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How to combat stress in the workplace with Biophilic Design

By Blair McKolskey

It’s no secret that the pace of life has changed significantly in recent years. With greater demands, a constant drive for productivity and technological advancement, we’re now doing significantly more in a day than any other point in history.

This increased pace has consequently created more stress and is effecting a deterioration in both the quality of people’s lives and in business performance.

New Zealand’s constant challenge of having to do more with less is a large part of the additional stress coming into our lives. The combination of new enabling technologies and the expectation to do more as a result of this technology is creating new levels of demand by business to have employees accomplish more in less time.

An example of this technology is the case of Uber Eats which brings lunch to your desk and enables the idea that you can get more done. You choose to work through lunch either from peer pressure or by personal choice to reduce the amount work on your desk before you can go home for the day.

Evidence of mental and physical impacts of stress are abundant. For example, heart disease, chronic headaches, which can be traced back to stress in a workplace, while anxiety and depression are a direct by-product of work-related stress. From a business perspective, this leads to an increase in sicknesses, loss of productivity, less engagement with work, burnout and higher staff turnover.

The causes of stress are not going away. The trend towards more speed and using technology to do more in a day are set to continue for the long term. The important thing to now consider is how to manage what’s happening in the world rather than trying to avoid change.

Businesses can and have begun looking at ways to combat stress with an increased focus on employee wellness. Yoga and meditation programmes holistically help people with physical and mental wellbeing while at work. Other businesses are assisting with the small things that reduce the daily hassles of life, such as assisting with household grocery shopping or complementary dry-cleaning services.

One way to help combat stress without people even realising is to incorporate biophilic design into the workplace environment.

If you have ever been captivated by a panoramic mountain vista, roaring ocean waves, a warm crackling fire or the simple companionship of animals, you will have experienced what biophilic design seeks to do. Biophilic design is essentially a strategy of using nature to make positive connections between people and the built environments they use.

The research and theory tells us we are increasingly disconnected from nature as a society and as rural areas urbanise and cities continue to develop. Biophilic design helps to re-establish our innate connections with nature to enhance both health and wellbeing – including the speed with which we recover from stressful events and our cognitive functions.

The research in this area dates back the 1960s when the term was first coined by social psychologist Eric Fromm. The literature published in the 60 years since has been significant and from some of the most notable research institutions. The results show there is a link between our improved environmental qualities and employee wellbeing and productivity.

There are essentially three approaches to incorporating biophilic design:

1. Nature in space: View to the elements of nature, living systems and processes

2. Natural analogues: Organic and non-living and indirect evocations of nature

3. Nature of space: Spatial configurations in nature

When implemented effectively, research shows that we can positively impact physical, psychological and cognitive functions. Measurable changes such as reduced cortisol levels improve heart health, improve overall wellbeing and enhance creativity in team members.

In 2021, we are at a stage where 90% of our time can be or is, spent indoors. Reconnecting with nature nurtures our mind, body and soul on an empirically measurable level. Studies have shown that if you can be in a well-designed environment during or soon after a stressful event, the negative impacts are significantly mitigated and your recovery time is similarly improved.

Managing stress and wellness is a very large topic that cannot be covered in just one sitting. Overall, we do acknowledge some of the benefits of effective wellness and stress management programmes may be soft and therefore difficult to measure; but the cost to organisational performance is very real. Investing time in learning the basics of the biophilic design and the benefits can yield measurable benefits and create numerous positive outcomes for both business and team member well being.

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