BIOPHILIA: A WORKPLACE WELLNESS STRATEGY
by Susie Frazier, WELL AP
In a post-pandemic era we are all being called to bring more focus to our well-being. As companies evaluate ways to support the mental health of their team members while also remaining productive in an office setting, the demand for wellness strategies has never been more prevalent.
Whether you manage a corporate environment that affects many people or you’re a small business with fewer staff members, there’s one simple, but powerful, strategy that can have an immediate impact on everyone’s well-being.
It’s the inclusion of biophilic design elements as part of the interior design of your space.
Biophilia, or humans’ innate affinity towards living things, is widely documented as the key to personal restoration. This urge to connect with life is like medicine for our minds. While many studies recognize the emotional and psychological benefits of integrating natural elements into interior spaces, current research indicates that even patterns derived from nature can improve experience, mood, and happiness.
According to environmental psychologist Stephen Kaplan, it’s because organic forms engage the mind effortlessly, an outcome that many of us crave in an effort to relax in these modern times. Physicist Richard Taylor says it’s also because nature features the presence of repetitive, self-similar patterns called fractals, something our human visual system has learned to process with ease and enjoyment. Through brainwave and skin conductance research, Taylor and his team discovered that simply looking at fractal patterns in nature, whether through a window or within a piece of art, resulted in a shocking 60% reduction in stress. With that in mind, NASA researched ways to help the psyche of astronauts living in windowless rooms in outer space. What they learned is that observation periods of nature’s fractals, even for less than 10 seconds and with only a periphery view, were sufficient enough to trigger the desired effect of reducing stress.
With anxiety disorders now affecting over 41 million people across the United States, this kind of epiphany is why settings infused with biophilic features can be such a valuable asset. Companies can integrate nature either directly, indirectly, or representationally as part of broader workplace wellness programs. No matter how the effort unfolds, the personal connection anyone develops with plants, whether they’re living or preserved, is an essential tool in any wellness toolbox.
I found my way to this truth in 2017 after learning I had lived with undiagnosed anxiety and ADHD since childhood. I told my doctor the only time I felt relief from my over-stimulated brain was when I went outside and looked for earth materials that I could transform into art. To me, natural settings were more than a place to have a healthy workout or cultivate better crops. Mother Nature was like a therapeutic guide, teaching me a new visual language for calming my inner state of mind. I studied the sensory inputs I experienced outside and integrated them into the soothing objects I made for the inside. This is when it occurred to me that my thinking process as an eco-artist was something that could be beneficial to everyone. The 15 core philosophies I learned from the natural world became the basis for my book, Designing For Wellness.
Fortunately, people don’t have to be eco-artists to experience the benefits of biophilia. The International WELL Building Institute has assembled the latest scientific research from around the world along with verifiable best practices to guide us with a new WELL Building Standard for designing built environments that better support the people inside them.
While there are several concept areas that contribute to a WELL designed office, here are 3 tips for ensuring your workplace is an inspiring and supportive place to be:
Integrate contact with nature
According to the World Health Organization, natural elements, such as plants and daylight, have been linked with many health-promoting benefits like decreased levels of depression and anxiety, increased attentional capacity, better recovery from job stress and illness, increased pain tolerance, and increased psychological well-being, including improved employee morale and job satisfaction.
Other studies have shown a dose-response relationship exists between people and exposure to indoor nature. As contact with natural elements increases throughout the workday, perceived job stress, subjective health complaints and sickness absence decreases.
One of the more compelling ways to bring the outside to the inside is through the decorative use of wall planters that feature living nature. Over the years, I’ve designed several hanging planters that are simple to install with dried branches, cut stalks of grass, or creeping plants, like pothos or string of pearls. These elements don’t have to be daunting to manage, especially when the basic watering and tending of these features is presented as a perk of life at work.
Establish a restorative space
With prolonged task-induced fatigue affecting over 20% of the workforce, companies need new strategies that allow individuals to step away from the stress at their desks to recharge and refocus. One way empoyers can help alleviate the negative affects associated with mental depletion is to transform an underused room in their building into a restorative space for rest, meditation, or quiet reflection. When designed with biophilic artwork, views of nature, living plants, reclining furniture, low glare lighting, and ambient sounds, these types of spaces offer moments of respite that do wonders for the mind, body and spirit.
Provide a connection to place
Even without a dedicated restorative space, companies can still support everyone’s well-being by selecting lobby artwork inspired from the nearby natural landscape.
When it’s made by a local artist and inspired by natural materials, that’s a good start. If those materials offer a story of reclamation and rebirth into something new, then the art becomes more than just wall decor. It’s an inspiring symbol of growth and transformation.No matter what wellness-at-work measures a company may have in place, integrating earth-minded elements into the setting can help create culturally-rich spaces where people feel comfortable, motivated, and inspired by their surroundings.
Susie Frazier, WELL AP is the author of Designing For Wellness and a WELL consultant. Learn more at susiefrazier.com