Speaking about mental health in the workplace has become more and more normalised over recent years, with the pandemic becoming a catalyst for this. Burnout and exhaustion have become a prevailing issue for employees since the covid lockdown was announced. And now, in the midst of ‘The Great Resignation,’ employees are leaving in droves in order to find workplaces that better meet their individual needs and are aligned with their personal values.

This has forced companies to open their eyes to what employees really want, but forget the crazy, expensive benefits – a company that makes mental wellbeing a priority for its employees has never been more important. So, aside from making sure employees have manageable workloads, can do their job in a positive, kind environment and leave work on time, what other ways can employers create a working environment that promotes positive mental wellbeing? One answer is nature. 

Throughout lockdown, the world found peace and comfort be reconnecting with nature on their daily walks. So much so, that some city workers decided to ditch their skyscraper confines and relocate to the country or by the beach. This phenomenon showed the world that even the times of great difficulty and uncertainty, we find peace and tranquillity by surrounding ourselves with nature. 

Aside from helping us escape the chaos of everyday life, I’ve listed some of the ways in which nature can benefit your and your employees’ mental health.

Research shows that nature can lower stress and anxiety

My company helped to create the wildflower gardens at the Liverpool Science Park, which are a source of great joy to me. I love to show the team and visitors how the meadow is developing, and I love seeing bees, butterflies and other small creatures gain sustenance from the flowers and shelter from the space. 

There is growing evidence that taking part in nature-based activities as basic as pausing to study a tree can lower levels of anxiety and stress. Once we slow down and breathe deeply and enjoy our surroundings, it can have a soothing effect on mental and physical wellbeing. Further research has shown that people experiencing stress can use green and blue spaces to improve well-being through walking and exercise.

Additionally, the benefits of appreciating nature have become so well recognised that GPs have begun green and blue prescribing under the banner of social prescribing. In fact, a recent study showed that green and blue social prescribing to a group of people suffering from loneliness, depression and anxiety delivered £6.88 of value to participants and the wider society for every £1 spent. There are many of these schemes springing up in Northwest England. As a vet, I’m a big believer in preventative medicine. Spending time in a company’s green space or as an individual will protect the person from beginning to feel depressed or anxious.

Nature can inspire creativity

Research has shown that our brains are at their most creative when we’re in resting periods. Once we analyse and think about all the possible solutions to a problem or challenge, our most creative ideas occur once we’re relaxed. That might be when we’ve switched off for the day or whilst we’re taking a long walk after work.

As nature promotes this feeling of calm and tranquillity – it can do wonders for employee’s creative thinking. That’s why companies should consider creating a green space for employees or rewilding an outside space near their offices. 

This is not only great for employees, but it also benefits local wildlife, too.

Green spaces can promote a strong company culture

At a recent Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons’ webinar, Dr. Catriona Mellor, a psychiatrist, introduced the concept of solastalgia which can be defined as a form of emotional or existential distress caused by negative environmental change or worrying about what may happen in the future to our planet.

When employees can see that their company cares about the planet and is making positive steps to improve local and international areas, then this will help them realise that improving our planet is still possible if enough people, individually and corporately, make an effort. So, it takes the employee in the opposite direction to solastalgia. 

When companies have clear targets for becoming carbon neutral or being accredited by Investors in the Environment or the Carbon Trust, employees feel that the business exists for more than just making a profit but to help all stakeholders including themselves and the environment.

As I’ve touched on, there are an insurmountable benefit for incorporating nature into your workspace and encouraging your employees to surround themselves in green spaces – both for their mental and physical wellbeing, but to also inspire creativity and provided some well needed calm time. When working life gets a little too chaotic, it’s good to spend time being a part of nature rather than apart from nature.