Why You Should Tell Your Team to Take a Break and Go Outside

Wellness programs are becoming an integral priority for most human resource managers. After all, research shows that a happier workplace is more productive. To this end, workplaces are adding health-related perks from exercise rooms to yoga classes. Leaders participate in mindfulness and compassion trainings and are coached to learn emotional intelligence. However, there is one important wellness factor that many are forgetting even though it may be the most potent of all: access to green spaces.

Greenery isn’t just an air-freshener that’s pleasant to look at, it can actually significantly boost employee well-being, reduce stress, enhance innovative potential, and boost a sense of connection. Yet most of us don’t spend much time in nature. Richard Louv, author of the Nature Principal, argues that we’re collectively suffering from “nature-deficit disorder,” which hurts us mentally, physically, and even spiritually. Adding a little wilderness to your corporate offices may just be the smartest move you can do this year.

For one, exposure to green spaces profoundly enhances physical and mental well-being which is why corporations like Google prioritize biophilia as a core design principle. Studies are showing these interventions can reduce not just everyday stress but also boost general health. Taking walks in nature lowers anxiety and depression while boosting mood and well-being, a large-scale study showed. Exposure to more light can boost Vitamin D levels that are known to increase mood, especially in colder months.

Scientists are also exploring how exposure to nature might result in lower risk of depression, obesity, diabetes, and cancer. The immune system certainly receives a boost from stress-reduction, and even just the sounds of nature trigger a relaxation response in the brain. Exposure to natural environments lowers stress, including its physiological correlates the “stress hormone” cortisol, heart rate, and blood pressure. By boosting mood, natural environments may also decrease inflammation at the cellular level.

In short, even a small green intervention like having more plants in the office could significantly boost employee happiness, and we know that happiness is a powerful predictor of an organization’s success. Corporations can significantly reduce organizational health costs by introducing more green spaces and plants into an office space. As Florence Williams has exhaustively reviewed in her recent book The Nature Fix, “forest bathing” have become popular practices in many East Asian countries because the impact of even a few minutes of immersion in nature has measurable benefits not just for our psychological well-being but also our physical health.

Greener office environments can boost employee performance and decision-making. One study found that exposure to greenery through office plants boosted not just employee well-being but also productivity  - by 15%! Lead researcher Marlon Nieuwenhuis concludes: “Our research suggests that investing in landscaping the office with plants will pay off through an increase in office workers’ quality of life and productivity.” For one, plants, natural environments and greener offices offer superior air quality which in turn strengthens employee cognitive function – allowing them to perform at their best.

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