Australia: Benefits of wood at work

Wednesday 28 Mar 2018

"Add Wood" - A new approach to increasing workplace productivity - A new research report shows that adding natural elements, such as wood, to our workplace environments is associated with increased feelings of wellbeing and higher productivity.

The implications of this are both broad and exciting and should inform the design of every new and refurbished office fit-out, in addition to providing the impetus to rethink the furniture and decor of existing offices!

Applying the findings to workplaces - ranging from corporate and government offices to home offices - has the potential to create happier, more productive workplaces with reduced absenteeism.

This research also complements overseas studies that have suggested that more wood and other natural materials in educational environments can lead to similar results, with indicators being higher academic marks and better student behaviour. Overseas studies have also shown benefits to hospital patients associated with increased exposure to natural elements in their environments.

This research has been described by Canberra University's Associate Professor Jacki Schirmer as one of the most compelling pieces of evidence that she has seen for such a proposition:

“What I found and got really excited about was that there’s a really strong association between the presence of wood and wellbeing. I’ve rarely seen a data set or a study which has shown such a clear link.”

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Employers looking to boost worker productivity should consider using more of one of the world’s oldest and most sustainable materials in their office fit-outs: wood. That’s the takeaway from world-first research by strategic market research firm Pollinate and the University of Canberra.

Based on a survey of 1000 indoor Australian workers, the research provides fresh evidence to underpin the business case for biophilia – the principle that exposure to nature increases human wellbeing.

The study paints a bleak picture of workers’ current access to nature at work with less than half (47 per cent) enjoying access to natural light, only two in five (38 per cent) being able to see indoor plants, a quarter (26 per cent) unable to see any natural looking wooden surfaces and almost half (46 per cent) spending less than an hour outdoors on work days.

The study found that the more natural looking wooden surfaces workers could see from their workstation, the higher their workplace satisfaction and wellbeing. Ahead of an address to the Green Cities conference in Melbourne on 14 March, Associate Professor Jacki Schirmer from the University of Canberra said the results held true even after rigorous analysis that controlled for factors known to impact on the wellbeing of workers such as age, income, gender and workplace culture.

“These results are exciting, for the first time providing solid evidence to support the use of wood as part of bringing nature into workplaces,” she said.

“We are always looking for ways to improve health and wellbeing, and this research points to ways we can achieve that in the places many people spend a lot of their time – the workplace.”

“The work has implications for businesses, because a large body of research has shown that workers who are more satisfied with their work and have higher wellbeing have better work productivity, and reduced rates of absenteeism – which means improving worker wellbeing has real benefits for businesses.”

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