5 Sustainable Strategies For Mental Health & Wellness Design
Even before the pandemic, mental health had become an area of concern in the workplace. According to Mental Health America, pre-COVID, there was a yearly increase of 1.5 million people who have a mental illness. Enter the wrecking ball year of 2020 – forest fires, pandemic civil unrest, an election year, etc. – and the current prognosis in 2021 is only getting worse.
Mental Health America noted that from January to September 2020, 315,220 people took the anxiety screening, a 93% increase over 2019. At the same time, more than 500,000 people took the depression screening, a 62% increase. One of the many strategies to help turn the tide is health and wellness design, an arm of sustainable design.
Global depression and anxiety result in an estimated $1 trillion deficit in productivity each year. In comparison, every $1 spent on treatment for these disorders has a return in health and productivity of $42. One form of therapy can be simply the design or redesign of workspaces. Many sustainable design elements can promote a feeling of safety and calmness, decrease stress, and create a healing environment.
One form of therapy can be simply the design or redesign of workspaces. Many sustainable design elements can promote a feeling of safety and calmness, decrease stress, and create a healing environment.
A few strategies to consider when designing for occupant wellness include
Biophilia, a human tendency to interact with nature, has been shown to decrease stress, depression, anxiety, and sick days while improving memory and productivity. Biomorphic forms, natural patterns, dynamic and diffused light, and using natural materials (like wood or stone) are all different forms of biophilic design. Views to the outdoors, especially calming or natural views, are also an option. In response to COVID-19, outdoor spaces became even more crucial and provided an added benefit of a connection to nature. Employers may want to consider more indoor-outdoor areas or extending their WI-FI to exterior patios and balconies to allow employees to work outside.
Controllability of Workspace
A small design solution is being able to adjust light levels or temperature directly at your workstation. Thermal discomfort can cut employee production 14% and causes stress on the body. Providing employees with desk fans, having a more flexible dress code, incorporating underfloor MEP systems, or increasing thermal zones provide workspace controllability. Adaptable furniture is another excellent way to allow each individual to make their space their own. Moveable furniture in meeting rooms, breakrooms and other areas will enable each employee to create different spaces fit to their needs. Finally, although challenging to achieve in an open floor plan, acoustical control is essential for eliminating stress. Acoustical discomfort in the workplace is linked with sleep disturbance and hindering memory retention, productivity, and focus. Adaptable acoustic furniture and creating quiet spaces for individuals who may choose to leave noisy environments can address acoustical control.
Human beings are holistic creatures. If the body isn’t healthy, the mind suffers and vice versa. Being able to incorporate movement in the workplace can help bring wellness to building occupants.
Dedicated Restoration/Relaxation Space
It’s not surprising that workplace stress and anxiety are increasing as over 20% of the workforce experience prolonged fatigue. Proper lighting, acoustics, thermal comfort, and access to nature are critical to providing a more relaxing space for employees. Providing moveable furniture (chairs, cushions, mats, hammocks, etc.) to accommodate various relaxation styles can also help reduce stress. Finally, privacy is vital. A person will only feel free to fully unwind if they think they are in a space where it’s safe to do so. Perhaps these are tiny spaces that individuals can book for themselves or where privacy is provided with a furniture solution. Either way, creating that safe environment for decompressing is essential.
Human beings are holistic creatures. If the body isn’t healthy, the mind suffers and vice versa. Being able to incorporate movement in the workplace can help bring wellness to building occupants. Many design elements can promote movement. For example, a more vertical building design might allow extra open space for trails or exterior flex space for activities.
Additionally, motivating occupants to use stairs instead of the elevator is an excellent way to introduce movement into your design. This might be accomplished by adding windows, better lighting, artwork, or music to make stairwells more attractive to pedestrians. Active furnishings in the workplace are gaining popularity as well. Besides sit/stand desks, treadmills, bicycle desks, and under-desk step machines are all options to help promote an active and productive workforce.
Light & Color
Balance, balance, balance.
Although bright, warm colors can energize a space, exposure to these colors for too long can keep stress levels heightened and lead to burnout or mental crashes. On the flip side, too much exposure to cool colors can potentially invoke feelings of sadness or indifference. Furthermore, these colors will only be fully appreciated if the Color Rendering Index (CRI) in the lighting is high enough. If not, the colors will take on different tones than initially intended.
Bringing in daylight regulates circadian rhythm and connects occupants to nature but could bring in unwanted glare if not done correctly. For interior lighting, light fixtures’ color temperature is critical and changes throughout the day. Low color temperature lighting is better in the morning and evening, but higher color temperatures are needed in the middle of the day. With the introduction of LED lights, programmable color temperatures are possible and can even help regulate circadian rhythm, especially in areas with little daylighting. Every workplace is different; therefore, each of these strategies will take on a different life. The importance is knowing what options are available and the potential benefits and challenges of each one.
Associate | Sustainability Specialist
As a champion of sustainability, Ashley continually raises the bar in regard to performance-driven sustainable design at Hoefer Welker, with direct involvement in most of the firm’s sustainable projects from initial application through final certification.