Series: Nature and the Workplace: Part 3

swirl-reeds-in-waterThe weather looks uninviting; it is overcast and damp, and unseasonably cold. There is a breeze, to top it off.

I feel like staying inside, but I am restless. I am not focusing on my work. Plus feeling a little … ennui; listless and flat, like life has acquired a two dimensional quality.

I force myself to go outside. Once out, I immediately feel better and go for a walk. My favorite destination is the nearby river, a 10-minute brisk walk.

Once there, I gaze at the river, noticing the subtly different hues of whites, blues, greens and grays. I become mesmerized by the constantly unfolding pattern of water flowing under the ice. I suddenly notice my mood has shifted; I feel uplifted, positive, engaged and fascinated by my surroundings. I return to my office, inspired and focused.

It works every time, no matter what the weather. Why?

Three current theories predominate to explain the documented and measured benefits of nature and positive effects on wellbeing:

Biophilia: Humans are predisposed to be attracted to nature, given that we evolved in and with nature. It is only very recently, from an evolutionary perspective, that we have become disconnected from nature. Postulated by the great biologist E.O. Wilson in 1984, studies confirming this theory indicate that humans prefer nature scenes over built environments and that attraction to nature spans all cultures and all ages. Studies also indicate that time spent in nature predictably boosts wellbeing.

Attention Restoration: According to this theory, (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989), we have two kinds of attention; directed and involuntary. Directed attention requires focus and energy. This is a limited resource that gets depleted with use, leading to a negative emotional state. Involuntary attention is our default state and is restorative. Nature provides us with a rich environment of stimuli that effortlessly supports and engages our involuntary attention.

Stress Reduction: According to this theory (Ulrich et al, 1991), exposure to a threat-free natural environment is stress reducing and therefor enhances a sense of wellbeing. A plethora of studies have supported the view that exposure to a natural environment is stress-reducing.

Being exposed to nature enhances our experience of well-being. This is partially due to a lack of noises, sights and other stimuli, present in our built and urban environment, that stimulate our autonomic nervous system to signal threat or danger.

It doesn’t take very long, its just a matter of stopping and tuning in.

Given that wellbeing relates directly to workplace productivity, this is highly relevant information for employers to know.

But how to translate this information to stimulating a productive workplace? That is the subject of the next post: Viewing Nature Enhances Productivity.


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