Plants for Mental Health in the Workplace
Today Canadian HR Reporter shared,
A new study has found that the presence of small plants at work can help boost the mental health of employees.
I don’t follow that publication. I was searching for an article to post on a social media page that would work for “#WellnessWednesday.”
The study, conducted in Japan, involved several floors of an office building. Each floor was open-plan (which induces anxiety), and before the study, there were no plants present.
Some of the participants’ workspaces were near windows. Others were not. Sitting near a window did not offer any advantage because the blinds remained closed to block sunlight.
Though it doesn’t say so in the study report itself, if the office building used in the study is like those in North America, the lighting likely came from fluorescent bulbs, which can have adverse health effects, such as causing migraines and provoking ADHD symptoms.
Researchers gave each participant the choice of one of six small indoor plants for their desk. Most chose either kokedamas — a Japanese planting style that consists of a plant and a ball of soil covered with moss — and succulents.
When a plant died during the study, the same type of plant immediately replaced it.
The researchers deliberately chose small plants that did not take up much desk space, which makes sense. Another study done in 2007, referred to in this report, found that more plants lead to more stress. My guess here is that more plants, and bigger plants, result in more stress because they appear to be clutter and interfere with desk space.
The study suggested that a three-minute break to look at a plant is considered a “nature break” and indicated that these three minutes improves workers’ mental health. Workers who took part in the study had a single plant on their desk.
I suspect that stress-reduction is the result of the three-minute break more than the plant itself, that it’s the pause in one’s day that creates the mental health break.
Everyone needs to take breaks at work, but there’s a tendency not to, except for the smokers, whose addiction pulls them away from their desks.
And here I pause because my statement about smoke breaks reminds me of the Friends episode in which Rachel starts smoking to fit in at work.
(That said, if smoking is good for mental health and camaraderie, it’s too risky for physical health.)
Care for the plants
Participants had the choice to take care of the plants. Those who chose to care for and water the plants received oral and written instructions.
-If I had the task of caring for a plant, my heart rate would increase. I kill plants. I’ve killed aloe (first by neglect, then by over-watering to compensate, I think) and bamboo.
For business owners, small indoor plants could be economical and helpful in their effort to reduce stress-related conditions. In addition, for growers of indoor plants and business owners of rental plant companies, the field of mental health for office workers could be promising markets. Our findings provide a piece of evidence in using small indoor plants for promoting workers’ mental health in the office.
Maybe, and it’s interesting, but I suspect that one small plant can only have so much of an effect.
27% of participants experienced a significant decrease in their pulse rate by the end of the four-week study. Anxiety scores decreased too. But, it wasn’t long term and regardless of the research being done out in the field, the office space used still somewhat functions as a lab. It’s not entirely real life.
Humans don’t exist in labs, or even within controlled studies.
If I want to get the mental health benefits of nature, I will go outside. Staring at greenery inside an office will not work, especially if that office uses fluorescent lighting, which is likely.
I suggest you go outside. Experience daylight, even if it’s a cloudy day. Take a short walk. If you can access a nature trail, that’s ideal. If you’re near a park or a community garden, that’s good too. Stop in front of someone’s yard or stop to admire your own. With intention and mindfulness, look at the trees and flowers. Take a big breath.