National Stress Awareness Day #NationalStressAwarenessDay which takes place on 2 November, was first setup in 1998, by the International Stress Management Association (ISMA), in an attempt to recognise and raise awareness of how stress in the workplace affects businesses and employees.
Workplace stress can have a major impact on health and wellbeing. In fact, it’s not an over exaggeration to say that stress can be a killer if not managed and handled in day-to-day life and at work. This article looks at workplace stress and how office refurbishment can help to combat it.
Stress Serves A Purpose, However…
The Mental Health Foundation explains that stress serves a purpose and is the reaction to anything that threatens our wellbeing. It causes a fight or flight response which allows us to deal with what we perceive as a dangerous situation. It can help us deal with fear e.g., when delivering a presentation to a large audience, when meeting tight or difficult work deadlines, when learning a new skill or when we have to deal with work or a project that’s new to us.
However, stress can be harmful, when, instead of returning to normal once an event is over, it continues indefinitely, ultimately leading to a variety of potential health issues including nausea, hyperventilating, sweating, fatigue, sleep problems, stomach upsets, chest pains and heart palpitations which can then translate into e.g., high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
Stress In the Workplace
Numerous studies and research show that workplace stress is continuing to rise and is affecting all age groups.
According to Statista the most common stress experienced by Brits is work stress.
The Gallup “State of the Global Workplace: 2023 Report” found employee stress is at a record high. Worldwide, 44% of employees said they experienced a lot of stress the previous day, the second year in a row where worker stress levels had increased. Gallup also found the way people feel about their job had a major influence on their stress levels.
Research by Zippia, “40+ Worrisome Workplace Stress Statistics : Facts, Causes, And Trends” established that 83% of US employees go through work-related stress. Of those 25% say their job is the number one cause of stress in their lives. In 2018 46% of employees found it difficult to concentrate because of their work environment. This rose to 65% in 2023. Zippia also state that 1 million Americans miss work each day because of stress. Over 50% of workers find it hard to connect with their work as a result of workplace stress which has an impact on their productivity. Businesses need to pay out around 75% of an employee’s pay to cover lost productivity or to replace workers who are unable to work due to stress.
AXA UK and Centre of Economic and Business Research conducted a survey of 30,000 people aged between 18 and 74, and discovered that 21% of UK workers were struggling, “running on empty”, suffering from burnout, poor mental health, and work-related stress. Poor health in the workplace is estimated to cost British companies over £28 billion annually through sick leave, resulting in 23.3 million working days lost to work-related ill-health.
Occupational Health and Wellbeing Plus published the results of a survey of 2,000 people by recruitment firm Robert Walters and found 60% of professionals reported they were suffering from workplace stress.
A survey of around 2,000 professionals, conducted by consulting firm Korn Ferry in October asked what impact workplace stress had on them. 76% of those that replied said stress at work has had a negative impact on their personal relationships, 66% said they had lost sleep due to work stress. 16% said they’ve left their job due to stress.
Through numerous studies and research we can identify many of the main workplace stressors which are outlined below.
The Built Environment
The built environment can impact health, wellbeing and mental health. According to UCA’s “Ten questions concerning the impact of environmental stress on office workers” “the indoor environment can induce environmental stress. In fact, office environmental conditions (e.g., thermal, and indoor air conditions, lighting, and noise) and interior design parameters (e.g., office layout, colors, furniture, access to views, distance to window, personal control and biophilic design) have been found to affect office workers’ stress levels.”
The Psychology and Neuroscience website’s paper “The Benefits of Biophilia in the Built Environment” lists a number of studies showing the benefits of introducing elements of nature indoors to overcome the impact of the built environment can reduce stress, improve cognitive function and creativity, improve our well-being and expedite healing”.
High Noise Levels
The Remark Group, with Dr Nigel Oseland, an environmental psychologist, carried out a Noise & Wellbeing at Work survey which contacted over 1,000 UK office workers and found that over 50% of them cited noise as an issue which caused high levels of stress and negatively impacted their wellbeing. They also found that 52% of employees were interrupted by noise distractions over 5 times a day. 17% said that noise was a distraction more than 10 times a day.
The Oscar Acoustics Noise Annoys Whitepaper discovered that more than 50% of workers said their office was too loud and 65% believed noise contributed to poor quality work and missed deadlines. 25% said they were stressed. Just under 15% reported hearing loss. The whitepaper went onto say that “overwhelmingly, employees find excessive noise a tough obstacle to overcome.”
Ecophon, who develop, manufacture and market acoustic products and systems, report “Noise in the workplace” found that “noise is probably the most prevalent annoyance source in offices, and can lead to increased stress for occupants.” The report stated noise is a “superdriver” which affects “individual focus and collaborative work, meetings, phone conversations, conferences, reading and thinking.“
Poor lighting in the workplace can lead to eye strain, headaches, fatigue, anxiety, and stress. Staples “The Harsh Reality of UK Office Lighting” found that 80% of office workers said good office lighting was important, 40% said the lighting in their office was uncomfortable, 33% found their office lighting depressing or demotivating and 20% were frustrated with having to deal with poor office lighting.
A paper published in Psychology Today links light exposure to improved sleep quality and workplace performance. It went onto say that disruptions to sleep patterns are associated with stress, depression, persistent low mood, irritability, bipolar disorder, diabetes and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Mental Health Research UK (MHRUK) estimates that one million working hours are lost each year due to SAD.
Poor Temperature Control and Indoor Air Quality
Where indoor temperature and air quality are not controlled it can lead to poor working conditions which can result in increased workplace stress levels. When it’s too hot or too cold it can make it difficult to concentrate and can end up causing heat or cold stress, dehydration, fatigue, and headaches.
Poor ventilation can lead to “sick building syndrome” (SBS) (also being referred to by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) (PDF) and the World Health Organisation as “Indoor Air Quality”). According to a survey by the Remark Group in 2019 SBS is still a concern. SBS can result in a myriad of symptoms including sore throats, dry cough, runny nose, eye irritation, breathing issues, skin problems, dizziness, nausea, irritability, fatigue, and memory issues.
Lack Of Privacy
Work In Mind looked at various surveys and found that one of the most common annoyances in the workplace was the lack of privacy.
These findings are backed up by the Noise & Wellbeing at Work survey which also found that there was a growing concern regarding the lack of privacy in the modern-day office which caused anxiety and a decrease in workplace wellbeing. Around 66% of UK workers wanted more privacy at work. Around 33% stated their workplace would benefit from private workspaces.
According to Deloitte’s Workplace flexibility survey 94% of those surveyed said “they would benefit from work flexibility, with the top gains being less stress, improved mental health, and better integration of work and personal life.” In another Deloitte report they found that there had been an increase of 25% in the cost of poor mental health to employers, up to £56 billion in 2020-21 when compared to £45 billion in 2019.
Randstad’s Employer Brand Research survey of 190,000 respondents across 34 markets which included over 9,000 UK workers, found that 65% of those surveyed said their work-life balance was more important than their pay and benefits.
The MIND Workplace Wellbeing Index 2021/22 surveyed 41,927 employees from 119 organisations across the UK and found “worrying trends which threaten the future state of mental health in the workplace.” It established that 21% of employees do not feel they have a good work-life balance.
How Office Refurbishment Can Help To Combat Stress
Employees are the number one asset of every business, so their health and wellbeing are vital. Employers who invest in the workplace and provide a “healthy work environment” should expect to see improved employee health, lower employee stress, increased productivity, and reduced absenteeism. When staff health and wellbeing are good, they are far more likely to come to work and absences will be lower. Where workers are under stress, they are more liable to fall ill and take time off work.
There are a number of things that can be done when carrying out an office refurbishment which can help to reduce stress.
When it comes to tackling office noise the 3 most important areas are the ceiling, walls and floor.
Installing the right suspended ceiling will help to absorb noise, reduce echoes and stop sound from travelling across an office. Utilising acoustic dividers and partitioning can act as a sound barrier and prevent sound from travelling. Using soft materials like carpets or carpet tiles as flooring rather than hard materials like wood, can help to reduce ‘foot-fall’ noise.
Consider separating office activities which are noisier from quieter ones or where privacy is required e.g., locate breakout areas well away from work areas, to ensure staff can find a quiet space during their downtime.
Whenever an office refurbishment is being undertaken lighting should be a priority. Carefully consider how to light each room. Lighting should be designed for the tasks that being carried out. Wherever possible natural light should be utilised. Where natural light isn’t available LED lighting should be used.
If you use recessed lighting, it’s important to think about where the light is focussed. Focussing the beam too strongly downwards can result in “the cave effect” where very little light reaches the ceiling itself, resulting in the ceiling being considerably darker than the walls and the floor. This can result in a claustrophobic and unpleasant working environment which can cause eyestrain.
Everyone is different when it comes to lighting levels. What’s right for one person may not be bright enough or may be too bright for someone else. In order to combat this, where you can, give your staff control over their lighting by supplying desktop lamps that can be set to individual lighting levels.
Don’t forget to maintain your lights. There’s nothing worse than flickering lights, which can be a major distraction and cause headaches. Make sure you quickly fix any lighting faults and setup a maintenance schedule to maintain your lighting to keep them working correctly.
A lack of privacy and high noise levels are some of the main stressors within the work environment. A refurbishment provides the ideal opportunity to introduce breakout areas.
Break out areas can provide space to allow staff to “get away” from the hustle and bustle of a busy office and provide them with somewhere to do quiet work or to simply relax, destress and take some time out, which will support their mental health and guard against workplace stress.
The pull we feel towards nature can be eased by bringing the outdoors indoors through the use office planting e.g., hanging plants, containers, living walls, plant walls, moss walls and cabinet planting. Incorporating plants into the office can bring with it a host of benefits including stress reduction, reducing absences, increased productivity and improved air quality by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the air.
When employees feel like they are constantly working and never have any time for themselves, it can lead to stress.
Hybrid or flexible working can potentially encourage a better work-life balance however some jobs require employees to be in the office full-time which makes flexible working more difficult. Where this is the case providing staff with breakout areas and encouraging them to take time away from their desk can help to reduce stress levels.
Colour has been shown to have emotional and psychological effects on mood. There is a great deal of research and information detailing the “psychology” of colour on improving health and wellbeing. It’s therefore important to carefully consider your colour scheme when it comes to designing your office space. Utilising the right colours can have a calming effect and help to combat stress.
Designing an office space is a huge undertaking. A professional office design and refurbishment company can assist you with all aspects of your office design including assisting you in getting the most from your office refurbishment, maximising the use of space and ensuring your office design helps to combat stress.
JBH Refurbishments, Experts In Office Design and Refurbishment
JBH Refurbishments have over 30+ years’ experience in office design and office refurbishment and fit outs. We can advise on all aspects of your Kent or London office refurbishment. To find out how we can help you contact us via our contact form or by calling us on 0333 207 0339.