Nature as a Workplace Ally

Enhancing health and productivity at work through connection to the natural world.

As we transition out of what feels like a never-ending pandemic period, team members are expecting something very different from their employers. Meaningful work is essential, but a new baseline expectation is a workplace environment that cultivates well-being, helping employees feel their best, work their best and live their best.

As organizations continue to evolve the employee experience, protecting and empowering mental health is vital. While employees continue working remotely (for the foreseeable future), isolation, burnout, and work-life blending continue to pose real challenges for employee wellness and, ultimately, organizational success. Here’s where the power of nature comes into play.

“The research points in one direction: nature is not only a nice to have, but it’s a have-to-have for physical health and cognitive function.” – Yale, 2020

Relationships with the natural environment have significantly strengthened during the pandemic. Canadians are increasingly turning to their gardens or local parks to reduce personal stress and anxiety, usher in a sense of escape and to connect with loved ones in new and creative ways.

Taking a cue from nature

Workplaces can and should take inspiration from the natural world to improve the employee experience. Evidence-based research confirms what we feel intuitively – that we experience cognitive, physical and emotional benefits when spending time surrounded by nature. The value employees are now placing on their wellness at work cannot be ignored in this competitive labour market.

Employees want to work for companies that truly demonstrate that they care. Whereas many factors impact team well-being, fostering a strong connection to nature is scientifically proven to help buffer stress, reduce absenteeism and increase productivity.

So where do we start? By turning to biophelia, a term grounded in ecopsychology.

Biophilia in the workplace

Biophilia is defined as the “human tendency to interact or be closely associated with other forms of life in nature” [Merriam Webster]. Biophilia can take several forms in the workplace – viewing nature scenes (e.g. art, photos), adding office plants, paying attention to natural light and the orientation of desks, and incorporating natural elements in design (e.g. natural wood, living walls, etc.).

Viewing nature scenes, whether in real life or as an image or video, increases feelings of trust, friendliness and generosity and decreases anger and aggression. It also allows for a more rapid and complete recovery from stress, something we could all use right now. Nature stimulates opioid receptors and increases serotonin production, the ‘happy chemical’, resulting in a sense of pleasure and ease.

By the numbers: 

  • In two separate major studies, one plant per meter squared led to a 15% increase in employee productivity

  • Office plants reduce the amount of airborne volatile chemicals within offices by up to 75%

  • Office views that lack nature and natural light can explain 10% of employee absences. When employees have an outdoor view of nature, they assess their own health more positively and experience a buffer against negative job stress

Bringing concepts of biophilia to your own workplace doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are a few thought starters:

  1. Introduce your employees to new concepts to keep well no matter where they’re working. Connecting with nature can be as easy as redesigning a workspace to include more light, greens, and nature scenes.

  2. Connect with your employees in new ways – the new year is just starting and with many of us working from various places, it’s critical to stay connected to help stem off loneliness and isolation. Try an environmental well-being challenge, team nature walks, or winter activities like skating.

  3. Schedule team lunch and learns to explore a variety of health topics or other topics.

  4. Bring employees together to be part of the solution. Root in Nature offers fresh, creative, and engaging activities and experiences both in nature and at your office.

As some of us face returning from the home office to the traditional office, an impactful move that workplaces can make is to embrace nature and biophilia backed up by the time and commitment to the practice. Nature exposure is not a one-time prescription; the mental health and well-being benefits come along with an ongoing lifestyle and regular interaction with the natural world.

“Based on the research to date, if nature, even in its reduced form of potted greenery in the workplace, can stimulate even a small degree of happiness and reduce stress, then indeed we have a factor worthy of investigation and investment beyond mere aesthetics.”

— Your Brain on Nature

Whether in a home or traditional office, consider how well-being and performance could be enhanced by incorporating nature into your space and daily life.

Root in Nature is a social enterprise that brings the healing power of nature and plants to the community through horticultural therapy, nature-based programs and employee well-being. Founder & CEO Alexis Ashworth is an experienced CEO with an MBA in International Development Management and a passion for plants and gardening. Elena Iacono is a corporate well-being professional, working at TELUS to support the advancement of the company’s industry-leading well-being and mental health strategy, and serving as Strategic Advisor to Root in Nature on a volunteer basis.

Dr. Owen Wiseman is a naturopathic doctor, medical advisor, consultant and public speaker. Alexis and Owen offer a lunch-and-learn presentation on this topic where they delve further into the science and practical advice. Reach out to for more information.