Floods, wildfires, famines, droughts, species extinction: climate-change-induced disasters are inflicting a heavy toll not only on the environment but also on our mental health, according to a recent report released by the American Psychological Association (APA) entitled “Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance.”
The APA’s report concludes that direct experience with a natural disaster, such as loss of property or personal physical harm, can have immediate and acute consequences on our mental health, including trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression. After Hurricane Katrina, for example, studies found that suicide and suicidal ideation more than doubled in people living in areas affected by the hurricane, and one in six met the criteria for PTSD. Psychologists are calling this type of mental illness ‘ecoanxiety.’
There are also significant long-term effects on mental health. The “unrelenting day-to-day despair” can erode mental health causing chronic psychological consequences. “Gradual, long-term changes in climate can also surface a number of different emotions, including fear, anger, feelings of powerlessness, or exhaustion,” the APA writes. Ecoanxiety can also impact our physical health. Research has shown that chronic stress can lower one’s immune system, causing one to be susceptible to illness and disease.
Although dealing successfully with mental health issues in the workplace is largely dependent on having a positive internal corporate culture, good people management, and wellness programs for employees — there is also a role for corporate real estate professionals. A well-designed office environment can help to bolster mental health of employees by reducing physical and emotional stressors and by facilitating human connection.
For those who value employee health and wellness, Energy & Sustainability Services Operations Manager Simone Skopek recommends three key ways to combat the debilitating effects of ecoanxiety.
Green the workplace environment
Studies have shown that employees report that they’re more comfortable and healthier in green buildings. Recently, the concept of ‘hedonistic sustainability’ has been gaining traction. Although the two terms may seem entirely opposed, the concept refers to the pleasures of being in a green environment that offers a better quality of life and wellness. In the workplace, the positive aspects of working in a sustainable environment may indeed connect to higher wellness and productivity in measurable ways.
Nurture workplace connections
If an office can also provide a convivial environment that will bolster opportunities for human connection — where people can socialize with one another face-to-face, and find some fun and community at work — then this can help to reduce stress and make up for some of the loneliness or despair that people experience in their lives.
Communicate sustainability as a corporate value
There are three reasons that companies’ sustainability initiatives help to draw and retain the most satisfied employees. The first is that sustainability can boost a company’s reputation and status. Many job seekers feel that they would be proud to work for a prestigious organization. The second reason is that sustainability implies that a prospective employer cares about its employees. If a company genuinely cares about the wellbeing of society, it would seem probable that it also treats its own people — its employees — well. Reason number three is that job seekers who value sustainability want an employer that has a deep-rooted, positive corporate culture and a vision for the future that fits with their own values. These employees have self-awareness of the impact that this will have on their mental health and productivity.
Reserve your copy today of JLL’s new book, “SMART, Green + Productive Workplace: A desk companion for corporate real estate professionals” to learn more the physical and psychological effects of a green and productivity workplace.
Simone Skopek is an Operations Manager in Energy & Sustainability Services at JLL. Simone has been pioneering programs at the firm that address sustainability and productivity in the workplace, as well as building resiliency and emergency management. She was one of the original creators of the Green Globes certification program and BOMA Best. Past careers include Critical Infrastructure Analyst with the government of Canada’s Public Safety department. She was also a high school physics, chemistry and biology teacher, and sailed around the world for seven years in a 30-foot sailboat.