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How connected to nature are you at work?

The weather in the fall is beautiful, inviting us outside to savor the crisp air. We often feel refreshed after just a few moments in nature, which serves as a reminder of the need to experience nature in or near the work setting.  Do you know how connected you are to nature in your work space?

The need for healthy workplaces is important for employee well-being, and also for enhanced organizational performance.  Crowding, noise, perceived stress, and low control take a psychological and physiological toll on health and the ability to perform effectively on the job. Organizations continue to search for innovative workplace wellness programs that reduce healthcare costs and the amount of sick leave taken, while simultaneously helping employees cope with corporate downsizing, increased workloads, and tighter budgets.

The Appalachian Trail near Erwin, Tennessee (USA) Photo by Mark Ellison

Numerous studies have linked exposure to nature with reduced stress and improved cognitive functioning.  Research has demonstrated the impact of plants in the workplace, outdoor work breaks, office windows, and greenways on employee restoration.  Understanding the amount of nature contact an employee has in a day can shed light on areas to focus for positive outcomes.  Researchers at the University of North Florida and University of Florida recently developed the first valid and reliable survey to assess nature contact in the workplace. The questionnaire measures the level of outdoor nature contact, indoor nature contact and indirect nature contact in the working setting, looking at variables such as spending work breaks outside, exercising outside at lunch, presence of live plants in the primary workspace, nature photographs and sunlight lighting the work space. The results from a research study using the nature contact questionnaire indicated that as workday nature contact increased, perceived stress and generalized health complaints decreased.

Organizations can encourage more “green time” through activities in or near the workplace that include eating lunch outside, exercising outside, having plants or nature artwork in the office, and improving the availability of sunlight in offices.  This does not require a big investment, just some creativity and flexibility.

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