Monday 10 February 2020 5:08 am

Art is food for the soul, so why not hang up a Picasso in the office?

Patrick McCrae is chief executive of art rental consultancy Artiq.
chief executive, ARTIQ

In recent years, we have seen businesses commit to new mental health initiatives, from training mental health first aiders to developing mindfulness apps, yoga classes at the office, plants, and bringing in pets. 

Employers of all sizes are looking for ways to keep their workforce happy and motivated. And rightly so — the global cost of mental illness through lost productivity and staff turnover is estimated to be around $2.5 trillion annually, with burnout, stress, depression and anxiety a growing epidemic affecting both the team and the bottom line. 

Most of us are affected by our visual surroundings in some way — whether we suffer anxiety and stress due to building works at home, anger because of a packed ride on the Bakerloo Line, or a faint ennui as we wake up to another overcast day. And harsh strip lighting, crowded and cramped desk arrangements, and the nondescript white walls of the workplace can have a detrimental impact on our happiness more than people realise. 

To combat this, more businesses are using art to engage their employees and clients alike. Whether it is prints on the walls in the meeting rooms, a sculpture in the foyer, or an audio-visual performance for an event, art can provide a variety of tools to improve how we feel in the workplace. 

The benefits are real. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing in the UK published a comprehensive report in 2017 that collated research showing an undeniable positive link between art and mental wellbeing. 

One example from the report showed that an art-on-prescription service, consisting of an eight-week course of two-hour sessions, and led by a professional artist in ceramics, poetry, painting, or drawing, resulted in a 37 per cent drop in GP consultation rates. This simple solution returned a saving equivalent to £217 per patient to the NHS each year. 

The research also showed that, after engaging with the arts, 82 per cent of people reported greater wellbeing, and 77 per cent engaged more in physical activity. 

How does this translate through the revolving door and into the office? A few years ago, we commissioned our own research, and the results showed that people are 14.3 per cent more productive when they are in a workplace that includes art compared to a workplace that does not. 

Half of all office users believe that artwork makes them more effective, while 61 per cent believe that art inspires them to think and work more creatively, and 82 per cent of people believe artwork to be an important addition to the workplace. These are all good stats to show how employers can help to keep their workforce engaged and happy. 

Our studies have also shown that changing the artwork on display can further improve creativity and well-being. Art does not just function decoratively, but proactively within the working environment.

In practical terms, what does this really mean for employers? Improving your team’s daily visual diet does not have to be a drain on resources, but instead can become an integrated part of the office day to day. 

A regular change in the visual surrounding once or twice a year will provide  a return on investment that isn’t hard to gauge. Taking just a little more effort in thinking about your employees’ immediate surroundings could result in them thanking you for brightening up their day.

Of course, we’re not arguing that you should ban yoga at lunchtime or take away training budgets for mental health first aiders. But art is a simple and straightforward provision that will improve your office’s visual surroundings — the surroundings that impact heavily how your staff feel and ultimately perform.

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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