How to Manage Stress in the Workplace

modern office space

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Key Takeaways

  • Some remote workers are choosing to go back to the office because they feel more productive there.
  • New research suggests that offering workers the freedom to use different workspaces in an office is best for mental health.
  • Workers can also take control of their mental health in their work environment by setting boundaries that match their workplace needs.

If you’re thinking about going back into the office after three years of remote work, you’re not alone. Some remote workers are starting to reevaluate their home office environment. A new survey found that 61% of U.S. adults who could telework but choose to go back in person do so because they feel more productive in the office.

“Working remotely has hurt my productivity a little because when I’m alone, it’s a lot easier to get distracted than it is when you have the social pressure of your coworkers looking over your shoulder,” said Karen Chu, 32, who works fully remote from her Brooklyn home as head of community at a tech company.

Productivity is just one factor that could affect workplace mental health and happiness. A recent study suggests that personality types could also be considered in office design to allow both extroverts and introverts to thrive.

The study, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, shows that extroverts are happier and more focused with open-plan seating. But introverts don’t focus as well in that same environment. Giving employees the option to work freely in different spaces seems to be the best for mental health.

“It highlights the idea that there are individual differences that matter. One workplace design or office design doesn’t fit all,” said Bradford S. Bell, PhD, a professor of strategic human resources at Cornell University, who was not involved in the study.

How to Set Your Office Boundaries

In addition to physical space, you might also want to think about the boundaries you need to set at work based on your personality.

Marsha D. Brown, PhD, a Florida-based licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in helping employees deconstruct workplace stress, said you can ask yourself whether you get distracted by having other people around or you crave social interactions.

“Once you figure those out, try to adjust accordingly in your workspace,” Brown told Verywell.

You can try to utilize different office seating spaces if your company has a “hot desking” policy, where you’re not bound to one particular workstation. Or you can also use noise-canceling headphones when the office gets too chaotic, Brown added.

Employers might have the incentive to keep workers happy since anxiety and depression contribute to $1 trillion in lost productivity globally each year, but Brown said individuals will always have the most investment in their own mental health.

“For your own sake, you have to take responsibility for your own mental health in the workplace, and make sure that you are enforcing the things that you need to be able to thrive at work,” she said.

How to Thrive When You Work Remotely

Whether you work remotely full-time or have a hybrid schedule, there’s a risk of losing work-life separation, according to Bell.

He said teams need to create clear expectations around communicating after-hours, and that productivity tools like can be programmed to prompt remote workers to prepare for the end of the day and disconnect from work.

For Chu, creating an office space at home is important to reinforce work-life balance. “I have a dedicated office space that I don’t hang out in when I’m not working. Having a physical boundary helps me get in or out of work mode,” she said.

Brown said that you can try to boost your mood at work by listening to a “pick-me-up playlist,” placing pictures of your upcoming travel destinations around your workspace, or adding a plant to your desk.

It’s also important to spend time outside in natural light, which has been shown to improve mood. Taking “micro-breaks” during the workday to go outside for fresh air and daylight can also make a difference in your mental health.

However, some workers have no control over their environments and companies are not always interested in supporting mental health in the workplace. In these cases, Brown suggests reaching out to other people with similar experiences for advice, but workers sometimes have to move on if their current work environment is harming their mental health significantly.

“There are so many factors that go into that, it is not easy at all,” Brown said. “Overall, if it’s between your own mental health and well-being and staying at this place, which one do you prioritize? Which one do you choose?”

What This Means For You

Workplace stress and anxiety can take a serious toll on mental health. Consider speaking to a mental healthcare provider to discuss individual strategies that can help you thrive in your work environment.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. World Health Organization. Mental health at work.

  3. Burns AC, Saxena R, Vetter C, Phillips AJK, Lane JM, Cain SW. Time spent in outdoor light is associated with mood, sleep, and circadian rhythm-related outcomes: a cross-sectional and longitudinal study in over 400,000 UK Biobank participantsJ Affect Disord. 2021;295:347-352. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2021.08.056

  4. U.S. General Services Administration. Wellbuilt for wellbeing.