There once was a time, many moons ago, when humankind led a much simpler existence. The struggles of modern life, in comparison, seem menial to that of the Neolithic man. Survival would be an outside bet as a response if you were to ask the average British 21 year old to list their top 10 priorities at present. Yet, I can’t help thinking that this would have been a more liberated state of existence. An existence more in tune with nature with a more focused sense of priorities; no need to despair at the lack of interactions on your latest social media post, no anxiety caused by the ability of an “every 7 minute” bus service to be late by more than half an hour, no burning desire to photograph every meal ever laid before you to show people you hardly know so that they can hardly care.
So, I decided to investigate the primordial aspects of the human psyche, searching deeper and exploring the development of the mind over the millennia. Here, I studied a plethora of cognitive schemas and emotional structures crafted over millions of years of evolution and ignoring trends developed over decades of increasing mind pollution. I chose to explore one of the most primal aspects of the human consciousness: Our relationship with nature. I was interested in how it affects us consciously and subconsciously, and how we can implement this knowledge in the modern world.
After many, many minutes of research I came to the conclusion that our relationship with nature was indeed an intense and deep -rooted one. A relationship forged during the dawn of our species’ time on earth when nature ruled this planet and we were simply its newest guests. It treated us well. Like any good host it provided us with anything and everything we could ever need and asked for little in return, except respect. Unfortunately it seems this relationship has wilted over time. It turns out we might not have been the best guests. A greedy race we became, taking without gratitude and losing touch with the force that provided both the fuel and the catalyst for our meteoric expansion.
As I continued, I grew saddened by this decline in what was once such a beautiful, synergetic relationship. It seemed that in losing this link, we had become resigned to losing a part of ourselves as if it was an inevitable part of evolution towards a society that existed online, in clouds on servers as our reality became more virtual and less… natural. But then, just as I was about to close all my Chrome tabs in despair and give up on the human race, out of the corner of my eye a shining beacon of hope punctuated the cold, grey background. In this moment, my despair evaporated and I realised there was a chance yet. A single symbol reminded me that this link was not eternally forsaken, that deep down this relationship still had life. I am, of course, talking about the humble office plant.
Now the dramatic intro is complete I can get onto the science. Plants in the office may seem to many at best a nice touch, but research is emerging to support the hypothesis that they may actually be having a more profound impact than we have recognised in workplaces around the globe. The benefits provided by a shade more greenery in the office are being picked up upon by researchers as they seem align with two of the most fundamental aims of occupational psychology: Reducing stress and increasing productivity.
As a science, occupational psychology grew rapidly over the 20th century with an increase in the gradient of that development towards the end of the century and carrying on into the start of the 21st. Companies realised the potential benefits to come from this research and ploughed millions into projects to gain those extra few percent increases in productivity. The field has evolved massively since its conception with an increasing understanding of stress and its relationship with productivity with the modern day focus shifted towards reducing stress and increasing employee well-being.
So, the growing body of research to suggest that plants in the workplace both reduce stress and increase productivity is music to the ears of occupational psychologists across the world. One of the most convincing studies to date was produced by the team of researchers from the UK, Australia and The Netherlands who carried out a field study comprised of three experiments in two large commercial offices in the UK and The Netherlands. They found that enriching a “lean office environment” with greenery led to an increase in productivity by 15%. Lead researcher Marlon Nieuwenhuis noted that the results of this first long term study carried out in “real life conditions” “closely align with previously conducted laboratory studies”. He continues to discuss how “at odds” these findings were to the current political and economic zeitgeist as well as with modern “lean” management techniques and office design.
There are a number of previous laboratory studies into the area as Mr Nieuwenhuis mentioned and the majority note the stress relieving, therapeutic affect that plants can have on a workforce. A similar study carried out in Washington found a 12% decrease in stress levels of computer programmers, notoriously stressed individuals, when just a few plants were added to their office. Despite this, a causal link between the two, as with so many cases in psychology, is difficult to ascertain for certain.
There are many theories but one I tend to lean towards is a combination of the improved aesthetics of the workplace, leading to temporary,
interspersed, mood elevation, with the effect created by plants on the physical environment. The second half of that may be overlooked by some but research from Washington found that transpiration by plants leads to an increase in air humidity to a level matching most closely that shown to be found most comfortable to the average person. In addition, this process improves air quality and can reduce the ambient temperature as much as three degrees generally leading to more comfortable working conditions. If the wellbeing of your employees wasn’t enough to persuade you to invest in a few plants, think of the money you can save on your utility bills!
Finally, there is data to show that an attractive workplace can help attract and retain the best employees in today’s competitive workplace market. It follows that if you have office full of competent employees, your stress levels and productivity are likely to be lower and higher respectively. With that I end my case. I hope, at very least, I have convinced you to get up an hour or so earlier, take a slight diversion to the nearest garden centre on the way to work tomorrow morning and fill a wheelbarrow full of shrubs and perhaps small fruiting trees and make your office a better place.
Alex works in the Primrose marketing team, mainly on online marketing.
As a psychology graduate it is ironic that he understands plants better than people but a benefit for the purpose of writing this blog.
An enthusiastic gardener, all he needs now is a garden and he’ll be on the path to greatness. Alex’s special talents include superior planter knowledge and the ability to put a gardening twist on any current affairs story.
See all of Alex’s posts.