How Design Can Reduce Stress in the Workplace

Studies[1] show that job stress is by far the key source of stress for American adults and that it has escalated over the years. Most Americans are suffering from moderate to high stress, with 44 percent reporting that their stress levels have increased over the past five years. The office can be a stressful place but the right design elements can help reduce stress in the workplace. Two of the biggest design factors that can be used to reduce stress are lighting and acoustics.

Right to Light

The quality of light in the workplace whether it be daylight or artificial light matters. Ambient light or visible daylight may boost moods, while excessive or uneven light may lead to mental fatigue and glares or visual discomfort. 

Kate Howell, Interior Designer at REES, talks about methods we use to improve the lighting in the office. “Our design team works with engineers to select the most appropriate lighting for the task occurring in particular areas” says Kate. “At open office and workstation areas, indirect fixtures can be particularly effective, as they provide ambient lighting while minimizing glare on computer monitors.  Excessive glare can cause headaches and discomfort, and can be counterproductive to efforts to create a healthy work environment.” 

Access to daylight and exterior views is often described in the industry as the “right to light”, and is always a consideration when we design office environments.  During the schematic design phase, REES will often place more solid elements like conference rooms and restrooms at interior locations, allowing those in open office areas access to the daylight and exterior views.   The ongoing trend moving away from private offices in favor of open workstations with lower panels has improved this access. The healing effects of exterior views, and especially of the natural world or foliage, have been studied extensively by researchers in healthcare and other fields.   

According to Scientific America[2], “Just three to five minutes spent looking at views dominated by trees, flowers or water can begin to reduce anger, anxiety and pain and to induce relaxation, according to various studies of healthy people that measured physiological changes in blood pressure, muscle tension, or heart and brain electrical activity.” 

Avoiding Noisy Distractions

Many of the conclusions from these studies can be extended beyond the realm of healthcare to other building types, particularly the work environment, where people spend a significant amount of their waking hours.

With the continuing trend towards more collaborative, open office layouts, privacy and controlling noise distractions are a top priority for designers. We often discuss with our clients the best ways to balance the employee’s personal and business-related needs for occasional privacy with the desire to promote open spaces and employee communication.

“In spaces where an employee has limited privacy at their workstation, we often provide what we refer to as a Phone Booth” says Kate. “This is a small, enclosed room with a lounge chair or a small desk in which someone could have a private conversation or participate in a conference call that may otherwise be disruptive to those around them.” 

In addition to planning considerations, acoustic control can be affected and enhanced by materials selections.  Carpet and soft, fibrous materials will always perform better than glass or stone, but we also have the opportunity to use more innovative solutions. While options have been more limited in the past, many manufacturers have developed products that allow acoustic control elements to become an integrated and exciting part of a designed space. Technology, such as white noise systems, have also proven to be an effective solution for minimizing noise distractions across open spaces. 

Don’t Stress

The office can be a stressful place, but it doesn’t have to be. Everyone knows the look and feel of your work environment has a huge impact on culture, productivity and employee retention. Don’t let your environment stress out your team, REES is here to help upgrade your workplace and create a more welcoming environment for your employees.