It seems clear that urban life, with its disconnection from the natural world, stimulates a desire for contact with nature that needs to be satisfied. A key factor in maintaining positive well-being is reducing levels of stress. Research has identified that visible connections to nature can have a positive effect on an individual’s reported stress levels. In a review of numerous studies looking at the effects of different landscapes on health, it was found that natural landscapes had a more positive effect compared to urban landscapes. In fact, in some cases, urban landscapes had a negative effect. According to our findings, this is certainly the case in France, where views of natural scenes such as greenery, wildlife and even ocean views were linked to the greatest levels of well-being among office workers and window views of urban scenes, such as roads and buildings were linked to a lower sense of well-being.
Responses to biophilic experiences have been measured in a number of ways. Much of the early work focused on visual preferences, indicating strong affiliations for savanna and savanna analogue landscapes. These findings were enhanced by later research showing that viewing images of such landscapes trigger a stronger dopamine response (i.e., pleasure indicator) in the visual cortex of the human brain than scenes of nature-less manmade landscapes. Other measured responses include faster recovery from major surgery and shorter stays in psychological wards. Direct physical responses can be measured in heart rate and blood pressure, and through the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Other measured responses include better cognitive performance and enhanced creativity.
Our data shows that, in Canada, the provision of green space is important in ensuring that workers’ well-being is at a positive level. This is supported in recent empirical research that looked at the associations between well-being and nature connectedness among a student population. Significant associations emerged, showing that when people were connected to nature in both their internal and external environment, they reported much greater levels of well-being.
Our analysis has shown that perceptions of well-being can increase by up to 15% when people work in surroundings that incorporate natural elements, providing that connection to nature, in contrast to those who have no contact to nature in their workplace. An increase of this size is certainly significant with such a large sample that is representative of the global population. For well-being to increase this dramatically is evidence of the power of biophilic design in the workplace and the positive impact that this can have on employees.
Considering these findings in conjunction with workers’ reports that 47% have no natural light and 58% have no natural greenery, organizations and designers are urged to consider design practises that ensure these elements are present in the workplace to help maintain and increase levels of well-being.
At work, when we focus our attention on a demanding task, factors in our environment that disrupt us can lead to mental fatigue. However, workspaces that incorporate nature provide more tranquil settings that allow for more effortless attention that is less mentally draining and may indeed restore – rather than deplete – our mental capacity. In academia, this is referred to as Attention Restoration Theory, which posits that viewing and experiencing nature engages a different part of the brain from that used in high attentional focus.
It is therefore concluded that environments dominated by elements of nature are thought to be more beneficial to the individual. This point emphasizes the impact of nature on our cognitive capabilities, suggesting that by providing nature contact within the workspace, organizations can ensure consistent levels of job performance within their workforce.
Natural elements positively linked to well-being at work – Nature views: Having no window view was significantly related to greater levels of reported stress. In contrast, window views of greenery and water were linked with lower levels of stress.
Accent colors: Employee well-being is positively impacted by offices that incorporate nature-resembling colors such as green, blue and brown. It was also found that the use of gray colors within the workspace had a significant negative impact on employees’ levels of stress.
Nature within the workspace: Across the world, those who work in offices that provide natural light, live plants and greenery along with water features, report significantly higher levels of well-being than those who work in environments devoid of nature.
Light and spacious workspaces: Those who report that their work environment provides a sense of light and space report greater levels of well-being in comparison to those who do not feel that their work environment is light and spacious.
In 2004, world-leaders in biotechnology, Genzyme Corporation, designed a new corporate headquarters that includes features such as: natural light; a clear glass exterior; a central atrium with chandeliers at the base that reflect sunlight; indoor gardens; water features; and windows.
This building was one of the first to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum status.
18 months after the structure opened, its staff survey found that:
The impact of the work environment is already well established in Robertson Cooper’s ‘6 Essentials’ model – a robust model, validated by research with over 100,000 employees – that shows the key aspects of working life that affect workplace well-being and employee engagement. It is designed to guide the process of making well-being work for an organization.
Among the ‘Essentials’ is ‘job conditions’ – this concerns how our work environment makes us feel. Job conditions are defined as those elements of the physical environment that impact employee experience – that could be anything from being sat next to a noisy printer to having an uncomfortable workstation. While the 6 Essentials model emphasizes the importance of removing the barriers to well-being created by ‘job conditions’, biophilic design adds a new and positive approach to the area. Rather than simply removing those ‘hygiene’ factors that block individual well-being, it’s clear that biophilic design can positively influence one of the 6 Essential Factors, and consequently be a direct driver of well-being.