A recent study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that spending as little as 20 minutes in an urban park can have a significant effect on emotional wellness. While this may seem like an obvious conclusion to draw, especially to city-dwellers, this study provides scientific backing to the age-old wisdom that going outside and spending time in green places is good for mental health. Specifically, the study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research, showed that being in a natural environment while engaging in social or health-promoting activities (such as a conversation with a coworker or a 20-minute break from working) led to both physical and mental health benefits, such as reduction in stress and relief from mental fatigue. Finally, the study showed that physical activity was not a requirement for seeing a statistically significant increase in wellness – simply spending enough time in the park was enough to see the benefits, meaning that those who cannot be physically active can still benefit from time spent outdoors.
For urbanites, this study’s importance as a step towards across-the-board improvements in workplace wellness cannot be underestimated. As we have seen from past studies, improved employee happiness can have a dramatic effect on employee efficacy, with an average of a 12% increase in productivity for happy employees. On the flip side of that coin, unhappy employees lose 10% of their productivity, on average, leading to a whopping 22% difference in productivity. As such, it behooves employers to find effective ways to boost the mental health and wellness of their employees, and this study provides scientific evidence to support an inexpensive, pleasant method of doing so.
How might companies go about encouraging employees to get out and enjoy the green spaces of the city? Check out a few suggestions below.
- Encourage employees to take time to walk in the park, perhaps as a break or simply as a change of scenery. As the Birmingham study states, physical activity is not a requirement to realize the benefits of park time, so encouraging employees to take their work outside is a fine way to access those benefits.
- Heading out to the local park is a great way for employees to combat another obstacle to urban wellness – loneliness. Suggest that employees take time in the park together rather than separately, so as to improve their wellness in multiple areas simultaneously.
- Have meetings in nearby parks rather than in conference rooms. Bonus: conference room scheduling is often one of the more annoying parts of office life, so employees will be able to skip that hassle as well.
- Finally, have management lead by example by taking time to get outside. Not only does their wellness matter too, but employees will notice their actions to improve their mental health and consider doing the same.
Sometimes, folk wisdom can really tell us a lot about ways to improve our lives, even if we’ve moved away from the contexts in which that wisdom was originally derived. As it turns out, this is no different. Sometimes, the cure for what ails a person is some fresh air and time spent in the green spaces of the world. Next time employees are feeling unwell or burned out at work, try recommending they take a walk to a nearby park and see if it helps!