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Nature Works – the impact on performance and culture

We’ve seen a marked increase in people spending time in, and feeling the benefits of, nature. Now is the time for organisations to embrace that fully.

The global COVID-19 lockdown has resulted in a widespread increase of individuals reconnecting with nature: walks in the park; gardening, and socially distanced outdoor meetings being just a few ways that we’ve been able to readily engage with the fresh air; green visual spaces, and plant life.

The surge of interest may well have initially been triggered by suddenly having time on our hands to get that garden sorted; grown your own to avoid reliance on overstretched supermarket supply chains, and providing something interesting and engaging to do while not being permitted to travel or socialise freely.

However, the positive side effects, and continued interest, ┬áhave demonstrated just how powerful nature is to human wellbeing and happiness. For millions worldwide, access to nature via parks, woods, gardens, house plants, or simply the fresh air a balcony or tending to a window box offers, have resulted in people recognising the calm and release that being around nature provides. As this series of articles has touched on, the biological impact going on at a subconscious level is nothing short of remarkable. “Behind the scenes”, seeing nature; touching and interacting with it; being in its presence and its aromas are all having a positive impact at a neurological, chemical, physiological and even metaphysical level. A study by Persil in 2015 unearthed the shocking fact that on average, prison inmates spent more time outside than children – a generational crisis is looming when you understand that scientific research shows us that happiness is greatest in natural environments [1]; proximity to green space has been associated with lower levels of stress [2] – a significant consideration when you factor that 40% of job turnover in the United States is directly linked to stress, with an estimated cost to industry of $300 billion annually. There’s a global trend in urbanisation, which has been embraced in the workplace (stark environments; hot desk and zero personalisation policies; total neglect of outdoors working or facilitation of the need for employees to connect with natural surroundings); the result is that the majority of the world’s population are spending less time exposed to natural environments. According to Pearson et al., 2014, “this trend has potentially very serious implications for health”. Given that most of us spend more time at work, and affected by work, than any other activity or environment, it’s time – I would argue way over time – that businesses wake up, and step up.

As organisations globally struggle to work out how to best manage, support and enhance the efficacy of individuals and entire teams remotely working, every tree, plant and flower you see should be a reminder of just how simple it is to take advantage of scientifically evidenced, efficacious (and most often free) solutions for a stronger culture; efficient workforce and higher performing workplace. While we’ve all had opportunities to relax and press the reset button at home, forward thinking and progressive organisations will take the opportunity to physically get outside with their teams and press the reset button at work (this can of course be done virtually if need be). Ask two key questions to help rebalance what is important and how to move forwards whilst driving performance and improving workplace culture: “why do we do things this way?”; followed up with: “how do we make them better?”. Only by asking more questions are we able to own the solution and realise that we are all co-creators of our circumstances.

My neuroscience colleague Amy Brann and I collaborated to write this Position Statement on our concerns and guidance from a behavioural and psychological perspective; it’s worth a quick read as we also answer some questions surrounding the practicalities and technicalities or working remotely, alone, and regards the future, which we were asked during a webinar we ran for the CIPD recently.

 

[1] MacKerron, G.; Mourato, S.; Happiness is greater in natural environments (Elsevier, 2013)

[2] Thompson et al., 2012

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