Biophilia Study: Keys to Employee Health and Wellness

December 14, 2018

Biophilia — the theory, science and practice of creating buildings and products inspired by and incorporating nature — has been studied since it was first popularized by Edward O. Wilson in 1984. Since then, research has increased in better understanding the impact that nature has on the psychological and physical health and wellness of humans, particularly in office interiors.

Biophilia is the theory, science and practice of creating buildings and products inspired by and incorporating nature

Biophilic design includes but isn’t limited to:

  • Access to natural light
  • Products which are made of or look like natural materials
  • The inclusion of living plants into the space
  • Lighting which mimics natural daylight

Human Spaces: The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace, surveyed 7,600 respondents from 16 countries around the world to quantify the ways in which biophilia affects employees.

Initial Findings

Biophilia study initial findingsThe report listed eight important initial findings of the study:

  1. A third (33 percent) of office workers say that the design of an office would affect their decision to work at a company.
  2. Only 42 percent report having live plants in the office and 47 percent report having no natural light in their office.
  3. Almost a fifth (19 percent) of respondents report that there are no natural elements present in their office.
  4. Just under half (47 percent) of all respondents agree that they have felt stressed in their workplace within the last three months. This finding emphasizes the importance of identifying and enforcing practices that can improve well-being at work.
  5. Two-thirds (67 percent) of respondents report feeling happy when walking into bright office environments accented with green, yellow or blue colors.
  6. 24 percent of respondents say that their workplace doesn’t provide them with a sense of light and space.
  7. 39 percent of workers felt most productive at their own desk in a private office. Another third (36 percent) said they felt most productive at their own desk in an open office plan.
  8. 28 percent of respondents report that they don’t have a quiet space to work in their office.

Key Findings

In studying the impact of biophilia in the workplace, the study found:

  1. Key findings in the biophilia studyGreater levels of stress were reported by those employees who didn’t have a window view. In contrast, window views of greenery and water were linked with lower levels of stress.
  2. Nature-resembling colors such as green, blue and brown positively impacted employee well-being. Gray colors within the workspace had a significant negative impact on employees’ levels of stress.
  3. The global trend shows that those offices that provide natural light, live plants, greenery and water features had a significantly higher level of employee well-being than those devoid of nature.
  4. Those who report that their work environment provides a sense of light and space report greater levels of well-being in comparison to those who don’t feel that their work environment is light and spacious.

What this Means for Building Owners and Facility Management

Due to technology, most employees don’t need to be present daily in an office, with many able to work full-time outside of a shared office.

For building owners and facility managemers who need to rent out their building’s space, any additional means of enticing employees to use office space can increase leasee retention and entice new occupants.



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Keeping biophilia in mind when approaching the design and layout of a building can not only increase the employees’ sense of well-being, but work toward increasing the attractiveness of the property to potential and current companies.

Studies, including the Human Spaces: The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace, have shown that increasing the psychological and physical well-being of employees leads to increased productivity and performance, attendance (fewer sick days are reported), retention, attractiveness to recruits and user satisfaction.

Particularly as companies become increasingly owned and operated by those in the millennial population (those born between 1980 and 1995) and Generation Z (those born between 1996 and 2010), health and well-being will become more common and necessary elements of the workplace.

Both millennials and Generation Z are more understanding of their physical and mental needs, and mental health is less stigmatized by those populations. These generations will be drawn toward spaces that make them feel better, more productive and provide amenities that align with current research.

[10 Amenities to Improve Well-being at Your Property]

How to Increase Biophilic and Wellness-Centered Elements

Although it would be great if each office space could be a natural oasis of light and greenery, it’s not always possible.

The first thing that building owners and facility managers can take away from the report is that, while the trend seems to show open offices will continue to prevail, there’s a need for spaces where employees can get away and do quiet, heads-down work.

Including plants and water features in office interiors also has a profound affect on employees. Living walls are becoming easier to manage and install. However, if a permanent addition to the building isn’t in the cards, bringing in potted plants or including a water sculpture in the entryway or in the offices will stimulate the positive portion of the brain.

Living ‘Green’ Walls

Nothing says dedication to green building like putting actual greens in a building...

See stunning photos of actual living walls from Greenbuild 2018.

Color and biophilic products and elements are also an easy way to bring health and wellness to the interior. As the study stated, natural colors such as green, blue and brown decreased employee stress, while gray increased it.

Using calming blue or green paint on the walls in quiet or social areas, utilizing natural-themed wallcoverings in the same spaces, or including blue and green accents in the office, such as the upholstery for furniture, can do the trick.

Advancements in technology have also meant that durable materials such as luxury vinyl tile, ceramic and porcelain tiles, counter surfacing products and carpets/rugs are able to be designed to look identical to their natural counterparts. High-definition scanning and printing means wood and stone can be uploaded and printed directly to high-traffic products without the need for upkeep.

Incorporating artificial light that gives off a natural glow is another easy element to update.

Natural-appearing lighting is everywhere these days, so there isn’t a need to special order bulbs or change lighting fixtures. And with increased Internet of Things capabilities leading to lower prices for high-performing technology, natural lighting output has never been easier.

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About the author
Kadie Yale | Former Architecture & Design Expert

Kadie Yale holds a BA in Industrial Design from San Francisco State University and MA in Decorative Art History and Theory from Parsons the New School.