"Go outside - it's good for you", a common (at times annoying) phrase your parents said to you when you were young. Guess what, your parents were right.
Getting outside isn't just a saying to be ignored, it's been scientifically proven to improve mental health, decrease stress, and spark creativity.
Most employees are in the office at least eight hours a day, five days a week, and much of that time is spent sitting at their desks (staring at a screen). In fact, according to the National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS), people spend an average of 87 percent of their time in enclosed buildings and about six percent of their time in enclosed vehicles.
Taking breaks to stretch and drink water are great ways to break up the workday, but actually stepping outside and getting fresh air and sunlight (even when it's cold) is even better.
Here's why encouraging employees to get outside will benefit them, and the company as a whole.
Getting Outside Keeps Your People Healthy
Absenteeism and rising health care costs are issues every business faces. Likewise, helping employees avoid burnout and excessive stress is vital to keeping them engaged and productive. Encouraging employees to get outside can solve all those problems.
It's no secret that sitting in front of a screen all day is bad for your eyes and can give you body aches and pains. But did you also know that indoor air pollution can be up to 10 times worse than outdoor air pollution? Things like dirt, dust, and chemicals found in many office products and furniture are unavoidable, no matter how much you clean. Making the office more ventilated can help, but the easiest and most cost effective way to alleviate the affects of indoor air pollution is simply encouraging employees to get outside every day.
Another issue you may not be aware of is vitamin D deficiency, which is now recognized as a pandemic. It can lead to cancer, autoimmune disorders, hypertension, and infectious diseases. And what is the major cause of vitamin D deficiency? A lack of sunlight. There aren't a lot of foods that naturally contain vitamin D, and supplements can only do so much. The best way to get vitamin D is from the sun --- and a mere 15 minutes of sun exposure each day goes a long way.
Simply going for a daily stroll can boost creativity, increase creative production, and influence novelty, according to the study, Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking. Daily walks can help with your team building initiatives, too. According to a study conducted by the University of Michigan, group nature walks are linked with significantly lower depression, less perceived stress, and enhanced mental health and well-being.
Getting Outside Keeps Your People Happy
Unless you live in an area where it's warm and sunny all year long, you've seen it --- people's moods get drastically worse the colder it gets. Sunlight and physical activity elevate people's moods, and being stuck inside brings them down. Ever hear of spring fever?
That's why encouraging employees to get outside is so important, even when the weather isn't so great. Grey skies may indicate otherwise, but you're still getting sunlight. And fresh air and exercise are always good things.
Exposure to sunlight increases the brain's release of serotonin, a hormone associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused. Spending time in nature leads to increased activity in parts of the brain responsible for empathy, emotional stability, and love.
If a walk in the park will help make your employees happier, isn't it worth it? After all, happy employees become engaged employees, and engaged employees are more productive employees.
Companies That Encourage Employees to Get Outside
The feeling that "a life outdoors is a life well lived" is the core of Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), so naturally the company is encouraging employees to get outside. REI employees don't just get deals on gear and apparel, they also receive discounts on adventure trips and outdoor classes, and a special grant can be obtained to take on outdoor challenges (like a Mt. Everest expedition). There's also the company's "Yay Day," where every employee gets one day off every six months just to go outside and play. The company even bucked conventional wisdom with their #OptOutside campaign --- instead of extending hours and making people work more on Black Friday 2015, they closed their headquarters and all of their retail locations and distribution centers. Employees (and customers) were instead encouraged to get outside and reconnect with family and friends.
The title of Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard's memoir is Let My People Go Surfing, and the company stays true to that line of thinking. Employees are free to catch a wave or ski the slopes whenever they see fit. The company is also encouraging employees to get outside with readily-available bike rides, yoga classes, and fly-fishing and rock climbing excursions.
At Brooks Sports, employees "run hard and run happy" and the company is encouraging employees to get outside and get active with prize programs that reward activity, a rooftop yoga class, sponsorships of amateur sports teams, Tuesday morning and Friday afternoon runs and theme parties, and a yearly stipend to help pay for employees' active endeavors.
Living an active lifestyle is great for many people, but even if your staff isn't filled with workout nuts and adventure seekers, you can still see the benefits of encouraging employees to get outside. HootSuite gets their employees away from their desks and out of the office with outdoor walking meetings, and a rooftop urban garden where employees can go to unwind and catch a little sun and fresh air.
At viperks, maximizing employee happiness is at the heart of everything we do. Our employee discount and appreciation program optimizes employee engagement, putting smiles on your staff members' faces and boosting your company's bottom line.
Want to learn more about how you can help your employees be happier and more productive? We're here to talk.