Close your eyes and imagine you’re in a rainforest. A cooling mist surrounds you as you wander down a track. Your hand lazily trails along, feeling smooth, rough and feathery leaf textures. The fragrance of earth and peat wafts upward with each footstep on the soft ground. You pause a moment to stare upwards through the canopy at the sky peeking through the branches and leaves. You’re in nature, and you’re at peace.
What if you could replicate these harmonious feelings in your place of work? What difference would that make to your day?
There’s outstanding evidence that indoor plants have an overwhelmingly positive impact on our mental health. And they can improve productivity and creativity too. For these reasons and more, I believe every business can benefit from incorporating plants into the workplace, whether that’s an office, a distributed workplace full of people working from home, or something else.
Curious? Here’s the science.
The benefits of plants
If you’re like many people, you enjoy looking at plants. You might not prefer the same plants as your neighbour — you might love flamboyant flowers, whereas they might prefer plants they can eat, or you might seek out graceful trees, whereas they might treasure scented plants — but regardless of where your interests lie, if you stop and think about it, you’ll probably instinctively realise you feel calmer and more creative when surrounded by nature.
And the science agrees with you.
Gardens and potted plants reduce anxiety
Most of us are more relaxed on a stroll through the forest. Many of us even retreat to our backyard garden for some “dirt therapy”. But did you know we’re reminded of the outdoors when interacting with a houseplant? And we can get similar calming and relaxing benefits from indoor plants too.
Scientists published a study in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology that confirmed the connection between indoor plant and improvements in our mental and physical health. “Our results suggest that active interaction with indoor plants can reduce physiological and psychological stress compared with mental work. This is accomplished through suppression of sympathetic nervous system activity and diastolic blood pressure and promotion of comfortable, soothed, and natural feelings.”
Plants Stimulate Creativity And Increase Productivity
A research study about our connection with plants, conducted in 2003 by Texas A&M University and released by the Society of American Florists, showed that creativity at work increased up to 15% when there are plants around. The study also showed an overall increase of positivity due to being connected with plants. You may even have noticed that your ideas tend to flow more freely when there are plants around. And really, once stress is removed from the equation, our mind is free to wander in the land of imagination instead of fixating on all the stress of unfinished projects, so it’s not so hard to understand this connection.
Plants Can Improve Memory And Concentration
A Unversity of Michigan research study found memory recall improved as much as 20% when spending time outside. Since any plant has a calming effect, you can get the same benefits from tending to a plant in your workplace. What business couldn’t benefit from calmer employees with better memories?
Plants And Gardening Can Improve Mental Health
Science shows that indoor plants actually help to reduce our depressed and anxious feelings. One way they accomplish this is with the help of a microscopic organism. Mycobacterium vacccae is a bacterium that lives in plant soil. When we rough up the soil and move plants around in the dirt, that bacteria actually causes our brains to release serotonin. Serotonin is one of the feel-good chemicals and it actually stymies anxiety. In fact, many antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications work by preventing the body from reabsorbing serotonin so it hangs around and is active for longer.
If you introduce potted plants to your officer, you may see employees gathering around potted plants instead of the old water cooler!
Plants Improve Indoor Air In Winter
Indoor plants can also improve the quality of our indoor air by adding humidity during winter. When heaters are constantly on, the air can get very dry, so a few strategically placed houseplants can make breathing a bit more comfortable.
Plants Reduce Indoor Noise Pollution
Today’s popular open floor plans in our offices can provide a great atmosphere for collaboration. However, an open office does make it difficult for an employee to concentrate and tune out the noise from co-workers and office equipment. This can be especially true for those of us who are introverted.
Plants can help to reduce noise pollution in an open space. The surface textures of a leaf and the various shapes absorb and deaden some of the noise. And a few deliberately placed plants can also create a sense of privacy.
(I’m introverted but am pretty good at drowning out distracting noises, so office noise was less of a problem for me. But it’s not something we should have to work with and I hate open offices because of the lack of privacy. So when I worked in an office, I’d have loved it if plants had been used to reduce noise and provide a little more privacy.)
COVID-19 Gardening Resurgence
During COVID-19 many people took to plant keeping as a way to keep themselves busy and perhaps brighten up the house a bit. Google even noticed the growing trend with Google searches that included plants and planting starting to increase in the very week the United States government declared COVID-19 a national emergency (during the week of 22 March, 2020) .
So, Trees.com surveyed 1,000 Americans in the 18-54 age bracket in January of 2022 in an effort to learn more about the impact of this.
The survey generated interesting data about the surge in plant keeping as a hobby during the pandemic. In particular, the survey reflected a resounding connection between people’s mental and physical health and their plant keeping. For instance, 88% of people surveyed noted that indoor plants helped keep their moods and outlooks balanced.
Work Aged Individuals Identify With Plant Keeping
74% of people, 35-44 years of age, responded that they picked up plant keeping as a hobby to keep themselves busy and distracted during the pandemic. And, according to the same survey, 73% of people who started plant keeping were employed at the time.
So, there’s a good chance many of your employees took up gardening during the pandemic.
Once A grower, Always A grower
The feeling of connection people developed with their plants during the pandemic was so strong that they intended to continue the hobby post pandemic. In fact, 96% of all survey respondents now consider themselves to be lifelong plant keeping hobbyists.
Plant-loving Students Are Future Employees
In the same survey, 100% of all students planned on continuing their plant hobby. Since students are the future workers, suppliers, and contractors of your business, it’s even more likely that your future employees will be keen growers.
How Can Your Business Benefit From Plants?
In addition to providing colour and texture to your office design, indoor plants have wonderful benefits for your employees and their productivity.
Plants in the office can ‘scrub’ the air of fumes, toxins, and even mold. Many types of indoor plants provide much-needed humidity to sterile office air. Office plants also take on the role of stress-reducers and mood-influencers.
Work Imitates Home
What a comforting, stable feeling to have plants at work that mimic our home environment. How much more comforting to water a plant during your break than to wolf down a bag of chips? And since so many of us have learned a little something about caring for plants during the pandemic, that knowledge transfers to the plants at work.
Those returning to your office after working from home for some time, may find comfort in the familiarity of caring for plants at work.
Gardening At Work
Introducing potted plants to your office could be a great way to bring the benefits of plants to your workplace. However, if you have the option of creating an outdoor garden as well, perhaps a rooftop or courtyard garden if you don’t have a traditional green space. Employees will no doubt love sitting in such a garden on their lunch break. And if you include edible plants, like herbs, they can even harvest a little something to add a touch of fresh flavour to their meals.
Or if your crew is all working from home, perhaps a small potted plant allowance or stipend would work better. It really doesn’t take much more than a few pots of greenery to reap the positive benefits plants have to offer.
Some employees will have their own garden, but some may not. And everyone could benefit from putting a plant on their desk (even if they already have a few). Those who are already gardeners, will love that you’re helping them add a little more greenery to their workspace. And those that haven’t yet developed the habit, may just experience the benefits of indoor plants for the first time.
And in both cases, you’ll be showing your staff that you care about their health and wellbeing without having to make a massive financial investment.
Introduce Green Team Members To Your Business And Harvest The Benefits
All these studies and surveys show the benefits of indoor plants to our mental health. Many of us have already realised the many advantages of indoor plants at home. We just need to spread these little mental health boosters to our businesses.
It’s time to ditch the plastic and silk plant arrangements lying in dusty old pots. Let’s bring our plant keeping hobbies into the workplace and build more positive and healthy work environments.