Our ancestor’s seemed to know instinctively that getting next to nature was good for your health. Sacred writings, literature, and poetry from the past are replete with the connection between nature and vitality. It’s not surprising science has drawn the same conclusion.
Modern life has taken us further and further from nature, making us the most stressed out generation on the planet. Rather than increasing productivity, longer work hours actually significantly diminish our efficiency. Exposure to natural environments is increasingly important to the overall wellbeing of business in general. And the workplace stands to gain increased creativity, co-operation and productivity when nature breaks are part of office life.
According to the comprehensive report, Beyond Blue to Green (http://www.hphpcentral.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/beyondblue_togreen.pdf), contact with nature has a restorative affect on us physically, emotionally and spiritually. Spending time in and observing nature restores and refreshes our cognitive, problem solving and creative abilities. Feelings of well-being induced by exposure to green spaces promote harmony with others. In business, this will inevitably lead to co-operation and higher morale among employees and employers alike.
Jobs that demand extended times of focused concentration leave us drained, causing decision making skills to be greatly diminished. And mental fatigue makes us susceptible to anger and frustration, opening the door to disharmony and lack of co-operation in the workplace. It also contributes to higher numbers of sick days. Even a few minutes of exposure to nature can help alleviate these problems.
Deliberate concentration is the source of mental fatigue. Involuntary concentration– what is termed soft fascination—has a rejuvenating effect on our minds. Soft fascination has four different facets:
- Distance from routine and concentrated focus
- Something to hold our attention effortlessly
- Immersion in the distraction
- A desirable setting where our minds can relax
A nature break supplies all four aspects at the same time. These simultaneous ‘activities’ allow our minds to rest, and at the same time, to get fresh perspective on work concerns. Giving employees opportunities to spend time in green spaces will create an atmosphere conducive to productivity and co-operation.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a park nearby, promote lunch hour excursions. Going solo has its advantages, but making it a group activity will nurture good rapport between colleagues. And you’ll have the added benefit of physical exercise.
If a park is not in close proximity, find office space that includes a natural outdoor space. Or work to incorporate one where you are. Investing in landscaping– even a small garden courtyard with comfortable seating—will pay back in untold dividends. Make it easy for employees to access, and desirable for them to visit. A few well placed planters and somewhere to sit will be sufficient to help reduce stress and rest the mind.
Something as simple as a window with a view can provide some level of restorative therapy. In a study by R. Kaplan in Landscape and Urban Planning, workplaces with windows that looked out onto vegetation had higher levels of job satisfaction, fewer sick days, less frustration and more enthusiasm among employees compared to buildings without access to a view of nature. Consider reorienting office layouts to take advantage of windows with a scenic view.
Of course, unless people take advantage of the green spaces, it will be of no value. Encourage employees to leave their work stations during breaks. Set the example by taking your coffee or lunch outdoors, and spend non-work related time with others in garden patios, parks, etc. If you don’t have the green space, spend time looking out the nearest window watching the clouds go by. That little break from the daily grind will infuse fresh vision and vitality into office life: two key ingredients for business success.
(Winter weather needn’t be a reason to stay in the office. Be sure to bring boots and warm clothing so you can still get outside. Or, at the very least, spend extra time looking out the window at the birds and the snow laden trees)
Information source: Townsend M and Weerasuriya R. (2010). Beyond Blue to Green: The benefits of contact with nature for mental health and well-being. Beyond Blue Limited: Melbourne, Australia.