The UK works some of the longest hours in Europe, with the average working week being 37 hours. With a depressed job market, employees are inevitably finding the pressure at work increasing, and the temptation to stay longer or work through lunch hour is often winning out. The result is that many of us spend most of our week inside an artificial office microclimate with central heating or air conditioning as our constant companion. It is certainly not the ideal recipe for health, wellbeing and productivity.
Being in an office environment reduces our exposure to key natural elements like sunlight and fresh air. We spend more and more time in front of our computer screens, sitting under artificial light. To compound the issue, in winter we often travel home in the dark with very little exposure to natural sunlight. Our working lives are often accompanied by common health complaints such as headaches, coughs, colds and fatigue.
Workplace air quality is critical to staff productivity and plants have air-purifying qualities, which reduce a multitude of harmful toxins while increasing oxygen levels. Research by Professor Fjeld of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences reviewed the air purifying qualities of plants and showed a 60% reduction in workplace absenteeism when plants were added to rooms. Furthermore, research carried out in Sweden has demonstrated that desk plants can help to reduce the growing and extremely costly problem of absenteeism through stress, a by-product of more challenging work pressures and output expectations. The result of increasing plants in the workplace is that employees tend to be more alert, engaged and reactive, and are less likely to suffer from common ailments.
Plants for health
Advances in computer technology has largely driven the relative stagnation of our once highly active working day. Though they make us more productive, they’re a generator of additional stress, tools by which we are all expected to achieve far more in far less time. The alarming fact is that employees can spend as much as 90% of the working day at their desk in front of their PC. However, studies by Virginia Lohr at Washington State University have shown that plants positioned close to computer monitors actually reduce blood pressure by between one and four units, while increasing reaction times by 12%. Being more alert at work undoubtedly brings a boost to staff productivity.
HR professionals are tasked with helping to promote the health and wellbeing of their staff, so making positive changes to the working environment will work to everyone’s benefit. Adding plants to the workplace is such an easy and cost-effective way to bring the outside in, and provides a natural antidote to stress and illness in the office. Not only that but the provision of plants clearly demonstrates a caring approach to personal wellbeing and this has been shown to be a key driver of the all important employee engagement.