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.


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.


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.


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


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.

Why you definitely shouldn’t design your workplace for Digital Natives

You want to design your new workplace to attract the best talent to help grow your business, right? Forget about the Millennials what about the Digital Natives-GenZ!

Here are 4 reasons why this is a mistake:

Here’s why:

  • Workforce demographics are changing
  • Job Tenure is decreasing
  • Experience matters
  • The Digital Native is a Myth
  1. Workforce demographics are changing

By 2023 the retirement age in Australia will be 67 years old. The 55-64 age group continues to increase as a proportion of the workforce. From 2008 onwards, this category becomes bigger than the 15-19-year-old category.

Our workforce is aging, and we have 5 generations working together, something we have never had before. We have to accommodate all generations if we are embracing diversity inclusiveness in our workplaces.

  • Job Tenure is decreasing

Gen Z will probably change jobs before soon-the average tenure in a job is now 3 years and 4 months-2. For the over 65’s its 10.3 years. The Gen Z that you are designing your workplace will probably be gone by the time you have designed and delivered your new workplace

  • Experience matters

The most valuable workers have experience and tenure-that’s why they earn more.

Everyone wants to feel part of a young vibrant organisation, so there’s good reasons to design a workplace that appeals to Gen Z but the most productive workers, the people that have experience, that know the culture and really add value shouldn’t be ignored. Counter-intuitively the more complex your job description the more you will benefit from activity-based working 3.

  • The Digital Native is a Myth

And finally, the Digital Native your read about in workplace blogs and opinion pieces doesn’t exist. The theory goes that anyone born after 1984 has been immersed in digital technologies all there lives and are completely different from previous generation. They have sophisticated digital and technology skills and learning preferences that need the traditional learning or working environment just doesn’t work for. Non-Gen Z’s just assumed they know what they were doing and were using technology creatively. Well it turns out they are not. They are more consumers of technology rather than creators. For example, Income and educational level is a much better indicator of web savviness than age.  This is a great paper about this topic and is well worth reading.

So, the message is don’t chase the latest trend, learn from the evidence.  Think about who your most valuable workers are and plan a workplace that really supports their productivity.

For more information about how evidence based design strategies creates great workplaces go to or call me on 0404697318

  3. Leesman survey