Plants and Productivity

by | Oct 2, 2015 | Economics

I admit it. Yesterday, I fell asleep in my office. I decided instead of going for my 5th cup of coffee, I went for a very refreshing walk in the park. This got me thinking of a research study conducted in Scotland that showed a 10-minute stroll through the park eases brain fatigue. Getting away from the hustle and bustle of both the office and urban streets to a vegetated area was found to calm the brain. This means that by taking a break to give my brain a chance to return to its optimal level, I’ll increase my overall productivity.

What about during the winter when it’s too cold to go out to a park? Would a view of greenery bring about the same increased productivity level? Studies have shown that being able to view nature from your workspace also increases productivity. In a call centre study, workers with a view of the outdoors handled 6-7% more calls than those facing their neighbour’s cubicle. Being close to nature promotes a positive mood, reduces stress, and pleases the eye. Lower productivity levels are often seen for people lacking an outside view.

This also got me wondering, would the same thing occur if I surrounded my desk with plants? A Norwegian research study showed that this would impact my productivity by improving my health. Researchers showed that by adding plants in an office building, cough symptoms declined by 40%. Just imagine most of your co-workers coughing and sneezing – those nasty sounds might be just as contagious psychologically as the cold itself. You would probably end up spending half of your time at work downing cough medicine, or worrying that you may get sick yourself leading you to call in sick the next day. Getting distracted because you’re sick or the probability of missing work definitely reduces productivity.

So, why are we researching the benefits of office plants? Well, we are well on our way to releasing AutoCASE for Buildings. We are excited that we’ll be able to provide estimates of the triple bottom line of building design in real time to architects as they use Autodesk® Revit® software for Building Information Modeling (BIM). Not only will professionals be able to design, build, and maintain higher-quality, more energy-efficient buildings, they will soon be able to optimize their designs for occupant comfort and productivity.

In practical life it is also important as it allows us to understand how to value investments in worker productivity. Instead of losing money as a result of decreased productivity, employers could make small investments in productivity. For instance, they could pay to add plants to your workspace. However, would that be a good investment for them? It just might be as studies have shown that plants reduce employee sick days by 14%. Here at Impact Infrastructure, we estimate this saves $197 per employee per year[1]. Since the cost of a plant program per employee is roughly $142 per year, this works out to a $55 annual return per employee! Clearly this is worth the investment.

Maybe I’ll add a flowering plant next to that family portrait of mine in the office. Better yet, maybe I’ll pester my boss to invest in an office plant program. If you do the same, I’m sure you’ll find your workspace livelier and less stressful, while getting much more accomplished!


[1] This value was calculated using the average absentee rate, and average wage rate from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


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