One thing that is often overlooked by organisations looking to improve employee wellbeing, drive productivity or increase engagement is the physical environment in which people work.
How space is designed and used, can have a huge impact on wellbeing and consequently on employee performance and organisational success. From open floor plans to sociable relaxation spaces; from motivational messaging, to decor that enhances meaning and purpose; companies are starting to get behind this theory and one aspect that can deliver multiple benefits is the incorporation of green plants.
Gone are the days of the sad, half-desiccated Ficus in the corner of a grey room, and hello lush, green potted plants, vertical walls and softly planted relaxing courtyards.
Multiple studies into 'biophilic design' - the architectural approach to increase connectivity to the natural environment through the use of planting, space and light - have found significant benefits to both individuals and organisations that include a clear ROI.
Below, seven benefits of having real plants in your office workspace or classroom are described:
1. Increased Productivity
Research conducted by the University of Exeter showed that employees' productivity increased by 15% when previously sparse work environments were filled with just a few houseplants. Making sure everyone can see a plant from their desk was key, so consider this if you are thinking of increasing the greenery in your office space.
2. Lower Stress Levels
Natural environments evoke a sense of relaxation and peace, and with the rising interest in practices like shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, and the accompanying evidence base proving a range of wellbeing benefits, now is a great time to invest in indoor plants.
Studies show significant falls in reported tension and anxiety, in depression, anger and hostility and even in fatigue, when plants are introduced to the workspace. This is further supported by research linking indoor plants to stress reduction and pain tolerance.
3. Increased Focus and Attention
Attention Restoration Theory suggests that exposure to nature has the capacity to renew attention, focus and our ability to concentrate after exerting mental energy, even when viewing photos or paintings of nature.
Research carried out in the UK, Australia and the Netherlands described how employees reported increased concentration levels and improved memory retention by up to 20%.
This may be due to the action of office plants helping to absorb some of the background office noise, or their ability to filter toxins from rooms, or simply the momentary stress relief that they bring by allowing people to take a breath and reset.
4. Higher Creativity
It might sound ridiculous, but it's been widely acknowledged that stimulating the senses can open up the flow of ideas and inspire creativity. So it's not surprising that the bright colours, interesting patterns, shapes and textures and fragrances of plants can contribute to this in otherwise sterile environment.
In fact, research shows that employees whose offices included natural features scored 15% higher for creativity that people who worked in offices without these elements.
So, if you are required to regularly problem solve or you work on intensive projects that expend a high level of mental energy, you are likely to benefit from introducing plants to your workspace, or orienting your desk towards a window.
5. Greater Employee Happiness & Satisfaction
Attention Restoration Theory proposes that exposure to nature not only improves our focus, but it is also an enjoyable experience and can improve emotions, mood and behaviour.
The same research that suggests employees are more productive in green office spaces also showed that plants in the office significantly increased workplace satisfaction and made people feel happier at work too.
6. Reduced Sickness and Absence
With depression, anxiety and stress contributing 50% of the UK's absence from work, the impact of indoor plants on reducing stress and improving wellbeing can help lower absence rates.
In addition, a Norwegian study found that employees' fatigue, headaches, coughs, sore throats and dry skin were reduced by more than 30% when plants were present in office spaces. People call in sick 20% less often than people working in rooms with no plants. This was attributed to factors like improved humidity and room temperature, as well as a reduction in worry and increase in positivity.
7. Better Air Quality/Perceived Air Quality
Indoor air pollution is often 2-10 times higher than the outdoors, with higher levels of CO2 and a host of harmful volatile organic compounds (VOC's) emitted from paint, synthetic carpets, soft furnishings and furniture; as well as equipment like photocopiers and computers.
Poor indoor air quality reduces productivity and impacts staff wellbeing on a number of levels. You've probably experienced the symptoms yourself, headache, sore eyes, loss of concentration, tiredness and 'stuffiness'. Sound familiar?
Research into the ability of indoor plants to actually purify the air in a room is mixed, with estimates suggesting you would need between 10 and 1000 plants per square meter to actually remove VOC's.
But don't ditch your peace lily yet! Whilst houseplants may not significantly reduce VOC's, other studies have shown they improve the indoor microbiome and can potentially prevent harmful bacteria from establishing. In addition, a 2020 study concluded that a green wall filled with suitable plant species can improve the health index in a building.
In addition, they improve the perceived air quality of a workspace, which contributes to feelings of happiness, engagement and wellbeing in employees - which is also an important result.
The benefits of introducing plants into the office environment speak for themselves, and there are hundreds of companies now exclusively dedicated to helping organisations maintain their new office jungles.
From desk plants, to green walls to a range of pot plants; from shady, cool spaces, to bright, warm ones; there is a solution to fit every workspace. And, if you are worried about there being enough light for your plants, there is probably not enough light for you either.
With so many companies opting to continue flexible working and allowing people to work remotely, it is easy to forget the conditions in which people work at home. But, the same issues that impact main offices are replicated on a smaller scale. So when you are thinking about improving employee wellbeing by introducing plants to workspaces, remember to include a small personal budget for home plants!
You could even make it into a competition or club, with the exchange of indoor gardening tips, improving social wellbeing and connectedness as well as employee happiness and productivity.
To make sure you don't miss new articles make sure you subscribe to my weekly positive psychology newsletter 'The Key to Happiness' for up to date blog posts, free personal coaching tools and strategies, links to current research and my favourite articles relating to resilience, mindset, self-esteem and wellbeing from around the world. Click here to sign up.