In business, sick leave is a surprisingly expensive and impactful problem around the world. Not only does sick leave detract from a single persons hours, it can bring their surrounding team down also, pulling down workplace efficiency and costing the UK economy billions every year. Most businesses see sick leave as symptomatic of illness and injury; however, there are other less well known stresses and strains that can lead to high rates of sick leave in a workplace.
This article aims to look into those stresses and present a scientifically backed and yet wrongfully undervalued answer: the benefits of the presence of plants in a working environment to reduce sickness. If you want to read more about the science of how plants can ‘clean’ the air then a good place to start is American Society for Horticultural Science.
Sick leave and the UK
Sick leave is defined by the UK Government as time away from work where an employee needs to rest and recover from an illness or injury. In 2011, the Office for National Statistics reported that approximately 131 million work days were lost through absences. In 2012, The Absence and Workplace Health Survey (published by the Confederation of British Industry) reported an average absence rate of 5.3 days, or a working week. A report was based upon this survey, suggesting that sick leave costs the UK economy somewhere in the region of £14 billion each year. That is a staggering amount, and underscores the importance of businesses being proactive in their efforts to deter and avoid workplace sickness.
Solving the problem of unnecessary sick leave
There is, importantly, a distinction to be made. It is unavoidable that people are prone to illness or injury. The issues that arise from the huge cost of sick leave to industry in the UK are based not in legitimate illnesses or sicknesses. Rather, the problems stem from unnecessary sicknesses and the sick leave that results from them. Too many businesses believe the causes of illness begin at home: this is not necessarily true. The workplace can be as much of a cause, and there is a solution to that. The solution is the adoption of plants into UK workplaces.
Physical benefits of plants in a working environment
One of the most surprising aspects of the high rate of sick leave in the UK is that offices themselves are often not healthy places. Workplaces can be loud, stressful environments with extremes of temperature, humidity and a lack of fresh, clean air.
This is where plants in a working environment come into their own. Firstly, plants recycle carbon dioxide into oxygen at an impressive rate. This allows employees to breathe freer and easier, avoiding the phenomenon of ‘sick building syndrome’, the oppressive air inside airtight buildings with artificial airflow systems. Fresh air is essential in combating sickness.
Other physical benefits include a natural humidity control and the powerful concept of noise reduction through office plants. In the same way that trees planted along the sides of motorways trap and disperse the noise pollution from hundreds of cars, plants in workplaces are particularly effective at the absorption and reflection of sound.
In these ways, an office can be transformed from a stale, derivative site into a healthy work environment.
Mental benefits of plants in a working environment
The benefits are not just physical, however. Recent studies at the Washington State University, USA, revealed that plants can significantly reduce workplace stress and unhappiness. The studies found that plants positively affect blood pressure, stress levels, concentration and lead to an overall increase in employee satisfaction of over 10%. Plants in workplaces make them better places to be.
There is an autonomy in the care for the plants that can boost employee satisfaction and cut sick leave as well. In the care and nurture of plants, employees were found to relax more, to concentrate better at tasks and to have more positive feelings for their places of work.
All of these things in conjunction have an impressive power to lower the crippling levels of sick leave in UK workplaces and could save millions of pounds on a national scale.
Sick leave is costing the UK billions a year and the causes are compound and hard to define. One major aspect that is often overlooked is the denigrating effect of many workplaces to an employees health and satisfaction. The power of plants to transform offices from stale, stressful areas into vibrant, lively environments, thus encouraging and sustaining employee health and happiness, is remarkable.
UK businesses adopting the widespread practice of plants in the workplace would cut the prevalence, damage and cost of sick leave dramatically.