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Why natural scenery improves your mood and makes you more productive

You’ll experience less stress and more motivation when you’re surrounded by plants, water and other natural elements.
Image: Plant on desk
Studies show that in offices with plant life employees are 15 percent more productive.Jamie Jones / Getty Images

We tend to think about productivity as a product of a person’s inner motivation and work ethic; some people are naturally harder workers than others, and should be rewarded for their better performance. This reward can, in turn, encourage more productivity from others, who might be motivated by external, tangible rewards than they are from the internal satisfaction of a “job well done.”

However, recent evidence suggests that productivity is the result of a far more complicated set of variables. Some of these are well beyond your control, like intrinsic motivation, and some are only indirectly modifiable, like employee health and physical wellbeing.

Rather than focusing on these as priorities, it’s usually best to focus on small improvements that are well within your control; they’re inexpensive, straightforward and can have a significant impact on how your employees perform overall.

One example of this is the inclusion of natural scenery — such as plants, water, and other features of nature — which can help boost your employees’ mood, morale and productivity at once.

The Evidence

Biophilia: human beings’ natural desire to be connected with nature.

One of the most recent studies, from the Journal of Environmental Psychology, noted a phenomenon that may stem from biophilia — human beings’ natural desire to be connected with nature. While the concept of biophilia is debatable, the effects of the phenomenon are not; researchers noted that simply staring at an image of natural scenery for 40 seconds was enough to trigger the brain into a more relaxed state. The control group in this study stared at a concrete roof, while the test subjects stared at a green meadow.

Beyond this feeling of relaxation, subjects who stared at the green meadow performed significantly better in a test of attention after the initial session; they made fewer mistakes, and were less distracted all around.

Other studies have demonstrated that exposure to natural sensory experiences, like the sounds of running water or the smells of the forest, have marked effects on stress and physiological factors, like heart rate and blood pressure. Overall, the presence or visibility of plants, animals and water should be enough to raise the productivity — and even the health — of your entire team.

Including Natural Scenery the Cost Effective Way

Few businesses will have the funds to install a scaled-down waterfall in the atrium of their building, or the location to sponsor occasional walks in the forest as a break from work. So what are some low-intensity, cost-efficient ways that you can introduce nature to your office — even if your bosses and supervisors aren’t willing to do the work themselves?

  • Incorporate office plants. One study from the University of Queensland noted that offices with plant life demonstrated productivity rates 15 percent higher than their counterparts. With office plants costing just a few dollars, you can spruce up the entire office for a few hundred dollars or less. With a potential increase in productivity of 15 percent, that’s well worth the investment—even if it comes from an employee pool.
  • Get a nature calendar. Remember, the findings from the Journal of Environmental Psychology demonstrated that you don’t need to be immersed in nature to see the positive effects; just the images of nature are enough to trigger the decrease in stress. Accordingly, you can pull some of your favorite images of nature from the internet and print your own calendar — or even print calendars for the entire office — so you have something natural and beautiful to look at every day.
  • Go beyond sight. The presence of nature doesn’t have to be tied to your sight, though visual experiences are often stronger than other sensory experiences. Instead of incorporating plants and imagery, consider listening to natural soundscapes, like chirping insects, rolling waves or the sounds of an empty forest, as a backdrop for your work. You could even invest in air fresheners or essential oils that remind you of nature.

The benefits of being surrounded by nature aren’t strictly limited to people who are already obsessed with nature; even if you generally prefer to be indoors, it’s likely you’ll experience less stress and more motivation when you’re surrounded by plants, water and other sensory experiences that remind you of the outdoors.

Since most of these changes are somewhat innocuous and relatively inexpensive, you should have no trouble making them a reality in your office, and once you and your co-workers respond positively to the new setup, your bosses and peers will be even more likely to improve upon what you’ve started.

More health benefits of nature

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