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The average working week in the UK is now 43.6 hours, meaning we spend more than 8 hours per weekday at our jobs. Paired with the fact that British offices are the coldest and ugliest in the world, it’s not surprising we can often feel uncomfortable, uninspired, and unable to concentrate to the extent that a third of British workers dislike their work environment. Scandinavian countries often dominate the rankings in World Happiness Reports, so why wouldn’t we look at their working environment as an example of how to inspire UK’s workforce?
The Danish philosophy of ‘hygge’ (pronounced ‘HUE-gah’) is a state of mind that embraces ‘cosiness’ and comfort. The rise in Scandinavian restaurants, cafes and bars across the UK is helping to export hygge and whilst many may not have heard of the term yet, they will almost certainly be getting the sense of it. Instilling this concept into our workspaces through the use of greenery, could be the natural solution to delivering some cosiness to our cold, sterile offices, and could help improve employee engagement.
The Scandinavian Style
Scandinavian countries are ahead of the curve when it comes to interior design and recognising the innate bond humans have with their surroundings. The Swedes, in particular, have naturally enhanced their working environment by filling their offices with plants, and green living walls are also popular additions to the workplace.
The use of plants as part of interior landscaping in a business environment has always sparked debate around its effect on employee morale and productivity. This ties back to the biophilia hypothesis, which was identified as our need for nature and defined as “the innate affiliation people seek with other organisms and especially the natural world”. This idea mirrors the concept of hygge, but few are aware of the benefits of maintaining the evolutionary tie between people and nature. Research suggests that buildings with the essential features of our preferred natural settings better support human wellbeing and performance. Real-life examples of the Scandinavian workplace culture offer further proof of this. The Danish live out this theory, connecting with nature and nurturing wellbeing, through the art of hygge.
Although we lack a direct English translation, hygge is depicted as intrinsic wellbeing and satisfaction. The closest Britain has is the Welsh word ‘cwtch’, which means a safe place or a hug. Hygge can include anything from enjoying food, celebrating friendships, or enjoying a cosy evening in. Appreciating these small things in life, with gratitude, goes a long way to achieving personal wellbeing according to some studies, and crucial to understanding hygge is the focus on human experience, feeling, and innate need.
The Natural Way
There are different ways to put hygge into practice in the workplace. Having sections of the building covered in foliage or using plants and green walls as decorative features inside the office can offer not only aesthetic value but also psychological benefits – helping morale and boosting productivity.
Masquerading as a modern art installation, the visual benefits of living green walls are obvious. Psychologically, green plantations are inviting to visitors, and indicative of good (business) health. More significantly, a living wall helps to increase employee engagement and productivity, which can ultimately lead to reduced absenteeism and a rise in company profitability. Research also suggests that extensive planting can reduce fatigue and anxiety levels by as much as 37 percent, and depression by 58 percent. A separate study by academics from the Universities of Exeter, Cardiff, Queensland (Australia) and Groningen (Netherlands) also revealed that having plants in office spaces can increase employee productivity by 15 percent and workplace satisfaction by 40 percent.
Acting as a natural air-filter, plants and living walls also create a cleaner work environment by absorbing dust and toxins, whilst simultaneously releasing oxygen and moisture. This improves air quality and stabilises office humidity at the optimum human comfort range. Poor air can cause skin discomfort and dry throats, directly influencing employee comfort.
Finally, greenery in the office can absorb background noise, and improve office acoustics – which is particularly beneficial in open plan offices. The insulation offered by plant walls offer energy-saving and financial benefits by reducing heating and cooling costs, depending on the position of the living wall. Property values can also be impacted positively by the presence of a green wall.
A third of British workers dislike their work environment, and their sense of feeling calm at work falls considerably below the global average. Taking inspiration from some of the happiest countries in the world, we can adjust and improve the environment in which we spend a lot of our time: the workplace. Adding greenery to the workplace adds value that goes beyond aesthetics. By re-connecting with nature, employees’ personal health and their wellbeing is improved, and their productivity increases. The time has passed when we see plants purely as decoration. We need to be open minded and understand the reality that incorporating more of a natural environment into your workplace can have its rewards.