Office workers are more stressed than ever, but thoughtful workplace design can change that! Use these tips to make your space welcoming, comfortable, and supportive of employee wellness.

It’s tempting to write off workplace stress as a contrived, overblown complaint. After all, work is work! It’s not meant to be as fun and relaxing as a day at the beach or a night at the movies. But work-related stress is no joke, and it’s on the rise. The American Institute of Stress reports that in 2019, a whopping 94% of American workers experienced stress at their workplaces. The summary report goes on to say that work-related stress can cause everything from decreases in productivity at the office, to sleep deprivation, increased eating and smoking, and personal relationship woes at home.

Not only that but stressed workers are miserable, and miserable workers seek change. Randstad US research found that 46% of surveyed employees considered leaving their jobs within the next year to join the gig economy. Chilling news for office-based organizations.

Luckily, you can help reduce employee stress simply by changing up your workspace! The workplace design trends for 2020 all focus on boosting employee comfort and creativity, and leveraging them in your own workplace can be incredibly beneficial to employee wellness. Here are four great ways to make your office welcoming and engaging for everyone.

1. Create a Vibrant, Friendly Break Room Atmosphere

Breaks can get a bad reputation, but they’re vital to employee wellness. Multiple studies have shown that grabbing a beverage, taking a quick walk, or just zoning out for a bit all help workers boost productivity and mental health. Unfortunately, we live in the age of the handheld device, and many employees will use their breaks to play on their smartphones; especially if there aren’t other things for them to do. So consider designing your employee break room to act as a key driver in improving corporate culture, morale, and productivity. Try changing up your communal gathering area with elements of “resimercial” design — combining commercial efficiency with the comforts of home, using irresistibly soft couches, quirky lighting, and inspiring artwork. Or leverage the biophilic design trend by adding plants, natural light, and fresh air to your break room. Encourage your people to take breaks when they need them by giving them an appealing space in which to relax and unwind.

2. Become a Pet-Friendly Office

This will probably be a long-shot for some of the companies with more traditional and formal work environments, but allowing well-behaved dogs in the workplace can be tremendously helpful to employee wellness. According to a USC study, pet-friendly offices promote work-life balance, boost productivity, and reduce stress, and other sources report that even non-pet-owners benefit from having animals present in their work environments. How do furry friends help workers feel calm? When tense situations arise with the boss, employees can clear their heads with their pet for a quick walk, or just bring down their blood pressure levels with a quick cuddle. Friendly animals snoozing in cubicles also encourage employees to chat with each other, and give them a point of organic connection. Naturally, you’ll need to set some parameters around when pets are allowed to visit, which kinds can come to the office, and how often they can show up for work, but creating a pet-friendly policy is almost guaranteed to reduce employee workplace stress.

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3. Encourage Movement

Just as exercise benefits our health outside of the office, movement is key to reducing employee stress within the workplace. It’s important for workers to get up and move around every hour, even if it’s just to peek inside a co-worker’s office or refill a cup of tea. Boost that natural urge to move by offering sit-stand desks or adding a cardio-boosting activity like ping-pong to your communal area. Workplaces that are designed with multiple levels, encouraging the use of stairs or ramps, can even spark inspiration in employees! Research indicates that when we are on the move, we’re more open to serendipitous encounters and prone to flashes of creativity. If your workspace can incorporate long hallways or windowed passageways between offices and conference rooms, your employees will be forced to move more and relax their minds. Being sedentary negatively affects heart health, weight, and blood pressure … and ratchets up stress levels by making employees feel stuck in one place all day. Designing an office that encourages physical movement can help your workforce breathe easier.

4. Allow Personalization of Spaces

One of the easiest ways to help employees feel comfortable (and, in turn, less stressed) is to make the office space as homey as possible. To do this, minimize the number of harsh fluorescent lights and get some peaceful natural light flowing through the office space. Add some splashes of color among the neutrals using accents like vases, chairs, lamps, plants (real or fake!), and artwork. Then consider allowing employees to decorate and personalize their cubicles or office spaces using photos, art, flowers, and other decor elements. Limiting self-expression among employees can decimate morale; on the flip side, encouraging them to “bring their true selves to work” helps them feel valued and seen. Help reduce workforce stress by ensuring that the office feels warm and relaxed instead of rigid and sterile.