Green spaces have been vital for our mental health during the pandemic. Partly fuelled by the lockdowns, subsequent work from home and hybrid practices, people have been spending more time in nature. Walks outside, for example, were identified by 45% of respondents in one study as one of their top coping strategies. So, what happens now we are returning to workplaces that are often in urban arears with less access to this source of replenishment? In this blog we talk about bringing nature into work to boost wellbeing.
The impact of green spaces on mental health and wellbeing
Sigmund Freud was the first to write about the connection between the mind and the environment back in 1929.
Research has since identified how our connection to nature can boost our interpersonal relationships and emotional wellbeing. Nature has also been linked with improved mental health and wellbeing, and higher levels of resilience. In addition, nature-based interventions have been found to be effective in managing stress associated with military service.
During the pandemic, a study of 3000 people found green space use or access to green window views, was positively linked with mental health. Participants in the study reported higher levels of self-esteem, life satisfaction, and subjective happiness. Further, higher rates of access to green space were associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety and loneliness.
Bringing nature into work to boost wellbeing
One low-cost way to address wellbeing in the workplace is to increase the proximity and availability of the natural environment. This can have significant benefits, even if the employee does not spend a lot of time in the natural setting. Just a view from the window can have a positive impact on wellbeing.
A study of person–environment relationships in five urban fringe science parks in central Scotland investigated this. It found that open space, views of trees, lawn and shrubs or flowering plants, were positively associated with self-reported wellbeing levels.
Other research shows how indoor plants can physically improve the air quality by removing pollutants and improve employee wellbeing through psychological benefits. These included feeling more comfortable, more productive, healthier and more creative. Employees in planted offices also reported experiencing less pressure than occupants of non‐planted offices.
How can you bring nature into the workplace?
While providing windows at work may not be a simple matter, other ways to increase contact with vegetation may provide a low-cost, high-gain approach to employee wellbeing and effectiveness. This can be as simple as taking nature breaks during the day, sharing a walk or a chat in some green space, or bringing plants into the office.
Finding ways to engage with nature in the workplace may need to be creative. Encouraging team discussions about how to do this is a great starting point.
And remember taking just a few simple measures to bring nature into the workplace has huge potential in terms of the benefits to employee mental health and wellbeing. And for some may help to ease the transition back into the office.