Nobody wants to work in a dark, cramped place with drab-colored walls and cubicles. Today’s workplaces must take steps to acknowledge that productivity is directly affected by workers’ mental health. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we here at Facilities Management Advisor want to give facilities management professionals the advice they need to help ensure that workers in the buildings they take care of are as mentally healthy as possible.
During a recent Facilities Management Healthy Buildings panel discussion, Lida Lewis, Director of Interiors at Page Southerland Page, explained that employees’ return to the workplace, even if in a hybrid model, is a chance to help individuals fight the social isolation and loneliness they experienced during the COVID crisis. She was joined by Dave Irwin, Associate Vice President for Facilities at Florida State University. For those who have an option to work from home or at a workplace, Lewis said, “you have to give people a reason to come in, and a reason to connect is a good one.”
For employees to properly connect with people and the workplace, facilities managers must work on providing adequate spacing, cleaning, lighting, color schemes, acoustics, ergonomics, and landscaping.
There are seven key ways facilities professionals can work to meet employees’ mental health needs:
1. Meeting Spacing Requirements
In creating adequate spacing for employees, different environments should be provided for various types of people.
While there should be plenty of opportunities for people to connect with their fellow colleagues at the workplace, Lewis said that companies should also try to accommodate those who want a place of solitude. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach,” she explained. A company may want to limit the number of workers on-site at one time.
Specific ways to encourage appropriate spacing include:
- Reception lounges. Hire staff to welcome visitors, check them in, and guide them to the proper areas. Comfortable furniture can be provided near the reception desk for those waiting for an escort to take them to restricted areas.
- Public meeting spaces. Provide a large table, allow 3 feet between participants for breathing room, and have an option for remote workers to join these meetings.
- Private offices. This is a better option than cubicles and is appropriate for those who prefer to work alone and would like their own space.
- Game rooms. Have card games, table games, and video games in order to help employees develop relationships with each other.
- Break rooms. Employees should be encouraged to take their breaks in dedicated break rooms with televisions, allowing them to watch their favorite programs. These rooms should have basic kitchen amenities like microwaves, toasters, filtered water for cooking and cleaning, and refrigerators.
- On-site fitness centers and wellness activities. These can help increase employees’ physical fitness, which can elevate their mood, and they can include group activities like yoga classes, walking clubs, or a baseball team, encouraging more collaboration.
2. Showing the Workplace Is Getting Cleaned
While the COVID pandemic highlighted the importance of having a clean workplace, it also showcased workers’ need to see areas actively getting cleaned while they’re in the workplace rather than in the middle of the night. Irwin said that when it comes to facilities management personnel’s cleaning their facilities, “Folks need to know how you are doing it, why you are doing it, and how you are making sure their buildings are safe and allowing them to be as productive as possible.”
Extra cleaning should be done in high-touch areas, including:
- Kitchens and break rooms
- Lobbies and reception areas
- Conference rooms
- Other shared spaces
3. Providing Appropriate Lighting
Lewis explained that lighting “reinforces the circadian rhythm” and encouraged workplaces to have natural lighting, as the circadian rhythm affects sleep, digestion, and the body’s internal ability to sleep. Facilities professionals at workplaces with too much sunlight should consider installing shades on the windows and possibly protection on computer monitors where overhead lighting could produce glare.
4. Incorporating Colors
Facilities management professionals should understand the influence color has on mental health. The National Library of Medicine reported on studies regarding color and memory performance. This is important to understand because memory is intertwined with perception, attention, and memory. Warm colors like yellow, red, and orange have a greater effect on attention than colors like brown and gray. Green is associated with calmness, happiness, comfort, peace, hope, and excitement; red is linked to strong emotions; and black is associated with sadness, depression, fear, and anger.
5. Considering Acoustics
Quieter areas should be made available for those who want to work in solitude, with separate areas for group meetings. These quiet areas should also be provided where confidential information is being discussed. To block noise and voices, room dividers can be installed, and acoustic treatments can be installed on ceilings and floors.
6. Training on Ergonomics
The U.S. Department of Labor encourages companies to teach their employees proper ergonomics because it can help prevent musculoskeletal disorders. Teachings can include identifying and providing information about hazards, asking workers for suggestions, providing adequate training, reporting injuries, and tracking progress in problem resolution.
7. Providing Landscaping
Employees can increase their mood and productivity by getting vitamin C, and a great source of this is the sun. On warm days, employees may want to have lunch outside to get some fresh air, so beautiful landscaping elements should be installed outside the office, which can include:
- Fenced-in or rooftop patios with picnic tables and grilling stations near the main building entrance
- Tables and chairs designed for outdoor use right outside break rooms
- Walking trails
- Gardens at ground level or on the rooftop
- Indoor plants around the office
Providing a mentally healthy workplace can help improve workers’ physical, emotional, and social health. It also is beneficial to the health of all building occupants. As Irwin said, providing for employees’ mental health “ultimately helps all of our buildings stay healthy and productive.”