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Build Your Career Office Life

Open the Shades! Exposure to Outdoors Improves Productivity

Open the Shades! Exposure to Outdoors Improves Productivity
Credit: Dunaev Ilya/Shutterstock

A little more sunlight, plant life or even pictures of the beach at your workstation can improve your mental health, which in turn can boost job happiness, according to a new Central Michigan University study.

The research revealed that more exposure to things like plants and flowers is associated with a lower depressed mood, as well as higher job satisfaction and organizational commitment.

"Workers are naturally [under] high amounts of stress, but changing the work environment to incorporate some elements of nature could help," Mihyang An, the study's lead author and a postdoctoral research fellow at Central Michigan University, said in a statement.

While past research has shown that when employees are unhappy in their job, it spills over into their mood, results from the current study indicate that the opposite may be true. An said a depressed mood might spill over into how employees experience their job. [See Related Story: A Workplace That Works: Designing an Inspiring Office]

"A low mood might actually lead to job dissatisfaction," An said.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from 444 employees via an online panel from the United States and India. Results revealed a possible relationship between subtle elements, such as a potted plant or nature scene on a screensaver, and improved employee moods.

While adding plants and flowers around the office can be a big help, few things are better for an employee's psyche than sunlight. The study found that that exposure to sunlight had a considerably stronger effect than natural elements on mental health and was also positively related to job satisfaction and organizational commitment.

"Much of the research on employee health, particularly mental health and other stress-related diseases, has focused on improved management practices and stress-reduction treatments," said Stephen Colarelli, one of the study's authors and an organizational/industrial psychologist at Central Michigan University. "It is important, however, to also consider the physical work environment as a causal and remedial factor in employee health."

While many companies can't afford a complete office redesign to add more sunlight, the study's authors say the results show there are much easier steps organizations can take to give their employees for more exposure to natural elements.

"For example, organizations could allow employees to keep plants in their offices or hang photos of nature on office walls, and allow employees time for walks outside of the office," the study's authors wrote. "These small and inexpensive changes could result in noticeably better mental health and work attitudes."

The study, which was recently published in the PLOS ONE journal, was co-authored by Central Michigan University psychologists Kimberly O'Brien and Melanie Boyajian.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.