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Maybe Money Really Does Grow On Trees

Would you believe me if I told you that looking at a tree can make you more productive at work? Recent research suggests that incorporating nature in the work place may actually improve the bottom line. Have you heard of biophilia? Neither had I until a week ago. The biophilia hypothesis suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems. Nature is powerful. And we, as humans, are inextricably linked to nature. If you recognize this basic fact and use it to your advantage, biophilia experts claim you can actually increase the productivity of your business. And I have been impressed enough by their findings to want to share this information with you. “Recent research has shown that leveraging our inherent connection to nature can improve education, business, and health care. Whether it is hospitals that allow patients to heal more quickly, offices that boost productivity, schools that improve test scores, or retail outlets with higher sales, human interaction with nature provides an increase in parasympathetic activity resulting in better bodily function and reduced sympathetic activity. The result is decreased stress and irritability, and the increased ability to concentrate.” (Edward O. Wilson) A recent study at the University of Oregon (Elzeyadi, 2011) is fascinating. They put employees from all levels in three different types of offices. Group A had a view of trees and a manicured landscape. Group B had a view of a street, building, and parking lot, and Group C looked out on the interior of the building, offering no outside view at all. As it turns out, the quality of the employees’ view actually affected how they behaved at work! Employees who were looking at trees and landscape took significantly LESS sick leave per year, when compared with employees with no view. They also found the quality of a person’s view was the main predictor of absenteeism. Another study conducted in an assisted living facility found that simply by giving the patients a plant to take care of, their life expectancy increased. When you think about it, a plant can change your life. Having nature in the work space enables better focus, mental stamina, and productivity—all of which benefit workers and employers alike (Kahn, 2008). So, for all you scrappy entrepreneurs out there, maybe you don’t have the budget to compete with Google and Facebook by offering gourmet meals to all your employees or onsite dry cleaning, but you can certainly turn a desk to face out towards the window or buy a few plants. One study found that employees with better views were likely to spend more time at their desks. A Norwegian study from 1995 to 1996 showed that bringing nature into the work environment promotes better health for employees. The study compared 60 employees; half experienced the benefit of having a floor plant along with a window box filled with plants. The other half continued to work in a normal office environment with no plants. After the two-year study, it was determined that neuropsychological symptoms were reduced by 23% when plants were present. Fatigue was reduced by 30%! Mucous membrane symptoms were reduced by 24% overall when plants were present. Cough decreased by 37% and dry throat by 25%. Even more fascinating, dynamic nature elicits the most positive physiological responses. What does that mean? Apparently moving water and trees swaying in the wind are even more effective than potted plants or artwork depicting natural scenes when it comes to increasing productivity, the ability to concentrate, and lowering stress and anxiety. The movement of nature is stronger than nature by itself. So, if you live in a windy city and have lots of views of trees from your office – you’re in luck!If you don’t live in Chicago, buy a decorative water fountain. Or pay someone from Craigslist to stand outside your office window with a fan and blow the leaves around on the nearest plant or tree. Ok, maybe that’s a bit extreme but you get the point. Given this new information, what actions can you take? It’s simple. Start by connecting to nature in small ways and make sure everyone on your team is doing the same. Have you ever been on a nature walk and suddenly been struck with a great new idea for your business? That’s because nature is in its essence a creative organism and we can’t help but be influenced by that creative power when we’re in nature. Here are four simple tips for harnessing the power of nature at sork: 1. Light. Ensure you work in a space with windows and natural light. If this is not possible, create an outdoor area that is easily accessible to employees or suggest employees eat lunch outdoors rather than at their desks. Exposure to natural light serves to balance our hormonal levels of serotonin (linked to our mood) and inhibit the production of melatonin (used to regulate sleep). 2. Room with a View. Angle the chairs and desks to face out towards nature rather than inward. Simply having a view of something green makes a big difference. 3. Invite Nature Inside Include plants, water, and animals into your working environment as much as possible. Studies show that these direct connections to nature, especially dynamic nature that has movement, produce the strongest biophilic reactions. 4. Get outside more! Spend at least 10 minutes a day in nature – you should be able to see something green. Grass, trees, plants, even being in a courtyard outside your office with at least one potted plant or flower counts. Don’t worry if you’re not hiking in the redwoods, small connections to nature work too. Sheryl O’Laughlin, the former CEO of Clif Bar who doubled revenue to $200 million, was famous for her Monday morning “running meetings” with staff. (Remind me to share in a future blog how I accidentally ran my first half marathon with Sheryl during one of those infamous Monday runs!) My co-founder Lisa and I have a creative hiking session every couple of weeks to talk about our high level strategy and to brainstorm new business development ideas. It works wonders for our mood and our business strategy. Take your business outside with walks or outdoor brainstorming sessions and you will notice an increase in focus and creativity. In summary, if you want to improve productivity and lower stress for yourself and your employees, try bringing nature in, and getting outside more often. We all seem to know intuitively how much happier we feel when we get outside, and now the research is finally catching up! Go buy a plant – heck, it was just Earth Day. I’m heading to Trader Joes myself this afternoon for some botanicals, and I suggest you do the same.

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