Many of us are naturally drawn to the water’s edge. We use our well deserved time off for coastal or lakeside holidays, lapping up the waves on a sunkissed shoreline, relishing the tranquillity of premium waterfront views. We often feel less stressed, more focused and more satisfied with life. What if we could use the power of water in the workplace to improve levels of performance and energy, with greater benefits of happiness and health? Well, it turns out we can.
The science behind this chemistry is ‘Blue Mind’, a term coined by Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, author of ‘Blue Mind – How water makes you happier, more connected and better at what you do’. Nichols describes how being on, in, near or under water positively affects the body and mind – flooding the brain with dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin which are all feel-good hormones.
These mood-enhancing hormones, together with negatively charged ions within the atmosphere around large bodies of water, also have the ability to decrease levels of the stress hormone, cortisol – or ‘Red Mind’. This state of mind is becoming more and more prevalent in a world of greater expectations, inability to disconnect and the feeling of always having to be available. The theory is to balance out Red Mind, with Blue Mind.
Much research has been conducted on green spaces and being immersed in nature. It’s no surprise that we are encouraged to spend more time outdoors to increase our oxygen levels, become more active and boost our mood. However, new research is emerging about the benefits of blue spaces, including psychological benefits such as reduced stress, anxiety, depression and improve our self-esteem.
More interestingly, mix green space with blue space for even greater benefits. In 1984, the term ‘biophilia’ was named by biologist Edward Wilson. He highlighted the need for people to connect with nature, and this could be argued even more so in the modern world. Major corporations such as Google and Amazon have begun working with the International Living Future Institute to bring the outdoors, in. The ‘Biophilic Design Initiative’ creates experiences where moving through urban landscapes gains the same physical, psychological and emotional benefits as nature itself.
Research conducted on visual preference and stress recovery from exposure to nature has shown positive responses to environments containing water elements. Studies found that exposure to water features reduced stress, lowered heart rate and blood pressure, increased feelings of tranquillity, improved concentration and enhanced physiological responsiveness due to multiple senses being stimulated simultaneously.
Whilst grand ideas such as the huge water fountain in Apple Park, California, and the reflecting pool in the shape of their logo at Young Living headquarters in Utah aren’t always necessary, there are a few ideas that can be introduced to use water in improving the wellness of your employees.
Create a space that feels compelling and captivating by introducing a water wall or fountain in the entrance foyer or main event space. Consider common areas and team rooms throughout the office to enhance these well used spaces.
From a calming perspective, design a relaxing blue space. A chillout zone with comfy seating, a small aquarium (there is a reason these are often found in dentist’s waiting rooms, known to significantly reduce stress and anxiety), a screen showing coastal scenes with the soothing sounds of the ocean or tranquil pictures displayed on the wall. Connection to water can create a mildly meditative state of calm and peacefulness, a sense of happiness and satisfaction of being in the moment – also known as a good mood booster.
If you have space outdoors, this is the ideal environment to enhance wellbeing through the use of water. Introduce a small pond, stream or water fountain. Moving water prevents water from becoming stagnant, but also engages more senses for an enhanced effect. Place a picnic table or bench close by to allow your employees to be surrounded in the moment, helping to improve productivity, energy and reduce stress levels.
It is worth noting that water features should be proportional to the area size to avoid discomfort from high volume flowing water noise, impact on humidity levels or decrease in acoustic quality.
Visual water photography, scenes and quotes also play their part in creating a sense of wellbeing. Whilst the effects aren’t as significant, a study by CBRE found that hanging an image of water in the office improved employees’ perceived work performance by 10%, whilst 78% felt happier, 76% felt more energised, and 65% felt healthier.
Introduce the colour blue
Did you know that blue lights are used along train stations to help reduce the number of suicides? Recent studies have shown a significant reduction in these rates as the colour blue has a calming effect on the mind. Introduce blue decor, furniture, stationery and even mugs to bring this colour to the forefront of your employee’s minds.
Virtual water cooler
Create an online space for employees who are interested in sharing thoughts and ideas about introducing more water related aspects into the workplace. Hold a Blue Mind Book Club (there are many related books to Blue Mind, Blue Health, etc.) and share discussions from the water cooler amongst the whole team.
Encourage being active
Is your office close to a body of water? Do your hybrid or remote employees live close to a natural water source, or even a manmade water structure? Encourage them to take a walk during their breaks. Can informal meetings or discussions be held here? Could they be walking meetings? Be imaginative about how these surroundings could work for you.
Participation in aquatic activities
Consider having community days or team building events that include the use of water. Examples are beach clean up days, competitive dragon boat racing or sailing activities. Consider canoeing where naturally floating on water can be relaxing and therapeutic, encouraging strengthened team bonding (that’s if they like the water!)
Water within employee wellness programmes
There are many benefits to introducing water into your employee wellness programme, including improving morale, performance, productivity, employee retention and engagement. Consider offering incentives such as discounts from active spaces that have pools, swimming lessons and coaching, watersports club memberships, experience days, spa breaks and water activity holidays. Offer incentives for being a part of the Virtual Water Cooler, or becoming more active, and community days to help protect our waterways. Blue Mind retreats, workshops and keynotes are also valuable ways to embrace the power of water within your company culture.
Wellbeing in the workplace touches every employee in a different way. Introducing more water and the colour blue can be a simple method towards a healthier workplace for the majority. Improving the 8+ hours that employees spend at work can help overall physical and mental health, which can create a ripple effect where these healthier habits and practices are taken home with them too.
*** Links within the article can be found at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1da36LuyktUz46suc_usIWDAv9aKk6jlIlloCRqp7dE8/edit?usp=sharing ***
Gill is a full-time water lover, founder and content creator of Water Wellness.
After winning a recent battle of standing up to cancer, she found herself realigning her values and purpose in life. She now inspires and educates others on the power of Water Wellness – a holistic lifestyle concept including emotional, spiritual, physical, intellectual, social and occupational dimensions, where the impact of being in, on, under or by the water is incredible. When she can’t be found in a daydream near the water or bobbing on a kayak, you’ll catch her planning her next travel adventure or journaling to appreciate how great life really can be.