Since 1992, World Mental Health Day has been an important opportunity to raise awareness on the issue among workers and employers: an increasingly topical subject whose importance, even in the media, grows year after year as younger generations enter the world of work.

“Mental health is a universal human right”. The theme chosen by the World Health Organisation for 2023 is quite clear: being protected from mental health risks, having access to quality care and enjoying freedom, independence and inclusion within one’s community is an unwaivable right.

This concept may seem self-evident, but is still at odds with many social and labour realities. According to a WHO study, one in eight people live with mental disorders that affect the spheres of physical health, well-being and professional life; a number that corresponds to about 15% of working-age adults. The same organisation calculates that depression and anxiety are the cause of 12 billion lost working days in a year, for an estimated 1 trillion dollars in lost productivity.

What can company management do? The WHO’s advice

Mental well-being must be protected in all spheres of life and the workplace is no exception. Alongside policy makers (governments and individuals in a position to determine socially relevant guidelines and decisions), employers can and must also play their part.

The World Health Organisation itself has developed guidelines in this respect:

  1. Preventing risks that can negatively influence mental health, e.g. through stringent measures against discrimination and bullying, or through timely workload monitoring. An extra step can be taken through corporate welfare policies, which can incentivise physical exercise (also useful for mental well-being) through gym subscriptions or conventions with sports centres.
  2. Training managers so that they can support the mental health of employees, eliminating the stigma attached to the issue and helping in case of need.

This is a very important action, also in light of the data: according to McKinsey research, 37% of workers forego treatment because they don’t want their colleagues to know about their problem.

  • Make the work environment more inclusive, through initiatives and activities that take into account individual psychological needs.
  • Create an environment that is open to change by investing in leadership, employee engagement and the continuous study of both performance and people’s well-being.

Supporting mental health through office design

A poorly designed environment has significant negative effects on a person’s physical and mental well-being. Here are four ways in which companies can ensure that their offices support mental health:

  1. Creating social spaces
    A relaxation area, a work café, a “game room” like in the Silicon Valley companies and much more: the presence of an environment dedicated to socialising helps to keep relations between people alive, avoiding a sense of loneliness in the most fragile individuals.
  2. Noise-light-air study
    Environmental comfort is very important. It’s essential to act to limit excess noise, improve air quality and make the most of natural light.
  3. Access to nature
    An open-air space is a benefit that shouldn’t be underestimated, but it is also often a luxury, especially in city centres or industrial areas. If access to a terrace or garden isn’t possible, biophilic design, which we’ve also talked about in this article, comes into play.
  4. Space for art
    Art influences mood and creativity, also playing a significant role in aesthetic terms. It can be incorporated into the office to give it an identity, as in the Progetto CMR office, or even have its own designated space. For example, more and more companies are opening their doors to the area in which they live, hosting exhibitions, concerts, conferences and much more: these initiatives are capable of creating lasting connections between the working and social spheres of the area in which they operate.

In conclusion, the first step to support mental wellbeing can only be more inclusiveness: respecting and protecting the rights of every worker must always be a primary objective. However, we cannot forget that a person is and always will be influenced by the environment in which he or she lives: we must, therefore, rethink the office of the past and re-envisage it with an eye to the future.

To incentivise, inspire and support every employee.

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