The University Record, July 19, 1993

Workers with views of nature less frustrated, more patient

By Deborah Gilbert
News and Information Services

Workers who have offices with a view of nature report more enthusiasm for their jobs, less frustration, more patience, and fewer physical ailments, according to two studies by a U-M researcher.

“A window with a natural landscape reduces workers’ ‘directed attention fatigue,’” explains Rachel Kaplan, professor of psychology and of natural resources.

Directed attention is the effortful attention we use to focus on a work project. Its opposite, involuntary attention, is the effortless attention we give to pleasing landscapes, paintings and music.

“When employees can glance away from their desks or computers and rest their eyes on a natural landscape, no matter how modest, involuntary attention takes over. Workers get a respite that offsets directed attention fatigue, a mental condition that comes with even the best of jobs,” Kaplan says.

Those who are stuck in windowless workstations, even if they are very well-lit and modern, are more vulnerable to distractions, less flexible in their thinking, more impulsive, less able to solve problems, and more irritable.

Kaplan reported her research on windows and directed attention fatigue June 27 at a meeting of the American Psychological Society in Chicago. Her presentation was part of a symposium on “Attention Fatigue and Its Diverse Consequences.”

In her first study, Kaplan queried 168 workers. Fifty-five worked indoors at windowless workstations while 65 had windows. Their views ranged from very simple ones of a tree and some grass to more complex ones that included several trees, some bushes or flowers. Another 48 worked outdoors.

The office workers who had views of landscapes expressed significantly greater job satisfaction than those without windows, Kaplan said.

Not surprisingly, the outdoor workers reported they felt little job pressure and stress—”but that may have been the nature of their jobs,” she said.

The second study included 615 employees, all of whom held sedentary administrative, clerical or secretarial office jobs in the same organization.

“Once again, we found that the availability of nature via a window strongly affected employee satisfaction, and the more natural elements they could see, the better. We also found that they had fewer headaches and felt generally more healthy,” Kaplan added.

Buildings and parking lots in the view did not seem to diminish job satisfaction.

“Windows with views of nature help us maintain our train of thought and help us remain composed and civilized in the face of interruptions and demands. Employers and architects should take this finding into consideration when they design a work place,” Kaplan said “It could improve the bottom line.”