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Mindful Places: Taking the Stress Out of Where We Work


Photo of  man meditating at his desk to reduce stress
Image: Prostock-studio -
As much as our global health crisis has made us cognizant today of the need for social distancing for our physical well-being, it’s important to know that the space we work in has an impact on us, be it in an office or while working from home.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that the physical environment is the most significant factor in determining an individual’s state of health. The physical space exceeds the combined total of the other three contributing factors — genetics; lifestyle and health behaviors; and access to medical care — in regard to the impact it can have. Coupled with the fact that the number one lifestyle risk impacting the workforce today is stress, we need to put the focus on how to reduce stress within the work environments and create mindful spaces.
Physical activity has a strong link not only to physical health but to long-term brain health, as well. In recent research, Steelcase noted that “workers need mental and physical health, nurtured by a supportive environment that gives them the emotional capacity to interpret and experience events.” It identified six dimensions of well-being that can be impacted by the design of the physical environment and help people relieve stress at work:
  1. Optimism – Give workers choice and control over where and how they do their work.
  2. Mindfulness – Create environments that support focus and minimize distractions.
  3. Authenticity – Allow individuals and teams to express their personalities.
  4. Belonging – Provide social spaces that encourage personal and professional connections and enable workers to connect socially.
  5. Purpose – Use the physical environment to display materials and communicate team and organizational purpose.
  6. Vitality – Create a variety of spaces that encourage physical and emotional energy, stimulate the mind, improve alertness, and improve focus.
The WELL building standard’s core concepts of health includes a “Mind” category that strives to “optimize cognitive and emotional health through design, technology and treatment strategies” and introduce strategies to provide mindfulness and spaces that spark “human delight.”
When we dig into the findings of the recent Gallup engagement studies, we see the largest portion, 63% of workers globally, fall in to the “not engaged” category. That’s roughly 900 million workers suffering from presenteeism. This category captures workers who lack motivation, are less likely to invest discretionary effort in organizational goals or outcomes or may not even know what those are. In many cases they don’t feel supported or empowered to be effective and so are present but not engaged. For many workers, it means feeling overwhelmed, not truly connected, or empowered at work. But with awareness and slight modifications in the workplace, we can significantly increase their chance for success.
Nourishment and hydration are two of the healthy habits that we can positively influence in workspace. By providing nourishment and hydration stations throughout a space we can ensure individuals maintain their blood sugar and are well hydrated. We also need to ensure we provide non-caffeinated beverage alternatives.
It’s important to set yourself up for success when working from home, as well. Consider these suggestions to aid in doing so:
  • Set up a designated workspace in your residence
    • Set up boundaries with your co-habitants
    • Make your workspace as ergonomic as possible
    • Ensure you have appropriate lighting
  • Establish a routine
    • Get up at regular hours
    • Separate work hours from personal times and respect evening and weekend time
    • Factor in breaks
  • Up your tech-savviness
    • Use video collaboration functionality to make more of a human connection
    • Ensure you truly have the right tools and know how to use them
    • Make sure you have a strong Internet connection
  • Set up regular check-ins with your team
  • Turn the TV off during work hours
  • Establish a task or to-do list to stay on track
  • Stay active, factoring in time for physical activity since we tend to be less active at home and may not have access to a gym
  • Avoid snacking all day because it’s there, you’re bored, or stressed
  • Build in time for meditation, quiet time, or to be reflective and mindful
We need to acknowledge that when we return to work our teams are likely to have increased anxiety. The built environment can serve as a powerful tool to help reduce the adverse effects of stress, burnout, and anxiety in the workplace. By creating environments that improve conditions and provide opportunities for mindfulness, we can have a marked impact on everyone’s physical and mental well-being.