Mental health is arguably as important as physical health, as the two can directly impact one another. According to the Center for Workplace Mental Health, an office with mentally healthy employees will have better productivity, boosted employee morale, and less absenteeism. If you’re thinking of implementing hot desking for your workplace, will this make your employees’ mental health better or worse?
Hot desking is not always harmful to mental health. The opportunities for greater innovation, collaboration, and communication between hot desking employees can enhance productivity. However, other data has said that hot desking can have a negative impact on the same areas, including productivity and wellbeing. It may also create feelings of marginalization.
In this article, we will share various studies and research done in the realm of hot desking and mental health. By the time you’re done reading, you can decide whether it’s better for your employees’ mental health to implement or omit a hot desking arrangement.
Earlier this year, a post on OSW explored the psychological effects of hot desking. In that article, there were a handful of positive aspects of hot desking explored in relation to the mental health of employees.
Let’s talk more about these now.
Are you one of those people who learns by doing? If so, then a hot desking arrangement can work well for you. In working alongside more experienced employees who have been with the company for years, you can learn the ropes very quickly. You may get more of a benefit of doing this than all the training materials you learned when you first started at your job.
A 2015 article from the University of Chicago reviewed the performance of students who learned by doing in a science class. When the students got more involved in their lessons through interaction rather than book learning, they triggered the motor-related and sensory areas of their brains. With this enhanced brain functioning, the study noted that students did better on quizzes. This data was gathered through brain scans taken for each of the participating students.
The same kind of higher performance could apply to employees who get more hands-on experience through hot desking.
Workplaces aren’t all that different from high school in some ways. There are definitely cliques and hierarchies that typically don’t intermingle much. Well, in the hot desking arrangement we described just above, a newer employee could work with someone with much more experience. This breaks down that hierarchy a bit. Further, not only can the newer employee learn more, but the ideas that can be generated between the two colleagues can be very advantageous to driving growth within the company.
In many standard offices, you sit in a cubicle or an office by yourself. Sure, you interact with other employees throughout the day, but how close are you with a lot of these people? With hot desking, you work alongside the same one or two people all the time. Inevitably, you’ll develop a strong bond with that person or people. Seeing a person you like at work can act as a boost for your mental health.
Now that we’ve talked about how hot desking could benefit the mental health of your employees, we have to discuss the opposite side as well. After all, the detriments of hot desking for mental health are far more prevalent.
First, there’s this 2019 report from Personnel Today that shared the results of a survey on just over 1,000 people all working in offices. For every 10 people, eight said hot desking hinders—not helps—their mental health.
Why is that? It mostly came down to relationship-building, or lack thereof. Up to 22 percent of the respondents claimed that they couldn’t bond with their coworkers in a hot desking arrangement.
Another factor that depleted their wellbeing was the stress of figuring out where they’d work for the day. A chunk of the respondents, 31 percent, said they spent too much time looking for a desk each day. They deemed this activity a major time waster. Others, 44 percent, believed they wasted too much time getting their computer ready for work daily.
That said, the Personnel Today article does mention that 61 percent of respondents said that having a seat pre-booking option would lessen their stress. Further, 52 percent of these employees were willing to try hot desking.
In 2011, the Journal of Organizational Change Management published an article that discussed whether hot desking employees felt marginalized. In case you’re not familiar, marginalization is another word for exclusion.
According to the data published in the journal, if an office has an arrangement where only some employees work the hot desk and others don’t, feelings of marginalization can indeed crop up. The hot desking employees feel less-than compared to their colleagues that don’t have to move around.
That’s not to say marginalization doesn’t occur in your standard, non-hot desking office, because it certainly does. This 2017 report from Portland State University called Employee Engagement & Marginalized Populations mentions the factors that play a role in hiring discrimination. These include sexual orientation, gender, disability status, gender, and race. These factors can lead to feelings of marginalization as well.
The data goes on to say that “there are sadly many examples of the negative impacts of being a marginalized population: they have less support from different-race coworkers and supervisors; are often ignored more by supervisors; face lower engagement which leads to higher absenteeism or turnover (which can also unfortunately lead to increased bias in the form of a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’); feel invisible, over-looked, and undervalued; experience increased feelings of anxiety and isolation; feel pressure to hide their true selves or face being ostracized, threatened, or discriminated against; live with ‘only-ness’ and lack representation or others who understand their situation; experience decreased creative energy and collaboration and feel dissimilar from others which causes exclusion from important networks that can impact job information and performance.”
That was admittedly a long paragraph, so let’s go over it again. Marginalization in workplaces can:
That’s not in hot desking offices, by the way, but standard workplaces all over the country.
As we said at the beginning of this article, a person’s mental health is on par with their physical health in terms of importance. While companies have striven to prioritize their staff’s physical health with extensive healthcare programs and even onsite gyms in some offices, mental health is now just starting to get the same kind of attention.
Employers must put the mental health of their employees at their top of the priority lists. Given what has been written about hot desking, both on this blog and countless others, it may not seem like the best idea then.
To recap, studies have noted that employees feel stressed out about not having a permanent place to work when hot desking. In some cases, hot desking can even augment feelings of marginalization or exclusion.
However, like we talked about in the last section, it’s possible to overcome challenges associated with not having a permanent workstation. When employees can book a desk and a computer ahead of time, they don’t have to worry about where they’ll work when they come into the office. It’s not quite like having one’s own permanent cubicle or office, but with a hot desking setup, it’s pretty much as good as it can get.
Regarding marginalization, it’s not something that’s exclusive to hot desking at all. Discrimination can occur based on someone’s gender, sexual orientation, race, religious beliefs, or disabilities. While hiring discrimination laws exist to prevent biases, they still happen.
Now, in a hot desking setup, it’s possible to add on a second layer of marginalization. Not only can an employee feel marginalized because of their sexual orientation, gender, race, and more, but because they’re a hot desking employee when other colleagues have a permanent desk. In fact, this marginalization can give rise to questions like are they being discriminated against because of their race or gender.
If you remember from the Personnel Today article mentioned earlier, up to 52 percent of employees said they’d enter a hot desking arrangement at their companies. That’s why we say it’s worth giving it a try.
It’s important to reduce marginalization no matter what type of office setup you have, as it seems to be a leading deterrent of employee mental health. If you do decide to use a hot desking arrangement at your office, here’s what we recommend. Begin with an assessment of employee mental health. Determine which areas you’re adequately caring for mental health and which could be better. Make a note of that for later.
Then, do an experiment with hot desking for two or three months, maybe four. Do mental health problems disappear or get exacerbated? Do you now have more glaring holes in your care for your employees’ mental health?
At the very least, the experiment can tell you which areas of employee mental health to focus on most. Once you get those areas amended, you could try hot desking again in earnest and see how it goes. Your employees might like it better or they might not, but at least you’d know for certain.
Can the general layout of your office affect your mental health? Just because you don’t work in a hot desking arrangement does not mean your mental health is at its best while at work. The ideal workspace should contain:
Without the above, going into work each day can really begin to take a toll on your mental health.
What should you do if a certain employee is bullying you and degrading your mental health? Sometimes, where you work doesn’t affect your mental health as much as who you work with. If you’re being bullied or harassed by another colleague for any reason, you need to reach out to someone. That can be your boss or an HR manager, but a person in a position of authority should be made aware of the situation.
If all goes well, your HR manager or boss will step in and come to a resolution that works for both you and the offending colleague. For instance, maybe they get moved to a different department or put on another schedule so you two don’t have to see each other anymore.
What if your boss does nothing and the bullying behavior persists? We recommend you reach out to HR or your boss again. If still nothing more is done on their end, then it’s best if you look for another job.
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