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Five Benefits of Having Plants in the Office

07 May 2022

Whether we fully understand why or not, most of us feel much better when we are around nature.

The best results tend to be when we are fully emersed, but as we know full well, that’s not always an option. But what if we could bring a little nature back with us? Do people receive the same kind of health benefits with indoor flowers and plants as they would when standing in the middle of a forest?

The clear answer from the get-go is that we can never fully recreate an outdoor environment inside and a forest will always be infinitely more healthy to our primal being than an office, but that’s not to say we can’t improve our offices to make them healthier and more natural.

Reduces sickness and absence rates

We are only beginning to understand our complex connection to the natural world, but numerous studies appear to suggest that simply having plants in the office can reduce both sickness and absence rates caused by sick days.

Sick building syndrome is a condition where people feel ill when they are in a certain building and it’s common for it to be widespread among colleagues. While it remains mysterious, it’s thought to be down to poor air quality being circulated through the premises. Plants alone probably cannot cure it, but having indoor plants is thought to help, whether that’s through genuine health benefits or a placebo effect linked to increased well-being we aren’t sure.

The Human Spaces report on The Global Impact of Biophilic Design found that employees who work in environments with natural elements report a 15% higher level of well being, are 6% more productive and 15% more creative overall.

And we’re just scratching the surface here. Groundbreaking research from Japan has suggested that phytoncides, a chemical that is emitted from most trees, increases our natural killer cell count and could improve the body’s immune response against diseases such as cancer while helping us sleep better and stimulating our parasympathetic nervous system, which makes us feel more relaxed.  

Makes the workplace more attractive

Let’s be honest, workplaces can be dull to the point of actually wishing you had some drying paint to watch. Decisions are often taken for logistical or financial purposes, usually with very little consideration about what employees actually want.

And it’s not simply just for existing employees. Imagine visiting a prospective office only to find rows and rows of cubicles with strip lights above and not a scratch of nature in sight - how would you feel?

We are now moving away from traditional ways of designing offices and workspaces and plants and other natural elements can make a huge difference.

Clean the air

Offices often spend thousands on air purifiers or filters, but nature has its own method that is unrivalled compared to our human inventions.

A study by NASA in the 1980s found that plants are excellent at removing chemicals such as benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde from the air, making it significantly healthier for humans to breathe.

Another study found that indoor plants reduce carbon dioxide levels by about 10% in air-conditioned offices, and by about 25% in buildings without air conditioning. And if you want to take it up yet another notch, plants with palms have been found to produce the greatest reduction in CO2.

Helps to reduce stress

This is another area where the data is becoming increasingly obvious, but we aren’t exactly sure why. A study in Sydney found that when indoor plants were introduced to a workplace, 37% of employees reported a fall in tension and anxiety, with 58% saying they felt a drop in depression or dejection, 44% reporting a decrease in anger and hostility and 38% seeing reduction in fatigue.

It is important to say that many of these studies are based on anecdotal evidence, which is always a problem when looking into stress, anxiety and depression. Whether there is something real and substantial that affects the human body when plants are around, or it is a case of an increased sense of well-being that leads to a reduction in negative emotions, we can’t be sure. However, with results like that, whatever is happening is certainly working.

Boosts creativity and productivity

Helping employees to feel healthier and happier is all well and good, but are there any notable benefits for the employer?

A study at the University of Exeter showed a 15% increase in productivity when indoor plants were introduced to an office enviroment that had previously been described as ‘lean’. Again, we’re not entirely sure why, but it seems as if simply making sure that every employee has a plant in their line of sight is enough to boost overall productivity across the business.

And not only does productivity get a boost, but it would also appear that creativity receives a sizeable leg up when there are plants around. The Human spaces report reported employees seeing on average a 15% boost in creativity when in contact with indoor plants when compared to a group without any plants.

The bottom line

Why exactly plants are good for us continues to be one of life’s great mysteries, but with so much supportive evidence, companies would have to be crazy (or belligerently stubborn) to ignore it.

Placing a few indoor plants around the office is a relatively cost-effective way of boosting productivity and creativity while reducing illness and sick days and helping to turn your previously drab office into a natural paradise that people no longer feel a sense of dread walking into.

Just make sure somebody is on watering duty.