Go Green for Productivity?

9 Sep 2014

A recent study conducted by a University of Queensland (UQ) researcher has found that an office enriched with plants and greenery increases productivity by 15 percent and helps make a happier business environment.

Professor Alex Haslam from UQ’s School of Psychology, who co-authored the first-of-its-kind study, found that adding plants to an office also improved employee satisfaction and quality of life.

In partnership with researchers from Cardiff University, the University of Exeter and the University of Groningen, the study involved examining the effects that ‘lean’ versus ‘green’ office spaces has on employees from two commercial offices in the UK and the Netherlands.

Professor Haslam said that a “green office” motivates employees to be more physically, mentally and emotionally involved in their work.

“Office landscaping helps the workplace become a more enjoyable, comfortable and profitable place to be,” he said.

“It appears that in part this is because a green office communicates to employees that their employer cares about them and their welfare.

Over a two month period, the researchers monitored and recorded the subject employees to determine their perceptions of air quality, concentration and workplace satisfaction.

“Employees were more satisfied with their workplace and reported increased concentration levels and better perceived air quality in an office with plants,” Professor Haslam said.

“The findings suggest that investing in landscaping an office will pay off through an increase in office workers’ quality of life and productivity.”

However, these findings challenge modern business philosophies that suggest a ‘lean’ office is more productive than a ‘green’ office.

"The 'lean' philosophy has been influential across a wide range of organisational domains,” Professor Haslam said.

“Modern offices and desks have been stripped back to create sparse spaces - our findings question this widespread theory that less is more – sometimes less is just less.”

“Employees from previously lean office environments experienced increased levels of happiness, resulting in a more effective workplace.”

Senior Lecturer at the UQ School of Business, Dr Remi Ayoko, who specialises in organisational physical workspace environments, believes that plants make offices more comfortable and inviting for workers.   

“I agree that green plants make you feel more homely at work… I have one in my office for the same reason!” Dr Ayoko said.

Dr Ayoko has recently led an Australian Research Council project examining the effects of open-plan layouts on productivity and behaviour where she analysed the effects of open plan offices on productivity.

In contemporary office design, the open plan is often seen as a surefire route to greater productivity due to its cheap nature, the efficient use of space and its literal openness easily accommodates more flexible modes of working. However, Dr Ayoko believes the correlation between open plan offices and great productivity is not nearly so clear-cut.

“Most employees these days find themselves in an open plan space where it is hard for them to be themselves,” Dr Ayoko said.

“While open plan offices can promote collaboration and communication, they can also produce conflict and negative emotions, poor productivity and poor wellbeing.”