Why Your Office Design Should Contain Break Out Areas

Work related stress is something every business should be aware of. In fact, UK employers have a legal duty to protect workers from stress at work by conducting a risk assessment and then implementing changes where required to combat stress. This article looks at some of the ways that a business can combat workplace stress including the use of break out areas.

What Is Stress?

The Health and safety Executive (HSE) defines stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them.” They go onto say “Workers feel stress when they can’t cope with pressures and other issues. Employers should match demands to workers’ skills and knowledge. For example, workers can get stressed if they feel they don’t have the skills or time to meet tight deadlines.”

The NHS says stress is “The body’s reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure. It’s very common, can be motivating to help us achieve things in our daily life, and can help us meet the demands of home, work and family life. But too much stress can affect our mood, our body and our relationships – especially when it feels out of our control. It can make us feel anxious and irritable and affect our self-esteem. Experiencing a lot of stress over a long period of time can also lead to a feeling of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, often called burnout.”

Work-Related Stress Stats

The HSE “Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain, 2021” were last published in December 2021. The latest estimates from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) show:

  • In 2020/21 work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 50% of all work-related ill health.
  • The total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2020/21 was 822,000, a prevalence rate of 2,480 per 100,000 workers.
  • In the recent years prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, the rate of self-reported work-related stress, depression or anxiety had shown signs of increasing. In 2020/21 the rate was higher than the 2018/19 pre-coronavirus levels.
  • The number of new cases was 451,000, an incidence rate of 1,360 per 100,000 workers.
  • The main work factors cited by respondents as causing work-related stress, depression or anxiety were workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support (2009/10-2011/12).

Workplace Stress Surveys and Reports

The 2020 Perkbox carried out a UK workplace stress survey of 1,815 workers (a repeat of a survey they had carried out previously in 2018). According to the survey “79% [of those surveyed] commonly experienced work-related stress.” Making workplace stress the most common form of stress in the UK. Only 1% of those surveyed said they never experienced stress and 17% rarely experienced stress.

CIPHR conducted a “Workplace stress statistics in the UK” survey/investigation in 2021 where they asked 2,000 UK adults the question “On average, how many days do you feel stressed each month?” They found that 79% of people felt stressed at least one day every month, on average those surveyed were stressed approximately 8.27 days per month and nearly 50% of respondents were stressed five or more days a month. Almost a third of people surveyed felt stress 10+ days a month, one in 14 felt stressed every day with only 20% saying they never felt stressed.

Vitality’s “The UK’s largest employee wellbeing survey” found that companies are losing thousands of hours due to workplace stress with productivity dropping since 2014. The survey shows that employees were losing 14.6% of working hours, a loss of 38 productive days for each employee each year.

Champion Health’s The Workplace Health Report: 2022 found that 9% of those surveyed reported no stress at work, 56% felt that they experienced just the right amount of stress to help them be productive, 34% had a negative amount of stress and 1% were overwhelmed by stress to the point that they couldn’t cope.

HR News published a news item in September 2021 highlighting a new survey of over 250 GPs showing 92% of UK GPs had reported an increase in patients looking for help for work-related stress.

Workplace Stress and Its Cost To Business

According to Open Access Government in 2019 “Work-related stress and mental illness accounts for over half of work absences – and costs British businesses an estimated £26 billion per annum. In addition, studies have revealed that 460,000 people transition from work to sickness and disability benefits a year, which costs employers £9 billion a year.”

In 2020 Deloitte reported that poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45 billion each year. They went onto say that this report builds on “work conducted by Deloitte in 2017 for the Stevenson-Farmer Review “Thriving At Work” published in October 2017, on workplace mental health, which calculated that poor mental health cost UK employers £33-42 billion a year.” It’s interesting to note that the Stevenson-Farmer Review mention some ways to improve working practices to combat stress. These include changes to break times, provision of quiet rooms and lightbox or seats with more natural light.

Deloitte published a third in a series of reports on mental health in the UK workplace in April 2021. This report found an increase of 25% in the cost of poor mental health to employers. It also found that 28% of employees had left their jobs in 2021 or were planning to leave their employment in 2022. 61% of those leaving cited poor mental health as the reason for leaving.

Elizabeth Hampson, a director at Deloitte explains “Burnout among employees, such as feelings of exhaustion, mental distance from the job and reduced job performance, have been more evident during the pandemic. Measures by employers to improve mental wellbeing should not only benefit employees themselves but should also reduce employment costs such as recruitment costs and provide broader societal benefits.”

Combating Work-Related Stress

Clearly stress in the work place is detrimental factor to all businesses and is something that every business needs to tackle in order to combat it.  There are many things a business can do to reduce stress in the workplace. These include:


You’ve heard the phrase “communication is key”. When it comes to workplace stress, one of the things that should take precedence is communication. Communicating changes, how performance will be measured, and expectations of employees can go a long way to alleviating stress. If staff know what to expect from their employer, then they are far less likely to be worried and anxious.

When changes are about to happen, if it’s something that employees can contribute to then getting employee feedback and buy-in can also help. Of course, communication is a two-way street and employers should encourage staff to share concerns and ideas. This will help to cultivate a stronger, healthier working relationship between employer and employee.

Workplace Wellness Schemes

Many businesses have introduced workplace wellness schemes to promote health and wellness within the workplace. This could be something as simple as giving staff a negotiated discount or paid membership at a local gym or fitness centre, offering yoga or meditation classes, having an onsite gym if space is not an issue or providing staff with shower facilities so that they can cycle to work and then freshen up afterwards. If your business has a canteen area, then providing healthy menu alternatives can also promote a healthy living style.

Flexible Working Hours

Allowing staff to work flexible working hours can go a long way to alleviating stress especially if they have a young family and need to do the school runs, attend school plays or performance reviews etc. By enabling employees to have a flexible working pattern with flexible start and finish times you will be taking away the stress that may result from forcing them to fit into a traditional 9-5 working pattern.

Introducing flexibility into working hours can also benefit the employer. XpertHR states that flexible working boosts recruitment and retention, based on a survey of 66 employers carried out by IRS.

Social Activities

The more people enjoy coming to work the less stressed they’ll be. A major part of the workplace is having a good relationship with colleagues so it’s a good idea to provide opportunities for staff to enjoy each other’s company, in and out of the workspace. Social activities can reduce stress and help build team morale. Organised social events, away days and fun days, lunches or evening meals together can help staff take a break from working and relieve any stress that’s built up during the working week.  

Incorporating Break Out Areas In Your Office Design

In addition to the ideas outlined above on relieving or reducing stress in the workplace there are other ways that your office space can also help with workplace stress including incorporating break out areas into the office space.

Taking a break used to be frowned upon but we now know, through research that “Brief diversions vastly improve focus”. It’s all too easy to work long hours with no time away from a computer screen however this can be detrimental to staff health.

Taking a break can in fact help to improve productivity as well as mental health and wellness. Stepping away from your desk and taking some time for yourself can help to reduce stress and burnout and provide the break needed to allow you to go back to work feeling energised and refreshed.

It’s been shown that the most productive people are those that work for approximately 50 minutes and then take breaks up to 15-20 minutes long.  

Time says “that 15-to-20-minute window is productivity’s “golden hour” (or quarter-hour, as the case may be). It’s long enough for your brain to disengage and leave you feeling refreshed, but not so long that you lose focus and derail momentum on what you were doing.”

Collaborative Break Out Areas

Collaborative workspaces can allow staff to come together away from their individual work areas to engage and brainstorm. Collaboration is a good way of fostering interaction between work colleagues. This break from their everyday surroundings can be the ideal way to allow staff to move away from their screens.

Collaborative meeting spaces have been shown to improve mental health through interaction with other people. The Headspace group explains “In a poll of 2,000 adults in the UK, only one-fifth of respondents described themselves as being “not a team player” and preferred to work alone. The poll revealed 38% felt much less pressure when working within a group.”

Of course it’s still important to balance “Me” and “We“ spaces as not everyone will work well in a collaborative space.

Kitchen and Tea-point Break Out Areas

Kitchen and tea-point break out areas provide employees with a chance to have a lunchtime or breaktime away from their desk and computer screens.

A survey carried out by Forbes with American workers showed that taking a break increases productivity, improves mental well-being and boosts creativity. A company kitchen can also promote healthy eating choices.

Chill Out Break Out Areas

A ”chill out” area can be something as simple as a separate space within the office with comfortable chairs or a space with a ping pong or table tennis table. The more office space you have the more creative you can be with regards to your break out areas. Getting input from your staff as to what type of furniture and activities would most benefit them when they take their breaks will ensure you get the most from your dedicated “chill out” office space.

Survey Tool

The HSE provides survey tools for employers so that they can determine whether work related stress is a potential problem for their workforce and, if so, who is likely to be affected. These survey tools enable employers to check the health of their organisation.

How Can JBH Refurbishments Help?

JBH Refurbishments have over 30 years’ experience in office design, refurbishments and fit outs and can help advise on how to best design your office space to combat work-related stress or to incorporate break out areas into your current office layout. You can contact us on 0333 207 0339 or via our contact page today for a free on-site Kent or London office refurbishment consultation.

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