A Green Workplace: Not Just about Sustainability
While technology creates much more opportunity for flexible work environments, it seems to have fostered a 24/7 working culture. With the longer hours and increased stress that comes with it, organizations need to look to new and unique ways to improve the work environment for their employees. While sustainability continues to be a hot topic in both design of offices and utilization of materials, that’s not the only “green” topic being discussed as ways to improve productivity and employee satisfaction.1 Bring the outdoors into your office! Research is showing that you’ll have happier, healthier, and more productive employees.
Research supports biophilic design (when living green plants are integrated into office design) for many different reasons. In the 2015 report from Human Spaces, workers exposed to greenery in their daily work lives report a 15% higher level of well-being, are 6% more productive, and are 15% more creative. Other studies focus on the reduction of stress.3 Other outdoor features such as allowing daylight to come in through glass architecture features further the benefits.
Healthier, happier employees
HortTechnology, a journal published by the American Society of Horticultural Science, recently released the study, The Relationship between the Use of Green Spaces and Public Gardens in the Work Place on Mental Well-being, Quality of Life, and Job Satisfaction for Employees and Volunteers. The study evaluated data from more than 100 detailed surveys, leading to well-supported conclusions about the healing power of plants and a strong correlation between time spent with plants and employee/volunteer health.4
One aspect of plants that can be attributed to improved health is that plants improve the overall air quality of wherever they are placed. 5 They absorb carbon dioxide while releasing oxygen into the air and also contribute to the temperature and humidity levels in an area.6
Charlie Hall, chair of horticultural sciences at Texas A&M University in College Station, said that adding plants could improve an office in other ways. Plants actually aid in the “removal of volatile organic compounds that sometimes exist in the workplace. Volatile organic compounds in the form of formaldehyde, benzene, and hexane are often given off by paints and carpeting, and plants help to scrub those compounds out of the air.”
In addition, a 2016 Harvard study revealed that when people work in green-certified offices, they experience a 30% reduction in sick days taken by employees.6 Their cognitive function scores are 26% higher than their peers in non-certified buildings. They also had 30% fewer symptoms associated with “sick building syndrome”—such as “watering eyes; hoarseness; headaches; dry, itchy skin; dizziness; nausea; heart palpitations; miscarriages; shortness of breath; nosebleeds; chronic fatigue; mental fogginess; tremors; swelling of legs or ankles; and cancer.”7 Similar benefits were shown from another study at the University of Twente.10
Reduced stressIn addition to the health benefits listed above, for many people in the workplace, plants have been proven to reduce their stress levels. Since plants are natural, they provide a comfortable and relaxing touch to any office space.5 According to Dr Libby Sander, assistant professor of organizational behavior at Bond Business School, green space design elements helped staff reduce stress and enabled them to complete their work better.
While indoor plants bring many health benefits, outdoor green space is important too. Back in 2008, the University of Michigan study showed that going outside, even in the cold, improved memory and attention and that in workplaces designed with nature in mind, employees were more productive and took less sick time. Another study shows that eating lunch outdoors is a great stress reducer at work. Just taking time out in a natural setting invokes a calming impact on our way of thinking and looking at things. We become more relaxed, open-minded, and less guarded. In addition to the aforementioned benefits of being in nature, giving employees a choice about where they want to eat also plays an important role in the improvement in satisfaction and engagement.
When a person is less stressed, their work efficiency improves. 5 So it’s not surprising that the stress reduction that comes with plants leads to higher productivity. According to Lendlease workplace and change general manager Natalie Slessor, “Spending time in nature can improve your ability to concentrate, reduce attention fatigue, and is shown to improve task performance by 20 percent.”8
In a psychology experiment in the UK, University of Exeter researchers studied people in a lean office versus an office with plants in it. The researchers found that participants in the green office not only had higher productivity by 15 percent, but also reported increased workplace satisfaction, and better concentration and perceived air quality compared to the workers in the lean space. The study authors suggest that adding plants to an office makes employees more physically, cognitively, and emotionally involved in their work. Other academic research suggests that green spaces can relieve mental fatigue, which can improve employee work performance, satisfaction, learning, inquisitiveness, and alertness.
As clearly summarized by Mark Conway, head of workplace environments at the facilities management company, Active, “The performance of those working in ‘Green’ environments, increases on average by double, compared to those who work in conventional ones. In a marketplace where costs are key and mistakes cost money, this sort of increase cannot be ignored. Better strategic thinking and usage of information must lead to improved and more effective performance, less mistakes and down time.”
And…let’s face it…they’re beautiful!
If the increased happiness, healthiness, and productivity has not sold you on bringing in more green space to your office, let’s face it. Offices with plants are more aesthetically appealing – which really can change the atmosphere in the office and give a wonderful first impression to recruits. No one wants to work in a plain, boring, sterile environment surrounded by metal cabinets and plain white walls. Having green space (and maybe even some flowers) adds a splash of color to the office. You just feel good inside when you look at them, and they elevate the design of an office space and look better too.
“5 Benefits of Green Office Space.” Cartwright Architects & Engineers, https://cartwright-aec.com/5-benefits-of-green-office-spaces/.
Browning, Bill, and Cary Cooper. “Human Spaces: The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace.” Green Plants for Green Buildings, Aug. 2015, https://greenplantsforgreenbuildings.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Human-Spaces-Report-Biophilic-Global_Impact_Biophilic_Design.pdf.
Calautti, Lisa. “Green Space In and Around Office Buildings is Producing Healthy Workers.” Commercial Real Estate Australia, June 3, 2019, https://www.commercialrealestate.com.au/news/green-spaces-produce-healthy-workers-834064/.
Davis Brown, Patricia. “Why Green Space in the Workplace is Important for Wellness and Productivity.” Dig This Design, June 3, 2017, https://digthisdesign.net/interior-design/greenery-in-the-workplace-for-wellness-and-productivity/.
DeLoatch, Pamela. “How to Embrace Office Green Spaces for Better Employee Engagement.” HR Dive, July 24, 2018, https://www.hrdive.com/news/how-to-embrace-office-green-spaces-for-better-employee-engagement/528187/.
Engledow, Eric, “New Study Points to Major Health Benefits of Indoor Plants and Outdoor Green Spaces for Employees.” The Engledow Group, Aug. 9, 2018, https://www.engledow.com/interior/2018/08/new-study-points-to-major-health-benefits-of-indoor-plants-and-outdoor-green-spaces-for-employees/.
Gaskell, Adi. “A Green Office Equals A Productive Office.” Forbes Magazine, Feb. 15, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/adigaskell/2017/02/15/a-green-office-equals-a-productive-office/#3d6b060e7ca5/.
“Going Outside – Even in the Cold – Improves Memory, Attention.” Michigan News: University of Michigan, Dec. 16, 2008, https://news.umich.edu/going-outsideeven-in-the-coldimproves-memory-attention/.
Hurranz, Arantxa. “Green Spaces are Gaining Ground, Also in the Work Environment.” Ferrovial Blog, June 7, 2017, https://blog.ferrovial.com/en/2017/06/green-spaces-are-gaining-ground-also-in-the-work-environment/.
Knerl, Linsey. “Green Offices are Making Workers Better at Their Jobs.” Catalyst by Convene, Aug. 31, 2018, https://convene.com/catalyst/green-offices-better-jobs/.
Lehman, Shereen. “Green Offices Make Employees Happier and More Productive: Study.” Reuters, Oct. 2, 2014, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-psychology-office-plants/green-offices-make-employees-happier-and-more-productive-study-idUSKCN0HR2DW20141002.
Liebenguth, Karen. “The Benefits of Bringing Green Space into the Working Day.” Life Labs, Psychology UK, Mar. 22, 2016, https://lifelabs.psychologies.co.uk/users/8688-karen-liebenguth/posts/5593-the-benefits-of-bringing-green-space-into-the-working-day.
MacNaughton, Piers, et. al. “The Impact of Working in a Green Certified Building on Cognitive Function and Health” Science Direct, Nov. 25, 2016, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360132316304723/.