Staff working in offices designed to be lean and devoid of greenery, are happier and more productive when those environments are enriched with plants, say researchers who conducted the largest field study of its kind.

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The new study suggests that a green workplace helps office workers be more physically, mentally and emotionally involved in their work.

The international team, from the University of Exeter in the UK, the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and the University of Queensland in Australia, writes about the findings in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.

Theirs is not the first study to show the benefits of making environments greener. There is evidence, for instance, that moving to greener areas improves mental health, and that green spaces boost wellbeing in cities.

Also, lab studies show that greener work environments make people more productive, but this is the first time scientists have carried out a long-term study of the effect in real work environments.

They compared the effect of "lean" and "green" offices on worker's perception of air quality, concentration, and workplace satisfaction, and also on objective measures of productivity. The study lasted for several months and took place in two large commercial offices in The Netherlands and the UK.

The results showed the effect of introducing plants into the lean work environments improved all the measures - boosting productivity by 15%.

Alex Haslam, co-author and professor in the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland, suggests a green workplace helps office workers be more physically, mentally and emotionally involved in their work.

"Employees from previously lean office environments experienced increased levels of happiness, resulting in a more effective workplace," he says.

'Sometimes less is just less'

The findings challenge some modern business ideas that say lean offices are more productive, and have caused many organizations to create sparse office spaces, "our findings question this widespread theory that less is more - sometimes less is just less," says Prof. Haslam.

Landscaping makes the office a more comfortable, enjoyable and profitable place to work, he adds, suggesting also that another factor is it gives workers the message that their employer cares about them.

Co-author Dr. Craig Knight, of the department of Psychology at the University of Exeter in the UK, and also director of a company that creates working spaces that increase productivity, says:

"Psychologically manipulating real workplaces and real jobs adds new depth to our understanding of what is right and what is wrong with existing workspace design and management. We are now developing a template for a genuinely smart office."