The snowball effect of a healthy workplace

08 August 2017

A new study has shown how office plants have a real effect on business performance.

Called ‘The Snowball Effect of Healthy Offices’, the study was conducted by the CBRE alongside Twente University takes a close look at the effect on employees of a workspace filled with healthy features and, in turn, how including these features in the office can help businesses not only attract the best staff but also retain and best out of their employees.

The reasoning behind the research is robust. Other modern environments, such as retail, use sights, smells and music to provoke responses in us which make us want to stay and spend money, so why are we not thinking about offices in the same way? Many of us spend over a third of the week at work, so creating a working environment which has a positive effect on our behaviour must surely be good for business

There is a growing awareness of the value of healthy workplaces and the study claims this will only become more important as the war for talented staff becomes more acute. But what features are needed to create a workplace where staff and, therefore, business thrives?

Creating a healthy space

The study, carried out in The Netherlands, created a ‘healthy space’ with a range of features all believed to help with workplace performance and wellbeing. This included good lighting, healthy food, mindfulness exercises, physical exercises and, last but not least, natural features, principally plants.

The study looked at how participants working in this space fared with a range of tasks and how they felt and behaved compared with other participants working in an environment with none of the ‘healthy’ features added.


A natural space for doing business

All of the healthy office features had a positive effect on the participants and the findings on the effect of plants in the office were fascinating.

A mixture of real and replica planting, living walls and potted plants, were used, positioned close to where participants would be carrying out the designated tasks.

The study found that people who worked in a ‘natural space’, i.e. with plants, saw a 10 per cent improvement in task performance compared to a control group who didn’t have plants in their workspace. Interestingly, both real and replica plants had an equal effect on performance.

What’s more, 76% of participants felt more energised, 78% felt happier and 65% felt healthier in the work stations enriched with planting.

Business boost

These findings reinforce what we in the business have seen time and again.

Multiple studies increasingly point to the power of plants for a happy, healthy and productive workforce, whether it is psychological: office plants ignite our instinctive need to connect with nature (known as biophilia), or physical: plants remove harmful toxins from the air, reducing the risk of headaches, fatigue and stress.

This two-pronged boost to our working lives can only be good for business. As the study itself says: ‘Changing our working environment could lead to a brighter future for people at work and it also represents a smart business investment.

‘The costs associated with sickness and burnouts as well as employee turnover are significant expenses that could be drastically reduced or eliminated by introducing healthier offices.’

Ripple effect of empowerment

However, the report goes further than this. It also shows that the value of plants and other healthier workspace features has an even more profound effect on business performance:

Improving the 8+ hours that employees spend at work can greatly improve their overall physical and mental health and encourage them to tale those healthier habits home with them too.  

‘Workplaces can contribute to employees becoming more aware of their health, making them feel more in control […] This can lead to lower burnout rates and higher levels of commitment to both health and the workplace.’

As the study summarises, empowering a person makes them feel more in control and less stressed, which can improve their working performance.

In short, it’s safe to say that by nurturing staff you nurture your business: attracting the best staff, retaining them and getting the best out of them will feed directly back into your company’s success.

To read the report’s findings in full, click here.