This blog introduces key points from our 6500+ word review paper. The paper summarises the benefits of nature for health, wellbeing and restoration and argues that there should be action to bring nature into the workplace to address major challenges such as work related stress and ill-health. At present, workplace health programmes don’t tend to consider nature as a solution despite the health benefits of nature being known for many years. This mirrors, and is perhaps driven by, the wider societal dissociation from nature. In addition to simple exposure to nature, there is also evidence that a connection to nature is good for well-being and has a positive impact on valuable workplace factors such as vitality, creativity, happiness, pro-social behaviour and pro-environmental behaviour. The paper also reviews and summarises those benefits. I tried to capture it all in the figure below.
A number of research studies investigating the link between nature and health provide support for bringing nature to the workplace. For example, recent work has shown that the association between people’s perceived health and the availability of green spaces is stronger than the one between health and urbanicity, suggesting that the urban-rural health gap is not fully accounted for by differences in environment and less healthy behaviours, but mediated by an actual discrepancy in nature availability.
In addition to health and wellbeing nature can bring restoration – very useful at work. For example, a forty second view of green roof can restore attention, and people exposed to nature demonstrated greater persistence in logic and reasoning tasks. Research has also found physiological and affective recovery from stress and driving, is faster in people exposed to nature.
Nature restores attention capacity, improves mood and concentration. A view of nature and the presence of plants in the workplace lead to a rapid decline in blood pressure after attention demanding tasks, leading to improved worker productivity. Others have found a relationship between lower stress and workplace attitude, and access to workplace greenery. Such findings have informed workplace stress management interventions using garden and nature-based activities, resulting in reduction of long-term sick leave and stress symptoms. More widely, research has shown that working in a restorative and green environment mediates the relationship between organizational socialization and employee happiness.
Collectively, results from the studies in our review paper have confirmed the physiological, cognitive and affective restorative power of nature. However, the well-being benefits of nature are often overlooked in models and reviews of workplace well-being and in guidance for creating healthy workplaces. Similarly, although occupational health promotion is known to be valuable for the well-being of employee’s, the guidance is limited beyond traditional approaches such as exercise, even though nature provides a relatively easy and potentially inexpensive solution. Clearly, the beneficial effects of nature can be included in occupational health models, as a restorative buffer and mediator of workplace well-being. Access to nature at work may be as fundamental as the need for a rest break. Despite the lack of clear guidance, the research considered in the review shows that a great deal of benefit can come in three areas.
- Simple exposure to nature in the form of green spaces, gardens and trees, and even plants in the office. Once access is established, informal measures can be used to encourage employees to spend time in nature, both during breaks and as a location for meetings as part of occupational health campaigns.
- Given the research on restoration, time in nature can be formalised, particularly for those jobs that place high demands on attention.
- Formal nature-based interventions can be designed to deliver benefits such as reductions in burnout and sick leave.
Finally, we should all engage with global challenges where we can, such as sustainability, climate change and the loss of biodiversity. Strengthening human exposure to, and connection with nature through simple interventions in the workplace would not only be beneficial for human health and well-being, but for the environment as well.