ExclusivesThinkingStress Awareness: How we can adapt our physical workspaces to improve wellbeing

As we mark Stress Awareness Day, an annual initiative by mental health charity Mind, Kira Mahal urges businesses to put wellness to the forefront of their agenda
Content Team5 years ago6 min

While being under pressure is sometimes a fact of life, when the balance tips too far towards stress, employees can all too easily feel overwhelmed.

Alarmingly, a recent study by YouGov found that 74% of people have felt so stressed that they’ve felt overwhelmed or unable to cope, at some point in the last year.

And this can have far reaching consequences – according to the Labour Force Survey by the HSE

12.5million working days were lost to stress in 2016/17


Without a focus on fitness and wellbeing, an office is at a huge loss and risks both the peak performance of employees, as well as their mental health.

So, what can we do to help businesses reduce staff stress levels? I believe a focus on nutrition and exercise can be a big help towards reducing these shocking statistics around stress. Fitness, in particular, can easily be improved by adapting the physical workspace, or harnessing what it already has to offer.

There’s no doubt that exercise is a great way to mitigate stress. It releases hormones including serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’, increasing morale in the workplace.

It also pumps blood around the body, giving the brain more oxygen and increasing mental alertness. Likewise, the food we eat also has a huge impact on our energy levels, mood and resilience.

Granted, not all buildings can house expensive gyms, BUT every building can work to clear space for fitness. This might be a courtyard, a board room that isn’t always used, a reception area that is out of use from 5pm – these are the spaces we transform into group fitness spaces. Most companies have an under-utilised space where group classes can be held, or individual training sessions.

Ensure the work environment proactively encourages exercise too. Urge staff to use the stairs more and lifts less – considering putting wayfinding in place to highlight the stairs, enticing them away from the ‘easy option’.

Consider investing in standing work-stations. Encourage employees to do a set number of hours from these stations, because research indicates that this reduces obesity and lowers rates of back pain, in turn helping to reduce stress levels. Run team meetings from these standing work stations and keep employees on their toes (quite literally!).

When it comes to stress and wellbeing, an often-overlooked culprit is the office vending machine. Offering chocolate bars and crisps as an easy snack is an outdated concept and quickly indicates a company that does not understand wellness.

In kitchens, swap biscuits for fruit baskets. Add jars of nuts and dried fruits for a sweet afternoon pick-me-up and help your employees make better food decisions.

Consider the office design too. Create break-out spaces and encourage employees to take a short break for 5-10 minutes every hour. This is proven to boost productivity, encourage creativity and again reduce the risk of long-lasting injury created by a sedentary, desk-based lifestyle.

Remember too that employees who feel supported both physically as well as mentally at work will also have a higher morale, which will directly translate into increased productivity, team bonding, as well as reduced stress and absenteeism.

Kira Mahal is a PT & CEO of MotivatePT

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Content Team

Work in Mind is a content platform designed to give a voice to thinkers, businesses, journalists and regulatory bodies in the field of healthy buildings.

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