Personal Growth

Boost Your Productivity by Putting a Plant on Your Desk

When the owner of a small Canadian company followed his wife's suggestion and got every employee a plant, something extraordinary happened: productivity shot up by 30 percent. Science suggests there are solid reasons more plants at your office might have similar effects.

Hello, My Friend Is ...

The internet is full of cute animal pictures and stories, but chances are good that Mike Robinson's story is the first cute plant story you've come across. Mike was the engineer and owner of WeatherSolve Structures, a small Canadian firm that made windbreaks, canopies, and the like. His wife Suzanne, however, was the owner of a simple, clever idea: give every employee at the firm a plant to keep on their desk.

Initially, Mike was skeptical, he said in a TEDx talk on the subject. Wouldn't employees just waste time watering and gazing at the thing? But happy wife, happy life, so Mike decided to give it a go. But rather than just hand out plants, he and his wife did something way cuter.

The couple set up a human-plant "speed dating" scenario, where each employee was asked to approach a table full of plants and choose the one they thought would love being their desk companion the most.

"So you have to put yourself in the spot of the plant, as it were, and say, 'Which person do I want to be my new friend?'" Robinson explained. Once each employee had chosen a new green buddy, they received the plant along with a small sign saying "My friend is ..." with their name.

That's cute, but this isn't just a story about one entrepreneur getting a little wacky with his efforts at employee appreciation. The real kicker came later when Robinson noticed the effects of turning his whole team into plant parents. First, they were shockingly good at it. You'd expect a few black thumbs in every group, but according to Robinson, five years on, all the plants are still going strong.

The most impressive result, however, isn't his employees' horticultural acumen. Instead, it's the plants' effect on productivity. "I did my own mathematics, and I reckoned that we might be doing about 30 percent more business per staff [member]," Robinson reports.

Science Says This Makes Sense

One company's cute plant story is not the same as a carefully controlled study, but there are solid scientific reasons to think Robinson's experience isn't just some adorable fluke. Other companies are having the same idea, including Amazon, a company known for its data and results-driven business decisions. Amazon recently invested in an addition to their Seattle headquarters dubbed "The Spheres": three domes filled with 40,000 plants.

They weren't just gunning for design awards. Instead, the company is familiar with the mountain of research showing that exposure to nature, even just in the form of a potted plant, can reduce stress, double your attention span, increase happiness, and boost productivity and creativity. Even just looking at a green roof for all of 40 seconds has been shown to cause a measurable uptick in productivity among office dwellers.

If just glancing at something green can do that, imagine what adding a few plants to your space could do.

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Learn more about the benefits of greenery in "The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative" by Florence Williams. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Jessica Stillman June 13, 2019

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