It's the Nature of the Job

Forget the key to the executive washroom. The best office perk for busy employees may be a window with a park view: It contributes to worker satisfaction, diminishes stress, and abets overall physical health.

It's no surprise that the ability to glance up from reports or computer screens provides a much-needed rest for the eyes as well as the brain. But, additionally, the scenery to which we divert our attention matters a great deal in relaxation, reports University of Michigan psychologist Rachel Kaplan, Ph.D. And nothing soothes the brain better than Mother Nature.

"It's not just the availability of a window, but what can be seen from it," Kaplan told a meeting of the American Psychological Society. "If there are only buildings and other man-made objects, the psychological benefits are few." Throw in a few trees and some landscaping, however, and workers report more enthusiasm and less frustration with their jobs.

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Bonus: They also take fewer sick days and are generally in better health. In a survey of 168 desk-job employees, those whose view included scenes of nature reported fewer overall ailments over the preceding six months than did those with no access to nature. They also had greater job satisfaction and felt more productive.

"The more natural elements they could see, the better," says Kaplan. Relief from mental fatigue is one factor, she explains, but a natural setting constitutes a "microrestorative experience."

Think of it as a mini-vacation. Birds, leaves in autumn, even snow scenes can provide the sense that one is somewhere else--acting as reminders of a relaxed and happy time, if only for a moment or two. This brief feeling of being far away appears to refresh attentional capacity and enhance competence. Not to mention health and happiness.

"Architects should take this into consideration when they design an office building," suggests Kaplan. "It could improve the bottom line."

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