pandemic workspaces must support mental health

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 09 Jan 2023

The office environment has a huge role to play in supporting the mental wellbeing of staff. Lawrence Mohiuddine offers advice on making sure your workspace ticks the right boxes for employees.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought mental wellbeing to the fore on a significant scale with accountancy firms and employers across the globe placing a stronger emphasis on the level of care provided to staff. But as we all continue to adapt to the new world of work, how can businesses continue to support their office workers?

Figures from the Health and Safety Executive point to 914,000 workers suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2021/22 – with younger people under 24 far more likely to be affected. Employees cite overwork, the challenges of the economy and difficulties affording rent or houses as the main causes. According to a study by Unispace of 3,000 workers across Europe, the workspace has a critical role to play. 

The majority of employees believe that working from home has had a positive impact on their mental wellbeing; 88% of those working in professional and business services said there was a greater need to prioritise family and loved ones post-COVID. 

But as office returns become increasingly popular, whether mandated or voluntary, the emotional resilience of staff will be tested each time they step through the door if the office space is not suitable for their needs. Our data suggests that just 14% of office workers are happy with their office the way it is.

The link between the workspace and mental wellbeing

Across professional and business services, 25% of European respondents indicated that their physical office could be significantly improved, with respondents highlighting the need for more amenities and access to fresh air and outside areas. 

However, there are also clear mental health benefits to working in an office and the majority of staff also believe that office working encourages time away from screens and digital distractions. There’s a wealth of research that demonstrates a link between excessive screen time and lower moods, anxiety and even depression.

In a similar vein, 73% of those in the professional and business services arena indicated that they feel more active when working in the office. Given the positive impact physical health has on mental wellbeing, any space that encourages movement will benefit the mental health of staff.

What’s also true is that humans are social creatures. Most employees want to interact with others – and no number of video calls will be able to replace the benefits of in-person gatherings for those who crave engagement with others.

How to bolster mental wellbeing in your office

Small changes can make a big difference: People’s moods are influenced by even the smallest element of an environment. For example, the colour green is linked to enhanced creative thinking and natural light can help to alleviate depression. 

Encourage socialisation: One of the greatest benefits of an office is the ability to interact with peers. Having dedicated areas to connect with people on a more social basis will significantly bolster happiness and mental wellbeing among staff. 

Give people privacy: As much as people want to connect with others in the workplace, they also need to be able to work without distractions or feeling uncomfortable that others are listening in. 

Bring the outside in: Outside spaces can really bolster happiness and emotional wellbeing. Even if you can’t provide outdoor areas for staff to use, bring the outside in with plants and greenery to mimic the outdoors. 

Office workers have spoken and they want more from their workplace. But with the right changes, employers can support their staff and improve productivity in the process. 

  • Lawrence Mohiuddine is CEO EMEA at Unispace.
  • ICAEW works with CABA to support the mental health of chartered accountants and their families.

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