Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Plants in offices increase happiness and productivity (theguardian.com)
221 points by dsr12 on Sept 1, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 91 comments

Funny enough, when the plants show up, in my experience it's a bad sign. I have no proof this conversation happened at the last two places I worked... but I'm pretty sure it did happen.

Upper-level manager #1: "The results of the employee morale survey are back. Morale is at an all time low. The employees feel that upper-level management is clueless, they are increasingly unable to do their jobs efficiently because of process and bureaucracy, and the raises we gave this year were below industry average."

Upper-level manager #2: "I just googled 'how to raise morale' and it said 'plants'"

Upper-level manager #1: "Let's do that!"

That's probably true as far as it goes, but they probably should have been there all along. If the plants disappear because management decides they are too expensive, start your new job search immediately.

Perhaps the plants should be replacing the management team in that case?

I'd rather the company divide up the plant costs and give it to the employees.

If an individual wants to spend it on a plant for their desk, great.

I feel like this for most benefits btw.

I did a back of the envelope calculation. If we got rid of our plants and plant-waterers, I would expect to see about 60p extra in my monthly salary.

Pre or post-tax?

Post-tax. Fortunately, it doesn't push me into another tax band.

Plants improve morale and productivity. Transparent attempts by management to manipulate their workforce do not :)

The plants tend to appear after the 2nd teambuilding exercise failed.

Those conversations definitely happen, but usually a knee-jerk reaction to annual employee surveys (and managers can spend a heck of a lot of time spinning results that look bad).

An interesting alternate approach I was privy to and liked joining was a weekly 'spruce up the office meeting' where some of the management team would discuss upcoming holidays (how to best fit employee needs), decorations, budgets allocated to 'team building' events (more often than not - give the staff the money and have them provide a receipt for somewhere they've spent it), who has a birthday coming up, etc. Discussion of plants was included too. Team prizes, award certificates. I definitely recommend trying such a weekly approach and seeing if it works. We did ours on a Friday afternoon, where everyone was itching to get going as it was; pretty fun and relaxed.

thats like saying soap causes dirtiness- the plants show up because there is already a problem

They have been a way to try to raise morale without making any meaningful change, addressing root causes, or spending a significant amount of money. If management does address the actual problems and they add plants, that would probably be a good sign--but that's never been my experience.

Couldn't agree more. The best way to increase employee morale is to act on the feedback that employees give you. Benefits, perks, plants – these things don't address the underlying reason of why employees are unhappy to begin with!

In fact, not acting on feedback is also the #1 reason why employees choose not to give feedback in the first place. I wrote a bit about it here & what CEOs + managers can do to actually act on feedback: https://signalvnoise.com/posts/3760-why-we-dont-speak-up-at-...

Hope it's helpful!

i see what your saying- management that uses plants as a solution is probably shitty, so presence of plants increases the likelihood of shitty management. thats a weird thing that should have a name, seems like people in statistics would run into that more than once. so some variable is positively correlated with satisfaction, but also positively correlated with a variable that is negatively correlated with satisfaction, and the negative variable has a stronger magnitude of effect

There's some saying that using a metric for control causes it to lose all useful correlations. (Ie you can only optimize what you measure, but once you optimize, you can no longer trust the measurement.)

I have this[1] closed ecosystem on my desk that I share with a coworker. Best decision ever.

1. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005IZOB5M/

I have one of the large (6.5") EcoSpheres on my counter right now. "Average life span of 2-3 years." Heh.

My first EcoSphere was the little one, and the shrimp lasted a year or two.

My large sphere has been going for at least 4 years. From what I remember reading the algae will go on basically indefinitely once the shrimp died, but my little shrimp are still kicking. I've got two little shrimp in there right now, and I've seen so much.

When the shrimp die, they go away (eaten by bacteria) quite quickly. You can see the other shrimp poke at the corpses, I assume eating some of the bacteria or algae.

The shrimp also change colors. Depending on how stressed they are and a few other things they can be quite light pink (fading into white) or bright red.

My shrimp have bread at least one. I saw the little bits in the water and thought it was some sort of debris but I noticed that it was moving. They looked like little fry. I don't think any survived (I assume died or eaten), but maybe the shrimp I have are second generation or more. No real way to know.

I haven't touched it in years. It gets a dusting every few months, but there isn't much dust so it doesn't matter. I haven't done a 'cleaning' (uses a magnet sealed inside to scrap algae off the glass) in years. It sits in my apartment that I try to keep about 70 but has been as low as 60 and over 80. They seem quite resilient.

It's a very neat desk accessory. At this point there is quite a bit of algae built up in mine so it looks dirty, and a few people have asked me why I don't clean it (doesn't help since the algae is still trapped in there) or just throw it away because it looks disgusting.

But with the two shrimp living in there, I can't throw it out. They're still happy.

Please don't buy Ecospheres - I realize that many people don't feel particularly sympathetic toward shrimp, but they really are amazing creatures slowly starving to death:


Although I have to admit large-scale installation of these things in cubicles would be quite the fitting ststement for many companies...

Do you have any other sources? When one company bashes a competitor in general I'm skeptical. I also know that the Ecosphere company sells larger installations for businesses and museums which gave them some credibility in my eyes (back when I first bought one).

It wouldn't surprise me much if you were right.

I don't plan to buy another though. It's been neat to watch, but after 6+ years (since I've had two spheres) I'm satisfied.

Sadly the lifespan on wikipedia is not sourced:


If they indeed life up to 20 years the Ecosphere can hardly be very well balanced if it keeps them going for only 2-3 years.

Here's a highly-rated detailed review that addresses the EcoSphere controversy. The author(s) appear to be very well informed. http://www.amazon.com/review/R39YUFJKTH4NEF/ref=cm_cr_dp_cmt...

We have a flood'n'drain style hydroponic garden at the office we use to grow Basil. We've tried some other stuff but nothing else is as low maintenance as basil.

Now we have a problem where where to put it all. I make a huge bowl of pesto every week and force feed basil to all my coworkers whenever I get a chance but I just can't get rid of all of it. I can't even make a dent in the huge bush we have.

We also grew some salad with mixed success but it's not a reliable enough source to be worth the effort.

Anyway, it's rather enjoyable. I recommend getting a small hydro garden to anyone who has any space and a little natural light in their office. Hydros need less regular maintenance (but need a bigger maintenance every now and then).

If anyone has any (preferably edible) plants that are suited for a hydroculture, please do suggest.

Could you post a picture? I'm intrigued by the idea of having too much basil - we pay a crazy amount ($1-$2) for maybe a dozen leaves when we make pizza. I've always been afraid that there would be not point in getting a basil plant because we'd strip it bare each time we needed basil.

Basil is really easy to grow, and grows pretty aggressively. We have a handful of new plants (~3 months old, planted from seedlings) in the back yard, and I use a couple dozen leaves every couple of days. They continue to get bigger and definitely aren't stripped bare. My roommate just chopped the top third off of all of the plants in order to make starters for more plants. A week later, I can't tell they've been chopped off...they regrew a bunch of new leaves. Theoretically, they can be trained to be bushy and short (which produces "sweeter" leaves), but so far ours are re-growing tall. Nonetheless, I have a lot of fresh basil and it's all delicious (big leaves are chewier and have a more licorice flavor, little leaves are milder and sweeter, etc.).

I don't know what we'll do with the starters for more plants, as I think we probably have enough basil. But, "too much basil" might be a nice problem to have.

This is a pretty big wall garden, with three shelves about two feet wide. We're talking about a four feet high, three feet wide wall of green you can stick your head in :) Can't provide a picture, sorry.

The varieties of basil we grow start out slow but grow really fast after a few weeks. The individual plants reach a height of several feet in a month or so.

We have started out by planting a few seeds and once those plants reach some height, we take cuttings to clone them and fill the entire garden. I've had an almost 100% success rate in cloning basil, much better than any other plant I've tried.

Do not trim the growth nodes (you won't eat them anyway), just pick as much leaves as you need from the lower parts of the plants.

Basil is really easy to grow in hydrocultures, it's much more difficult to grow in soil. Rucola is the opposite, I've had zero success putting it in the hydros at the office but grows really well at home in soil.

I've been growing some shiso in my Aerogarden - http://i.imgur.com/zitLRIV.jpg - and it's to the point that I have to replant it due to rampant growth crowding out half the other plants after I already pruned what you see there.

Herbs are easiest I think. Mint is super low maintenance and nice for flavoring water and for cocktails. Thai basil can be tasty, and other varieties of basil are also fun. I've had no luck at all with thyme, but... eh. I'm also growing lavender just because it smells good.

Veggie-wise, you can try fast growing sprouts and microgreens, perhaps? I'm also trying my hand at some bird's eye chilies despite lack of temperature control and general warm weather in SF.

I make a huge bowl of pesto every week

I'll take your excess basil if you're in the Bay Area, they're always running out at the supermarket and interrupting my pesto schedule XD

Sorry, I live more than half way across the globe. Basil isn't really easy to store either, it's not nearly as good if you bag it for a day or two.

And I have some reservations about carrying green leaves in small baggies :)

No; sea monkeys are brine shrimp (genus Artemia); the ones in Biospheres are Hawaiian red shrimp (Halocaridina rubra).

I really hope they took the Hawthorne effect into account:


I'm not sure if it's the plants themselves which generated the positive change, or whether anything else (paintings, something personal/warm) would have generated a similar response.

And while I rant about my awful working conditions, at least I don't have my keyboard fixed into place !!

What plants can survive with 100% fluorescent office lighting? I tried a succulent but the soil was covered in mold in a few weeks.

From a plants point of view, there really isn't anything wrong with fluorescent light, the issue is not enough light intensity. If you measure the photosynthetically active radiation in a normal office it's about 30-100 umol PPFD; that's about the same as a shady spot outdoors (for reference, direct sun is usually about 1800 umol). Temperatures inside also usually stay pretty warm all year round.

For these reasons, the best office plants tend to be species that were historically found in the understory of cloud forests or rainforests. Some popular options are Dieffenbachia sp. (mother-in-law's tongue), Philodendron sp., Monstera edulis (it can grow really large, but it also produces an edible fruit that tastes like a pineapple), Ficus benjamina (weeping fig), many orchids and ferns will also work if you can supplement their lighting by placing them on a windowsill. If you are someone is who is not good about remembering to water, you might want to consider a bromeliad such as Tillandsia.

Succulents are not a good choice. Succulence in plants is usually an adaptation for an outdoor environment with too much light -- the exact opposite of what is found in an office. Mold on the soil is also a clear indication that you are over-watering.

Let me tell you what I have in my office (disclaimer: I like plants): Monstera deliciosa, Adiantum aleuticum (five-fingered fern), Vanilla aphyla (leafless vanilla orchid), Vanilla planifolia (Tahitian vanilla orchid), another orchid (can't ID it until it flowers), and Coffea arabica (yes, coffee actually does pretty well in an office, if you have the room).

> What plants can survive with 100% fluorescent office lighting?

Marijuana. In the prohibition era just ending, many people discovered this in surreptitious basement experiments.

> I tried a succulent but the soil was covered in mold in a few weeks.

From an evolutionary perspective, that would indicate success, but for the mold, not the plant.

Marijuana. In the prohibition era just ending, many people discovered this in surreptitious basement experiments.

You do realize that those are grow lights, which are at a different color temp and higher wattage than normal office lights.. right?

Cannabis plants grow quite alright under fluorescent lights. Grow lights are better of course. There are also fluorescent grow lights (available in different spectra) but they are less cost effective than high pressure sodium or metal halides.

Can't cite a source on this one, you're just going to have to take my word for it. Seen it work in practice :)

More specifically they are high pressure sodium lights or Metal-halides. No ganja plant could healthily grow under fluorescent light. Wattage can range from 100-1500 these days. Maybe even 2000 if you check the latest gear out. That industry is constantly upgrading.

Probably not the best choice for an office plant, though.

Thanks NASA!

FYI, a spray bottle with some soapy water, will handle the mold on the soil. Just spray it on every so often. You have to do that with houseplants in low-light conditions from time to time.

A mild dish soap works, personally I get one with no dyes, fragrances or anti-bacterial stuff in it.

This is good advice, but it's also sort of like taking painkillers when you have a broken leg: it helps with the symptoms but doesn't address the underlying problem. If you have mold growing on top of the soil, it almost always is because the plant is being over-watered. Make sure the pot the plant is in has good drainage (a nice big drain hole at the bottom) and that the top layers of the soil have a chance to dry out between waterings.

"Mother in Law's Tongue" does well indoors, and is also supposedly good at improving indoor air quality.

So, the 2 suggestions are:




(are those the Peace Plants pentabular refers to?)

It does well indoors, but does it do well with 100% florescent light? My guess would be no.

From experience they do grow, though slowly, indoors with low natural light coming in, so if you were near a window they would be a good choice.

There is more than one plant with the common name "mother-in-law's tongue." I think OP might have been referring to Dieffenbachia sp. which is a tropical rainforest understory plant and does very well in the low light conditions of an office. [It's leaves contain very large amounts of oxalic acid which is probably why it got the name -- eat the leaves and your tongue swells up and you can't talk anymore...]

In the UK, "Mother-in-law's Tongue" usually refers to Sansevieria trifasciata [1]. The plant being sharp and pointed, the name is presumably an un-PC reference to the archetypal "domineering mother-in-law".

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sansevieria_trifasciata

All my plants do fine in 100% florescent office lighting. My personal favorite is the peace lily because it is beautiful, is a great air cleaner, and is easy to grow as long as you don't over water it. Anything that is a low light plant should be fine.

I always request to sit somewhere where there is at least some natural light, mostly for my well being, but the plants offer a nice excuse as to why I have to be near a window.

Not an option at my workplace. I'm stuck in a windowless office with a door.

That sucks... I'm not even sure that a plant or eight would make that kind of hell hole any better. I'm happy to be in a country where it's actually illegal to make people work in rooms without windows.

Curious- what country? I didn't think there was anywhere that would actually make that illegal. Does that hold true everywhere, such as in industrial/manufacturing complexes, etc?

French law mandates eye-level transparent windows to outdoors in workplaces, except for those where it is incompatible with the activities. It also mandates sufficient natural light, and for rooms with no windows intended for long work, at least 200 lux of light on the desk (but the lighting also has to be "adapted" to the activities).

Rooms with no doors in large buildings are sometimes used as meeting rooms (since they aren't intended for permanent work). I have seen once a large room with just a few windows that were far away from most desks, I guess it was technically legal but would probably not pass should one of the employees sue (comfort is an important part of the law).

When I was working in Berlin a colleague mentioned that each employee has to be within a certain distance of a window.

Apologies - but I don't have a written source - perhaps someone else can shed some light..

I'm in Denmark and I don't think the law applies to factory workers. however due to the prices on electricity you would be crazy if you didn't try to illuminate with day light, but I'm not sure a skylight counts as a window.

Pretty much all green plants survive under fluorescent lights. I live up north and we have three months of darkness every year. Most people use normal fluorescent lights for their plants (and lighting) during this period. The plants might not exactly thrive (you'd have to put up a huge light to compensate for no sunlight) but they certainly do survive.

There are better types of lights for growing plants but fluorescent are not bad at all.

If you're in the SF Bay area, you could consult with these folks: http://www.lavieenroses.net/ They're the ones who selected all the plants for our office (http://youtu.be/3Q2A3xDUcZI?t=2m15s) and who keep them green.

Try pothos. It's philodendron-like and nearly unkillable. It'll withstand watering daily or once every 3 weeks, or just grow in a vase of water. It grows more attractively, with larger and denser leaves, in indirect and low light but can withstand direct sunlight or 24-hour fluorescents.

It's not necessarily a bad thing if the soil is covered in mould. At least not for the plant...

Perhaps you were over watering? Succulents in particular from allowing the soil to dry completely between watering. Heck, I have some succulents that are perfectly OK being watered once a month. (When you do water them, flood them)

There's your answer right there: mold!

Given that you are willing to accept mold as a plant, that is. Make it easy on yourself. Accept the mold.

Peace Plants are great for offices: low maintenance, loves flourescent light.

Plastic plants

There was actually a NASA study about which plants clean the air for space stations. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_Clean_Air_Study or

For the last twenty years the offices I have worked in have had trees in their atrium. A few coworkers have had plants in their individual cubes. Yet I think the fact I am in Atlanta and the last two office buildings I worked in are surrounded by trees and flowers made a bigger difference. You cannot look outside any window without seeing trees, shrubs, and depending on the time of year flowers.

I won't live in a city nor work in one for these very reasons. I never want to look out a window and see concrete. Yeah I know cities have parks and fortunately cities like Atlanta have more trees than not, but its the grayness, the dirty feeling I don't miss. Which leads me into one peeve, who thought that gray cubes and dark carpet were appealing?

"Which leads me into one peeve, who thought that gray cubes and dark carpet were appealing?"

The cleaners/the people who try to keep the cost of cleaning low.

They're not that bad, though, as long as you have sufficient daylight (building not too wide, large windows, low cubicle walls)

I learned this in Theme Hospital 15 years ago.

Are dead plants better than no plants at all? That's our problem... but it is really nice to have (mostly living) plants around, have to admit.

A former employer of mine hired a plant service for the office. They provided both the plants and people to come in every week or two to tend to them.

I'd accept dead plants in the form of hardwood floors and nice wood furniture. Also, outdoor plants will suffice if visible from inside.

The impact plants have on clean indoor air also creates a boost in productivity[1]. This is probably most effective in areas with increased pollution, though.

1. http://www.ted.com/talks/kamal_meattle_on_how_to_grow_your_o...

If you are looking for specifics check out the results of the NASA Clean Air Study. Many common houseplants are good at eliminating indoor pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. NASA suggests 1 plant per 100 square feet.


Cause and effect are reversed here - people who are happy and capable at a good enjoyable place to work often decide to bring plants in because they feel empowered to do so and have latitude to do it.

Aping them by putting plants in front of disempowered bored workers will not help.

Agreed. If I had a nicer working environment I wouldn't need to bring in plants to make things less depressing. Instead of sighing at my desk at how drab things are, I can look at a plant and think how sad it is for a living thing to be forced to live out a sub-standard existence in an artificial environment. Funny how this 'one weird trick' gives perspective on the real problem.

That's my guess. Plants are symptoms of a good work environment rather than the cause.

Personally I don't care one way or the other. As long as it's cool, clean, relatively quiet, and I have a comfortable chair and a nice keyboard I'm good. But I don't put up any pictures or nicknacks either. I guess I prefer clutter free space.

Unless you have allergies like me. It may seem a joke, but most of you know someone with allergies to various plants. Just ask them :)

Somewhat seconded. I don't believe I'm allergic to any particular plant, but I'm allergic to mold and I've heard from several doctors that indoor plants often grow a lot of mold in their soil.

Surely the presence of plants reflects employers giving a shit about the employee environment and that this this is the true reason for happiness and productivity. Really come on... I don't look at a plant and feel happy, it's common sense.

You'd likely be surprised then. I work in a plant, and seeing a live plant can relieve stress. At least it does for me, much in the way a glass of water on a hot day can. Otherwise, the whole day is beige office interior or the drab metalic grey of machinery. That, and plants make places _smell_ better. (Offices in factories really aren't closed systems...)

So, as counter point, I look at a plant and feel happy. I mean, if it can survive here, then I probably can.

Maybe you should work in a garden centre you'd be on a constant high.

I wonder if it works if the plants are fake?

I find it amusing the plant they have pictured looks quite possible to be a San Pedro cactus. Office happiness indeed!

From my experience, plants (whether in office or at home) attract bees, wasps, mosquitoes and other such annoying nonsense, that tries to bite you, stab you or enter your ears/mouth, and in office, flamethrowering them away with lighter and deodorant is not always an option (due to people not used to fire being afraid of it). Therefore, plants near me usually directly decrease my happiness and productivity.

(EDIT: I'm dead serious here)

How do you have so many insects inside your office?

I work at ground-level, we have some plants inside and a lot of them on the outside. I started regularly spraying myself with DEET when going to work, because there are tiny mosquitoes hell-bent on biting you during the day.

At home I just observed that when I have plants near my windows, I get bees, wasps and hornets during summer much more often.

Reminds me of living on the ground floor next to a planty area in Malta. I was killing around 18 mosquitoes every evening, and discovered they fly through keyholes. Next flat was on the third floor.

Always brought my own plants wherever I work.

Coming soon: a subscription-based PWAAS* startup

* (Plants-and-Watering-As-A-Service)

If you're outside, there is a watering service delivered from the cloud.

But, Reddit-puns aside, this is already quite a common office service in London. We pay a company to bring plants, water them, prune them, etc.

It's been done for years. In fact I've never worked in an office where a service was not contracted to provide and care for the plants (and landscaping, if applicable).

Registration is open for Startup School 2019. Classes start July 22nd.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact