Your Guide to Building a Stress-Free (Almost) Office Environment

Published on 17/11/2021


  • Introduction 
  • Is it Possible to Achieve a Stress-Free Office Environment?
  • 5 Ways Your Office Can Cause Workplace Stress
  • It’s Not Just About The Office, It’s About Workplace Culture Too
  • 10 Elements of a Stress-free (Almost) Office Design 
  • What Can a Manager do to Reduce Workplace Stress?
  • Workplace Initiatives to Help Reduce Stress 
  • Conclusion 

If you’ve ever worked in a large and busy office, you’ll know one thing - it can be a stressful place to be. Even if your office is small, that’s still a stress-inducing situation if the design is all wrong. 

Workplace stress is a major issue the world over, especially here in the UK. If a person’s working situation causes them to feel overwhelmed and stressed, they can easily take that home with them mentally. Then, their home and work-life balance is affected and chronic stress creeps in. Over the long-term, chronic stress is extremely damaging and in the worst cases, can even be fatal. 

There are many ways to reduce workplace stress, but have you ever thought that your office design could be the key to solving the problem? It could also be the cause in many cases. 

The office environment is where your employees spend a huge amount of their time. If they work full-time, just think of how many hours that adds up to over the course of a year. It’s a lot! The human body and mind are affected greatly by the environment in which someone works and as a manager, it's your responsibility to give your employees the most comfortable and supportive office environment possible. You also need to make sure that you’re not inadvertently causing stress and that you know how to help people who are struggling. 

Of course, by doing that you also help to boost productivity and, in turn, profits too. Check out this infographic which talks about the rather eye-opening cost of workplace stress for UK businesses. 

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Now you can see why so many businesses are focusing upon stress management in the workplace! This guide is going to help you design an office that helps to drastically reduce the amount of stress your employees experience during their working days. Then, they’ll be ready and raring to go when they arrive at work, not worried and stressed out about the day to come.

Is it Possible to Achieve a Stress-Free Office Environment?

You might be wondering whether it’s even possible to kick stress out of an office environment for good. Well, no. The reason is because a small amount of stress is actually a good thing. 

When you feel a very small amount of stress in the right situation, it can act as a motivator to get the job done, and to do it well. However, when stress is left to accumulate over the long-term, that’s when it becomes chronic. Chronic stress affects the mind and the body in a huge way, causing the potential for heart problems, lowered immune system function, and a hugely increased risk of anxiety and depression. It’s not something anyone should have to deal with unnecessarily. 

Of course, you can’t control the stressful situations your employees might struggle with outside of work, but you can support them if they approach you with any problems. What you can also do is identify potential causes of stress in the workplace and work to minimise them, while also creating an office design that helps to conquer the problem. 

So, while it’s not possible to 100% kick stress out of the office, you can do a lot to drastically reduce it by implementing strategies for managing stress in the workplace. A lot of that comes down to the environment in which your employees work. A poorly designed office is a huge cause of stress to begin with. 

One of the most important aspects as a manager is to understand the whole issue of stress and mental health as a whole. Only when you understand the problem can you work to reduce it. Check out this interesting TED Talk on the subject of workplace mental health. 

5 Ways Your Office Can Cause Workplace Stress

Before you start to work on the problem of workplace stress, you first need to identify what might be causing it. There are many reasons why your office might be a stress trigger for your employees, but the first step is to actually ask your employees what they like or dislike about the environment in which they work. 

Of course, some of your employees may feel a little awkward about coming forward and complaining about the office, so it’s best to give them an anonymous outlet to vent any issues. An anonymous survey is a good idea or a suggestion box they can leave ideas. Then, collate all the responses and look for patterns. Obviously, if just one person says they find the carpet in the office stressful and nobody else mentions it, that’s not something to focus on. But, if several people mention it, you know that’s a huge trigger that needs to be fixed. 

Safety in the office environment is one of the major things you need to focus on. Your employees need to feel safe and supported during their working days. That’s also a huge responsibility you have in line with the Health and Safety at Work Act. But, what else could be contributing towards workplace stress from your existing office design?

  1. Too small/overcrowded - Is the office too small or do you have too many people in the space? Your employees need a little room to move around comfortably. It’s mentally quite stressful when there are people sitting too close to you at their office chairs. Personal space is very important and while yes, you need to make sure that you can accommodate all your employees, you also need to make sure they have space to move around and feel like they’re not being packed in like sardines. 
  2. Office furniture broken or uncomfortable - If your employees are sitting at office desks that are too small or chairs that hurt their backs, it’s not going to create the most stress-free environment, is it? It’s also going to cause potential health problems too. Ergonomic office furniture is an ideal option because it can be adjusted to suit the needs of each individual user. 
  3. Collaboration areas too close to quiet work areas - If you have zones in your office, you need to make sure that they’re evenly spaced out and that you implement tools such as acoustic panels or office screens, to minimise noise. There is nothing worse than trying to concentrate on a piece of work, only to be disturbed constantly by a rather loud collaboration session. 
  4. Nowhere to go for a break - Everyone needs a break. When you’re sitting at your desk for several hours a day, it’s vital to get out and go for a walk, or simply have a little mental break. If your employees have nowhere to go for that break, they’re going to feel pretty stressed out. Office booths and breakout spaces are a good choice but if you have an outdoor space you can make use of, that’s even better. 
  5. Too hot or too cold - Never underestimate the power of temperature when it comes to stress management. The problem is, some employees will run hot and some will run cold! That means you need to find a happy medium and perhaps an individual way for people to regulate how hot or cold they are, such as small desk fans, etc. Generally, being too hot is pretty stressful because you can’t concentrate and it causes headaches. But, being cold is just as bad too. 

It’s Not Just About The Office, It’s About Workplace Culture Too

Of course, reducing workplace stress isn’t just about the way your office is designed. You could have the most multi-functional, stress reducing office around, but if your workplace culture doesn’t reflect that, it’s not going to work. 

This means managers and employees having the same mindset when it comes to stress. It means understanding that stress is a human response to situations that cause them to feel overwhelmed or under pressure, and that there’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of if a person feels it.

For many years, employees have hidden the fact that they feel stressed from their colleagues and manager. They felt that they would be judged or that people would think they couldn’t cope. That’s not true at all. We need to eradicate any possible judgement of someone who admits to feeling stressed or goes off work with stress. For sure, we need to minimise sickness absence as a result of stress, but people shouldn’t feel judged or worried about admitting to it either. 

Therefore, managers need to sit down and identify possible causes of stress in the workplace and then the entire culture in the business needs to reflect a positive approach to helping people who feel overwhelmed. That means having an open door policy and allowing people to talk about how they feel and creating a team working environment that supports everyone. 

There are many strategies for managing stress in the workplace, but if you don’t root out the actual attitudes towards stress and how people are treated when they experience it, nothing will change. 

10 Elements of a Stress-free (Almost) Office Design 

Now, we know that it's never going to be possible to wipe out the chances of anyone experiencing stress in your office, ever. Its going to happen occasionally, but the way you design your office can drastically affect the prevalence of workplace stress in your business. 

Every space is different in terms of size and shape, but these suggestions can be incorporated into any office to bring major advantages. 

Let’s check out 10 elements that you can incorporate into your office design to help drastically reduce the amount of workplace stress your employees experience. The good news? None of them call for a major renovation!

Space Management 

We mentioned earlier that the space needs to be large enough for the people working within it. So, the first thing you need to do when creating your stress-busting office is to look at the number of employees you have and the space available. Is there a way you can arrange your office furniture differently, in order to make more use of the floor space? 

If you feel that the office is a little cramped, how about offering flexible working opportunities? That way, you’ll usually have several employees working from home at any one time and therefore reducing the numbers in the office. 

It could also be that you have far too much storage for your needs and that’s eating a lot of floor space. How about going paperless? That way, you'd be doing the environment a huge favour while also making your office drastically bigger. 

Office Health & Safety 

It goes without saying that the office needs to be a safe place to work and employees need to feel reassured in that fact. It is your responsibility as an employer to provide a safe working environment. It’s therefore a good idea to perhaps look through your office occasionally and identify anything which could potentially become a hazard. A risk assessment should be done periodically anyway, so make this a priority and your employees will be reassured by your obvious efforts to provide a safe space for them to work in. 

Having too many people in an office can be a safety issue too, which further presses home the need to use effective space management when designing or tweaking an office. 

Comfortable Office Furniture

A little earlier we mentioned the fact that office furniture should be ergonomic wherever possible, to allow employees to modify settings to suit their needs. This is a major must-do. Chronic pain conditions do not make for happy employees and that’s stressful in its own right. 

Look through your office and identify office furniture, such as desks, office chairs, storage solutions, etc, that look past their best. Anything which is broken needs to be replaced. It could also be a good idea to simply purchase brand new furniture across the board, to give the office a new and modern feel, but also to upgrade what you already have. The comfort of your employees is paramount and should always come first. 

Minimising Noise

Open plan offices are known for being noisy places to work. There’s nothing you can do to reduce that completely. But, you can minimise the amount of noise in the office, so your employees can get their work done more comfortably. Trying to do your work when you’re surrounded by a wall of noise is one of the most stressful situations around!

A little earlier we mentioned zones for collaboration and quiet work, and this is a great idea. However, you have to think about space management with this. You need to site your collaboration spaces far away from your quiet zones, otherwise you’re defeating the object. Acoustic panels can help so soak up some of the noise, but it won’t completely wipe out the chances of a rather boisterous collaboration session interrupting other employees. Office screens can also help to create barriers and block some noise, but nothing will work better than thinking carefully about where you place these areas initially. 

Failing that, how about giving your employees noise cancelling headphones for use in difficult situations?

Time Out Areas

Everyone needs a break. When it comes to helping to minimise workplace stress and focusing upon the wellbeing of your employees, you need to encourage your employees to take regular breaks and certainly not eat their lunch at their office desks. 

But, your employees need to have somewhere to go. We mentioned outdoor areas earlier and that’s a great way to give people a much needed break. The fresh air and proximity to nature will help to calm and reduce any stress, but it will also help your employees to focus when they return to their workstation. 

Of course, the British weather is nothing but unpredictable and that means you need some indoor spaces too. Think about office booths or even a breakout area with comfortable breakout furniture. These are multifunctional spaces as they can be used for collaborating but also for someone who simply wants to get away and sit quietly for a short while. 

As far as your employees having someone to go for lunch, you need a canteen area that is bright, enjoyable, and has plenty of fresh air and natural light spilling in. 

Office Plants

Did you know that Mother Nature can do a lot for your office design in terms of making it look great but also in reducing stress? She can also help boost productivity too!

Adding nods of nature into your space is called biophilic office design and this is a way to help reduce stress in a big way, as well as bringing many other benefits too. You can have a water feature, a living wall, or just a few plants here and there. You’ll quickly notice a calmer feel to your space. 

Check out this video for a few ideas on the different types of plants that are ideal for lowering stress and anxiety both in the home and office. 

Active Working Opportunities 

Did you know that sitting for too long can be very damaging to health? This is called sitting disease and it’s a real issue for office workers. When you sit down for too long it’s also generally quite uncomfortable, so active working is a great way to get people moving, reduce stress and tension, while looking after their health too. 

But, how can you encourage people to move around in a job that essentially requires them to sit at a desk and a computer? Active working basically means that you utilise office furniture that doesn’t break productivity. We’re talking about laptop risers, stand height desks, height adjustable desks, and active seating. All of these things allow your employees to move around while they’re still doing what they need to do. A sit and stand routine can be very beneficial. 

Of course, you also need to highlight why moving around is vital for health and wellbeing and encourage employees to do so, such as taking the stairs and not the lift, etc. 

Colour Psychology 

Did you know that how you decorate your office has a huge impact on whether it’s a stressful place to work or not? You’ll notice that many office interior design ideas focus on something called colour psychology. This means that different colours can affect how we feel when we're in that space. 

For instance, the colour red inspires passion and fire, which can sometimes be a little ‘too much’ for a working environment. But, colours such as green, blue, or a muted yellow can be calming and inspiring at the same time. Natural shades, such as cream, light grey, white, khaki, light brown, are also great for calming and stress reduction needs. 

If your office is currently a little dark, why not consider a fresh coat of paint to brighten it up? A bright working environment is instantly a more ‘up’ and lifted place. A dark office feels down and a little depressing. That could have a major impact upon how the space feels and what your employees experience while they're in there. 


No, this doesn’t mean throwing away all your office furniture and having your employees sit on the floor! It doesn’t mean a sterile white office space either. Minimalism simply means that you’re reducing waste and making the most of the space you have. You're not keeping things you don’t need and you’re doing what you can to be as environmentally friendly as possible too. These are all good things. 

Going paperless is also a key feature of minimalism because you get rid of your existing storage, as much as you can. 

If you want to try minimalism, you’ll quickly see that it’s known for stress reduction. That’s because it creates a more streamlined and calm working environment. It’s also pretty pleasant to look at, which means anyone entering your office will get a great first impression. 

Minimalism is often given a bad reputation because people don’t understand what it really is. You can have any colour scheme you want and whatever office furniture you need, but it's about assessing the floor space and only keeping what is really necessary. 

Fresh Air & Natural Light

When you're thinking of office design ideas, make sure you incorporate plenty of fresh air and natural light. This works and in hand with adding office plants in the biophilic design idea too.

Fresh air helps people to feel more comfortable, it helps you to focus, it’s calming, and it regulates temperature. Natural light does exactly the same - just think of how you feel when the sunlight hits your skin and you get that uplifted and happy sensation. 

Declutter your window spaces and allow as much fresh air to get in as possible. Too much heating or air conditioning can cause the space to become dry and a little uncomfortable. Also make sure that you don’t rely solely upon artificial lighting and make the most of the natural sunlight that streams through your office - when the sun decides to shine! Simply make sure that none of your employees have glare problems on their computer screens and you’re good to go. 

These 10 elements help to build that stress-free (almost) office design. As you can see, it’s much easier than most people think and the effects are very far-reaching. 

What Can a Manager do to Reduce Workplace Stress?

Of course, it's not all about the way the office is designed either. Managers have a huge part to play. We talked earlier about the culture in the office and that’s something which needs to work hand in hand with office design ideas. 

So, how can a manager find ways to reduce stress in the workplace? Here are a few ideas:

  • Have an open door policy - That basically means that you don’t always sit behind your executive office desk with the door closed, refusing to speak to anyone. It doesn’t mean you have the door open all the time either. Basically, it means that your employees feel that they can knock on your door and talk to you about anything that is bothering them. Having an approachable and understanding manager is key when it comes to creating a calm and stress-free working environment. 
  • Encouraging people to talk - Knocking down the stigma around workplace stress is also vital. So, encourage employees to open up and talk to one another. That helps to build team spirit and encourages people to help one another. When you feel supported by your manager and your colleagues, stress has a much harder job of infiltrating the space.
  • Having a blame-free working culture - If someone makes a mistake, they shouldn't be berated in front of everyone or made to feel as those they’re solely to blame. Mistakes happen and we need to learn from them and not point the finger of blame. The team takes the successes together and work through mistakes together. Nobody is individually blamed. That helps to give that ‘all for one and one for all’ feel to the office. 
  • Giving equal workloads - Workloads across the board should be equal and proportionate. Deadlines should be achievable and realistic. Uneven workloads and crazy deadlines are major reasons for workplace stress and it's a very easy situation to solve. Simply make sure that everyone as equal work and that nobody is sat working harder than anyone else. If someone is struggling, take some of their workload away and distribute it evenly across the team. Then, they can take the work back when they’ve overcome whatever was holding them back. 

Check out this useful infographic which also contains a few ways that managers can help to deal with mental health in the workplace generally. 

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Workplace Initiatives to Help Reduce Stress

Of course, there are other things you can do to help reduce stress too, including a few initiatives to put into place. Creating a culture that reflects the stress-free approach you’re going for will work alongside your office design and help your employees to grab the benefits.

A few ideas include:

  • Flexible working - Offering flexible working opportunities for employees is a major plus when it comes to improving their home and work-life balance. It could be that one of your employees is struggling when it comes to juggling family life and work. In that case, offering them the chance to work from home could reduce their stress and improve their situation. You may also have employees who simply want to move around, i.e. travel, and their inability to do so is dragging them down. Working remotely could be the answer for them.
  • Active working - We mentioned active working earlier on as an answer to the sitting disease problem but exercise in general is very good for stress reduction. Exercise encourages the brain to release feel-good endorphins which not only boost happiness but reduce stress too. 
  • Wellbeing packages - Implementing a package of wellbeing features helps your employees to feel cared for and supported during their working days. Your package could be tailored to your specific workforce but how about confidential counselling services, smoking cessation advice, cut priced gym membership, offers on private health insurance, etc. 
  • Building team spirit - Team building days might have a bad reputation in some cases but they’re certainly not a waste of time. When employees feel supported by one another, including management, it helps to reduce stress and increases morale in the office. It’s a much more pleasant working environment in general.

Of course, stress management in the workplace is also about understanding potential triggers and reacting to them quickly. Check out this video for a few ideas on common stress triggers. 


It might not be possible to completely kick out any slight mention of workplace stress but you can design an office that supports a stress-free approach as much as possible. In addition to initiatives to support that approach, you can help your employees enjoy their working days, free from the burdens of chronic stress.

Stress management awareness is also a great addition to your training days. Helping employees know how to handle any stress that does come their way allows them to manage situations more effectively, without it snowballing into something very negative indeed.

By kicking out the stigma attached to workplace stress, and of course, stress in general, your workplace will become a happier and healthier place to be.

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