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Why We Need More Nature at Work: Effects of Natural Elements and Sunlight on Employee Mental Health and Work Attitudes

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This study investigated the effects of natural elements and direct and indirect sunlight exposure on employee mental health and work attitudes. We recruited participants via an online panel from the United States and India, and analyzed data from 444 employees. Natural elements and sunlight exposure related positively to job satisfaction and organizational commitment, and negatively to depressed mood and anxiety. Direct sunlight was a dominant predictor of anxiety; indirect sunlight was a dominant predictor of depressed mood, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment. Natural elements buffered the relationship between role stressors and job satisfaction, depressed mood, and anxiety. We also found that depressed mood partially mediated the relationship between natural elements and job satisfaction. We discuss scientific and policy implications of these findings.
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RESEARCH ARTICLE
Why We Need More Nature at Work: Effects
of Natural Elements and Sunlight on
Employee Mental Health and Work Attitudes
Mihyang An
1
, Stephen M. Colarelli
2,3
*, Kimberly O'Brien
3
, Melanie E. Boyajian
3
1The School of Public Service and Global Citizenship, Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, MI,
United States of America, 2Department of Management, School of Business, Hong Kong Baptist University,
Hong Kong, China, 3Department of Psychology, Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, MI, United
States of America
*scolarelli@gmail.com
Abstract
This study investigated the effects of natural elements and direct and indirect sunlight expo-
sure on employee mental health and work attitudes. We recruited participants via an online
panel from the United States and India, and analyzed data from 444 employees. Natural
elements and sunlight exposure related positively to job satisfaction and organizational
commitment, and negatively to depressed mood and anxiety. Direct sunlight was a domi-
nant predictor of anxiety; indirect sunlight was a dominant predictor of depressed mood, job
satisfaction, and organizational commitment. Natural elements buffered the relationship
between role stressors and job satisfaction, depressed mood, and anxiety. We also found
that depressed mood partially mediated the relationship between natural elements and job
satisfaction. We discuss scientific and policy implications of these findings.
Introduction
Work in modern settings has been epidemiologically linked to a variety of maladies. Many of
these are stress-related illnessessuch as depression, anxiety, hypertension, and gut ailments;
otherslower back pain, some sleep disorders, and respiratory problemsare more related to
physical conditions [1]. Much of the research on worker health, particularly mental health and
other stress-related diseases, has focused on improved management practices (e.g., giving
employees more control over their work and schedules; improving interpersonal skills) and
palliative stress-reduction treatments (e.g., meditation, mindfulness training, and employee fit-
ness centers) [2,3]. Interestingly, little organizational and management research has examined
the effects of the physical work environment itself on employees [4,5]. However, it is impor-
tant to consider the work environment as a causal and remedial factor in employee health. Peo-
ple spend a great deal of time at work. In fact, adults spend about 40 hours per week in offices,
most of the time at desks and workstations [6]. Research (mainly from non-management disci-
plines) on physical characteristics of workplaces (e.g., lighting, noise, air quality) shows that
the physical characteristics can influence employee health [7]. Considerable research also exists
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0155614 May 23, 2016 1/17
a11111
OPEN ACCESS
Citation: An M, Colarelli SM, O'Brien K, Boyajian ME
(2016) Why We Need More Nature at Work: Effects
of Natural Elements and Sunlight on Employee
Mental Health and Work Attitudes. PLoS ONE 11(5):
e0155614. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155614
Editor: Igor Branchi, Istituto Superiore di Sanità,
ITALY
Received: October 4, 2015
Accepted: May 2, 2016
Published: May 23, 2016
Copyright: © 2016 An et al. This is an open access
article distributed under the terms of the Creative
Commons Attribution License, which permits
unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any
medium, provided the original author and source are
credited.
Data Availability Statement: All data and supporting
materials are available at Dryad (datadryad.org),
doi:10.5061/dryad.9rj26.
Funding: The authors have no support or funding to
report.
Competing Interests: The authors have declared
that no competing interests exist.
on the effects of natural environmentsexposure to natural elements (such as greenery) and
sunlighton physical and mental health [816]. However, few studies have examined the
effects of natural environments in work settings [1213,17]. Unlike improved management
practices and palliative stress reduction programs, the physical work environment can be a
continuous health promoting interventionone that requires neither extra effort from
employees nor dedicated time. This study focuses on the effects of exposure to natural elements
and sunlight on employee mental health and job attitudes. We also look at the unique and
combined effects of natural elements and sunlight.
The Work Environment and Exposure to Natural elements and Sunlight
Organizations consist of individuals and groups engaged in collective action to pursue com-
mon goals. As such, organizations require resources to survive and prosper. Organizational
resources include people, energy, material, technology, knowledge, and capital [18]. Ironically,
organizations have paid relatively little attention to natural elements and sunlighttwo
resources that are available to almost all organizations, that are free or relatively inexpensive,
and that can provide physiological and psychological benefits to employees [5].
The influence of Taylorism may be partially to blame for this lack of attention. The design
of most modern workspaces still focuses on space efficiencyto maximize work flow and mini-
mize space costs per employee [11]. This approach typically excludes materials not directly
related to the tasks at hand [19], resulting in barren and angular work spaces. Another culprit
may include beliefs about human malleability. A common belief among managers and manage-
ment scholars is that people are malleable and therefore can be socialized to work in almost
any condition [20]. This belief would encourage designs maximizing efficiency, with little
attention paid to human needs.
Natural elements exposure. Exposure to natural elements is associated with decreased
levels of diastolic blood pressure, depression, and anxiety [9,11,21], and increased attentional
capacity [22]. Exposure to natural elements (e.g., green spaces) can reduce the impact of stress
[23], increase psychological well-being [14,15,24], and support recovery from illness [14,25].
Compared to people exposed to urban views, those exposed to views of nature discount the
future less. That is, they place a greater value on the future, which has consequently been asso-
ciated with a healthier lifestyle [26].
One explanation for the link between natural elements exposure and improved mental
health involves mechanisms that reduce mental fatigue. Natural elements have a restorative
effect on mental fatigue [9,27]. Attention-restoration theory suggests that the mind is like a
muscle [28]. When the mind is engaged in directed attentionas would be the case when it is
exposed to built environments and after extended concentration on work tasksit becomes
fatigued and requires rest and recuperation to function effectively. Exposure to nature involves
indirect attention, characterized by fascination [29]. This has a restorative effect on the mind,
countering fatiguemuch like rest has on a fatigued muscle.
Another explanation is that exposure to natural elements has a calming effect on our physi-
ology. Ulrich and his colleagues argue that natural elements are evolved, unconditioned
stimuli, associated with environments that were typically safe and resource-rich in our evolu-
tionary past [30]. Just as snakes, spiders, and heights are evolved, unconditioned stimuli pro-
ducing fear, natural elements (such as greenery, savannah-like landscapes, and clear running
water) have an automatic calming effect on physiological arousal. Thus, in work settings with
stress-producing stimuli (e.g., role conflict, role ambiguity, time demands, and heavy work-
load), exposure to natural elements has calming effects. In comparing regions of the brain acti-
vated when viewing pictures of rural and urban environments, the hippocampus (a locus for
Why We Need More Nature at Work
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memory) and amygdala (a locus for anger and fear) are activated when people view urban
scenessuggesting increases in working memory and arousal of stressful emotions [31]. Rural
scenery activates the basal ganglia, a region of the brain that is associated with pleasure [31].
Many of the benefits of natural elements can result from direct (e.g., plants in the office),
indirect (e.g., window views), or representational (e.g., photographs) exposure to natural ele-
ments [12,32,33]. Exposure to plants can improve mood, reduce stress, and detoxify office air
[34,35]. Representations and window views can also be beneficial; interestingly, photographs
or paintings of nature in an office setting seem to have similar effects as views of nature
through a window [36].
Research on the benefits of natural elements exposure is compelling, and therefore we
expect that natural elements exposure in the workplace will be positively related to employee
mental health. Because exposure to natural elements is a valued resource, it should be positively
associated with job attitudes as well. When employees obtain valued resources, they experience
less discomfort [37] and are more likely to have positive attitudes toward their jobs and organi-
zations [38,39].
Hypothesis 1: Exposure to natural elements in the workplace will be positively related to
employeesmental health (lower depressed mood and anxiety) and work attitudes (higher
job satisfaction and organizational commitment).
Although we expect a positive relationship between natural elements and job satisfaction, as
Dravigne and colleagues [40] have found, we believe that the relationship may be somewhat
more complex and mediated by mood. Job satisfaction is an emotional reaction to the job and
therefore it is likely to be influenced by factors affecting employee mood. Because natural ele-
ments influence mood [41], it is plausible that the relationship between natural elements and
job satisfaction is mediated by depressed mood. In other words, we expect that a lack of natural
elements exposure will lead to depressed mood, which in turn will reduce job satisfaction.
Hypothesis 2: The relationship between natural elements and job satisfaction is mediated by
depressed mood.
Employees inevitably encounter stressors at work. Role stressors are commonly related to
lower mental health and poor job attitudes [37,42]. Because environments with exposure to
natural elements exert restorative effects on mental fatigue and physiological arousal, these
environments should mitigate the relationship between role stressors and employee mental
health and work attitudes [43]. That is, the effects of stressors on employees should be less
severe (buffered) when employees are in environments with greater levels of exposure to natu-
ral elements.
Hypothesis 3a, b: Exposure to natural elements will moderate the relationship between role
stressors and employee mental health and work attitudes. Specifically, for individuals who
report more natural elements exposure at work, the relationships between (a) role stressors
and mental health (i.e., depressed mood and anxiety) and (b) between role stressors and job
attitudes (i.e., job satisfaction and organizational commitment) will be weaker than for the
employees who report lower levels of natural elements exposure.
Sunlight exposure. Direct and indirect sunlight are important resources for physical and
mental health. Direct sunlight refers to sunlight exposure while outside without any interference.
Why We Need More Nature at Work
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Indirect sunlight, on the other hand, refers to refracted sunlight, which could be, for example,
sunlight exposure through windows. Direct sunlight exposure to the skin stimulates vitamin D
synthesis. Vitamin D improves the immune function, regulates the inflammatory response, and
influences calcium homeostasis [10,44]. Direct and indirect sunlight exposure also influence
the sleep cycle [45]. Direct and indirect sunlight exposure on the retina stimulate intrinsically
sensitive retinal ganglion cells (isRGC), thereby influencing the secretion of melatonin, which is
critical for regulating the sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm) [45]. Direct and indirect sunlight
also influence the production of serotonin [46], a neurotransmitter that elevates mood [47].
Sunlight (bright light in general) also influences alertness and vitality [48,49]. Bright light (with
its shorter wave lengths) affects endocrine and neurophysiological responses in the brain that
trigger alertness [50].
All of the above suggest that exposure to sunlight at work should be related to employee
mood. As with exposure to natural elements, we expect that exposure to sunlight in the work-
place will be positively related to employee mental health. Another similarity with natural ele-
ments exposure is that sunlight exposure is a valued resource. When employees obtain valued
resources, they experience less stress and are more likely to have positive attitudes toward their
jobs and organizations [37], suggesting that exposure to sunlight should also be positively
related with job attitudes.
Hypothesis 4: Sunlight exposure will be associated with less depressed mood and anxiety
and greater job satisfaction and organizational commitment.
Disentangling the Effects of Natural elements and Sunlight
Exposure to natural elements frequently involves exposure to sunlight. As a result, the effects
of natural elements and sunlight can be conflated [51]. Most studies typically focus on one or
the othernatural elements [30] or sunlight [52]. However, by examining natural elements
and sunlight exposure simultaneously, we can parse their effects on mental health and work
attitudes. Because there is little empirical overlap between our measures of natural elements
and sunlight exposure, we should be able to estimate their relative independent contributions
to mental health and work attitudes.
Method
Participants and Procedure
Participants were recruited through Amazon.coms online marketplace, Mechanical Turk
(MTurk; www.mturk.com), consistent with recommendations used in previous research [53,
54]. All participants received 75 cents as payment for their participation, as suggested by
MTurk, based upon the number of items and the length of time necessary to complete the sur-
vey. Prior to data collection, this study was approved by Central Michigan Universitys Institu-
tional Review Board (approval number: 1539622). Data were collected from a bi-national
sample from the United States and India. Two distinct sources of data were used to enhance
the generalizability of the results and to aid in assessing the quality of our methods. After
removing unqualified participants (e.g., inattentive respondents, those working less than 20
hours per week), there were a total of 444 usable responses (70% retention rate). The sample
consisted of 53.4% females, with an average age of 31 (SD = 9.77), 54.3% of whom were
Asian, followed by 34.9% Caucasian. All participants reported being employed at the time of
Why We Need More Nature at Work
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participation and represented various industries including business, education, training, retail,
information technology, and manufacturing.
Measures
Natural elements exposure. Researchers have measured exposure to natural elements in a
variety of ways. Most commonly, it has been measured by view”—the degree to which natural
elements are visible, typically through windows [12,55]. However, as noted above, the salutary
effects of natural elements exposure can occur from window views of nature, depictions of
nature on office walls, and immersion in natural settings. Therefore, our interest was in mea-
suring natural elements in generalthat is, natural elements that could be viewed directly, indi-
rectly, or representationally, as might be typical in many workspaces. We developed a scale
measuring perceived exposure to natural elements that included nine items about potted
plants, photographs or paintings depicting nature, and viewing natural environments through
windows or computer screen savers. Respondents were asked to indicate the extent to which
they agreed to each statement, for example, There are potted plants in my workspaceand I
am exposed to depictions of nature (painting, photograph) at my workspace (see S1 Scale).
Participants responded on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1, strongly disagreeto 5,
strongly agree.The internal consistency of the scale was .93. Confirmatory factor analyses
(CFAs) showed that a single factor model was excellent fit, χ
2
(27) = 332.63 (p= .00), CFI =
.95, SRMR = .05 [56]. The fit indices for a multi-group CFA, with factor loadings constrained
to be equal across groups, was χ
2
(54) = 368.17 (p= .00) and CFI = .94, providing evidence that
the relationships between items and their latent construct (natural elements) were approxi-
mately the same strength across the two different countries [57].
Sunlight exposure. Because direct and indirect sunlight exposure have somewhat different
effects (e.g., only direct sunlight stimulates vitamin D), we distinguish between them. While
sunlight exposure is commonly measured by the size of sunlight patches in a workspace [12],
we believe that a more general measure of sunlight exposure is also useful because employees
rarely remain in one place during the workday. They may, for example, walk outside or go to
areas of their building where there may get more or less sunlight exposure. We developed scales
measuring perceived amounts of direct (3 items) and indirect (5 items) sunlight exposure (see
S2 Scale). The direct sunlight items represented situations where individuals were exposed to
sunlight by being outsidefor example, I am exposed to direct sunlight from being outside
while at work.The indirect sunlight items asked respondents whether they were exposed to
sunlight indoorsfor example, There are windows that allow for natural sunlight to come in.
All items were rated on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1, strongly disagreeto 5, strongly
agree.Results of CFA indicated that a two-factor model (i.e., direct and indirect sunlight) was
adequate and a better fit (χ
2
(19) = 258.34 (p= .00), CFI = .92, SRMR = .09) than a single factor
model (χ
2
(20) = 457.67 (p= .00), CFI = .86, SRMR = .12) [56]. The two sub-scales correlated
moderately (r= .40, p<.01). The internal consistency of the full scale was .86; the direct and
indirect subscales were.73 and .91, respectively.
The fit indices for a multi-group CFA, with factor loadings constrained to be equal across
groups, were χ
2
(38) = 352.31 (p= .00) and CFI = .89, indicating a marginal fit [58,59] and pro-
viding evidence that participants from the two different countries showed approximately the
same strength of relationships between items and their underlying construct (sunlight) [57].
Differentiation between natural elements and sunlight. A CFA was conducted to exam-
ine whether our measures adequately distinguished natural elements from sunlight exposure
[60]. The three factor model, consisting of natural elements, direct sunlight, and indirect
sunlight was an adequate and better fit to the data (χ
2
(116) = 1090.26 (p= .00), CFI = .91,
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SRMR = .11) than two (i.e., natural elements and sunlight exposure; χ
2
(118) = 1300.07 (p=
.00), CFI = .89, SRMR = .12) or single factor models (χ
2
(119) = 3801.03 (p=.00), CFI = .77,
SRMR = .19) [56].
Depressed mood. The Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression (CES-D) Scale [61]
was used to assess depressive symptoms in participants. The CES-D is a self-report scale, con-
sisting of 20 questions that ask participants to rate their feelings over the past week. The inter-
nal consistency of this scale was .92.
Anxiety. Anxiety symptoms were measured with the Beck Anxiety Inventory [62]. This
21-question self-report scale asks participants to rate how often within the past month they
have been bothered by common symptoms of anxiety such as numbness, tingling, and feelings
of choking. The internal consistency of this scale was .97.
Job satisfaction. Job satisfaction was measured with the Cammann, Fichman, Jenkins,
and Klesh scale [63], with three items that ask respondents to indicate, in general, how satisfied
they are with their job along a 7-point Likert scale, ranging from 1, strongly disagreeand 7,
strongly agree.The internal consistency of this scale was .90.
Organizational commitment. Organizational commitment was measured with the Mow-
day, Steers, and Porter scale [64], which consists of 15 items asking respondents to indicate
how they feel about their organization along a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from 1, strongly
disagreeand 5, strongly agree.The internal consistency of this scale was .88.
Role stressors. Role stressors were measured with the scales developed by Rizzo, House,
and Lirtzman [65] consisting of two components: role ambiguity including 6 items (e.g., I
know exactly what is expected of me) and role conflict including 8 items (e.g., I have to do
things that should be done differently). They are rated along a 5-point Likert scale, ranging
from 1, strongly disagreeand 5, strongly agree.The internal consistency of the role stressor
was .83.
Control variables. Due to the potential influence of demographic characteristics on the
level of sunlight and natural elements exposure, as well as psychological well-being, we decided
to control several demographic variables. Compared to the U.S., India is less industrialized and
is classified as a middle income country according to World Bank Development criteria, with
low levels of reported depression [66]. We, therefore, anticipated the existence of some regional
differences between the U.S. and India. The results of multi-group CFAs for exposure to sun-
light and natural elements, however, found that both the US and Indian samples had approxi-
mately the same strength between items and their latent constructs, thereby justifying merging
the groups into a single sample. We controlled for sex and age based upon previous findings
suggesting that depression and anxiety are related to both of these demographics [66,67].
Results
Descriptive statistics, reliability estimates, and correlations among variables are displayed in
Table 1. Data were standardized to reduce multicollinearity and enhance interpretability.
Hypothesis 1 was tested using hierarchical multiple regression analyses, controlling for age
and sex. This hypothesis stated that exposure to natural elements in the workplace would be
related to employeesmental health (lower depressed mood and anxiety) and work attitudes
(higher job satisfaction and organizational commitment). The results of regression analyses
indicated that natural elements exposure was negatively related to depressed mood (β= -.17,
p<.01) and positively related to job satisfaction (β= .37, p<.01) and organizational commit-
ment (β= .30, p<.01), partially supporting Hypothesis 1 (see Table 2).
We used HayesPROCESS analysis [68] to test for the mediating effect of depression
between natural elements and outcomes (Hypothesis 2). If the 95% confidence interval (CI)
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does not include zero, it indicates sufficient support of a mediating effect. The results are pre-
sented in Table 3 and Fig 1. The mediating effect of depressed mood on the relationship
between natural elements and job satisfaction has a point estimate of .06 and a 95% CI of
.02.11; therefore, Hypothesis 2 was supported.
We used hierarchical regression analysis to test Hypotheses 3, stating natural elements
would moderate the relationship between role stressors and employee mental health (a) and
work attitudes (b). The results are displayed in Table 4. Natural elements exposure moderated
the relationship between role stressors and anxiety (β= .17, p<.01), but not depressed mood,
thereby partially supporting Hypothesis 3a. The moderating effects of natural elements were
plotted using mean splits (Fig 2). These results indicated that the relationship between role
Table 1. Descriptive statistics and correlations among study variables.
Mean (SD) 1 2 345678910
1. Sex
a
-
2. Age 31.10 (9.77) .08 -
3. Exposure to natural elements 3.23 (1.10) -.06 -.11*(.93)
4. Exposure to direct sunlight 3.11 (.98) -.15 .18** .07 (.73)
5. Exposure to indirect sunlight 3.49 (1.03) -.09 -.02 .44** .40** (.91)
6. Role stressors 2.44 (.53) -.06 -.14** -.06 -.02 -.25** (.83)
7. Depression 1.66 (.53) -.05 -.14** -.14** .05 -.18** .47** (.92)
8. Anxiety 1.58 (.75) -.17*-.14** -.00 .20** -.05 .40** .72** (.97)
9. Job satisfaction 5.35 (1.36) -.08 -.01 .36** .20** .41** -.41** -.40** -.15** (.90)
10. Organizational commitment 3.42 (.64) -.02 -.11*.28** .19** .35** -.48** -.35** -.17** .71** (.88)
Note. N = 391444. The values in parentheses on the diagonal are internal consistency reliabilities.
a
coded 1 = male, 2 = female.
*p<.05,
** p<.01
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155614.t001
Table 2. Effects of natural elements on outcome variables.
Criteria Variables Step 1 βStep 2 βΔR
2
Total R
2
Depression Sex
a
-.04 -.05 .02** .05**
Age -.15** -.17**
Natural elements -.17** .03**
Anxiety Sex -.17** -.17** .04** .04**
Age -.13** -.14**
Natural elements -.03 .00
Job satisfaction Sex -.09 -.07 .00 .14**
Age .02 .06
Natural elements .37** .13**
Organizational commitment Sex -.03 -.00 .01 .09**
Age .11*.14**
Natural elements .30** .09**
Note. N = 391410.
a
coded 1 = male, 2 = female.
*p<.05,
**p<.01
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155614.t002
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stressors and anxiety was weaker for individuals who were exposed to more natural elements
than their counterparts. Natural elements exposure also moderated the relationship between
role stressors and job satisfaction (β= .13, p<.01), but not organizational commitment, again
partially supporting Hypothesis 3b. The moderating effects of natural elements were plotted
using mean splits (Fig 3), with results suggesting that the relationship between role stressors
and job satisfaction varied based on the level of natural elements exposure. In other words, for
individuals with greater exposure to natural elements, the relationship between role stressors
and job satisfaction was weaker than those with less exposure to natural elements.
Hypothesis 4 stated that sunlight exposure (i.e., direct sunlight and indirect sunlight) would
be negatively related to depressed mood and anxiety and positively related to work attitudes. It
was examined with hierarchical regression, and the results are presented in Tables 5and 6.
Direct sunlight was positively related to anxiety (β= .21, p<.01), job satisfaction (β= .20,
p<.01), and organizational commitment (β= .18, p<.01). Indirect sunlight was negatively
related with depressed mood (β= -.20, p<.01) and positively related with organizational com-
mitment (β= .36, p<.01). Hypothesis 4 was partially supported.
We used dominance analysis to disentangle the effects of natural elements from sunlight
(that is, to examine the relative amounts of variance accounted for by each). Dominance analy-
sis, also called relative weights analysis, compares all possible R
2
values accounted for by every
possible combination of the predictors and describes the relative impact that each variable has
on the overall R
2
[69]. The results of the dominance analyses are presented in Tables 7and 8.
The average R
2
values are shown in Table 7, and the relative contributions of natural elements,
direct sunlight, and indirect sunlight on the outcome variables are displayed in Table 8.
Table 3. The mediating effects of depression on the relationship between natural elements and job
satisfaction.
Variables Product of
coefcient
Bootstrapping
BSE95% CI lower 95% CI upper
Total effect .46 .06 .34 .57
Direct effect .40 .06 .29 .50
Indirect effect .06 .02 .02 .11
Note. N = 401
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155614.t003
Fig 1. Mediating effects of depression between natural elements and job satisfaction. Values indicate
the standardized regression coefficients taking into account the effects of control variables. A value in
parenthesis indicate the bivariate coefficient between natural elements and job satisfaction.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155614.g001
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The overall R
2
s accounted for by the three predictors were .06 for depression, .07 for anxiety,
.20 for job satisfaction, and .14 for organizational commitment. Indirect sunlight was the domi-
nant predictor of all outcomes except anxiety, which was dominantly predicted by direct sun-
light. Direct sunlight explained 78.19% of the overall R
2
in anxiety, whereas indirect sunlight
explained 55.26% of the overall R
2
in depression, 50.43% of the overall R
2
in job satisfaction,
and 56.33% of the overall R
2
in organizational commitment.
Table 4. The moderating effects of natural elements on outcome variables.
Criteria Variables Step 1 βStep 2 βStep 3 βΔR
2
Total R
2
Depression Sex
a
-.05 -.04 .03 .02** .25**
Age -.15** -.12*-.12*
Natural elements (N) .44** .46** .22**
Role stressors (R) -.14** -.14**
N*R .07 .00
Anxiety Sex -.17** -.15** -.13*.04** .20**
Age -.13** -.09 -.08
Natural elements (N) -.01 -.00 .13**
Role stressors (R) .37** .41**
N*R .17** .03**
Job satisfaction Sex -.08 -.07 -.06 .01 .30**
Age .03 .01 .01
Natural elements (N) .34** .34** .15**
Role stressors (R) -.40** -.36**
N*R .13** .02**
Organizational commitment Sex -.02 .03 -.04 .01 .31**
Age .12*.08 .08
Natural elements (N) -.46** -.48** .30**
Role stressors (R) .27** .27**
N*R -.06 .00
Note. N = 383403.
a
coded 1 = male, 2 = female.
*p<.05,
**p<.01
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155614.t004
Fig 2. Natural elements exposure as a moderator of the relationship between role stressors and
anxiety.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155614.g002
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Discussion
This study examined how natural elements and sunlight exposure in workspaces influence
employee mental health and job attitudes. Both natural elements and sunlight exposure influ-
enced employee mental health and job attitudes. Natural elements and sunlight exposure
simultaneously explained more variance in job attitudes than mental health outcomes (R
2
sof
.20 and .14 versus .06 and .07).
Sunlight had a more powerful effect than natural elements. It had considerably stronger
effects on mental health outcomes, with indirect sunlight associated with about twice as much
of the explained variance in depression as natural elements exposure (55.26% versus 29.82%).
The disparity was even larger with anxiety. Indirect sunlight was associated with more variance
in job attitudes, although disparity was not as large as it was with mental health outcomes.
We found that greater levels of natural elements exposure were associated with lower
depressed mood and higher job satisfaction and organizational commitment (Hypothesis 1).
Contrary to our expectations, natural elements exposure did not have a direct effect on anxiety,
Fig 3. Follow-up for natural elements as a moderator of the relationship between role stressors and
job satisfaction.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155614.g003
Table 5. Effects of direct sunlight exposure on outcome variables.
Criteria Variables Step 1 βStep 2 βΔR
2
Total R
2
Depression Sex
a
-.05 -.04 .03** .03**
Age -.16** -.18**
Direct Sunlight .06 .00
Anxiety Sex -.18** -.14** .05** .10**
Age -.16** -.20**
Direct Sunlight .21** .04**
Job satisfaction Sex -.06 -.03 .00 .04**
Age .04 .00
Direct Sunlight .20** .04**
Organizational commitment Sex -.02 .02 .02*.05**
Age .13** .10*
Direct Sunlight .18** .03**
Note. N = 397421.
a
coded 1 = male, 2 = female.
*p<.05.
**p<.01
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155614.t005
Why We Need More Nature at Work
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0155614 May 23, 2016 10 / 17
Table 6. Effects of indirect sunlight exposure on outcome variables.
Criteria Variables Step 1 βStep 2 βΔR
2
Total R
2
Depression Sex
a
-.03 .05 .02** .06**
Age -.15** -.15**
Indirect Sunlight -.20** .04**
Anxiety Sex -.17** -.17** .05** .06**
Age -.14** -.14**
Indirect Sunlight -.07 .00
Job satisfaction Sex -.07 -.04 .00 .17**
Age .02 .03
Indirect Sunlight .40** .16**
Organizational commitment Sex -.03 .05 .01 .14**
Age .11*.11*
Indirect Sunlight .36** .13
Note. N = 397421.
a
coded 1 = male, 2 = female.
*p<.05,
**p<.01
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155614.t006
Table 7. Dominance analysis: average R
2
Values.
DV K Natural elements Direct Sunlight Indirect Sunlight
Depression 0 .03 .00 .04
1 .02 .01 .03
2 .00 .01 .03
Anxiety 0 .00 .04 .01
1 .03 .05 .01
2 .00 .06 .02
Job satisfaction 0 .13 .04 .16
1 .08 .01 .09
2 .04 .00 .04
Organizational commitment 0 .09 .03 .13
1 .05 .00 .07
2 .02 .00 .07
Note. N = 383403. K refers to the number of predictors, excluding a variable in column. For example, K = 0 indicates no other variable was entered into
the equation (see [69]).
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155614.t007
Table 8. Dominance analysis: relative amounts of variance and total R
2
values.
DV Natural elements Direct Sunlight Indirect Sunlight Total R
2
Depression 29.82% 14.91% 55.26% .06
Anxiety 3.19% 78.19% 18.63% .07
Job satisfaction 42.77% 6.80% 50.43% .20
Organizational Commitment 37.35% 6.33% 56.33% .14
Note. N = 383403.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155614.t008
Why We Need More Nature at Work
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0155614 May 23, 2016 11 / 17
though it did seem to have a buffering effect (Hypothesis 3)mitigating some effects of role
stressors on anxiety. Although natural elements exposure did not buffer the relationship
between role stressors and depressed mood, it moderated the relationship between role stress-
ors and job attitudes. The relationships between role stressors and job satisfaction or organiza-
tional commitment were weaker for individuals with greater exposure to natural elements
(Hypothesis 3). The ameliorating effects of natural elements on this relationship may be
explained in several ways. First, natural elements exposure may buffer the relationship by
counteracting the effects of stressors on mood, which would influence job attitudes. Alterna-
tively, it might be a byproduct of factors associated with exposure to natural elements. For
example, greater exposure to natural elements at work may also be associated with greater
autonomy and status, often associated with satisfaction and commitment. Another possibility
is that people who work outdoors (e.g., landscapers, construction workers) not only have more
exposure to natural elements but also engage in more physical activity, which can improve atti-
tudes and mental health.
We also found that the relationship between natural elements exposure and job satisfaction
is mediated by depressed mood (Hypothesis 2). This is a unique and potentially important
finding. First, this finding suggests that natural elements exposure influences mood and that
mood in turn influences job satisfaction. Few studies in organizational psychology have explic-
itly examined the relationship between depressed mood and job satisfaction, although many
typically include both constructs as dependent variables. A meta-analytic study by Faragher
et al. found a fairly robust relationship between job satisfaction and depression (corrected cor-
relation ρ= .42, k= 46), and their interpretation was that job dissatisfaction leads to depression
[70]. This seems reasonable enoughwhen people are dissatisfied with their jobs, dissatisfac-
tion spills over to mood. Our results, however, indicate that the reverse could also be true. A
depressed mood might spill over onto how one experiences a jobwith a low mood leading to
job dissatisfaction.
Direct and indirect sunlight exposure had different effects on mental health outcomes.
Direct sunlight had no effect on depressed mood but was positively related to anxiety. Indirect
sunlight was negatively associated with depressed mood, but it had no effect on anxiety. The
effect of direct sunlight on anxiety was unexpected. It may be due to sunlights stimulating
effects, influencing alertness and vitality [48,50]. Alternatively, the relationship might have
occurred because people who are experiencing anxiety in their workspaces may be more likely
to go outdoors to calm themselves or find respite from a situation producing anxiety. Indeed,
people with higher levels of arousal are more likely to immerse themselves to nature [71]. The
opportunities that anxious employees have to go outdoors into nature or sunlightand the
effects of those opportunitiesare intriguing areas for future research.
As was the case with natural elements exposure, sunlight exposure was positively related to
job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Perhaps the most promising theoretical
explanations are conservation of resources theory [37] and social exchange theory [38]. Con-
servation of resources theory argues that people who obtain resources they value are likely to
experience less stress and more satisfaction. This is not dissimilar to Lockes theory of job satis-
faction [72], which argues that job satisfaction results from a job meeting expectations for
what a person values. To the extent that natural elements and sunlight exposure are valued
resources, it stands to reason that they will be associated with greater job satisfaction and possi-
bly organizational commitment. Social exchange theory [38] might be a better explanation for
the association with organizational commitment. People who perceive that their organizations
provide valued resources or take care of them are more likely to feel an obligation to pay the
organization back [73]. One way of doing this is by evidencing greater organizational commit-
ment [74].
Why We Need More Nature at Work
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0155614 May 23, 2016 12 / 17
Limitations
We used a cross-sectional design, which precludes the ability to draw causal inferences. We also
used self-reported, single source data. Although some suggest that this can lead to common
method variance (CMV) [75], others argue that concerns over CMV may be overemphasized
[7578] and that in-depth analyses can help overcome the potential limitations associated with
CMV [75,79]. In this vein, we found that our results were generalizable across a bi-national
sample and that our scales displayed similar internal properties within each sample. Of course
future research should seek to replicate these findings using additional measures and on other
samples.
Policy Implications
Although some organizations are creating more naturalistic environments for their employees,
this area remains under examined [80,81]. This present study adds to the literature suggesting
that natural elements and sunlight exposure have positive effects on employee mental health
and job attitudes, thereby supporting policies that encourage the design of workspaces with
natural elements and sunlight exposure.
Remodeling workspaces can be expensive. However, there are less costly yet effective design
and policy approaches for enhancing exposure to natural elements and sunlight in the work-
place [82]. For example, organizations could allow employees to keep plants in their offices or
hang photos of nature on office walls, and allow employees time for walks outside of the office.
These small and inexpensive changes could result in noticeably better mental health and work
attitudes. These results suggest that organizations and policy makers should pay more attention
to the physical design of workspaces.
Supporting Information
S1 Scale. Exposure to natural elements.
(PDF)
S2 Scale. Exposure to sunlight.
(PDF)
Acknowledgments
We are grateful to Norman Li for commenting on previous versions of the manuscript. We
also thank Carl Nicol and Shane Gilligan for their help with the literature review. Caitlin
Demsky assisted in developing earlier versions of the scales.
Author Contributions
Conceived and designed the experiments: SC MA MB. Performed the experiments: MA MB.
Analyzed the data: MA. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: MA KO. Wrote the
paper: MA SC KO MB.
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Why We Need More Nature at Work
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... Most previous researchers define the nature element as sunlight, daylight illumination, window views, or greenery inside a building, but An et al. [8] have defined the nature elements from a general view and divided it into two sub-factors: potted plant availability and sunlight exposure. The inadequacy of daylight or sunlight can result in visual discomfort, mental fatigue, and stress, which in turn negatively impacts the task performance of employees [9]. ...
... The nature element is one of the two independent variables in this study. The nature elements' variable engaged in this study is adapted from the research by An et al. [8], which investigated, from a general point of view, the restorative effects that nature elements have on the mental health (fatigue) and work attitudes of employees. Furthermore, the 6 of 13 nature elements were divided into two sub-factors by An et al. [8], and these sub-factors are: exposure to nature elements (such as indoor potted plants, paintings, or photographs) and exposure to sunlight. ...
... The nature elements' variable engaged in this study is adapted from the research by An et al. [8], which investigated, from a general point of view, the restorative effects that nature elements have on the mental health (fatigue) and work attitudes of employees. Furthermore, the 6 of 13 nature elements were divided into two sub-factors by An et al. [8], and these sub-factors are: exposure to nature elements (such as indoor potted plants, paintings, or photographs) and exposure to sunlight. There were nine questions related to measuring the exposure to nature elements and eight questions employed to measure the exposure to sunlight; both measurements were carried out using a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree; 2 = disagree; 3 = neither agree nor disagree; 4 = agree; 5 = strongly agree). ...
In the current dynamic business environment, managing the physical working environment of the workforce has become an important part of the company. This study seeks to investigate the effects of the natural element and organizational culture on the task performance of employees with fatigue as a mediator, based on a sample of 103 white-collar employees who work in the central district of Taichung City during the spring and using a purposive sampling method.
... Most previous researchers define the nature element as sunlight, daylight illumination, window views, or greenery inside a building, but An et al. [8] have defined the nature elements from a general view and divided it into two sub-factors: potted plant availability and sunlight exposure. The inadequacy of daylight or sunlight can result in visual discomfort, mental fatigue, and stress, which in turn negatively impacts the task performance of employees [9]. ...
... The nature element is one of the two independent variables in this study. The nature elements' variable engaged in this study is adapted from the research by An et al. [8], which investigated, from a general point of view, the restorative effects that nature elements have on the mental health (fatigue) and work attitudes of employees. Furthermore, the 6 of 13 nature elements were divided into two sub-factors by An et al. [8], and these sub-factors are: exposure to nature elements (such as indoor potted plants, paintings, or photographs) and exposure to sunlight. ...
... The nature elements' variable engaged in this study is adapted from the research by An et al. [8], which investigated, from a general point of view, the restorative effects that nature elements have on the mental health (fatigue) and work attitudes of employees. Furthermore, the 6 of 13 nature elements were divided into two sub-factors by An et al. [8], and these sub-factors are: exposure to nature elements (such as indoor potted plants, paintings, or photographs) and exposure to sunlight. There were nine questions related to measuring the exposure to nature elements and eight questions employed to measure the exposure to sunlight; both measurements were carried out using a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree; 2 = disagree; 3 = neither agree nor disagree; 4 = agree; 5 = strongly agree). ...
Article
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In the current dynamic business environment, managing the physical working environment of the workforce has become an important part of the company. This study seeks to investigate the effects of the nature element and organisational culture on the task performance of employees with fatigue as a mediator, based on a sample of 103 white-collar employees who work in the central district of Taichung City during the spring and using a purposive sampling method. The data were collected through a self-administered subjective measurement instrument questionnaire and were analysed using Structural Equation Modelling (SEM) path analysis. The results show that organisational culture and task performance were significantly positive. The mediating effect of fatigue caused this relationship to become negative. It was also found that there was a negative relationship between nature elements and task performance. The results provide insights into the importance of employers in providing a healthy workplace which promotes collaboration, health, safety, and the wellbeing of the employee in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The study concludes that future international comparative studies can be performed to identify the best workplace design that can reduce employees’ fatigue and alleviate their current work performance.
... Même si la personne n'est pas plongée dans l'environnement naturel, des effets psychologiques sont associés à la présence de lumière naturelle, à la vue de paysages naturels ou à leur combinaison (Tang, Tsai, Lin et al., 2017). Ces types d'exposition ont été plus particulièrement étudiés dans les contextes où le stress est élevé, tels que les milieux de travail (Mihyang, Colarelli, O'Brien et al., 2016;Shin, 2007), les milieux hospitaliers (Park, Chai, Lee et al., 2018;Ulrich, 1984) et carcéraux (Moore, 1981). En milieu professionnel, des effets ont été rapportés sur le taux d'anxiété vécu par les employés, leur niveau d'engagement (Mihyang, Colarelli, O'Brien et al., 2016) et leur satisfaction au travail (Mihyang, Colarelli, O'Brien et al., 2016;Shin, 2007). ...
... Ces types d'exposition ont été plus particulièrement étudiés dans les contextes où le stress est élevé, tels que les milieux de travail (Mihyang, Colarelli, O'Brien et al., 2016;Shin, 2007), les milieux hospitaliers (Park, Chai, Lee et al., 2018;Ulrich, 1984) et carcéraux (Moore, 1981). En milieu professionnel, des effets ont été rapportés sur le taux d'anxiété vécu par les employés, leur niveau d'engagement (Mihyang, Colarelli, O'Brien et al., 2016) et leur satisfaction au travail (Mihyang, Colarelli, O'Brien et al., 2016;Shin, 2007). Pour Mihyang, Colarelli, O'Brien et al. (2016), ces résultats seraient principalement dus à la présence de lumière naturelle provenant de fenêtres tandis que pour Shin (2007), ils seraient favorisés par une vue sur la forêt. ...
... Ces types d'exposition ont été plus particulièrement étudiés dans les contextes où le stress est élevé, tels que les milieux de travail (Mihyang, Colarelli, O'Brien et al., 2016;Shin, 2007), les milieux hospitaliers (Park, Chai, Lee et al., 2018;Ulrich, 1984) et carcéraux (Moore, 1981). En milieu professionnel, des effets ont été rapportés sur le taux d'anxiété vécu par les employés, leur niveau d'engagement (Mihyang, Colarelli, O'Brien et al., 2016) et leur satisfaction au travail (Mihyang, Colarelli, O'Brien et al., 2016;Shin, 2007). Pour Mihyang, Colarelli, O'Brien et al. (2016), ces résultats seraient principalement dus à la présence de lumière naturelle provenant de fenêtres tandis que pour Shin (2007), ils seraient favorisés par une vue sur la forêt. ...
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Thesis
To improve causality, this thesis used the counterfactual framework to develop two novel and statistically robust approaches to analyse the effect of urban greenspace on mental health. The first approach was a cross-sectional assessment that used statistical matching in addition to regression modelling to establish the effect of local public greenspace on a person’s mental health for those with and without a private garden. The second approach used longitudinal data in a Before-After Control Intervention study design to establish the effect of the change in different greenspace characteristics on mental health when a person moved between urban areas. Both these approaches were applied to the British Household Panel Survey – a nationally representative survey of Great Britain containing individual-level information on mental health and the socio-economic confounders of mental health. Findings from the first approach suggested that the effect of access to private greenspace on mental health outweighs the beneficial effects of access to public greenspace. Specifically, having a private domestic garden substantially reduced the maximum probability of poor mental health for men and women, regardless of their access to local public greenspace. The second approach highlighted the importance of greenspace quality and proximity for mental health. Bird species richness and distance to nearest greenspace, proxy measures for greenspace quality and proximity respectively, provided the most inference when modelling the effect of change in greenspace characteristics on mental health. Comparatively, measures of greenspace quantity and recognised standards and guidelines of greenspace access provided less inference than a model that did not include a measure of greenspace. Given these results, greenspace quality, proximity and access to private gardens should be a priority for future policies to improve the status of both urban greenspace and mental health in Great Britain.
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There is strong evidence that a poor indoor climate has a significant impact on people's health and well-being, and that in turn has wider socio-economic consequences, such as via its impact on work attendance, productivity and performance. Four indoor hazards in particular were identified and used in the analysis: Damp and mould; Noise pollution; Indoor temperature (excess cold), and; Lack of daylight. The objective of this study was to undertake a detailed analysis of the impact of the indoor climate across all age groups in the EU and the UK, Norway and Switzerland.
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Green environments are said to have a positive impact on spontaneous physical activity and well-being. However, high quality psychological measures in natural settings are difficult to collect. In the present study, we offer a detailed report on how virtual reality may provide a controlled environment for immersive user testing. Virtual Reality (VR) was here used to test the impact of colorful floor markings on the spontaneous speed of walking, gaze behaviour, as well as perceived changes in and physiological mesures of affective states. The reactions of 36 adult participants were evaluated in Grey and Green VR environments of an urban university campus. Results in VR revealed similar results than that reported in natural settings: participants walked slower and had higher heart rates in Green than in Grey urban settings, indicating more pleasurable experiences. VR results provided nevertheless more detailed description of user experience with the possibility to quantify changes in gaze strategy as a function of the presence or absence of color designs. Spontaneous walking was slower with colorful designs than without. Gaze behaviour presented longer fixation times with colorful designs than without. Finally, physiological responses indicated that mean heart rates were similar across environments and predicted the physical effort of the task. However, greater means in heart rates were observed in the environments presenting colorful designs, suggesting that colors may be a powerful tool to trigger alertness and pleasure in Grey urban cities. Virtual reality is reported here as an innovative method to quantify psychological experiences during free exploration in gait. Applicable to a broad range of research topics in the psychological sciences, explicit guidelines are made available to share computer code and data sets for further exploitation.
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