Creating a Mentally Healthy Work Environment
There is more to the workplace than just the four walls of the office.
During the month of May the National Alliance on Mental Illness and a variety of other organizations around the country work to bring increased awareness to mental health. Talking about the topic is a way to help reduce the stigma around a condition that affects 1 in 5 American adults. It’s no secret mental health conditions are expensive. For the individual, it can cost anywhere from $100 to $5000 out-of-pocket for services. As a whole, the United States spends over $130 billion on mental health treatment. Employers in the country spend around another $80 billion. For the workforce, the majority of those costs are due to productivity losses, absenteeism and more.
So what can employers do to reduce that number? Provide a healthy work environment. Creating a healthy workplace is more than just about saving money though. It actually makes good business sense. Happy employees generally are 12 percent more productive than their peers, but, most importantly, happy employees are more passionate about the work they do. Overall, they tend to contribute more to the workplace and the community.
At Collective Idea, we’ve taken a number of measures to foster a healthy work environment. Here are just a few.
We’ve got a greenthumb
There is certainly no shortage of green vegetation in the Collective Idea office. At last count, there are just over a dozen plants in the office. Proven mental health benefits of plants include sensation of a calm atmosphere, improved performance, increased accuracy of completed tasks and even 20 percent increased memory retention. 
Windows, windows everywhere
The Collective Idea office, located in the heart of Downtown Holland, is filled with windows. What does that have to do with mental health? A lot actually. The sunlight that streams in on a regular basis (or when Mother Nature allows) is a natural vitamin D booster. Not only that, but sunlight exposure aids in the release of serotonin, the happy hormone. Along the biggest bank of windows in the [i] office, we have a series of desks and on really sunny days, there will be a lot of team members working there, soaking up the rays.
We’ve all heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking” and that’s because a number of studies show that increased periods of sitting can lead to cardiovascular issues, type 2 diabetes, and a variety of other chronic diseases. So why does that matter in terms of mental health? There’s actually a strong correlation between physical and mental health.
A great way to combat the amount of time spent sitting is by bringing in stand-up desks. We’ve been using stand-up desks at the Collective Idea office for the past 6 years now. We find that not only do our backs feel better, but standing is a good outlet for frustration. If you need to walk away from the computer for a little bit and do some pacing, it’s a lot easier to do so when there is no chair involved.
We’re not afraid to talk about it
In our office we use Slack for much of our team communication. If you’re not familiar with Slack, you can create a number of different channels for specific conversations around projects, news, etc. One channel we have is devoted just to mental health, so within there we openly talk about mental health and ways to combat it. By being open and honest about the mental health, we’re helping to reduce the stigma surrounding it.
We encourage two wheel transportation
Last year we added a bicycle fleet to the office. We currently have three bikes that team members are invited to take out to go to the local Farmer’s Market or even to a nearby lakeshore park. The bikes have proven to be a healthy fit for the office. We’re frequently encouraged to get a breath of fresh air to clear the mind, and the bikes now allow us to go greater distances to explore more of our surroundings. Not only that, but biking is one of the many types of physical activity that increases the production of endorphins.
Perhaps the biggest piece of a healthy work environment is a proper work-life balance. When compared to other advanced countries in the world, a recent OECD Better Life Index survey ranks the United States towards the bottom when it comes to proper work-life balance . It is something that many Americans do admit to struggling with.
At Collective Idea, when we talk about a healthy work-life balance, we mean it. We actively encourage team members to work at a sustainable pace. We understand there are situations where we need to work overtime to help our clients succeed, but we do make sure those occasions are rare. We truly believe that rest is important for all parties involved. If you continue to work at an unsustainable pace there’s a large risk of burning out employees, making errors that could have otherwise been avoided or quick overturn within the company. We do realize our approach to working at a pace that is mentally healthy, yet productive is very different from what is the culture norm in Silicon Valley. A quick Google search reveals there is no shortage of articles out there that mention the breakneck speed at which the tech industry in the valley works. Even though we don’t work by Silicon Valley cultural standards, our sustainable approach allows us to still produce wonderful results for clients, but in a much healthier fashion.
At Collective Idea, we also understand that family is important. If you need to attend your child’s school play or have to stay home with a sick child, we understand. We’re all trusted adults at Collective Idea, so it’s understood that if you need to take off a few hours during the day to take care of yourself or a family member, that you’ll make up the hours at a later time.
We’re always looking to see what other businesses and organizations are doing to create a workspace that is both mentally and physically healthy. If your company is doing something unique, let us know in the comments! We would love to hear from you or share more about certain aspects you’re interested in.