Dr Keith Whitehead, Senior Audit and Environmental Consultant at British Safety Council, on the benefits of nature to our wellbeing.
The stigma that used to surround talking about our mental health is, thankfully, becoming less and less of a barrier to people seeking help when they need it. But are we any better equipped to weather the storms that we will inevitably face at one time or another in our lives?
More employers are now seeing the importance of wellbeing, not just to make themselves look good, but as part of their business plan. Our own Being Well Together programme is helping employers to take a more holistic approach to all aspects of their workplace wellbeing and develop an approach that works for them and their employees.
There are no ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions to wellbeing, but the past two years have surely taught us, if nothing else, to prioritise our own mental health, and do things that make us feel better, not worse.
One thing that many of us have been re-discovering is an appreciation of the great outdoors – especially what lies on our own doorstep. Getting out into nature comes in many forms, and even the local park offers enough greenery to begin to work wonders on our mental wellbeing.
‘Biophilia’ may not be a term you have heard before, but we all experience it when we say ‘wow’ when watching an amazing nature television programme or ‘ahhh’ when we see an adorable animal, as well as when we plant something or feel better after a walk.
The term was first used by Erich Fromm to describe a psychological attraction to all that is alive and vital in nature – be that ‘green’ spaces such as parks, gardens or forests, or ‘blue’ as in rivers, lakes or the sea. All are vital to our mental and physical wellbeing.
In fact, having access to nature, whether it be outdoors or indoors, is so important that many businesses are now bringing nature into the workplace to increase their employees’ sense of wellbeing.
The Human Spaces report into the Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace, conducted by respected organisational psychologist Professor Sir Cary Cooper, surveyed 7,600 workers across 16 countries and found that creating more nature-inspired environments works to increase people’s sense of wellbeing. Where sunlight, greenery and other natural elements were present, there was a 15% uplift in wellbeing, a 6% increase in creativity, and 15% higher productivity levels.
In addition, the report reveals that 33% of respondents said workplace design would influence their decision to work for a company. Sadly, 58% of respondents reported there was no natural greenery in their workplace, and 47% reported having no natural light.
Engaging with nature through the workplace is one element of British Safety Council’s Five Star Sustainability Audit. During a recent audit, one of our member companies told me that ‘If our office resembles an office, then we have utterly failed our employees in helping to promote their wellbeing’.
I can give many examples of successful ‘biophilia’ initiatives. Recently I have seen the introduction of workplace gardening clubs, the creation of an office ‘jungle’, the development of safe and accessible roof top spaces with seating, consideration of the impact of supply chain procurement decisions on nature, and organisations who have encouraged staff to volunteer for local nature projects.
Most people spend around 90% of their time in buildings, at home and work, so getting the design and operation of our built environment right, including the workplace, is crucial to support our health and wellbeing. There are many simple steps employers can take to incorporate nature design in the workplace. These strategies can include introducing plants into workspaces, maximising natural light, decorating the office with natural colours, attracting and encouraging local wildlife, and adhering to health and wellbeing building standards. These suggestions do not have to be expensive to implement, but they can all make a significant impact on people’s quality of life.