News Brief

Plants in Offices Enhance Worker Engagement

Office plants make workers happier, which helps prevent the kind of disengagement that takes a toll on productivity, according a recent report.

Office plants appeared to boost productivity in three recent studies.

Photo: Paula Melton. License: CC BY-SA 3.0.
New evidence suggests the office plant can help cut through the boredom and distractedness that settles over many workspaces.

A study published in The Journal of Experimental Psychology in July 2014 compiles three separate field experiments in which researchers controlled office workers’ visual access to potted plants. Subjects in the landscaped spaces generally reported enhanced workplace satisfaction, better concentration, and improved air quality. While perceived air quality benefits are likely greater than actual filtration rates, the study supports early findings linking plants to well-being improvements; see Bringing Nature Indoors: The Myths and Realities of Plants in Buildings.

However, when the researchers attempted to test claims of heightened concentration, they got mixed results. One study conducted at a health insurance call center found that workers increased their average time spent on each call when the office was outfitted with plants—an indicator that the company considered a loss of productivity. But the researchers argue that that measure of productivity is “ambiguous” because it did not take into account the quality of service. Operators who spent more time talking to customers might be more helpful and might sell more insurance, for example.

In contrast, applying “less problematic” metrics resulted in marked increases in productivity. When workers from a large consulting company were asked to perform a series of information-management and vigilance tasks (work similar to the auditing they normally performed), the presence of office plants increased productivity by 15% compared to a control group.

The report explains the discrepancy by suggesting that the mechanism through which indoor plants confer productivity benefits is through promoting work engagement. Plants stimulate employees to be more physically, cognitively, and emotionally engaged in their work, according to the report, which likely increases productivity in its fullest sense rather than shallow measures of efficiency.

Published September 29, 2014

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