In the modern workplace, employees are often deprived of contact with nature. Given that humans are evolutionarily inclined towards the outdoors, and research suggests that nature bolsters mood and wellbeing, it may be beneficial to incorporate nature into today’s workplace. New research (Tang et al., 2023) hypothesized that nature at work (e.g., desk plants, water features) can fulfill employees’ psychological needs. In turn, this can improve job performance and helping behavior.
THE RESEARCH STUDY
The researchers conducted four studies using differing methodologies and samples. Study 1 was a simulated online experiment using pictures of a workplace with or without natural elements. They found that participants exposed to a workplace that included natural elements were more likely to have their psychological needs fulfilled. Interestingly, the researchers also found that employees who scored higher on “speciesism,” or the belief that humans are superior to other life forms, were less likely to feel fulfilled by nature because they didn’t fully appreciate its benefits.
Studies 2-4 were conducted in organizations. In Study 2, the researchers again found that employees who were given desk plants (vs. office supplies) were more fulfilled, but employees who scored higher in speciesism did not benefit as much. In Studies 3 and 4, the researchers found via field surveys that nature fulfilled employees’ needs, which in turn increased job performance and behavior aimed at helping others. The researchers argue that this is because nature increased connectedness to other living things, promoted personal satisfaction, and allowed for a free “mental escape.” It also boosted confidence and the ability to focus on tasks.
The results indicate that organizations may benefit from incorporating nature into workplace designs. This could be done by adding plants, hanging artwork of wildlife, allowing breaks outdoors, or even playing music such as birdsongs. Given that many initiatives aimed at fulfilling employee needs can be expensive or time-consuming, this research is especially important; it suggests that simply finding ways to incorporate nature at work can be fulfilling and boost job performance.
Tang, P. M., Klotz, A. C., McClean, S. T., Wang, Y., Song, Z., & Ng, C. T. S. (2023). Who needs nature? The influence of employee speciesism on nature-based need satisfaction and subsequent work behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 108(11), 1737–1765.
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