When it comes to workplace mental health, there is work to be done if we are to shake off practices and stigma of old to embrace a healthier, happier way of working and living. Last week, Client Partner Rachel Cook spoke to Estates Gazette about the role of branding, design and communications in making the change we all want to see….
The challenge is a complex one: there are long-held beliefs such as “longer hours equals better work”, that emotion has no place in the office, not to mention always-on connectedness. Throw in job insecurity and concerns about the long-term viability of some occupations, and you have a potent cocktail of mental health threats – and that was long before Covid-19 struck.
With a challenge so complex, we need to look at every aspect of work and workplaces. The importance of the design of the physical environment in supporting mental health is well-known, but just as vital to empowering people to stand up for their wellbeing is design of communication and campaigns. And at the root of all good design must be a strong brand.
At Thompson, we are well-versed in both brand and mental health, thanks to our work with Mind in creating its Mental Health at Work platform. And research by the charity shows that more than 50% of workers feel uncomfortable talking to colleagues about mental health issues. It’s a worrying obstacle.
EG’s 2020 Mental Health Survey showed that things are improving in this sector, though, with 61% of respondents now reporting that they would be happy to raise the issue with their employers – an increase of 20 percentage points. However, with one in four property professionals confessing to having experienced suicidal thoughts, there clearly remains a shortfall. A culture of openness and honesty must be encouraged and actively developed, and a strong brand has long been recognised as an important driver.
With most businesses now making employee wellness a core value, a brand can also be vital to embedding good wellness habits, both as an employer and potentially as a place-making tool or with occupants or residents. Of course, within the property sector, the branding of a building or site sets the tone for the culture of the place. A good example from our portfolio is CEG’s Kirkstall Forge, a mixed-use development in Leeds intended to offer a new standard of workplace wellbeing to companies that choose to move in, and with an award-winning brand that doesn’t just echo that sense of wellbeing, but actually enables it.
A healthier development
The visual style of the Kirkstall Forge branding brings together different strands of communication to form a coherent narrative with wellbeing at the heart of the story. This feeds into a sense of ownership that tenants have around this agenda and how they might actively add to it, as well as driving participation in initiatives such as a running club and yoga classes.
Proximity to the outdoors is central to the proposition, for both employers and the residential market, so nature is front and centre in the branding too. Plants and wildlife imagery feature heavily. Modern buildings plus the great outdoors mean plenty of natural light, and this is also reflected in the brand colours, with soft greens, blues and lighter hues, which in turn add to a sense of professional calm.
Many existing workplaces in urban areas may not have such amenities but need to encourage healthy habits every bit as acutely. What inspiration can city-centre office blocks take from Kirkstall Forge? Plenty, I would say, but authenticity is required. Take visual cues from the surroundings and encourage habits that fit the practicalities of people’s jobs and lives. The principles behind the Kirkstall Forge brand, which is rooted in its environment to empower individual and communal responsibility, are a good template for organisations that need to help people work smarter.
How to build a culture that empowers? Research continues to show that a large proportion of the workforce do not simply feel constrained with regard to openly discussing their mental health, but are unable to recognise or acknowledge it themselves.
There is a deeply ingrained belief that stress should be worn as a badge of honour at work, and that the ability to manage it alone is a sign of strength. This perception needs to be challenged, from top to bottom within an organisation. Culture eats strategy for breakfast (and, presumably, tactics for a light lunch) – and a strong brand is a proven way to build a robust corporate culture. Using the brand as the basis for starting conversations about mental health and wellness is a way of letting everyone know that it is considered a cultural norm.
Just as important to a healthy workplace culture is a thriving sense of togetherness, belonging and purpose. Organisations need to recognise and celebrate people’s achievements or share their objectives. A strong brand, with a well-defined tone of voice and visual style applied consistently to all touchpoints, provides a platform for this kind of communication in a way that is inclusive, and brings people together. At Kirkstall Forge, the website is a forum for residents and businesses, which include BUPA, Mercedes-Benz Vans and CEG itself, emphasising the strong sense of a community, not just a place to work.
As people return to workplaces, employers need to give staff permission to look after themselves. Buildings and workplaces that adhere to modern design principles and flexible working practices can facilitate this, but strong brand messages can provide impetus. Clear, considered communication is proven to be effective in embedding – and reinforcing – a culture of wellbeing that shapes behaviour and boosts productivity and performance. Whether it is encouraging healthy habits within the working day or letting people know that it is OK to switch off from time to time, in the context of wellbeing, a healthy brand is good business.
This article first appeared in Estates Gazette. You can read the original here