10 Ways HR can (and should) encourage a calmer working environment
11 March 2022

10 Ways HR can (and should) encourage a calmer working environment


Barry Chignell

Barry Chignell

Barry Chignell worked in Ciphr's marketing team from 2012-2020.


Employee engagement Health and wellbeing


A calm working environment will improve wellness, reduce absence and increase productivity. With such compelling benefits, introducing calmness into the working day should be an HR priority.
There are many strategies that can be employed to improve the culture within the office, including the following:

1. Encourage the right food and drink

Eating and drinking certain things can have a positive effect on our wellbeing and calm us down. Consider the following as part of your daily intake:

green-tea-at-workGreen tea – The calming effect of green tea may seem contradictory to the stimulatory property of tea’s caffeine content but it can be explained by the action of L-theanine.
This amino acid actually acts antagonistically against the stimulatory effects of caffeine on the nervous system. Research on human volunteers has demonstrated that L-theanine creates a sense of relaxation approximately 30-40 minutes after ingestion via at least two different mechanisms. First, this amino acid directly stimulates the production of alpha brain waves, creating a state of deep relaxation and mental alertness similar to what is achieved through meditation.
Second, L-theanine is involved in the formation of the inhibitory neurotransmitter, gamma amino butyric acid (GABA). GABA influences the levels of two other neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin, producing the key relaxation effect. – Source: cupsgreenteahawaii.com

Chocolate – In research from Swinburne University of Technology, polyphenols in dark chocolate have been found to increase calmness and contentedness, reported Science Alert.  Polyphenols are found naturally in plants, and are a basic part of the human diet. The compound has been shown to reduce oxidative stress, which is associated with many diseases.

The study examined 72 healthy men and women aged between 40-65, by giving them a drink mix. Some of the participants were given a drink with 500 mg of cocoa polyphenols, others were given 250 mg of cocoa polyphenols, and some with no cocoa polyphenols.
They drank the assigned drink once a day for 30 days. Those who drank the high dose of cocoa reported higher levels of calmness and contentedness than those who drank either of the other drink mixes. – Source: Stuff.nz

Honey –  if you want to reduce or lower your stress levels, you don’t necessarily have to depend on medical prescriptions. Add some pure honey in your porridge. The nutrients in honey produce a calming effect, especially when taken in significant amounts. That’s the reason why some consider it a part of the breakfast of champions. Honey can also be mixed with a suitable beverage for a good night’s sleep! – Source: preventdisease.com

Whole grain foods – Those that can tolerate gluten may benefit from foods with whole grains, like whole grain pasta and bread. Studies have shown that true whole grains (please bear in mind that some “whole grain foods” still contain processed ingredients) have several benefits for those with anxiety:

  • Whole grain is rich in magnesium, and a deficiency in magnesium has been shown to lead to anxiety.
  • Whole grain contains tryptophan, which becomes serotonin – a calming neurotransmitter.
  • Whole grains create healthy energy while reducing hunger – both important for reducing anxiety.

Whole grain foods can have a powerful effect on anxiety, and contain nutrients that have been stripped out of modern day diets. – Source: calmclinic.com

Seaweed – Seaweed is rich in vitamins and minerals such as, calcium, natural iodine, selenium, enzymes, plus a list of others such as: Vitamins A, B, C, D and K.

In today’s stressful world seaweed can have a calming effect that helps in our daily routines. Your nervous system will benefit from seaweed by improving nerve and brain signals. This can help your alertness and memory, which could promote improvements in many aspects of your life.

British scientists are trying to make junk food healthier by adding seaweed. They believe the high fibre content along with the vitamins and minerals will add some nutrition to an otherwise very unhealthy product. This may even fight excess weight. However, as we know, it is far better to not eat junk food in the first place. – Source: streetdirectory.com

Turkey – You know that tired feeling people feel after Thanksgiving dinner? It’s actually from the tryptophan in the turkey. Tryptophan is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps you to feel calm. Tryptophan in the form of meat, has been shown to reduce anxiety disorders! – Source: mindbodygreen.com

Avocado – We need B vitamins for healthy nerves and brain cells, and feelings of anxiety may be rooted in a B vitamin deficiency. Avocados are rich in stress-relieving B vitamins. Bonus: They’re also high in monounsaturated fat and potassium, which help lower blood pressure. Next time stress has you reaching for a pint of full-fat ice cream, opt for a non-dairy DIY version made with avocado blended with a ripe banana, vanilla extract, nut milk, and non-nutritive sweetener. Freeze, then chill-out. – Source: MensFitness.com

2. Use the power of nature

Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. It may even reduce mortality, according to scientists such as public health researchers Stamatakis and Mitchell.

nature-at-workResearch done in hospitals, offices, and schools has found that even a simple plant in a room can have a significant impact on reducing stress and anxiety. – Source: Taking Charge of Your Health and Wellbeing

Researchers asked a hundred sets of parents with children who suffered from attention deficit disorder how their children responded to different playtime activities. Children who have ADD are often restless and distracted.
But the parents reported that green activities — like fishing and soccer — left their children in a far more relaxed, focused state. It wasn’t that the children who spent time outside were merely happier, they were found to be more likely to interact with friends, and were more active — in fact, those who sat indoors, in a room with natural views, were calmer than children who played outside in man-made environments that were devoid of grass and trees. – Source: theatlantic.com

3. Provide discounted or even free therapy

Providing therapies in the office at a discounted rate or even for free will benefit both your employees and brand alike.
Stress relief, reduced anxiety, greater focus and employee bonding can all be achieved as a result of one or more of the following activities.

  • Chair massage
  • Yoga
  • Acupuncture
  • Aromatherapy
  • Reflexology

4. Adjust the lighting

office-lightingAllowing natural light to fill the office benefits our health in many ways. Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. This is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused.
Exposure to sunlight also helps regulate the nocturnal/diurnal cycles of the body, helping a person get a good night’s sleep which can improve happiness.

The most common complaints as a result of poor lighting are:

  • difficulty reading text
  • eyestrain
  • eye irritation
  • headaches

Poor lighting can also lead to stiff necks and aches in the shoulder. These problems can occur when people adopt poor or awkward postures when trying to read something under poor lighting conditions.

A good visual environment will:

  • have sufficient light, coming from the right direction and without causing obscuring shadows
  • provide good (but not excessive) contrast between the task and the background
  • limit glare and extreme contrasts

Source: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

5. Bring in the fish

fish-tank-in-the-officeWatching fish swimming around a nicely decorated aquarium reduces stress and anxiety. The sound of moving water, whether from a bubble machine or from the tank filter also has a calming effect.
The varied colours of the tank inhabitants coupled with the decor and backdrop add interest and something pleasant for employees to look at. 

Studies show that aquariums can reduce blood pressure as well as emotional agitation. This is why they’re displayed in such diverse businesses from restaurants to doctors surgeries.

Aquariums are also beneficial for the following conditions:

  • those suffering from tension
  • those suffering from insomnia
  • those affected by stress and/or anxiety
  • those suffering from a serious illness
  • those with high blood pressure

6. Pipe in music

listen-to-music-at-workIt’s becoming more common to use headphones in the office while carrying out our daily duties. By avoiding distraction, motivation and focus are all improved through listening to certain genres of music. Music can also help us to relax too.

Listening to music can have a relaxing effect on our minds and bodies, especially classical music. This genre of music can benefit our physiological functions, slowing our heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing the levels of stress hormones.

Music has been used for hundreds of years to treat illnesses and restore harmony between mind and body. But recently, scientific studies have attempted to measure the potential benefits of music. They have found:

  • Music’s form and structure can bring order and security to disabled and distressed children. It encourages coordination and communication, and improves their quality of life.
  • Listening to music on headphones reduces stress and anxiety in hospital patients before and after surgery.
  • Music can help reduce both the sensation and distress of both chronic pain and postoperative pain.
  • Listening to music can relieve depression and increase self-esteem ratings in elderly people.
  • Making music can reduce burnout and improve mood among nursing students.
  • Music therapy significantly reduces emotional distress and boosts quality of life among adult cancer patients.

Source: Psychcentral.com

7. Utilise colour

colour-in-the-workplaceIncorporating certain colour schemes into your office design can be an effective way to calm and relax employees. Happy and content workers will be more productive and enjoy their time in the office.

We closely associate the colour green with nature and the environment. Decorating an office with a shade of green can help reduce anxiety among employees and help customers feel more comfortable when visiting your premises. The colour green does not contribute to eye fatigue and is beneficial to those who suffer from eye strain.

Research has also linked green to increased creativity therefore, if you want to improve innovation and create a more inspiring work environment then this is the colour to use.

Blue is also known to be a stable and calming colour that will help your employees remain focused during the working day.

8. Teach ‘mindfulness’

mindfulness-at-workMindfulness is about paying more attention to the present moment and to your own thoughts and feelings. It’s about being aware of the world around you and is known to improve your sense of wellbeing.
Benefits include improved focus, better listening skills, improved ability to accept criticism and reduced stress.

In an article published by The Guardian “mindfulness expert Mirabai Bush, famous for introducing it to Google, says: “Introducing mindfulness into the workplace does not prevent conflict from arising or difficult issues from coming up. But when difficult issues do arise… they are more likely to be skilfully acknowledged, held, and responded to by the group.
Over time with mindfulness, we learn to develop the inner resources that will help us navigate through difficult, trying, and stressful situations with more ease, comfort, and grace.”

9. The calming effects of aroma

Reducing stress and creating a calming environment can be encouraged by something as small as the aroma in the office.

A study into the effects of aromatherapy reported the following:

aromatherapy-at-work“…this study was to examine the effectiveness of lavender oil inhalation in reducing job stress-related symptoms among nurses.

The 53 nurses in the experimental group pinned small bottles containing 3% lavender oil on the clothes of their right chests, whereas 57 participants in the control group pinned bottles with no lavender oil.
Aromatherapy was shown to be effective in the reduction of the number of stress symptoms for 3 or 4 days. The stress symptoms of the experimental group decreased from 6.1 to 2.8 after aromatherapy was carried out.
This represented a significant decrease in stress, whereas the stress symptoms in the control group increased from 5.6 to 5.8. Hospital staff managers are still encouraged to include aromatherapy concepts and techniques in the continuing education of nursing staff.”

10. Instigate social activities

One traditional strategy to encourage a more cohesive, friendly and engaged environment in the office is to encourage employees to mix socially and get to know each other.
By acquainting themselves with their colleague’s employees learn each other’s traits,their likes and dislikes, and can work together in a more understanding and calmer way.

Attending activities outside of the working environment will also provide individuals with an additional topic of conversation.