From plants to pets: how to make your office a stress-free zone

Not every employer has the financial means for mass yoga sessions and relaxing off-site trips, but there are still ways to bring wellness to the workplace.

“In simple terms, stress is the result of our mind preparing our body to respond to a perceived threat,” says Litzi Essler, founder of Happy Engine coaching. “The key word here is ‘perceived’ – as, in modern life, we spend a lot of time worrying about things that haven’t happened.” This can cause constant feelings of anxiety, as you prepare to deal with all the possible problems that may occur, she says.

Whether you work on your own, you have a small business or manage hundreds of employees, making sure your colleagues and employees aren’t under undue levels of stress is critical to having a successful business. And it doesn’t have to break the bank.

Scattering plants around the office
You don’t need to be a botanist to realise the positive effect plants can have on an environment, and the workplace is no different. Plants that have been shown to have a de-stressing effect include aloe vera, peace lilies, bamboo palm, spider plants and rubber trees. Try dotting a few of these on your desk and around the office and see what the effect is on people’s moods.

Allowing pets
The act of stroking a dog has been shown to increase levels of a hormone called oxytocin in both the dog and the human, while reducing cortisol levels in the person, too. Oxytocin is a happy hormone, whereas, cortisol is related to stress. So stroking dogs makes you happier and less stressed.

At the UK Mars Petcare offices, dogs are a constant feature. “What’s amazing about having dogs in the office is the genuine relationship of support that can build over time between people and pets,” says Essler, who also works at a pet care company.

“I often notice people taking short breaks in their day to stroke, cuddle or play with the dogs, which relieves their stress and over time builds a positive bond with the dog,” she says. “This unconditional relationship is extremely beneficial in challenging environments and often I see dogs seeking to comfort those who are having a difficult day.”

Creating a stress-free zone
Taking time away from the threat – or perceived threat – that’s making you stressed has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to overcome it. This is why having a separate area that people can go to when they feel overwhelmed will help improve the wellbeing of people in your office. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; it might be a coffee area or simply a corner of the office with beanbags or cushions.

“We’re only a small team, but spending time together outside of the workplace to relax, bond, laugh and reflect has improved productivity and team dynamics endlessly,” says Ben Barker, founder of cold-brew coffee company Artemis Brew.

“It can be as simple, cheap and non-disruptive as you make it,” he says. His team has been to events such as escape rooms and independent film festivals, and it usually involves a beer or two afterwards.

Playing music
Music can be comforting, relaxing and it has been shown to increase productivity. Instead of having everyone listening to their own music through headphones, try playing music in your office to help people feel less stressed.

“We have the radio playing in all areas of the building,” says Tracey Dawson, managing director at Daletech Electronics, a company with 14 employees.

Or, if you’re in the mood for something a bit different, why not try a podcast?

“We love having music on in the office, but more recently we’ve been putting podcasts on, too, which are a great alternative,” says James Gupta, founder and CEO at Synap, an online education platform.

Communication is key
Making sure everyone knows what is going on helps to manage stress, says Gupta. “At the beginning of every week, we have a team meeting to discuss what we’ll each be working on,” he says. “The development team get to see how their work is being received by customers, and the sales team have an understanding of when new features are likely to be available.”

Provide healthy snacks
“We try to encourage active, healthy lifestyles, so we supply free fruit and we have a company lunch together once a week,” says Dawson.

Healthy eating has been shown to help stress levels decrease, and if someone is working to a deadline, having a quick, healthy snack might be exactly what they need to get through a busy morning. Offering caffeine-free alternatives to tea and coffee can also help keep tempers from boiling over and keep the jitters at bay.

Celebrate success
“Celebrating success is important,” says Gillian Rattray, entrepreneur acceleration manager at Royal Bank of Scotland.

Recognising small wins such as hitting certain revenue targets or securing an important meeting helps even out the rollercoaster of running a business. “At the moment, we are looking carefully at celebration,” says Dawson. “As a first step, we have installed a ship’s bell that we ring each time an order leaves the building.”

“In my own business, we had fizz days – we bought a bottle of sparkling wine when we made £1,000 or more in a day,” says Rattray. “The more revenue we earned, the more fizz we bought!”