How to Design to Reduce Workplace Stress

April 16, 2019

Everyone is bound to feel workplace stress from time to time. In fact, nearly two-thirds (64%) of adults surveyed cited work as a stressor, tied with money as the top stressor, the 2018 Stress in America survey by the American Psychological Association found. Employers should take note: Excessive workplace stress causes 120,000 deaths and results in nearly $190 billion in health care costs each year.

Heidi Hanna, executive director of the American Institute of Stress, notes that unlike other stress, people feel less control over workplace stress and environment. This can lead to a harsher reaction to the stress.

“When we feel out of control, whether real or imagined, it shifts from temporary stress, which can help us, to chronic stress, which usually hurts us,” she notes. Workplace stressors Hanna cites include employees’ schedules, demands placed upon them, turnaround time of requests and their physical space.


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When designing a space to decrease workplace stress, consider incorporating stress relievers into your design to make the day better for your clients.

“Perhaps one of the greatest things that owners/manager or designers could do is help make work spaces more calming to the nervous system,” Hanna suggests. “The benefits provide ROI through financial, mental and emotional boosts from health care cost savings to increased engagement, productivity, creativity, innovation and collaboration.”

Here are some of our favorite workplace stress management strategies to create a stress-free work environment for productivity and positive spirits.

Outdoor Spaces and Plants

Being around greenery will likely pick up workers’ spirits and make them feel refreshed when inside all day. “Humans need nature and a connection to the natural world,” says Eloise Sok-Paupardin, concept creator at SageGlass. “It improves our cognitive function and performance, psychological health and well-being, and even physical health.”

Living Walls Put the ‘Green’ in Greenbuild

Green walls are a great way to design an office for less stress

Nothing says dedication to a green building like putting actual greens on a building. See this refreshing trend.

Ways to bring together workers and the outside include bringing plants indoors or creating an outdoor space for occupants.

Bring Greenery Indoors

Two popular options include living walls and plants. Both increase the indoor air quality of the facility. Living walls are increasingly common, as we noticed at Greenbuild 2018. When including indoor plants in your plan, consider that not all remove VOCs the same way. Find out what air purifying indoor plants to consider in your green design and the right plants for your light.

Create Outdoor Space

Outdoor spaces, like a patio or rooftop, extend the usable space available to workers.

The pros of providing productive outdoor spaces include:

  • Mobility
  • Flexibility
  • Functionality

[5 Things to Consider When Turning Rooftop Into Useable Space]

Natural Lighting

A study released by the Lighting Research Center in 2017, found that office workers who receive a big dose of circadian-effective light in the morning, from either electric lighting or daylight, experience better sleep and lower levels of depression and stress, than those who spend their mornings in dim or low light levels.

Sok-Paupardin encourages offering workspaces with access to ample natural light. “Taking a moment to look out the window, even for just a few seconds, exposes workers to restorative ‘micro-experiences’ that mentally recharge and refresh them,” she says.

Creative Seating Options

Countless studies confirm that open offices didn’t turn out to be the boon they were expected to be. But they are still prevalent.

One way to balance this is to offer a variety of workspaces and seating options. From the many privacy booths we saw at NeoCon 2018 to ergonomic furniture, nooks and mobile partitions, the options to customize a space to give employees work options can be endless.

Room to Step Away

Create rooms to step away, like a cafe or breakroomAmenities like a fun breakroom, café, gym or mindfulness room, where employees can relieve stress, can go a long way in your design.

Easy ways to create break time office amenities include:

  • Providing alternatives to full-service dining
  • Accommodate multiple modes of seating
  • Use residential- and hospitality-inspired touches

“When a company prioritizes managing the stress levels of its employees, it not only puts their health and wellbeing first, but also has a financial benefit,” notes Sok-Paupardin. “Less stressed employees are happier, healthier and more productive.”

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About the author
Valerie Dennis Craven | Director of Accounts, Stamats & Contributing Writer

Valerie is an experienced journalist with an emphasis in the B2B market. As the former director of editorial services for i+s, she led the editorial staff in producing the multiple assets we offer: articles, podcasts, webinars, social media, CEUs and more. Valerie enjoys writing about technology and the way people work.