Recent studies have shown that having a potted plant can significantly increase a worker’s productivity and creativity. The findings harken back to a theory first published in 1980, called “attention restoration theory.” The gist of this theory is that our brains expend a lot of energy on tasks that require direct attention. This type of mental fatigue is only restored when that concentration stops. There are multiple ways to do this—meditation or a nap is ideal, though not always practical on the job. When we're awake, direct attention can be refreshed by shifting focus to something indirect. In the potted plant study, nature offered just this type of absorbing, restorative distraction.
While the basis for this theory lies in spending time observing nature, similar benefits are seen when individuals engage in other activities, such as playing games and playing with toys. That’s right—playing with toys. We’ve all heard tales of the Google and Facebook corporate campuses, where arcade games are common, and extracurricular activities abound (including gardening at Google’s London HQ). This is attention restoration theory at work.
Most businesses don’t budget or have the space for ping pong tables or pinball machines; fortunately, smaller games and puzzles also provide the rejuvenation that employees periodically need. Simple items that allow for tactile engagement offer similar benefits to restore the overworked brain and lead to high productivity and happier employees.
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