How art in the workplace contributes to wellness

  • Structure and shape can be the building blocks of any great work of art, however the composition does not always have to be representational. :

We all want to feel well. And yet wellness, a feeling of health and contentment, is becoming increasingly hard to pin down in the modern world. Especially, at work. This is why a crucial discussion around mental health, wellbeing and the workplace has been opened in recent years. The office environment can and should be a place of productivity, creativity and dynamism. A space that allows its employees to thrive. But how do we create that space? One answer – introduce art.

On average we spend a third of our waking lives at work, and yet the current data regarding work and wellbeing is cause for concern. According to Mind UK’s research, work is the biggest cause of stress in people’s lives, more so than debt or financial instability. 1 in 6 of those employed in the UK experience common mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. Mental health issues were named the third biggest cause of the 131 million sick days taken in 2017 as researched by The Office for National Statistics. This is a huge problem, both on an individual scale and from a corporate perspective. But as a result, a wellbeing revolution is taking hold in businesses across the country. The predicts that by 2020 78% of UK companies will have a defined mental health strategy, as 60% of CEOs consider mental health and wellbeing to be a top priority. Wellness strategies are being proved to be much more than just ‘trends’ and are being taken seriously by those that want to support and get the best from their workforces.

The 2017 Creative Health Inquiry Report (CHIR) found that 85% of people in England agree that the quality of the built environment influences the way they feel. So, if our workforce is struggling with its mental health, the aesthetics of the workplace need to be adapted. What better way of enhancing the workspace than by showcasing artwork. This might seem straightforward but research into the links between art and wellbeing yield undeniably positive results. For example, the CHIR concluded that artistic and cultural engagement reduces stress and leads to longer, happier lives. In 2018 The Inspirational Power of Arts of Creativity proved that, as one might expect, being surrounded by art amplifies creativity. A study in this report concluded that “appreciating works of art brought about inspiration, which in turn enhanced creativity” and improved problem solving. Research from the Medical Sector is particularly inspiring as artwork is still proven to benefit people, even in environments of heightened emotional distress. A Report of the Review of Arts and Health Working Group from the Department of Health proved that in chemotherapy wards, the presence of “visual art and music reduced levels of depression in patients by a third”. And a similarly positive conclusion was reached by Florence Waters in Paintings in Hospitals: Pictures of Health. Waters found that hospital patients exposed to art spent less time on the ward, “simply because it makes them – and their staff – feel better”.

So, in a wider context we can be sure that art is helpful to us and can benefit our outlook. But, how does this translate to the workplace? In 2003 Joyce Roughly examined the corporate applications of this phenomenon and the results revealed encouraging trends. Employees were surveyed concerning attitudes towards art in the workplace, of those; 78% agreed that their stress was reduced, 67% agreed that overall morale was enhanced and 77% agreed that they felt greater appreciation of diversity and expression of opinions via stimulating discussion. Significantly, 84% of staff agreed that the presence of artwork evidenced the company’s interest in improving the quality of life in and out of the workplace, with 94% agreeing that the work environment was bettered as a result. Drawing from these statistics, it is apparent that art in the workplace improves individual engagement, community atmosphere and a healthier relationship between company and employee. Milica Jovic’s 2018 article Art Owned by Businesses: The Changing Role of Corporate Art Collections explores the effect of artwork on productivity using a variety of sources. Jovic showcases results from Exeter University’s School of Psychology in which a study revealed that employees’ productivity could be increased by 17% in an environment containing artwork. In line with this, 64% of employees at Cass Business School in London, agreed that art in the workplace made them feel more motivated. Finally, 80% of those questioned said artworks improved their sense of well-being.

A successful workforce is, broadly speaking; productive, creative, collaborative, goal driven and dynamic. According to the National Institute for Health & Clinical Excellence’s 2009 definition, these qualities also describe a state of mental wellbeing otherwise known as wellness. This link between a happy, healthy person and an effective employee is why wellness is more than a passing trend or vague aim for smart businesses. And although wellbeing may seem impossible to achieve, we can make a start by showcasing beautiful artworks and observing the positivity they bring.