What if smelling roses, breathing fresh air and gazing out the window could improve employee performance?
Too good to be true, right? Not really. Welcome to biophilia in the workplace.
Biophilia is the emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms. In the workplace context, it means incorporating elements of nature—such as potted plants and an abundance of natural light—into employees’ work stations and common areas.
These natural elements, when in constant view of the employee, act as a buffer from everyday work stressors and contribute to staff’s daily resiliency. Neuroscientists have found that access to natural elements triggers many more interactions of the opioid receptors, which act as signals to the brain, so viewing nature and its elements is quite literally a pleasurable experience.
European, Middle Eastern and African employees recently participated in a survey by Human Spaces, a biophilic design firm, about their access to natural elements and their level of overall wellbeing. Those employees with access to nature in their work spaces reported a 13% higher level of wellbeing and 8% higher level of productivity.
The 2014 report showed that the top natural elements employees want in the office are natural light, quiet working space, bright colours, live indoor plants and a view of the sea, lake or river.
How to add more natural elements
Some of these natural elements are unattainable depending on the office’s location, but others are simple enough to achieve. Even using biomimicry—which means emulating the patterns, forms and textures of natural elements within the office design—can have a positive impact on employees when actual nature is not available.
Natural light especially may not always be at a surplus in an office space. In that case, encourage employees to venture outdoors for breaks and lunch to soak up some natural light. Exposure to natural sunlight helps balance sleep patterns and moods throughout the day, which certainly affect an employee’s productivity and social relationships in the workplace.
To achieve quiet in shared work spaces, a simple sign-in sheet for use of the spaces can solve that issue. Flexible work arrangements that allow employees to work remotely are another possibility.
Typical office colours such as taupe, brown and grey can be associated with fatigue, stress and, well, grumpiness. Bright colours tend to evoke feelings of calm, energy or happiness. If your company has traditional office colours, one solution may be to hang bright paintings or photographs.
A view of the sea, lake or river will most likely need to be in the form of imagery or an on-site water installation. Your budget will determine the extent of this element’s reach within your workplace.
Live indoor plants are probably the easiest, cheapest and most fulfilling of all the natural elements to bring into the workplace. There are inexpensive breeds that hardly require direct sunlight or watering. Offer each employee their own desk plant. They can pot it however they like to express their creativity and incorporate more colour into their space.
Simple gestures to improve your employees’ experience while in the workplace will be appreciated and can be measured through productivity and loyalty to the organization. Are you willing to let the price of a desk plant cost you some productivity?
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Benefits Canada.