IDR Sustainable Workplace

Psychologically, commercially and environmentally viable organizations

Productivity, offices, psychology, plants, engagement and women under 50

Hello All,


An American journalist has asked some very intelligent questions regarding our research into productive office space.  With a little luck the answers may be of use to you.  The edited response is shown below:




Thank you for writing.  I hope the following answers are of help to you. 


1.       Where you say that “Green workplaces make employees feel more valued by the companies they work for, so they in turn have improved concentration when focusing on their work.”, this comment could be augmented by ‘enriched spaces’ rather than just "green".  For example research points to artwork, rich furnishings etc. also producing far more psychologically engaging and effective space than a lean, Spartan environment.


2.       As for your other questions:


i)                    How do your findings apply to women in their 20s, 30s and 40s?   Our studies are congruent with studies in medicine, neuroscience and biology which indicate that all animals feel better and perform better in an enriched environment.  The corollary is also true.  We are animals too and these findings apply to humans whatever age and sex they may be.


ii)                   “How do plants increase concentration and productivity in the workplace?” Enriching a space increases psychological comfort in that space.  This aids concentration and develops psychological engagement both with the space and -- interestingly -- with the employer.   In its turn productivity increases.  A bare space is generally psychologically uncomfortable and has the opposite effect.   The evidence suggests that these statements hold for the great majority of people*


iii)                 “Did you examine the type of plant(s) most effective in boosting performance? If so, what type of plants have this positive effect (green plants? flowering plants? etc.)”  It doesn’t seem to be a matter of the type of plant we use.  We have been running workplace studies since 2003.  Since that time we have used many different enrichment devices and plants of all kinds .  It would appear that having an enriched space around oneself has the desired effect.  There are excellent studies (e.g., see particularly Professor Margaret Burchett in Australia) which do highlight that certain plants will, for example, clean the air of volatile elements better than others.  However in terms of psychological impact these physiological variances seem to make little difference within a large effect.


iv)                 “What is the science behind how going "green" in the office makes employees more "engaged" or focused on their work?”  Same answer as ii (above) really.


v)                  “What is the biggest takeaway from your study's findings?“  There are three:

a.       That lean spaces and similar office heuristics are entirely toxic to the well-being of both workers and businesses.  There is no peer reviewed science, of which we are aware, to the contrary.  And we have looked very hard -- using the modesty of science to guide us -- to seek out whatever advantages lean might have.

b.      Inexpensive (or no cost) changes to enrich a workplace can make big differences to well-being and performance.  There is, incidentally, no science to show that spending big on design is any more effective.

c.       The best workplaces are those developed by the people at work in those places.


 * A minority of people do prefer to work in a lean Spartan spaces.  The majority do not.  Thus enriching a space is generally a good move.  However the best workplaces allow the employees that work in a space to decide what their workplace should look like so that is their identity -- and not the identity of the company -- that is salient.  The evidence strongly suggests that this identity realized space is the best design solution of all.


Hope this helps.



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