The workplace environment you spend 40 or 50 hours in per week has a very real and substantial impact on your mental health, according to multiple studies and expert opinions from psychologists all around the world.
According to a 2011 research study on how workplace design contributes to mental health and well-being, the average person spends 33 percent of their waking time in their workplace on a weekly basis. As such, the physical workplace environment has a major impact on everything from happiness and mood to productivity and focus. The study concludes that “good working conditions enable employees to work effectively” and that “investments in the physical workplace that create those conditions pay back quickly.”
One of the biggest issues for business owners involves choosing between different office spaces. At any given time, there are hundreds of different office spaces for lease in big cities. Take, for example, Atlanta, Georgia. As of December 2015, there are nearly 200 listings currently available in the metro area. Some offer open floor plan designs, while others have more traditional private floor plans with individual offices and boardrooms. According to studies, selecting one over the other can significantly affect workplace productivity.
In 2011, psychologist Matthew Davis analyzed more than 100 studies about office environments and found that, though they foster a “symbolic sense of organizational mission,” open office floor plans are actually “damaging to the workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction.”
When cross-referenced against standard partitioned offices, Davis found that employees in open offices dealt with more uncontrolled interactions, lower levels of concentration, less motivation, and higher levels of stress. That’s a strong price to pay for trendy architecture.
While some people are able to deal with more noise than others, research shows that noise distracts everyone. This study in cognitive control found that habitual multitaskers are more susceptible to interruptions and take longer to recover from interruptions. In offices with open environments or poor noise control, these employees are much more likely to become distracted and underperform.
The fact is that millennials – a group that now represents a large portion of the workforce – are natural multitaskers. Employers aren’t going to be able to fix this. As a result, this means that something has to be done to the workplace environment to reduce the number of distractions. Many business owners are finding that offices with private offices and cubicles are better than open floor plan designs.
A 2006 report by the Department of Health Working Group of Arts and Health in the UK found that art has a direct impact on the mental well-being of both hospital patients and staff members. In 2010, a followup study by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine further explored this issue.
“The fact that patients frequently express a preference for landscape and nature scenes is consistent with this observation and with evolutionary psychological theories which predict positive emotional responses to flourishing natural environments,” the report reads. “Patients who are ill or stressed about their health may not always be comforted by abstract art, preferring the positive distraction and state of calm created by the blues and greens of landscape and nature scenes instead.”
It’s not just hospitals, though. Carrying this idea over to the office, you can clearly see that art has an impact on the brain. By surrounding yourself with peaceful scenes – as opposed to loud, combative imagery – you can encourage more positive emotional responses.
Did you know that light has a direct impact on workplace performance? According to a 2013 study, “there is a strong relationship between workplace daylight exposure and office workers’ sleep activity and quality of life.”
When contrasted with workers who spend their time in offices without windows, those with exposure to natural light received an incredible 173 percent more white light exposure during work and slept 46 minutes more per night on average. The study produced a number of other interesting findings, but the gist of the research is that more natural light is better for mental health and physical well-being.
Office photo available from Shutterstock