Workplace Mental Health and Wellbeing for 2020
Workplace mental health and wellbeing are more key now than ever before, with surveys showing that productivity and happiness are directly affected by factors such as stress, streamlined working practices, indoor air quality (IAQ) and concerns over the environment.
It is important that employers take the opportunity for 2020 to address as many concerns as possible; not only to improve morale but also ensure optimum workflow and productivity. In some sectors, factors such as air quality are further influenced by legal requirements (such as COSHH - the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations - which affect any workplace where this type of substance is present. This can include gases, sprays, fumes, dusts and chemicals).
We’ve all heard about workplaces like Google where employees are given the very latest in technology and furniture to make their lives easier and more productive; examples include meditation rooms, nursing hotlines, “space” pods for resting and standing desks. However, many see this as going over the top – a Future Workplace study
conducted last year showed that actually, people want the basics first – access to fresh air, comfortable lighting and water quality were the top 3 desired aspects. The lesson here is that employers don’t have to spend the earth or invest in employee wellness programs as the first measure to make their staff happy. Providing the basics – and providing them well – is the first step to a more productive and happier workplace.
Air quality is important no matter whether you work inside or out, in an office or on a construction site – those subject to poorer air quality may find they suffer from lower cognitive function, fatigue and health issues such as sore throats and headaches.
Each environment is different and, as above, some are subject to meeting requirements set by law to maintain and improve air quality. However, there are some basics that need to be covered no matter where you work, including:
- Keeping doors and windows sealed if irritants are present outdoors, such as fumes, dust or toxins
- Undertaking risk assessments regularly where required, and recommendations adhered to
- Sealing any toxic chemicals correctly and maintaining them; also risk assessments for these specifically
Employers can also provide items such as ozone generators, humidifiers and greenery to help air quality – plants such as the Peace Lily and Aloe Vera are known to act as a filter for indoor pollution.
Working in conditions with sub-optimal lighting can reduce productivity and worker happiness, as this can also impact how people feel outside the workplace. People who work in darker environments are known to get less sleep a night, for example, as their brains do not get the correct information about night vs daytime hours.
If possible, employers should ensure natural light sources are present and free of heavy grime. If this is not possible, then bright lighting should be installed, with the CIBSE (Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers) Society of Light and Lighting recommended lighting levels in mind.
Workers in dim conditions are typically less happy to go into work than those in bright lighting, and many say they struggle to concentrate if conditions are both warm and dim, as they feel sleepier and less productive.
In the UK every water supplier is subject to the Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations which were produced specifically to prevent contamination of drinking water (amongst other important elements). This means that employees are able to drink tap water safely whilst at work, but many wish for their employer to go a step further – this was the third most rated “desirable element” on the Workplace Wellness Study conducted by Future Workplace as referenced earlier (41%).
So how can employers take water quality further? Many people have taken to using water filters in their homes; water filters remove any invisible dirt or particles from the water that may have been picked up during its cycle through the water system. Whilst water does have to be cleaned to WHO standards, filters ensure that any residual limescale, particles or contaminants are removed. Incorporating a filter to the workplace is the next step for many employees who wish to continue this wherever they are.
Water temperature is also a factor; many prefer a cup of chilled water as opposed to room temperature and may not have a fridge readily available. As such, an employer may choose to invest in a water machine, which keeps the water cold (important especially in the Summer!) Employers in areas such as building sites where no fresh source of drinking water is easily available may find they need to install multiple drinking machines to ensure employee hydration through the day.
The Survey Says
There are many different recent surveys that back these findings up.
– 16% of employees who are happy in their working environment are more productive, 18% would be more likely to stay and 30% are more attracted to their company than a competitor.
- Sharp & Dr Nigel Oseland – worker performance could improve by 20% if the fresh air supply in a workplace is improved. Also, lighting was found to have a noticeable impact on productivity and concentration; good lighting has shown that this can improve performance by 15%.
- Personal Group
– this survey showed that those who are self-employed and can work in their own environment are the happiest at work – 63% compared to directly employed at 39%.
- Michigan State University
– this survey showed that the brains of Nile rats lost around 30% capacity in their hippocampus (this controls learning and memory) when exposed to dim light for 4 weeks. Rats exposed to bright lights actually showed improvements in certain tasks.