Mental health and wellbeing in the workplace
By Giulia Mori – Energy & Sustainability Consultant at TFT
Mental health is coming to the fore as a national concern, and a topic which government and businesses alike are trying to support with new or improved policies, products and services. On top of these initiatives, it’s important to consider how the built environment itself can shape our experience of the world.
Though few people pay close attention to them, many elements of our workplaces can impact our overall wellbeing, enjoyment and performance of work. Increasingly, at TFT we are engaged to measure and improve workplaces with mental and physical health as a priority.
One of the key issues to consider in supporting mental health at work is to understand what ‘restorative spaces’ are within and around the workplace and how they affect us. Research shows that access to these places encourages us to take adequate breaks during the day, restoring energy and concentration levels, so we can go back to our work refreshed.
Restorative spaces are defined by the leading industry wellbeing certification – WELL Building Standard™ v.2 – in which TFT is an accredited partner and assessor. The WELL standard describes the role of restorative spaces in the following way:
M07 – “Restorative spaces […] can help alleviate the negative effects associated with workplace fatigue or mental depletion. Through incorporation of nature, among other restorative elements, these spaces can help relieve stress and mental fatigue, support focus and encourage overall mental well-being. Exposure to plants and other natural elements has been linked with decreased levels of diastolic blood pressure, depression and anxiety; increased attentional capacity; better recovery from job stress; increased psychological well-being”
M01 – “Increasing nature contact at work may offer a simple, population-based approach to enhance workplace health promotion efforts.”
Indoor breakout areas and outdoor terraces that feature natural elements such as plants, flowers and natural materials, can be considered as restorative spaces. Easy access to outdoor amenities such as a nearby park, a lake or river can motivate us to go for stroll during lunch time and have an even bigger impact on our tranquillity at work and on our general wellbeing.
This effect is due to a concept known as biophilia – the innate affinity we have with other forms of life and nature. Biophilia plays a significant role in defining places and spaces for mental health and wellbeing. The presence of natural or man-made biophilic spaces within a reasonable walking distance (≤1km) that are accessible via safe and secure routes is key in supporting mental health both inside and outside the workplace.
Beneficial outdoor spaces can also include public art, museums, food markets and festivals – all of which are highlighted by the International Living Future Institute’s ‘Living Building Challenge’, citing ‘design features intended solely for human delight and the celebration of culture, spirit and place appropriate to its function and meaningfully integrate public art.’
Furthermore, the Urban Land Institute and the Centre for Active Design emphasise the importance of providing access to nature, both indoors and outdoors, which in turn facilitates social engagements and healthier lifestyles.
What are some real-life examples of these places? And do you have enough of them near you?
Over the coming weeks, we will be releasing a series of articles showing some of the restorative spaces around TFT’s offices located across the UK.
Stay tuned for our first piece covering our
office in Birmingham. Who knows, if you work nearby, you may find some new
spots to explore, or share some hidden spaces with us!
 Kant I, Beurskens a JHM, Amelsvoort LGPM Van, Swaen GMH. An epidemiological approach to study fatigue in the working population: the Maastricht Cohort Study. 2003:32-39.
 Largo-Wight E, Chen WW, Dodd V, Weiler R. Healthy Workplaces : The Effects of Nature Contact at Work on Employee Stress and Health. Public Health Rep. 2011;126:124-131. doi:10.2307/41639273