Feeling good often equates to being able to do more. In addition to the abundance of research that confirms the relationship between well-being and productivity (Robertson & Cooper, 2011), there is also clear evidence directly linking biophilia with an organisation’s output.
Productivity has been found to increase amongst employees in environments that complement humans biophilic needs. In a study of call centre EMEA office workers, the number of calls handled per hour was 6-7% greater for those with a view of the outdoor environment, in comparison to those with no view. In this situation, it is clear that with large numbers of employees, profit margins can grow significantly.
Researchers at Cardiff University reported similar relationships between nature and productivity in the work environment in a European study18. Comparing productivity in two offices, one with natural elements and one without, they found that the offices with natural elements saw a 15% rise in output amongst employees after three months.
A Japanese study from 2004 explained the differences in task performance between employees by the presence of natural elements within the individual’s workspace.
45% of EMEA survey respondents did not have any natural elements in their office currently.
Our research both confirms and furthers such findings, showing that indeed natural elements within the work environment are predictive of greater levels of productivity. In addition, the research has identified cross-country differences in the specific natural elements that are associated with productivity. For example, in the UK and Netherlands indoor plants were positively associated with productivity, whereas in Germany the use of stone in the office environment had a stronger impact. Further to this, the view from EMEA office workers windows also had an impact on levels of productivity. Overall, it was shown that EMEA office workers with a window view were more productive than those with no view at all. In Sweden, views of nature were most strongly linked to EMEA office workers productivity, yet in UAE it was found that views of water were most beneficial to employees.
Natural elements linked to increased productivity at work:
The scale of business benefits achievable by promoting biophilia is reflected in the number of organisations which have begun to embrace it. This is a new movement in an office design practice which has been adopted across various industries, from technology to banking. A 2007 study from Norway found that these design efforts can in some cases have a greater impact on sickness absence and productivity levels than psychosocial workplace factors such as job demands, control and social support. The physical environment then is not simply a ‘hygiene factor’ that can only have a negative impact – it’s an opportunity to drive performance, just as, say, management styles are. With regards to productivity, we found that 31% of respondents felt most productive at work when at their own desk in an open plan office. Such findings present key areas for organisations to increase productivity across a workforce. However, it is equally necessary to recognise the importance of quiet working spaces which are often essential when working in these free-flowing, open spaces. Interestingly, a third (33%) of respondents said that they do not currently have a quiet space where they can go to work within their office.
Linking these findings back to organisational psychology, it’s possible to draw a line through the emergent ‘whole person’ perspective on well-being and performance, and the concept of providing a fulfilling work environment. The extent to which organisations consider the full range of human interests and motivations in their conception of people management and of work is key to developing sustainable high performance. Rather than viewing staff as a resource, the whole person approach takes a broader perspective, part of which could include people’s interest in and need for contact with nature, which is clearly evident from our survey findings. Just as we mentioned the idea of employee perceptions in the previous well-being section, the physical environment is a part of setting a positive psychological contract; the environment doesn’t just impact of itself, but engenders trust and discretional effort when employees recognise it as a symbol of how highly they are valued.
The work environment is already an established part of the expected psychological contract between employer and employee and has even become a differentiator for employer brands. Consider the biggest firms in the technology sector – Facebook, Apple, Google – these are all at the vanguard of providing great working environments, of which many are linked to nature through biophilic design and the campus layout of the main offices. With this backdrop of increased awareness amongst employees about leading companies’ approach to designing work environments, it’s possible to envisage biophilic design as a crucial component in ‘the war for talent’ – how companies attract and retain the most skilled, productive workforces with great competition. Although we found over three quarters (77%) of respondents reporting that the design of an office would not affect their decision to work for that company, it is likely that as the awareness of the positive impact of good design grows, we will see a decrease in this figure and more people holding a greater expectation of office design that is stimulating and provokes positive feelings.