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Talking about mental health and wellbeing

10 October 2019

For World Mental Health Day we have collected several recent RIBA Professional Features in which practices and architects have shared the ways they address wellbeing and mental health issues in the workplace and in architecture itself.

One thing that is abundantly clear from all of them is that putting wellbeing considerations into practice promotes a virtuous circle: happy practices are more profitable ones; while architecture that engenders social wellbeing adds value to clients. Improving the wellbeing aspects of your office or design work is a win-win activity.

Who to talk to about mental wellbeing concerns

There has been a welcome recognition of mental health issues in the workplace over the past few years. Encouragingly, more and more employers are waking up to the pressures that mount up on their staff.

Contacting the welfare team at  Architects Benevolent Society (ABS) is an alternative route, giving people a chance to talk about their situation and discuss the next step to accessing help and support. The ABS has a well-established partnership with Anxiety UK that offers Mental Health Support via the charity’s UK-wide network of some 200 therapists.

How to improve mental wellbeing within practices

It is important to recognise that, all too often, the architectural profession imposes unreasonable stress levels on its practitioners. Gratifyingly, some practices are acknowledging the importance of mental wellbeing within their workplaces and taking steps to ameliorate them.

Twelve practices that share a strong commitment to staff wellbeing came together earlier this year to form the Architects’ Mental Wellbeing Forum, which has now produced the Architects’ Mental Wellbeing Toolkit with the support of the RIBA and the Architects Benevolent Society (ABS).

Why good architecture leads to happier people

Ben Channon is an Associate and Mental Wellbeing Ambassador at Assael Architecture and the author of Happy by Design: A Guide to Architecture and Mental Wellbeing. Channon was also instrumental in setting up the Architect’s Mental Wellbeing Forum, @AMWForum.

In this feature, he talks about how findings from neuroscience and psychology can be incorporated into design choices. A resident’s sense of control over their environment, for example, should be a fundamental consideration for a project: placing the user first should be at the heart of a design.

How a model ‘happy home’ might look, incorporating some of Channon’s ideas to improve residents’ wellbeing. Image © Ben Channon

How to create a happy and productive practice culture

Creating an environment in which staff are motivated, committed, and enjoy working together is key to a resilient and happy practice. We talked to Geoff Rich, Managing Partner, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios about the importance of listening and communication in maintaining the health and morale of a workplace.

In particular, Rich cites the benefits of eating and drinking together: it increases social interaction and lends a sense of structure to work. At FCB, there really is such a thing as a free lunch.

Eating together every day gives staff a chance to discuss their passions, brings the team together and even impresses visiting clients © Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

The importance of flexible working

Barbara Kaucky, Director, Erect Architecture and Tomas Millar, Director, Millar Howard Workshop are keen to extol the benefits of flexible working. Kaucky’s practice offers flexible working to all, and three- or four-day working has become the norm. She describes the practice as a happy and busy place to be.

Meanwhile, Millar says that flexible working has revolutionised the way the practice works, and has increased trust between colleagues.

Trusting staff to work their hours flexibly can consolidate a committed team that stays together in tough times.

The RIBA provides further guidance on mental health, including tips and strategies on what both employers and employees can do.

These often have no cost to the practice and improve the working life of everyone. They might be steps such as setting up mental health first aiders, providing staff with access to resources, and addressing work/life balance issues.

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