With Mental Health Awareness Week on the horizon, issues such as workplace anxiety, stress and work-life balance have never been so prominent – and rightly so. With attitudes to mental health shifting, the way we think about work and the workplace is also changing.
Businesses are waking up to the fact that employee wellbeing is of paramount importance and are looking to office buildings to support mental health. Our working environment is central to our wellbeing; recent research from The Stress Management Society showed that 95% of workers agreed the physical work environment is important to mental health.
The research also found that 46% of workers did not have enough time to focus on wellbeing and exercise, resulting in poor mental health. Furthermore, many of those surveyed agreed that better workplace facilities and amenities would help them combat these issues: 49% called for a yoga and meditation room, half wanted exercise facilities, such as a gym, and more than a third claimed breakout spaces would help improve their mental health.
Employee wellbeing impacts businesses, too. Poor mental health costs employers between £33bn and £42bn according to the Thriving at Work report, with low productivity, absenteeism, and staff turnover all impacted by employee wellbeing. Consequently, high-quality office buildings, rich with amenities, are becoming more and more desirable, helping businesses to attract and retain skilled workers who increasingly value work-life balance and wellbeing over financial gain.
In the past, developers of office buildings looked to minimise communal areas, thereby maximising lettable space. But developers are reacting to occupiers’ changing priorities, increasingly incorporating larger common areas into the design of new buildings, creating space for socialising, concentration or all-important breaks from what might be a stressful office floor. Outdoor spaces, which allow workers to breathe in fresh air or soak up the sun’s healing rays, are also increasing in popularity: at The Future Works in Slough, a 3,175 sq ft communal Wi-Fi connected terrace allows for outdoor working, socialising and relaxation, as well as providing space for outdoor exercise classes such as yoga or Pilates.
Similarly, as demands on work spaces change in line with the mental health agenda, developers are focusing on amenities to keep workers happy and healthy. At The Colmore Building in central Birmingham, a 24-hour state-of-the-art gym, a studio for yoga, Pilates, meditation and other classes, treatment rooms, cycle storage, showers and changing rooms encourage exercise and relaxation. Meanwhile, an onsite private GP makes it easy for those working at the building to look after their physical and mental health. In this way, amenities can enable employees to manage their work and private lives simultaneously, reducing stress and time pressures, whilst breaking down the boundaries between work and play.
Indeed, with wellbeing in mind, workers increasingly look to incorporate traditional ‘down time’ activities into their working day: gym sessions are slotted into the lunch hour and post-work drinks become time spent with friends. Merging offices, retail and residential helps to create balanced communities, with those who work in mixed-use schemes able to benefit not only from a broader range of amenities but also a greater sense of perspective.
At One Bartholomew, 215,000 sq ft of Grade A office space is supported by Barts Square, a new neighbourhood made up of 236 high-quality apartments and 20,000 sq ft of retail space. A carefully selected and accessible range of retailers offers office occupiers and residents, as well as the general public, space in which to relax and interact with others. The Square itself offers a quiet enclave and rare outdoor space in the City. The popularity of mixed-use developments such as Barts Square echoes our changing attitudes to working and mental health, which prioritise convenience, community and wellbeing.
Clearly numerous factors contribute to psychological wellbeing and workplaces are just one of those. Nevertheless, as mental health issues become more widespread – or at least more talked about – they are becoming a growing priority for employers and employees alike and we should not underestimate the role that physical environments and the amenities offered through a building can play.
Peter Ferrari is Chief Executive of AshbyCapital.