Why the role of wellbeing within the office is more crucial than ever

We’ve seen employers consider the physical environment their office space needs to offer staff on a practical basis for new ways of working, but what about emotionally?

Is your business also offering a place of emotional support, with the right mental health and wellbeing environment for success? If you aren’t then the cost to your business – in terms of a negative impact on employee performance, retention, and attraction – can be high.

It’s more important than ever, especially for staff that might be working remotely at least some of the time. Without these elements there can be significant impacts on how staff perform and feel at work – which will impact business productivity and ultimately your staff retention and ability to win new talent.

It’s also important to recognise that some staff may be unsettled by initiatives such as hybrid working or the opportunity to work more flexibly. Since it brings change and less stability it can increase stress levels for staff and negatively impact their mental wellbeing, especially if they are struggling with their work-life balance.

The need for connectedness

The need for connectedness is an essential part of the mental health aspect of a business. But working remotely, at least part of the time, has an inevitable impact on how staff relate with each other and connect. A survey by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) found that two-thirds (67%) of those working from home felt less connected to their colleagues and more than half (56%) said they found it harder to switch off.

It means more clearly defining the role of the office when it comes to mental health and wellbeing, needs to be as much a priority for businesses as redefining their space has been. Doing so not only helps staff to better cope but also helps with motivation.

Understanding how poor mental health and a lack of wellbeing can harm your business

The office environment has always had an impact- whether positive or negative – on employee health and wellbeing, it’s just that it was perhaps more evident previously since staff would be in the office more. Working practises such as hybrid working make it harder to assess, since the workforce is more distributed. That makes it harder to regulate and control too.

And for some, such as Gen Z employees, the office is a new working environment entirely which can bring its own challenges. These are staff who may be entering the workplace for the first time, or were onboarded during the pandemic, or have only known working remotely. Although some may thrive in the office environment for others it could be an alien environment, creating new stresses as they adjust. So, the office environment needs to provide the support that employees need both physically and emotionally, creating a feeling of nurturing and belonging. If it fails, then problems will begin with a loss of productivity – with mental health a factor in a drop in productivity levels in 1 in 5 employees surveyed for the Workplace Health Report 2022.

This can lead to presenteeism, costly itself since although staff are turning up for work, they aren’t able to put in the effort they normally would. Longer-term unaddressed mental health challenges in the workplace could lead to more severe employee burnout and ultimately staff turnover. The cost of just one unhappy employee can be around £16,000 per year – multiply that figure and it’s soon clear to see the impact it can have.

Physical wellbeing is important too, especially since Covid. According to CIPD’s Health and Wellbeing at Work 2022, a survey of more than 800 companies in the UK, two-thirds (67%) of organisations include COVID-19 among their top three causes of short-term absence – almost double the 39% figure seen the previous year.

Long Covid is also impacting staff with just over a quarter (26%) saying that it was among their top causes of long-term absence and nearly one in ten (8%) having lost more than a quarter of working time due to absences related to the virus in the past 12 months.

Thankfully most companies are reacting with 81% providing more tailored support as well as an increased focus on mental health and 72% providing better support for those working from home.

Similarly, organisations are recognising the impact of stress with just over three-quarters (76%) of those in the CIPD report saying that they were taking steps to address stress-related absence.

Organisations include COVID-19 among their top three causes of short-term absence

2021 – 67%
2020 – 39%

Long Covid’s impact on staff


Percentage of businesses who have lost more than a quarter of working time


Impact of stress in the workplace


The impact of office design on wellbeing

So, with wellbeing and mental health under a greater spotlight than before what should you be looking for? Design plays a crucial role, once again both practically and emotionally, in providing an environment that supports your workers rather than brings them down.

It’s well known that simple measures such as maximising natural light and bringing in plants and other organic material – known as biophilic design – can have a positive impact on staff and boost productivity by up to 20%. Since it releases hormones such as serotonin it helps to regulate mood too.

Colour can also impact the mood of employees and therefore affect productivity. But you need to be careful in your colour choice. While red creates energy and excitement it can also be seen as a powerful and overbearing colour. Vibrant, highly saturated colours can make workers feel stressed but going plain – such as choosing a monochrome scheme – can impact creativity so also needs to be considered carefully.

Beyond aesthetics is the more fundamental issue of how the space is actually designed and whether it suits employee needs. This is even more crucial in the age of hybrid working where a wider range of workspaces, such as for collaboration or quiet work, are required beyond the standard open plan office of the past.

Indeed, many are delegating the open plan office to history since the lack of privacy often saw employees be less productive and more likely to get sick or feel pressured to work longer hours because all eyes were literally on them.

So, office space has to be designed around the new needs – with a consideration of the fact that it must also suit a diverse range of personalities and generations, as well as working styles. Incorporating this broader design approach to your space will help to bring out the creativity and the best in all your staff, rather than just a select few.

Many organisations are creating a series of microenvironments to ensure that not only the practical requirements of work are met in the least stressful and most energising way, but also that ‘social’ elements are considered in the design. This is vital in helping to create that connected feeling. According to one recent report, more than three-quarters (77%) of organisations plan to redesign their office to incorporate this wider range of space.

Creating an environment to talk

Creating a supportive environment requires space and people that enable staff to talk more personally too. So, while the space itself is important so too is designing the right culture within your organisation. Your office space needs to support all their needs – from physical to mental and social wellbeing, as well as also inspiring creativity. Only then will you get the productivity that having happy, healthy staff will deliver.

Essential workspace guide

Improving employee wellbeing at work

Our essential guide will open the door to thinking in new ways about how to transform your workspace, so that it works for people – however they choose to use the office. Ensure your company is best placed to respond to the challenges that the increased shift towards hybrid working continues to present with our Top Ten Tips for Improving Employee Wellbeing at Work.

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