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Does your workplace atmosphere support employees' mental health?

Every workplace creates a culture, and a positive one can support and energize employees. Even in the absence of discrimination or harassment, a poor one can be draining, disaffecting, or even antagonistic. With the recent controversy over whether the Miami Dolphins’ locker room culture, a lot of people have been thinking about workplace culture and its effect on employees.

The low morale or employee disengagement caused by a negative workplace culture is tremendously important to employers because absenteeism, low morale and both physical and mental health issues are a drain on productivity, which costs them money.

It’s also tough on employees, particularly for those with mental health issues. Feeling socially connected and valued is particularly critical for employees with mental health issues, but too much noise and frenetic energy can be overwhelming.

How do you support employees with mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety? What else can be done besides prohibiting unlawful discrimination, providing any reasonable workplace accommodations requested, and offering an employee assistance program?

According to a recent Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal article by a veteran Saint Paul interior designer, some changes to workplace culture that can be beneficial to people with mental illnesses -- and all employees -- can be achieved by physically setting up the workplace to encourage collaboration and engagement and minimize isolation.

Physical changes to consider in your office to support employee mental health include:

  • Design the workspace to maximize sunlight for all workers.
  • Even in a field of cubicles, you can reduce noise and distractions by positioning workstations away from the noisiest areas and setting up sound barriers. If that’s not possible, consider creating a quiet respite area.
  • Lowering physical barriers among workers -- and between employees and leadership -- can improve connection and engagement. When employees and leadership work side by side, supervisors can connect with their employees and get a better sense of who may be struggling. It also gives workers the vital sense of having access to leadership.
  • Telecommuters with mood disorders can suffer from social isolation and a sense their work isn’t noticed. To avoid disengagement, reinforce their social connections and sense of being valued when they do come in. Set up first-class occasional-use space and give them a chance to socialize.
  • Support regular exercise. It reduces depression, reduces absenteeism and increases productivity among all workers.

Your physical workplace represents and reinforces your culture, so make it an investment.

Source: Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, “How to design workspaces that support employee mental health,” Jennifer Stukenberg, Dec. 4, 2013

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