Most experts agree that creating a stress-free work environment is important for keeping employees happy and productive. Most business owners like myself agree that, in these times of low unemployment and competition for good people, anything that keeps our employees happy, productive, and committed to their jobs is fine by us.

But what perks will help achieve this? More time off? Healthy snacks? Video games? Unlimited Jack Daniel's? Massages? Nap pods? Exercise equipment? All of these tactics (well, not all) -- and many others -- are being used by employers. But there's a problem: They come at an expense. Larger companies usually have deeper pockets to pay for these things. But what can a smaller organization do that will achieve the same results but at a lower cost?

The answer: plants, man, plants, and no, I don't mean cannabis (although ... hmmm....).

I mean just little, friendly flowers. According to a research report from the University of Hyogo in Japan, just having a small potted plant on your desk will help reduce stress. Yup, that's it.

"At present, not so many people fully understand and utilize the benefit of stress recovery brought by plants in the workplace," the study's author said in a statement. "To ameliorate such situations, we decided it was essential to verify and provide scientific evidence for the stress restorative effect by nearby plants in a real office setting."

Now, before you start turning your office into a jungle, just be aware that the study wasn't expansive. The researchers took just 63 employees and analyzed their behavior when an office plant was nearby. This group was given plants to place on their desks. Some of those employees were active in caring for their plants -- watering and interacting -- while others were not as much. The researchers also tried tests with different floras, such as San Pedro cactus, foliage plants, kokedama, echeveria, air plants, and bonsai. I'm not sure what all these are -- and neither was my software's spell checker, so it can't just be me -- but these really are actual plants. I Googled them.

Once equipped with the plants, the testing began. When the employees took a break, the researchers measured their stress levels using a standard procedure that looked at heart rates, oxygen, and pulse levels. The results were consistent: When employees had plants, they demonstrated lower stress. Their stress levels "dropped considerably," according to the researchers, and it didn't matter what type of plant they had on their desk. For good measure, a control group was given no plants for their desks, and after just two weeks half of them committed suicide. Just kidding.

But what's the serious takeaway? If you're looking for a low-cost way to reduce stress and improve the happiness and productivity of your employees, then simply get them some plants. Oh, and if you're in the floral or landscaping business, I hope you're also paying attention. There are 30 million small-business owners out there who may be potential customers for your products and services.

Published on: Feb 5, 2020