Greenery the key to office productivity

Last updated 06:00 03/09/2014

GO GREEN: Granted, we don't all have the luxury of working in an immaculately-styled home office like this one, but boosting productivity in any office environment could be as simple as adding some greenery.

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If you have a plant on your desk and a few dotted around the office, show them some love, because chances are they're making you happier and better at your job.

A new study has found an office enriched with plants boosts productivity by 15 per cent compared to the 'leaner' obstruction-free offices favoured by many businesses today.

According to the study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, enriched spaces improved employee satisfaction and quality of life, making staff more physically, mentally and emotionally involved in their work.

So then, did UK prime minister David Cameron act a little rashly when cancelling the floristry bill in Whitehall's offices as a cost-cutting measure? He wouldn't be alone in thinking money spent on office plants was money wasted.

According to the study's authors, that's a sentiment widely shared within business literature, where it's argued that clean work surfaces, clear of interference, are the most economical route to business health and productivity. And in an environment still recovering from a recession, investment in plants and other non-essential items might be seen as frivolous.

Yet what this study shows is that greening up the office not only benefits employees but makes economic sense too, by improving the output of staff.  

Co-author Professor Alex Haslam from the University of Queensland's School of Psychology says, "Office landscaping helps the workplace become a more enjoyable, comfortable and profitable place to be." The increased levels of happiness result in a more effective workplace, he says.

But the question, of course, is how and why plants have this effect? There are three explanations:

1. Plants improve air quality. When introduced in sufficient quantity, indoor potted plants have been shown to remove most types of air-borne pollutants. These pollutants, even at tiny levels, have been shown to cause 'building-related illness' including headaches, sore eyes and sore throats. Plants also refresh the air by absorbing carbon dioxide; that means they also combat the declining performance and productivity caused by increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the environment.

2. Some argue that natural environments restore our capacity for directed attention. Translating that to plants in the workplace, it's thought they enhance employees' directed-attention capacity which leads to improved concentration and productivity levels.

3. Finally, enriching the workspace shows an attempt by managers to enhance staff wellbeing and environmental comfort, which shows employees their bosses care - a tried and true driver for greater engagement.

In challenging the philosophy that a lean office is a more productive one, Haslam says, "Modern offices and desks have been stripped back to create sparse spaces - our findings question this widespread theory that less is more - sometimes less is just less."

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