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Mental Health Awareness Month | Exploring Wellbeing In The Workplace

October is not just a month of falling leaves and pumpkin spice; it’s also a pivotal time for mental health awareness. World Mental Health Day on October 10 marks a global effort to shed light on the importance of mental well-being. This year’s theme, ‘Mental health is a universal human right,’ underscores the fundamental need for fostering mental health as an intrinsic part of our shared humanity.

In recent years, the conversation around mental health has transcended personal well-being to encompass the workplace. Human resources leaders are pioneering innovative approaches to support mental health, and one noteworthy initiative gaining traction is the integration of gardens into office spaces. The strides being made within the multifaceted realm of mental health are significant and life-changing for many. 

Understanding Mental Health: Beyond the Buzzwords

Mental health is not a buzzword; it’s a dynamic and multifaceted aspect of our overall well-being. At its core, mental health encompasses emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act, influencing our relationships, work, and daily life. Good mental health isn’t just the absence of mental disorders; it’s about having the resilience to navigate life’s challenges, form positive relationships, and contribute meaningfully to society.

Mental Health Defined: Mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community. World Health Organization

Mental Well-being Defined: Mental well-being encompasses psychological, emotional, and social health. it refers to how we move through life and react to its turbulence. These fluctuations can range from everyday stressors to significant life shifts. Our mental well-being informs the details of our life. This includes how we make friends and socialize, how we manage stress, and the choices we make in response to these stimuli. BetterUp

Examples of Mental Health Challenges

To understand mental health comprehensively, it’s essential to acknowledge the diverse challenges individuals may face:

  • Anxiety Disorders: Characterized by excessive worry and fear, anxiety disorders can impact daily functioning and overall quality of life.
  • Depression: A pervasive mood disorder, depression affects how one feels, thinks, and handles daily activities. It can lead to emotional and physical problems, impacting work and relationships.
  • Stress: While stress is a natural response to challenges, chronic stress can have severe implications on mental and physical health.
  • Burnout: A result of chronic workplace stress, burnout manifests as emotional exhaustion, reduced performance, and a sense of detachment.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Triggered by traumatic events, PTSD can lead to intrusive memories, emotional numbness, and heightened anxiety.
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): A neurodevelopmental disorder, ADHD affects attention, impulse control, and hyperactivity, often impacting academic and occupational performance.
  • Bipolar Disorder: Marked by extreme mood swings between mania and depression, bipolar disorder can disrupt daily life and relationships.

Understanding mental health involves recognizing the diversity of these challenges and the need for nuanced approaches to support individuals in their unique journeys.

Workplace Mental Health: A Paradigm Shift

As the discourse on mental health evolves, workplaces are increasingly seen as crucial settings for fostering well-being. Beyond traditional employee benefits, organizations are exploring innovative strategies to support the mental health of their workforce.

In recent years, HR leaders seeking holistic solutions have turned to nature. The incorporation of gardens into the workplace is not just about aesthetics; it’s a deliberate strategy rooted in research-backed findings. Studies consistently show that exposure to natural environments reduces stress levels, elevates mood, and enhances overall mental health. So, let’s talk about the psychological impact of gardens in the workplace. 

  1. Stress Reduction: The presence of gardens in the office environment provides employees with a refuge from the demands of the workday. Research indicates that spending time in nature or looking at natural elements significantly reduces stress levels. Office gardens offer a peaceful escape, allowing employees to recharge during hectic schedules.
  2. Improved Productivity and Focus: Exposure to nature has been linked to enhanced cognitive abilities and improved focus. Incorporating gardens in the office setting provides a refreshing environment that allows employees to recharge their mental energy. This, in turn, leads to better concentration, creativity, and, ultimately, improved productivity.
  3. Biophilic Benefits: The concept of biophilia suggests an innate connection and affinity towards nature. Integrating gardens in the office aligns with this concept, creating a more positive and comfortable work environment. This connection to nature can evoke positive emotions, reduce negative ones, and improve overall mental well-being.
  4. Social Interaction and Engagement: Gardens can serve as communal spaces, encouraging social interaction among employees. Collaborative gardening activities or shared spaces within the garden foster team bonding, reduce social isolation and enhance overall satisfaction among employees.

Data proves that well-being fuels productivity. Rooted in science, when leaders take care of their people, every aspect of the companies performance improves. Companies globally are creatively and proactively providing great mental health support to their employees. A few of the companies that have developed world-class programs that put their employees first include, but is not limited to Johnson & Johnson, American Airlines, accenture, Walmart, Microsoft, Bank of America, Amdocs, and P&G.

Examples of Gardens Positive Effects on Employees’ Mental Well-being

Beyond these general benefits, employees experience specific advantages through access to office gardens:

  1. Increased Productivity: Research shows that exposure to nature and green spaces can enhance cognitive function, concentration, and creativity. Access to gardens boosts employees’ mood and productivity levels, leading to increased efficiency and output.
  2. Stress Reduction: Gardens offer a peaceful and calming atmosphere, allowing employees to take a break from the stress of their work. Spending time in nature and greenery reduces stress levels and promotes overall well-being.
  3. Physical and Mental Health Benefits: Access to gardens encourages physical activity during break times. Regular physical activity improves overall health, reduces the risk of chronic illnesses, and increases energy levels. Exposure to nature also positively impacts mental health, reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  4. Increased Job Satisfaction: Providing employees with access to gardens demonstrates that employers care about their well-being. Feeling valued and supported leads to greater job satisfaction and can contribute to increased employee loyalty and retention.
  5. Enhanced Creativity and Problem-solving: Natural environments foster creativity and improve problem-solving skills. Access to gardens in the office environment stimulates employees’ creativity, allowing them to generate innovative solutions to challenges.
  6. Stronger Social Connections: Gardens can serve as common spaces for employee interaction, improving team collaboration and communication, and building stronger relationships among colleagues.
  7. Attraction and Retention of Talent: A workplace that prioritizes employee well-being and provides access to gardens demonstrates a commitment to creating a positive work environment. This can help attract and retain top talent who value their health and well-being.

The Therapeutic Power of Tending to Plants

Nurturing a plant provides a sense of responsibility and purpose. Taking care of a living thing gives individuals a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction as they witness the plant’s growth and thrive under their care. This sense of accomplishment can boost self-esteem and increase motivation, leading to greater job satisfaction.

Studies have shown that having plants in the workplace can improve concentration and focus. The presence of plants reduces distractions and improves cognitive performance, resulting in higher levels of productivity and creativity. Furthermore, tending to a plant can serve as a healthy distraction from work-related stressors. Engaging in simple activities like watering, pruning, or simply looking at the plant provides a momentary break from work pressures, allowing individuals to recharge and reduce mental fatigue.

Research-backed Evidence of the Impact of Plants on Mental Well-being

Several studies have demonstrated the positive impact of plants on employee mood and well-being in office environments:

  1. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied: Adding plants to an office space increased employee productivity, well-being, and satisfaction. Employees in a “green” office with plants reported higher levels of concentration, perceived air quality, and overall satisfaction compared to those in a “lean” office without plants.
  2. University of Exeter, UK: A collaborative study found that employees working in an office environment with plants were 15% more productive than those in plant-less environments. The study also indicated that plants increased employee perception of air quality, concentration, and workplace satisfaction.
  3. Journal of Environmental Psychology: Indoor plants in an office environment led to reduced stress levels among employees. Those with plants in their workspace reported lower levels of perceived stress, along with improvements in overall well-being compared to those without plants.
  4. Norwegian University of Life Sciences: Plants in the office were found to reduce fatigue and improve overall mood among employees. The presence of plants positively influenced job satisfaction and well-being, making employees more engaged and motivated.

Cultivating Mental Well-being in the Modern Workplace

As we traverse Mental Health Awareness Month and approach World Mental Health Day, the integration of gardens into workplaces emerges not just as a trend but as a meaningful strategy to prioritize mental well-being. This article has unveiled the diverse facets of mental health, explored the evolving landscape of workplace well-being, and unraveled the therapeutic potential of office gardens.

In this era where mental health is rightfully recognized as a universal human right, organizations that embrace the positive influence of nature are not just fostering healthier, more engaged employees; they are contributing to a broader societal shift towards recognizing mental health as a fundamental aspect of our shared humanity. As we navigate the challenges of the modern workplace, let us cultivate environments that not only nurture professional growth but also prioritize the mental well-being of every individual, recognizing that a flourishing mind is the foundation of a thriving workforce and society.

Katie Yeager

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