The Natural Solution to Improving Employee Performance

Reduce stress and absences

by Haworth, Inc.

Does a connection to nature in the workplace affect your bottom line? 

The University of Oregon discovered that 10% of employee absences could be attributed to architectural elements that did not connect with nature, and that a person’s view was the primary predictor of absenteeism. They tracked employees with like responsibilities and workload and compared their attendance over time to find that the employees with no views to nature took more sick days. How crazy is that?

Beyond attendance, something as simple as access to light makes employees happier. Research shows that happy employees feel more valued. And employees who feel valued are more likely to stay with their current employer, which makes the business case for decreased employee retention costs. Often just 13-15 minutes of exposure to natural light is enough to trigger the release of endorphins or "happy hormones”—an effect that can counter the consequences of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Turning our attention to stress, we know that exposure to nature is beneficial as well. Swedish scientists introduced study participants to a demanding math task to stress them out. When participants were finished, they asked them to sit in a 3D virtual reality room designed with nature scenes and birdsongs. What they found was that the heart rates of the participants in the nature room returned to normal more quickly than those who were asked to sit in a plain room.

“Harvard physician Eva M. Selhub, co-author of Your Brain on Nature, offers an antidote for the technology-addicted,” said John Scott, Haworth Senior Workplace Design Strategist. “Spending time outdoors is like turning off the stress responses in your brain (and switching on the reward neurons that allow the higher brain centers to be accessed), resulting in increased concentration, improved memory, greater creativity and productivity, and reduced mental fatigue.”

Views to the outdoors can also nudge employees to take a visual break from close work at hand, giving their eyes a moment to refocus. In fact, research shows that, oftentimes, a “lightbulb” moment in the thinking process occurs when we allow our minds to wander a bit while looking off into the distance. So maybe, the next time you think your colleague is just daydreaming, cut them some slack—they could be on the verge of the next big idea.

But what if your workplace doesn’t have access to outdoor workspaces? You can bring the outdoors in. Simply providing access to natural light, views of the outdoors, and fresh air offer profound improvements.

“Birds in the background, soft winds, or a hum of general outdoor activity can provide non-distracting background noise to help you concentrate and focus— known as convergent thinking,” said Lynn Metz, Haworth Vice President, Architecture and Design. “When you need to strategize and imagine solutions, an outside view—particularly one with a horizon line—can allow your eyes and mind to rest, enabling you to do divergent thinking. These views can relieve strain and provide brief, pleasurable moments to gather thoughts or noodle on ideas. You can recharge, stave off burnout, and return to high-performance tasks much more prepared.”

Haworth recently collaborated with real estate development firm Coretrust Capital Partners on their LA space, which includes a fresh-air terrace to bring the outdoors into their space. At their headquarters in Downtown Los Angeles—known for its appearance in the 1980s television drama series “LA Law”—the firm’s leadership decided to transform their space for the benefit of their customers. Their new Workplace Innovation Labs (one in LA and another in Philadelphia) offer a showcase of work environments to demonstrate ideas that would resonate with customers and their people, both now and into the future.


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