We all need nature

The alarm goes off and your employee rolls out of bed, completes their morning routine, and gets to their main mode of transportation to work. Most people will step outside briefly and then sit down in their car and drive to work, parking as close as possible, step outside again briefly (if they’re not in a parking garage), and then sit down at their desk to start their day. Or maybe they work at home and don’t go outside at all. This is the norm and so it should come as no surprise that most people spend 90% of their day inside!

When considering the structure of your workplace wellness program, the need for nature should not be ignored. The inclusion of nature connection within your wellness program demonstrates a commitment to cultivating well-being and a desire to help employees feel, work and live their best. It’s not just that nature is intrinsically beneficial, but its presence in the workplace and your employees spending time in nature provides cognitive, physical and emotional benefits. Broadly, nature affects our happiness, performance, and even how long we live. Let’s break this down.

Time spent in nature, including urban nature, allows the mind to relax, providing cognitive benefits:

  • Improved self-regulation
  • Improved memory, reasoning, and decision-making
  • Improved attention and focus
  • Improved attentional control and attention restoration
  • Improved creativity and problem-solving

Being in nature also improves physical and mental health:

  • Reduces stress/cortisol levels and muscle tension
  • Lowers heart rate and blood pressure (leading to lower rates of heart disease)
  • Increases vitamin D levels, an important vitamin for bones, blood cells, and the immune system.
  • Increases physical activity and desire to be outside
  • Improves sleep
  • Lowes risk of depression
  • Improves social well-being
  • Lessens stress and feelings of anger/frustration
  • Increases life expectancy
  • Improves mood

These benefits, while greatest when directly in nature, can also be felt in workplaces that find ways to bring nature indoors through biophilic design. That is, by incorporating plants, natural lights, green walls, aquariums or fountains, and natural colors and textures into the workspace. For example, in one study, researchers found that those who were able to see nature during a repetitive task performed better as they were able to better maintain their attention to the task at hand, suggesting that micro nature breaks support attention restoration. Other compelling arguments in favor of nature in the workplace include:

  • In two separate studies (1, 2), one plant per meter squared led to a 15% increase in employee productivity
  • Office plants reduce the amount of airborne volatile chemicals within offices by up to 75%, including cancer-causing compounds.
  • Office views that lack nature and natural light can explain 10% of employee absences. When employees have an outdoor view of nature, they assess their health more positively and experience a buffer against negative job stress, which is linked to reduced absenteeism.
  • According to one 2010 study by UTS, indoor plants in the workplace were linked to a 37% decrease in anxiety, 38% fewer chronic fatigue cases, and 58% fewer depression cases, among other benefits.

Worth noting is that biophilic design isn’t just about bringing plants into the workplace; it also includes a host of strategies that support engaging your employees’ senses – touch, sight, and sound- with a multi-pronged approach to nature in the workspace. However, as with all wellness initiatives, motivating employees to continue their wellness journey outside of the workplace is recommended. This requires a nuanced understanding of your employees; everyone may not have a positive relationship with nature or see this as a safe space for being active, or other obligations may prevent nature connection (more about considering the individual in an upcoming blog). This does not negate the fact that the workplace can be a source of creating positive connections and experiences that support the creation of healthy habits and impact well-being. With so many benefits linked to nature, one might naturally wonder: How much time outside is enough? One study of nearly 20,000 adults across the United Kingdom found that people who had spent at least two recreational hours in nature during the previous week reported significantly greater health and well-being, which held true for older adults and those with chronic health problems. So how can you support your workforce to reap all the many benefits of nature?

When you remember that most people spend 90% of their day inside and that we are living in a culture that has a hard time disconnecting from our screens and devices, most people are going to need extra help to incorporate nature into their daily lives so that the benefits can be felt at home and in the workplace. Why not try a team challenge for walking outside? Or organize a team-building camping trip? Or plan a park clean-up or volunteer day in support of planting trees? Promote active nature breaks at work for both employees and their managers to get outside; managers are a source of inspiration and employees will take their cues from them about workplace expectations. Ready to learn more and take action? We can help you bring nature into your wellness initiatives!




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