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Plants, paint and productivity: The effects of greenery and colours at work

A US Journalist asked me questions on the effectiveness of plants and colour at work.  The answers may be of use.  


Hello K, 


Good to hear from you.  Let us take your questions one at a time. 


You asked: “How and why do plants contribute to happiness and productivity at work?” 


A: Plants are a vehicle for delivering happiness and productivity.  Although an excellent and inexpensive way to enrich a previously Spartan space, other means --- carpets, lights, art etc. -- are likely to do a similar job.  Evidence shows us that Spartan, often called lean space, is simply toxic to the well-being of both employees and the organization.  Adding plants helps to enrich a workplace most effectively.  This increases psychological engagement within a space which increases satisfaction and well-being.  Published scientific evidence strongly posits a thus far immovably positive correlation between well-being and productivity. 




You asked: “Do you think these same principles would apply to flowers in a vase at your desk?” 


A: Again the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that a desk enriched (and a vase would enrich a desk) is better in every positive way than a bare desk unless a worker actively chooses to have a lean space.  The element of choice, of seeing something of your own identity in your own working environment, trumps all. 




You asked: “Do you have any tips for keeping flowers or plants near your desk? Should they always be within view? The closer the better? Or does it not matter?” 


A: As with an office generally, a desk can be enriched by a number of means; pictures, photographs, holiday souvenirs etc.  That said our research with plants suggests that plants should be within a worker’s eyeline.  We have had very similar results across eleven years of research with plants on a desk or on the floor. 




You ask: “Are some types/colors of flowers better than others? Do certain scents contribute to the effects of flowers/give us an energy boost/calm us down? Do certain colors give us more energy/make us more productive? Would bigger blooms be better?"


A: There is no doubt that colour is very important.  There is also no scientific doubt that colour psychology is largely pop psychology and generally pseudo-scientific nonsense.  Sadly the former sentence allows pedlars of the latter to set out spurious claims that, for example, red is the colour of anger…or alertness…or sex…or concentration…or, well take your pick.  Similarly green is relaxing…or depressing…or evil…or natural.  And the theme continues across the spectrum.  So we return to choice.  You should colour your workspace as you and your colleagues would wish it.  Your manager may have decided that yellow is the colour of inspiration and what every journo needs.  However yellow may just make you feel sick. 


The same pattern is true for most smells, although there is strong evidence that lavender does indeed aid relaxation and sleep.  However lavender is an anomaly in the general deluge of nonsense.  Thus sandalwood does not have an erotic stimulating effect and the smell of roses does not calm an angry breast unless – and here is the fascinating rub – you believe them to do so.  But that, I guess, is another article. 


Psychologically, it doesn’t seem to matter what types of plants we use.  From spikey to broad leaf,  green plants to orchids in flower, results have been consistent.  Physiologically however, some plants have been shown to have good air cleaning qualities (the Boston fern is especially effective in this regard).  Professor Margaret Burchett (Australia) has done excellent research into the physiological benefits of plants. 


I hope these answers help. I attach our most recent peer reviewed publication which demonstrates the power that plants can have Plants and productivity. 


Good luck with your piece.  You are most welcome to make contact again.  Thank you for your interest. 


Bye for now, 



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