Bringing Nature (or at Least a Few Plants or Photos) to Employees

As Rapunzel and Gilmore O’Reilly stretched out over my desk, I started to feel at ease. Rapunzel and Gilmore O’Reilly were not amorous co-workers of mine, but plants. Rapunzel was a long-vined ivy plant and Gilmore O’Reilly was a bamboo plant. Rapunzel eventually even wrapped her vines over my phone. The more they grew, and took up more of my desk, the better I felt. On the advice of a colleague, I began giving the plants touch therapy, petting their leaves. An experiment she did in high school showed that plants responded to touch.

I’m an eccentric person, but my relaxation and happiness increasing commensurate with my plants’ growth might have been larger than my own quirks.

Some researchers now believe nature in the workplace aids relaxation, according to an article published last month on the site, The Conversation. The science referenced in the article suggests that humans have an innate need to be connected to nature. This tendency is called biophilia.

My ideal would be large—floor-to-ceiling—windows overlooking a beautiful garden in bloom from April, filled with crocuses and daffodils, through October, when the chrysanthemums emerge. It also would be great if the windowed walls were retractable with screens, so when the weather was nice, employees could basically work in the garden, with the fresh air and the smell of greenery blowing in, along with the sounds of birds. If you’re going to have a garden surrounding your building, you might as well include birdhouses, don’t you think?
My vision is initially expensive, but spring through fall, imagine how much money would be saved in air conditioning expenses, and during the winter, the windows often would bring in so much sunlight that heating costs might be defrayed. On hot and humid days in the summer, when the air conditioning is necessary, diaphanous cooling sheets could be dropped over the windows, so the slightly dimmer view would remain without the heat.

As wonderful as my vision is, I realize it’s not a realistic possibility for most companies. What would be realistic for your company?

Most companies can afford potted plants. The last office my company was housed in had artificial plants, such as artificial hydrangeas, scattered throughout the office. It was a legacy of the second (or third) wife of the company’s former owner, who took it upon herself to play lady of the manor, beautifying the office as a pet project. Legend has it that she also would roam from cubicle to cubicle instructing employees to tidy up their desks. The artificial plants (and inspector) didn’t make a positive impact. But imagine if she had withheld the commentary about workstations, and distributed real flowering plants to each employee, or even just to each work area. That would have made a difference to how people perceived both the company and the work environment.

In addition to potted plants, you can add large, colorful, dramatic photos of nature to your office’s walls. If you’re high-tech, you could use large computerized or flat-screen TVs to show rotating images of beautiful natural landscapes, from rainforests to seascapes.

Once you have your own vision for what is possible in your office, what is the next step? How do you have the conversation about workplace environment with those who control the budget?

I would start with the research, and showing why it’s worth thinking about. A simple Google search will bring you the latest research on workplace environment, including the role nature can play in reducing stress levels. Then, I would offer a list of low-cost investments, such as potted plants and colorful photographic prints of the natural world.

From a health standpoint, there might be concern about allergies. If you’re concerned, you could consult with a local allergist nursery owner about plants to avoid. You also could send a message to employees explaining that you’re thinking of adding greenery to the office, and asking employees with known allergies to plants and flowers to send you an e-mail or post to an online message board a list of the greenery they don’t want to be around. I bet there are many plants that would not irritate anyone’s allergies.

If you’re really ambitious, you could try a garden outside your office that cultivates fruits and vegetables for the employees who work on it to share. Gardening is a stress-reducing activity, and it’s a productive way to add nature to a workday. Employees who choose to participate could volunteer to spend time before working hours, during their lunch hour, or after work hours to cultivate the garden. Or, if you have a workplace with flexibility, they could even take time during the workday, provided they continue to meet all of their work responsibilities. Employees who work in the garden would get to share the (literal) fruits of their labors, and also would have the privilege of sitting outside on the tables with umbrellas located in the garden. If you have a flower garden, everyone could enjoy it with the flowers snipped from the garden distributed throughout the office.

How can your company bring nature to employees? How do you make the most of humans’ proven affinity for nature in reducing your employees’ stress levels, and, thereby, boosting productivity?

 

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