Sitting at your desk all day means companies are “haemorrhaging productivity” according to PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie.
He wants us to get up and move more, have walking meetings (it reminds me of that phrase used by bosses “walk with me” which also seemed controlling to me, but moving on, literally) because we like bursts of energy.
He thinks firms would benefit more by spending less time sitting in a chair and more time moving around. He wants employers to think about how to get people moving more.
They did a similar campaign two years to get people to stand up more, about which I posted. Standing up more is one thing but given our climate holding outdoor meetings could be quite a challenge.
However research shows that being sedentary is linked to all kinds of health problems: obesity, type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer, and heart disease. So if you take your health seriously you should consider it.
I remember visiting the BASF factory in Munster a few years ago and seeing the outdoor meeting area (picture below). It seemed to work for them.
Back in the day, introducing open plan offices (bureaulandschaft), I found those habits seemed even more common when people had to adapt to pen plan offices (I even saw people growing tomatoes), as if they were trying to personalise their space and regain some control over their environment.
These days you’re lucky to have a desk and the work environment is more likely to be stripped down, and minimalist – perhaps barring the odd motivational poster.
Now researchers at Exeter University have confirmed yet again that having greenery around boosts productivity.
“Plants not only boosted intellectual performance but also improved job satisfaction and sense of well-being” says psychologist Craig Knight who led the research.
The research was carried out in three companies in Finland.
Workers were asked to work in a bleak stripped down office doing various challenging tasks and their performance measured. Then one group was left to carry on in that space whilst another could choose plants to put around their desk. A third group had their offices “greened” with foliage provided by a Finnish firm called Naturvention which had sponsored the study.
The researchers found that even a few plants had as strong an effect as organised displays. What people appreciated was the chance to control their environment – a point I made earlier.
Knight said “there is a fashion for minimalist, monochrome styling which pleases managers because it gives them a sense of control. But in reality it crushes the human spirit and we can now measure that. Adding plants makes people happier and productive – but the real benefit comes from giving them autonomy“.
I’ve posted previously on the beneficial effects of greenery in our environment and how it helps reduce street and improve productivity and here’s more proof.
So not sure what the sponsor made of the results but here they are promoting their Naava walls.
After 5 minutes they were given a 40 second break during which they were shown a view of a rooftop surrounded by tall buildings. Half of them saw a plain rooftop the other half a roof covered with a green flowering meadow.
Both groups then resumed the task. After the break concentration levels fell by 8% among those who saw the concrete roof as their performance grew less inconsistent. Those who saw the meadow showed a 6% increase in concentration and a steady performance.
The researchers suggest that having a green break – whether a walk in the park, looking out the window or even just a screensaver of this kind – is beneficial in improving performance and attention in the workplace.
The measure used: “Sustained attention to response task (SART)” had previously been mapped against brain imaging so they knew that the brain responds in predictable ways in these situations. People need to be able to both maintain focus and block out distractions to perform well.
The underlying theory is called Attention Restoration theory which suggests that natural environments have benefits for people. Nature is effortlessly fascinating and captures your attention without your having to consciously focus on it and thus allows you to replenish your stores of attention control.
The 40 seconds was based on a trial during which that was the average time people looked at the meadow scene. Whether such a micro-break is the optimal length is not known.
Other aspects of this research suggest that people would be more likely to help each other after a green break. It all sounds very positive and builds on previous research which shows that having access to nature helps reduce stress levels.
Source: HBR September 2015