How design can support Mental Health in the Workplace-Part 2

This post that explores the role of Transparency and Community has in creating a workplace that supports mental health.

Transparency

A few years ago, we did a study of workplace patterns of a major Australian legal firm and found that a small but significant percentage of lawyers had minimal or no contact with their colleagues in a typical work day. They could hide out in their offices all day and avoid human contact. No wonder research shows that lawyers have one of the highest rates of depression amongst office workers. 1.

One of the strategies to address this problem for this law firm was creating a more transparent workplace. i.e. being able to see and be seen in the workplace through architectural elements like:

  • Minimising solid partitioning-even though there were offices they had lots of glass, so colleague could see colleague
  • Breaking bread together-encouraging people not to eat at their desks (including dinner!) by providing a great place to eat. Interesting stat form our study-something like 39% of the lawyers ate dinner at their desk at least once a week.
  • Atriums and connecting stairs-being able to see all parts of the business and visually connecting practice groups. This is a physical reminder that each lawyer is part of a larger community.

Community

Cultures that have a strong sense of community have some of the longest living people in the world.  How do we create a workplace community in the age of flexible and mobile working?We can do this virtually but how about physically? Community is all about communication and developing a common culture. 

We can help enable community by creating opportunities for connections. Some examples are creating pathways that have ‘bump factor‘-places where people naturally bump into each other and can start conversations. I’ve already mentioned the importance of placemaking in Part 1. A hub centred around food and drink is another great way to help create communities. Some organisations facilitate special interest communities by creating spaces for music, gardening and even bee keeping.

With thoughtful planning we can incorporate these planning principles into a workplace design to create connections and foster communities and create a workplace that has a positive impact on mental health.

References

RUOK? Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace-Part 1

RUOK is a great initiative to address mental health in the workplace. But it does raise the question-what part does workplace design play in wellbeing and how can it be used to improve mental health? In this two-part post I’ll explore ways to create workplaces that address a really important issue where mental health has increasingly become a focus of wellness in the workplace.

Here are 3 ways:

  • Placemaking
  • Transparency
  • Community

This post explores the role of Placemaking

Placemaking

RUOK says that communication with people positively impacts their mental state. We all need a place to meet people and communicate. We can take lessons from some ancient societies to create great places that encourage people to meet and talk. In almost every Italian town at around sunset the central piazza and village comes alive for the passeggiata. It becomes a place to catch up with friends talk, eat, drink, to see and be seen. We are instinctively drawn to these types of spaces.

Typically, they have the following attributes:

  • They are centrally located with all roads/paths leading to them. In a way you can’t avoid a great place. They are destinations
  • They are defined spaces-they are not open ended
  • They have food and drink offerings
  • People know that they can catch up with friends without making an appointment. Accidental meetings happen here
  • They are pedestrian only zones
  • People conduct business in them

We really can incorporate these planning principles into a workplace design and create a great place to meet and talk. A central hub or heart space needs have these basic attributes to be successful. They are central to creating a community that supports its members and impacts positively on mental health.

We spend so much of our life at work it makes sense that workplace design should be one of the tools that an organisation uses to support employee’s mental health.