Why Nature Deficit Impacts On Our Performance
Have you noticed how divorced we’re becoming from our environment? I’m finding that my neighbourhood is turning from green to grey as more and more of my neighbours are paving over their front gardens to make room for cars. When it was first built 40 years ago, each home had a tree planted in the front garden, most of which have now gone. Some have even replaced their lawns with plastic astroturf to save mowing them. It’s as though nature has become an inconvenience, and yet the further we move away from it, the unhappier we seem to become. But what impact is this having on our work? Quite a significant one actually.
Since the dawn of time we’ve lived in close proximity to nature, making our homes, tools, and clothes from what was around us. We hunted and foraged for food and built fires to keep us warm. We also lived in tune with the seasons, being more active in the warmer months and almost hibernating over the winter. So it’s no surprise then that studies have shown numerous health benefits which come with reconnecting with nature in some way. One Californian study found that in Call Centres “Workers….were found to process calls 6% to 12% faster when they had the best possible view versus those with no view”. Mental function and memory recall also improved by 10-25% when workers could see outside (1).
Mental health in employees is a big issue for many employers, but this also improves when we get up close and personal with nature. It doesn’t even have to involve leaving the desk, as you can put pictures up around the office. Select them carefully though, as awe inspiring images of mountains have an even more positive effect on mental health and social interaction than mundane park scenes (2).
How To Bring Nature Into Your Workplace
Very often the first thing I notice when I visit a company having problems with health and performance is that they have no, or very few plants. Plants transform our work environments in so many ways that unless there’s a specific reason not to have them, I now consider them essential. For example:
- They clean the air of pollutants from printers and copiers.
- They help maintain optimum humidity, reducing the likelihood of respiratory tract infections.
- They improve oxygen levels, which in turn helps with alertness.
- They release helpful chemicals called phytoncides which help to regulate the immune system in destroying emerging cancer cells (3)
- Aromatic plants like Lavender and Rosemary also release essential oils which bring a myriad of health benefits to both mind and body.
- The microbes in the soil of houseplants help to boost mood and reduce stress.
- Caring for a plant improves confidence and encourages mindfulness practice.
I’d recommend a small houseplant on every desk, and several in each meeting room too.
Use Daylight Bulbs
Even in large open spaces where there’s not much natural sunlight, you can use daylight bulbs to trick the brain into thinking it’s a sunny day at the office. This is especially useful during the winter months when many of us get ‘Winter Blues’ or SAD, but the quality of the light is so much gentler on the eyes and nervous system that I’d advocate using them all year round.
Encourage Employees To Get Outside
Spending time outside during breaks enables your employees to enjoy (hopefully) fresh air and some natural light at the same
time. If you can, go a step further, by encouraging ‘netwalking’ (networking or meetings whilst walking around a local park or open space). See if you can provide some outdoor breakout or meeting areas too. Some companies have even introduced gardening clubs which help keep their outside space looking beautiful. If it’s not possible to offer outside space, could some employees work from their own gardens at home occasionally?
If you include volunteering as part of your CSR policies, offer employees the chance to do some conservation work. That way they’ll get active and enjoy all the other benefits of being around nature at the same time.
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(2) Joye Y, Bolderdijk JW. An exploratory study into the effects of extraordinary nature on emotions, mood, and prosociality. Frontiers in Psychology; 2015; 5: 1577.
(3) Li Q. Kobayashi M, Wakayama Y, Inagaki H, Katsumata M, Hirata Y, Hirata K, Shimizu T, Kawada T, Park BJ, Ohira T, Kagawa T, Miyazaki Y. Effect of phytoncide from trees on human natural killer cell function. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2009 Oct-Dec;22(4):951-9.