Depression and Your Office Environment: What You Need to Know

Dec-depression-imageDepression, while often hiding in plain sight, ranks among the top three workplace problems for employee assistance professionals, resulting in 3% of total short-term disability days. For context, that’s more disability than what’s caused by heart disease, hypertension and diabetes—all in the form of an illness that isn’t nearly as visible as a broken bone. While factors inciting depressive disorders are often outside of the control of business leaders and HR managers, the workplace can influence mental health.


Fortunately, you can take steps to make changes within the workplace that promote good mental health—here’s how to get started.

Implement Height-Adjustable Desks

If there’s one thing that leads to aches and pains for employees throughout the workweek, it’s sitting down all day—especially true if your office chairs aren’t ergonomically designed. Height-adjustable desks are growing in popularity, thanks in large part to the fact that they allow for increased movement throughout the day. In a perfect world, an outside consultant should be brought in to customize standing desk ergonomics for each individual employee. Otherwise, be sure to keep monitors at eye level and arm bends at 90 degrees to keep neck and arm pain from occurring.

Knock Down the Cubicles

In 1984, an eye-opening study showed that patients recovering from surgery required fewer painkillers when assigned a room overlooking trees. It’s commonly assumed that views of nature help to reduce stress and anxiety, which may in large part have to do with why working in cubicles so often leads to actual instances of depression. If your office environment is characterized by separation, knocking down the cubicles and embracing a more open office plan can be the first step toward promoting a positive work environment. After all, your employees don’t need walls around them in order to focus and get work done—they simply need their own space to thrive.

Improve Lighting

Lighting has such a strong influence on mental health that those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) are often urged to purchase light therapy boxes for treatment. In offices where not every employee has the luxury of working alongside a big picture window, overhead and other types of lighting should always be considered to ensure an environment that isn’t mentally taxing. Swap out fluorescents for lighting that is soft and calming, and consider adding warm supplemental lighting to help boost mood and energy levels. If possible, position desks so that they receive as much natural light as the day can provide—your employees will thank you for the added Vitamin D in the winter months.


HR directors will never be able to fully curtail anxiety and depression in the workplace, but with a little bit of effort, you can help reduce the chances that mental health issues get in the way of productivity and employee wellness.