It is estimated that nearly one third of businesses in Europe suffer from high illness absences due to the inadequate indoor environments or climates. In 1999 the Confederation of British Industry published the results of a survey which found that 1 in 5 UK residents take time off due to stress alone. In economic terms this means that around 6.7 million working days were lost at a cost of nearly 7 million pounds to British industry in 1999 (Health and Safety Executive).
As you can imagine this is not a good statistic for any modern business and many company owners have tried to make a conscious effort to improve the office environment for their staff. Office plants are a simple and environmentally friendly way to improve the health of employees whilst helping to enhance your corporate image.
Virginia Lohr working for the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, at Washington State University set up a study monitoring two groups of computer operators. The study was to try and identify the links between office plants and employee health. In order to find the link Lohr monitored the pulse rates, blood pressure and skin conductivity of all the operators in order to establish as increases in these measures are evidence of physiological stress.
Lohr found that the blood pressure and pulse rates of the office workers in the computer laboratories returned to normal much quicker in the laboratories with indoor office plants than those without. She also noted a distinct change in the level of concentration which was much greater in the ‘green’ offices. Concentration was measured using a series of computer based tests in which the participants in offices with plants were able to make corrections much quicker and improving productivity by around 12%.
In another study conducted over a 2 year period, Professor Tove Fjeld from the University of Agriculture in Oslo found that 82% of the office staff at the Statoil offices felt better in the presence of indoor commercial plants. In order to measure health improvements Professor Fjeld used evidence from former studies to identify 12 common symptoms that are commonly caused by poor indoor office climates. These symptoms included fatigue, headaches and coughing, all of which are symptoms thought to be caused by Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) emitted by modern office equipment.
The results of the Professor Fjeld’s research produced interesting results. She found that there was a 25% drop in the number of participants with one or more of the 12 symptoms that were working in offices that had been populated with office plants. All the participants who took part in the study expressed a wish to be near an office plant in the future, not only for the physical health benefits but for the psychological advantages too.
The findings of another key study that confirms the role nature can play in making us feel better was released in Roger Ulrich’s paper “Health Benefits of Gardens in Hospitals”. Ulrich (Texas University) found that there was a direct link between the quicker recovery rates of patients exposed to plants and nature and those who were not.
Ulrich compared 2 sets of patients who had undergone the same surgery and found that the group who were positioned with a view of the gardens recuperated much quicker, and showed less signs post-operative stress than those who could not see into the gardens. Commenting on his findings Ulrich stated that “views of plants and nature can reduce stress and in certain circumstances may have beneficial health related influences” providing yet more evidence of the health benefits office plants can have.