This year, National Mental Health Awareness takes place from the 14th to the 20th May and the Mental Health Foundation are highlighting the impact of stress on mental health.
They say that research shows two thirds of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetimes. And, as stress plays a key role in creating further mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, tackling stress is a highly effective way to help people improve their mental health.
As a company that designs and builds bespoke workplaces for businesses across the UK, we’re most interested in how work can, and does, contribute to stress levels. Especially when we hear statistics from the ONS (2001) that point to one sixth of the working age population experiencing symptoms associated with stress at any one time. Those symptoms include sleep problems, fatigue, irritability and worry, which don’t necessarily meet the criteria for diagnosis of a mental health problem but do affect how people can function.
According to the Health & Safety Executive, anxiety and stress account for as much as 49% of all lost working days.
A Theresa May-commissioned review has also found that around 300,000 people with a long term mental health problem lose their job each year – a figure that’s 50% higher than those with physical health problems.
Whether the effect is a lower performing workforce or a high turnover of staff, mental health has big implications for businesses large and small, affecting productivity and morale at every level.
For individuals, work can at the least be stressful when a deadline looms or change is being managed. For others, work can be inherently stressful on a daily basis as outcomes can literally be life or death. In any case, knowing how to deal with that stress is key.
The Mental Health Foundation’s initiatives such as ‘Curry & Chaat’ go some way to raising awareness, funds and encouraging people to talk about the issues we all face as a stressed nation. There’s also a growing trend from employers to increasingly consider their employees’ health and wellbeing, as more and more invest in programmes that encourage and enable a better work/life balance, offer advice and counselling, and provide gym and exercise facilities essential to improving both physical and mental wellbeing.
But what about the importance of the work environment?
As an employer, investing in your workplace means investing in your people and their productivity. It stands to reason that a dark, dingy workspace won’t have a positive impact on mental health – or help to get the job done.
A CMI Workplace report suggests that good office design can help to make employees up to 33% happier.
Lighting is important. So is modernity: a fresh, up-to-date space will make workers feel valued, invested in and engaged – and people actually look forward to coming to work! But the most important element? Somewhere to escape to!
According to Fresh Business Thinking, breakout zones are one of the best contributors to a happier, stress-free workforce. The perfect antidote to overwhelm, an informal area with comfortable, welcoming space provides a release and an opportunity to regroup, share experiences and discuss solutions.