#Green Living | HR Trends and Insights | LSA

How Nature Can Improve the Mental Health of Employees

March 22, 2024

In today’s high-stress work environments, the mental health of employees has become a concern for employers due to the significant human and economic costs.

Many studies have shown nature exposure and outdoor activities can have numerous mental health benefits.

Let’s explore the various ways in which nature connectedness can benefit employees’ mental health, how these ripples into their work, and what employers can do to help their team.

How Does Nature Affect Mental Health?

The therapeutic power of nature on individuals has long been recognized.

By the 19th century, the National Health Society of London was already calling for the “preservation, creation, and accessibility of open spaces and parks” to act as the “lungs” in this urban setting.

Companies can create a more positive and productive work environment, simply by incorporating nature into the daily lives and routines of their employees.

Research suggests spending time outdoors has many positive effects, including the following:

Is Nature Good for Employees?

According to a paper published in the National Library of Medicine, across 143 included studies, time spent in the natural world was proven to have a wide range of health benefits.

“Meta-analysis showed statistically significant reductions in diastolic blood pressure, salivary cortisol, and heart rate” as well as “significant decreases in incidence of diabetes, all-cause, and cardiovascular mortality.”

So, what happens when employees step outside into natural spaces?

  • Exposure to sunlight boosts vitamin D production, positive emotions, and improves mood.
  • There are opportunities for physical exercise and improved fitness levels.
  • Green and blue spaces enhance creativity and problem-solving abilities.

What You Need to Know About Stress

One of the main benefits of nature on mental health is its ability to reduce stress levels.

The soothing sounds of birds chirping, the gentle rustle of leaves, and the serenity of natural landscapes have a calming effect on the human mind.

Studies have shown that spending time in nature benefits the body, lowering cortisol levels, the hormone responsible for stress.

This stress reduction not only improves employees’ mental health conditions but also enhances their overall productivity and performance.

What Are the Benefits of Nature in the Office?

Time indoors during the workday is inevitable, but to increase well-being, a dose of fresh air with a step into nature—especially in urban environments—is imperative for good mental health.

1. Boosting Mood and Happiness

Nature has a powerful impact on improving mood and happiness.

Exposure to natural surroundings triggers the release of endorphins, the “feel-good” chemicals in the brain.

Research has shown that employees who have access to nature during their workday report higher levels of job satisfaction, increased feelings of happiness and well-being, and fewer mental health problems.

Providing employees with opportunities to spend time in nature and engage in outdoor activities can enhance their overall mood and contribute to a positive work environment.

2. Enhancing Cognitive Function

Being in natural environments has also been found to enhance cognitive function. Regular exposure to green space has been linked to improved attention spans, memory, and creativity.

Taking short breaks outdoors or having natural views from an office window can result in increased focus and productivity.

Employers can create a conducive work environment by incorporating natural elements into the office design, such as open spaces, indoor plants, natural light, and large windows with views of the natural world.

3. Reduction of Stress Levels

Spending time in green spaces and immersing oneself in the natural world has been proven to reduce stress levels.

A study by the University of Michigan found a 20-minute nature walk can significantly decrease the production of stress hormones.

Viewing natural spaces, such as trees (green spaces) or bodies of water (blue spaces), can have a calming effect on the mind and promote relaxation.

4. Improved Concentration and Productivity

Having access to outdoor spaces, such as gardens or parks, allows employees to take short breaks and recharge.

This promotes improved concentration and productivity when returning to work, as their minds have had time to rest, recharge, and reset.

5. Enhanced Creativity

Nature has been shown to enhance creativity and problem-solving skills.

Encouraging employees to spend time in nature during their breaks can spark fresh ideas and new perspectives.

How to Incorporate Nature in the Workplace

Let’s look at how easy it is to incorporate a little bit of the outdoors, indoors.

1. Lifestyle Spending Accounts

Recognizing the significant impact of nature on mental health, companies like Edenred have introduced Lifestyle Spending Accounts.

These benefits can greatly contribute to employees’ well-being and promote a healthy work-life balance.

Traditional benefits are reactionary and prescriptive, while LSA encourages employees to use benefit funds on options that matter most to them and recognizes the importance of incorporating outdoor activities into their lives.

2. Outdoor Activity Allowances & Programs

Offer financial support for employees participating in outdoor sports, such as hiking, cycling, or swimming.

Create company teams and enter tournaments. You can even provide reimbursements for nature-related hobbies like gardening or bird watching.

Promote a healthy lifestyle for employees through outdoor fitness programs.

From running clubs to cycling groups, these activities encourage your team to be physically healthy while fostering a sense of camaraderie among colleagues.

Engaging in these programs improves overall health while boosting motivation and productivity in the workplace.

The benefits of an outdoor fitness program include:

  • Increased cardiovascular endurance
  • Improved strength and flexibility
  • Stress reduction and improved mental well-being
  • Team building and networking opportunities

3. Gym Memberships

Subsidize gym memberships or fitness classes to promote exercising in natural environments.

Encouraging employees to exercise outdoors by providing discounted gym memberships that include access to outdoor sports facilities, such as tennis and basketball courts or swimming pools.

4. Nature or Adventure Retreats

Organizing team-building activities or retreats in natural settings, such as hiking or camping trips, is another great way to allow employees to unwind and connect with nature.

To break free from a monotonous routine, adventure retreats help employees unwind and rejuvenate.

These retreats can offer a variety of thrilling outdoor activities, such as hiking, rock climbing, and white-water rafting.

By embarking on these types of trips, employees can come away with many positive attributes:

  • Increased confidence and self-esteem and the act of conquering fears.
  • Enhanced problem-solving and decision-making skills.
  • Improved adaptability and resilience.
  • A break from the daily routine leads to a rise in creativity.

5. Flexible Working Hours and Work Options

Offer your team the flexibility to work remotely from outdoor locations, such as parks or cafes, and encourage them to take breaks outside during the workday.

Allowing employees the flexibility to start and finish work earlier or later enables them to spend more time outdoors during daylight hours, especially during the different seasons.

6. Bikeshare Programs

Promote environmentally friendly transportation options by providing bikeshare programs.

This encourages employees to commute to work on bikes adding some daily outdoor exercise into their routine.

Edenred’s Micromobility benefits provide easy access to bikes, e-bikes, and bike-sharing options for your team.

7. Wellness Programs and Retreats

Incorporating wellness programs that involve outdoor activities, such as yoga or meditation classes in urban green spaces or organizing retreats to nature-centric locations can serve as a break from work stress.

Wellness programs that balance indoor and outdoor activities promote overall well-being.

Employee-Built Wellness Programs

Edenred’s Lifestyle Spending Accounts are flexible wellness program solutions providing employees with coverage for theirchoice of well-being options.

Fromfitness classes and massages to exercise gear and yoga, Lifestyle Spending Accounts help stressors go down while productivity and well-being go up.

Employers can customize the coverage and set desired limits, while employees can choose which wellness aspects are right for them and pay with subsidies and exclusive discounts.

Lifestyle Spending Accounts allow a company to support each person on their team in the best way possible: with options they want to use.

8. Incorporate Plants into the Workplace

Indoor air pollution is a growing concern in modern workplaces.

Incorporating plants into office spaces can naturally help purify the air by removing toxins and releasing fresh oxygen, leading to better air quality, and ultimately benefiting employees’ mental well-being.

The presence of plants in the work environment has been shown to decrease stress levels significantly.

A study by the University of Hyogo in Japan discovered that the presence of indoor plants can induce relaxation responses and decrease anxiety.

Studies reveal that having plants in the office can increase productivity by up to 15%.

The calming effects of greenery can also enhance job satisfaction and overall happiness among employees, leading to increased motivation and loyalty.

Adding plants throughout the workspace can have many potential benefits and many positive results, including the following:

  • The introduction of greenery in the office can help reduce stress.
  • Plants can purify indoor air, improving overall air quality and reducing the risk of illness.
  • Improved concentration and focus, leading to higher job satisfaction.
  • Increased productivity and job satisfaction.

9. Provide Views of Nature from the Office

Offices with windows providing views of the natural environment improve employees’ well-being and mental restoration.

Nature views have been linked to a decrease in negative emotions, stress, and fatigue.

A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that employees with nature views reported higher levels of happiness and satisfaction.

The mere presence of greenery outside an office window creates a sense of tranquility and positively impacts emotional well-being.

Enjoying nature views from office windows has been linked to decreased stress and increased job satisfaction. Nature views provide a much-needed break for the brain from constant work demands.

Gazing at nature videos and other natural scenes allows the brain to enter a state of restoration, resulting in increased attention and focus when an employee returns to work tasks.

  • Employees feel more connected to the natural world, even while indoors.
  • Views of green spaces have been associated with better overall well-being.
  • Improves emotional well-being.
  • Provides mental restoration and attention restoration.

10. Show Nature Videos

Turn the wall of the break room into a screen and run nature documentaries all day long.

BBC Earth, alongside UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner, conducted a study exposing a solid connection between positive emotions and nature videos.

11. Gardening Initiatives

Recognize the restorative power of nature and encourage employees to embrace gardening.

By providing dedicated space for gardening, employees have a unique opportunity to connect with nature and experience the therapeutic benefits it offers.

From planting and nurturing to harvesting fresh produce, gardening enhances physical and mental well-being.

The benefits of gardening include:

  • Stress reduction and heightened relaxation
  • Improved mood and mental health
  • Increased physical activity and fitness levels
  • Access to fresh and organic produce
  • A sense of accomplishment

Work with Edenred Today

The link between nature and mental health is undeniable.

From stress reduction and improved concentration to enhanced creativity and emotional well-being, incorporating nature, outdoor activities, plants, and nature views from the office can have significant positive ramifications on your team.

At Edenred, we recognize the importance of promoting employee mental health through benefits that encourage outdoor activities.

Consider prioritizing and accommodating these aspects to create a more positive and nurturing work environment by scheduling a meeting to learn more.

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