Nature: Can It Help Us at Work?

There is a growing body of thought that posits that office life can be greatly improved by exposing people to the natural world, even in small ways. The Good Life Project is currently searching for companies to participate in a study on the effects of increased access to nature in the office. Could incorporating nature into our office designs have positive impacts on our health and well-being at work?

The Good Life Project “aims to provide evidence-based and cost-effective solutions to the benefits of nature in making businesses happier, healthier and more profitable”. It is one of a growing number of qualitative and quantitative studies of this subject, but this study will also measure the effects of specific tactics, including having workers help care for an indoor herb garden, encouraging them to spend time outdoors during the day, and providing nature-themed wall art.

The Good Life study comes after years of concern that increasing hours spent in enclosed spaces, under artificial light, and under stress to boot are contributing to our overall lack of health. In addition, 50 percent of the world’s population now lives in urban areas. With the increased access to jobs and services, however, has come increased incidence of mental health issues, which are exacerbated by work-related stress and, it seems, by the actual environments in which we spend so much of our time.

In 2015, researchers at Stanford University published a study focusing on rumination, which in the mental health context refers to a focus on the negative aspects of one’s life. They reported: “Through a controlled experiment, we investigated whether nature experience would influence rumination … a known risk factor for mental illness. Participants who went on a 90-min walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment. These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world.”

It does make intuitive sense: So much of our lives are now spent working – the much-anticipated short workday and workweek are just words in book titles for most people. For many, most of their waking hours are spent at work, and it stands to reason that good office design could go at least part of the way toward alleviating our stress. In other qualitative studies, workers report feeling more satisfied with their workplaces when they had greenery, natural light, and colours that reflected natural spaces. The research and advocacy organization Human Spaces has published considerable literature on what people want in their workplaces and the benefits of design that incorporates nature.

The evidence is growing, and we can only hope that companies and commercial office space designers start taking it to heart – it will be good for people and good for the bottom line.

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