Our recent research around workplace wellbeing looked at a variety of factors that influence whether people feel they can maintain their wellbeing. These included individual, job, environmental and cultural factors. One aspect of our study looked at the impact of plants in the work environment on wellbeing. Our research found that a third of people (31%) feel their wellbeing is affected if there is a lack of plants in their work environment. We found this affected productivity and worker resilience. So how are plants actually contributing to people’s health? We talked with local expert – Lizzie Duckworth from Cambridge Plant Interiors – to unpack the science.
The science of how plants improve the air
Most people are aware that plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, but few realize the extraordinary ability of plants to filter the air and eliminate toxins. As part of the photosynthetic and respiratory process plants release moisture vapour. By placing several plants together you can increase the humidity of a room thereby combating the effects of drying air conditioning.
Plants absorb a long list of airborne toxins such as Benzene or Formaldehyde which are found in plastics, fabrics and pesticides that are distributed through any typical workplace. Phytoremediation is the process by which plants remove these harmful toxins from the air by absorbing the gases through their leaves and roots. These toxins have been associated with asthma, nausea and even cancer and respiratory diseases.
A study by the Agricultural University of Norway demonstrated a reduction in coughs, skin conditions and other ailments as a result of plants in the environment. The research team studied 60 office workers whom each experienced a ‘plant’ and ‘no plant’ condition over a two year period.
In the first year, half of the subjects had a planter installed on their windowsill and a large floor plant near their desks, while the other subjects experienced their standard office conditions without plants. In the second year of the study, the conditions were reversed.
The research showed an effect on mucous membranes with coughs decreased by 37% and dry throat by 25% in the plant filled environment. Dry or flushed skin was reduced by 23% when there were plants in the workspace. The researchers suggest that health improvements were likely due to improved air quality.
However, the researchers also noticed the significant effect of the more aesthetically pleasing environment that the plants created on the psychological wellbeing of the workers. Neuropsychological symptoms were reduced by 23% when plants were present. Fatigue reduced the most – by 30%. People also reported more positive view of their employer.
The aesthetics of plants on perceptions of employers
People are biophiliacs – we like to see nature in our environment – a view of nature from the window, potted plants, natural fabrics etc. A wide range of studies (summarised here) have found psychological benefits of viewing nature such as increased alertness and reduced stress and anxiety.
In our own research, we found that where people had nature or plants in their work environment, they were more likely to feel productive (+26%), feel more creative (23%), maintain sense of wellbeing (+20%), more alert (+14%), more comfortable at their work station (+11%). Fewer reported feeling moody (-14%).
Significantly, it was the impact on perceptions of employers that generated the greatest differences in our research. Where there was nature or plants in the environment, people were more likely to feel they worked in a healthy environment (+47%), positive about their employer’s attitude to wellbeing (+37%), feel proud of their employer (+27%) and were more likely to stay working with their employer (+23%).
Aesthetically speaking, a workplace filled with plants is a clear symbol that you care about people’s wellbeing. As shown above, that’s a brand work having.
You can read more about our research findings in our published report here.