Let's be open about this: Staff should be encouraged to work outdoors

Peter Ferrari
By taking work outside, employees get a change of scenery, natural surroundings, and fresh air, helping to reduce anxiety (Source: Getty)

Mental Health Awareness Week is an important event that highlights the need for honesty and openness when it comes mental health issues at home and in the workplace.

In business, the focus on concepts such as wellbeing and wellness has had a positive impact on employee engagement, and it is clear that good mental health has far-reaching benefits for society.

The correlation between employee wellness and productivity has long been known. In fact, 61 per cent of respondents to the 2018 Global Human Capital Trends survey agreed that wellness and wellbeing programmes improved employee productivity and bottom-line business results.

While a report from Deloitte puts the cost of poor wellbeing and mental health to UK businesses at £30bn, with 60 per cent caused by reduced productivity at work.

With the Office of National Statistics recently reporting that labour productivity in this country is lower over the past decade than at any time in the twentieth century, it's clear that a focus on wellness in the workplace could help alleviate this problem.

And despite the fact that good mental health in the workplace has never been more talked about and valued, UK productivity continues to fall.

So, where are we going wrong?

Reports from the UK Green Building Council and other organisations have shown that natural light is the most desired feature employees look for in the workplace, and studies have shown that workers with good access to natural light are up to 40 per cent more productive.

Similarly, plants are known to improve air quality, leading to the popularisation of the so-called living wall in offices.

The Mental Health Foundation has said that spending time in green space or bringing nature into your everyday life can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing and advises taking everyday activities outdoors to feel the benefits.

By taking work outside, employees get a change of scenery, natural surroundings, fresh air, and activity, helping to reduce anxiety and stimulate the brain. Indeed, studies have shown that time spent outside reduces the heart-rate, inflammation, and levels of fatigue, as well as reducing the stress hormone cortisol.

With an increasing number of businesses now offering flexible working schedules, and the weather beginning to improve, employees have more opportunity to take work outdoors.

A growing number of property developers are catering to this by incorporating communal, outdoor space into commercial buildings.

Even for those without the perfect set-up, modern technology means that, with a bit of planning, venturing outside is possible for most office workers.

Local parks, a private garden or balcony, where there is internet access or enough 4G reception to set up a hot spot, are ideal. And, though lounging on a blanket may seem idyllic, proper seating is required for productive working.

Working outside is a simple but effective means of improving employee wellbeing and mental health. By rethinking traditional wellness schemes, and encouraging outside working through flexible working hours or the provision of outdoor space, businesses can improve productivity – and reap the rewards long term.