Most working Australians spend a large portion of their day in the workplace. The length and frequency of time spent at the workplace makes it extremely influential on workers' mental well-being and general health.

When workplace conditions cause an adverse affect on mental health, workers work less effectively, take more sick leave and are more prone to errors. In mentally healthy workplaces, individuals feel free to focus on their work and are more productive.

The Mnew entally Healthy Workplace Alliance brings the mental health sector, businesses and government together to help create mentally healthy work environments across Australia.

Nearly half of all Australians experience mental illness at some point in their lives, yet many if not most workplaces and managers are ill-equipped to deal with the associated problems that arise in the workplace.

Owners and managers were eager to jump on the green movement towards energy and water efficiency to save money, but are a lot slower to acknowledge that smart design changes can have a monumental impact on employees, the resource that matters the most.

Many workplaces have poor indoor air quality, are poorly lit, do not encourage socialising or exercise, and do little to minimise eyestrain contributing to or worsening the mental health of employees. Initiatives such as encouraging workers to ride bicycles to work rather than drive cars has little benefit without sufficient bicycle storage and change facilities. Riding to work has been linked to better moods and productivity.

Allan Fels, chair of the National Mental Health Commission says having mentally healthy workplaces is crucial as mental illness costs the nation’s economy more than $20 billion each year.

Correctly managing and implementing preventative measures in the workplace can save businesses money, time and human resources.

Design for Social Interaction

“Providing suitable working conditions for all employees avoids stigmatising employees who have mental health problems, while facilitating prevention and return to work amongst those who do,” said environmental psychologist Jennifer Veitch.

The office layout and furnishings are fundamental design elements that contribute to a worker’s experience of personal space. This includes the physical boundaries between individuals, the number of people in an area, and the amount of visual and acoustic privacy the worker experiences.

Workplace common areas provide opportunities for incidental social encounters between group members which encourages social support.

“Workplaces in which employees report good communication and strong social support are perceived as healthier,” said Veitch. “And this in turn predicts higher job satisfaction and morale and lower absenteeism.”

office stress

Office stress

Veitch says workers enjoy having the ability to control their own environment, and that adverse effects of stressors are diminished when the worker feels in control.

Overall, social interaction and personal space are both integral to mental well-being. Workplace design through architectural features can either assist or inhibit strong social relations among co-workers.

Management should be attentive in defining group boundaries and limiting the amount of workers within those boundaries while providing privacy mechanisms so that individuals can control their personal space and regulate social interaction.

Stressful Workplaces

A major focus of occupational health psychology is understanding the stressor-strain relationship. Psychological stress, often caused by a heavy workload, is a known predictor of mental health issues.

It has been repeatedly proven that access to views of nature and the outdoors decreases stress in the workplace. Given nature’s potential to curb the effects of workplace stress, management should place workers vulnerable to stress-related mental health issues near windows.

Natural light is important for the body to maintain its sleep cycle and employees should have an opportunity to obtain bright natural light each day. This is especially important for those with a history of seasonal mood disorders.

Studies have shown that an individual’s ability to obtain his or her preferred indoor lighting condition is conducive to better moods and satisfaction.

Stress Down Day – July 26

Lifeline’s annual fundraising campaign, Stress Down Day, aims to reduce the burden of stress on workers. The event encourages people in workplaces to relax and have fun with colleagues and partake in stress-free activities while raising money for the Lifelife phone support service that saves thousands of lives each year.

A recent poll commissioned by Lifeline Australia revealed that nearly 90 per cent of Australians feel job stress with 40 per cent reporting ‘unhealthy’ stress.

“We know that small amounts of stress can sometimes help us,” said Lifeline Australia CEO Dawn O’Neil. “But we are no longer just feeling a little bit of stress.”