Surprisingly little has been written about the impact of nature on workplace wellbeing, behaviour and business performance culture, and as a result very little is known about it in almost all of the industries I work in as a speaker and workshop facilitator.
A few years ago I began an independent research study entitled The Good Life Project, along with colleagues from psychology and neuroscience, to evidence the impact of nature on human health, wellbeing and behaviour. The results were so dramatic that they were often simply unbelievable. We checked and we double checked to make sure data was being interpreted correctly and we analysed with the severest skepticism existing studies.
Despite the data available, almost all organisations I work with are either unaware of the positive benefits, or simply don’t understand it. I’m about to change all of that with a series of online videos (instagram and twitter @ThatJezRose) and articles entitled Nature Works – and I hope you’ll enjoy reading and sharing with your colleagues.
At the very heart of all of this is a simple truth: seeing; being surrounded by, or having direct physical contact with nature has a positive impact on a variety of outcomes, including overall wellbeing and happiness; efficiency; our ability to recover from ill health including acute or chronic stress and stressors; our ability to concentrate better; relax and even reduce the impact of chronic conditions such as hypertension and diabetes. I honestly could go on and on and on listing the positive benefits – and I will over the course of this series, but suffice to say, this is seriously strong stuff!
“Nature” is defined as anything natural in as close to its natural state as possible. I’ve listed a few examples, which may be obvious, but it’s worth clearing this up before we dive deeper down into this remarkable and fascinating rabbit hole of a journey into the naturally magical!
- Living plants, including pot plants [I’ll discuss faux and plastic plants in another article – they’re good, too, but living is the gold standard]
- Physical contact with soil or compost [again, I’ll explore this later but planting and direct contact with soil has remarkable benefits to human health]
- Fresh, natural, unfiltered air [medically prescribed since before the Victorian era!]
- Natural views from unobscured windows [where the view is, for examples, trees, parkland, gardens etc]
- Water, whether running or still, in a natural environment [a glass of water doesn’t count 😉 I’m talking water planters, waterfalls or fountains but ideally they need to have green nature with them]
There is a clear business case for bringing nature into a workplace for the evidence-based results of reducing costs, and improved employee wellbeing and happiness.
Admittedly, changing anything in a workplace can be challenging. It doesn’t matter whether that’s a system, or process, or something physical. There are the group of people, normally quite significant in number, who are sensitive and resistant to change of any sort. They often slow progress and cause a great deal more work to convince that change might mean opportunity and/or improvements. There’s a small subgroup, normally in middle to upper management, who are sensitive to being involved with anything that may expose them to risk or being attached to anything that fails. They often dilute the overall project and impact until the level of perceived risk has been mitigated to a level they are comfortable with, whilst simultaneously reducing the overall impact off the project – in my experience this can often be to the level of actual jeopardising the project’s efficacy.
However, the largest obstacle is the unknown: individuals who have the power; ability; influence to simply say “yes”. They don’t trust their own belief in themselves. Fortunately, nature doesn’t require complicated connections in order show just how powerful it can. Several studies have shown how simply having a pot plant on your desk, or immediate working environment can improve productivity by 15%, simultaneously increasing concentration and workplace satisfaction. However, for every wonderful intervention nature offers, humans retaliate with a way to belittle it. In a classic and absurd example, a client of mine was a local council in the South of England. Employees had been enjoying the myriad benefits of having plants in the workplace while a member of staff took it upon herself to water and care for them. When that member of staff left on maternity leave, however, the plants eventually died as no one else took charge of caring for them and when managers saw the dying plants, an immediate ban was enforced on any plants in the building. The attitude being: “if you can’t look after them properly, you can’t have them”. Which, I’m sure you’ll agree is both professional and mature – and not at all patronising. I bet that manager is always top of the Christmas card list.
The critical take-home message, however, is that it is affordable; simple and powerful to incorporate nature into your working environment. I’ll be back with further ideas, insights and some genuinely exciting statistics in the next article but for now, here are a few simple ways you could help nature work for you in your workplace:
- Allow individuals to bring a plant for their desk, or, if you hot desk (don’t even get me started on that), provide at the very least a faux plant or a succulent that requires very little watering
- Set up a lunchtime walking club, or nature exploring club if you’ve got somewhere close people can walk to, or around even if just for 20 minutes – as we head into better weather now is an ideal time to set one up
- Play birdsong, forest or woodland sounds in public areas such as receptions and staff rooms at a low background level
- Consider creating a workplace herb garden, which could be indoors: everyone contributes by watering and caring for it, and can take cuttings for cooking at home
- It may be a good idea to appoint a “nature ambassador” to help get the ball rolling and encourage people to consider joining in by looking for unused or bare patches of land that pollinator-friendly flower seeds could be scattered on; twigs and wind fallen small branches could be collected to make interesting displays in vases, or invite colleagues to share photos of nature they have taken over the weekend or when out socially on a social wall, internal social media area, or ideally somewhere more public such as a display screen.
“I love not Man the less, but Nature more.” Lord Byron, British poet and politician