The glare of the temperamental fluorescents, the beige walls, the view of nearby high-rises—these are all classic aspects of the standard office life. But in recent years, office life has begun to change, particularly as the younger generation begins to overtake baby boomers in the work place: By the end of the decade, 50% of workers will be Generation Y, compared to 25% baby boomers, according to CNN.
With this change in the workforce comes increasing scrutiny over office conditions, such as the impact of work environment on the human body. For example, if you’ve ever left work feeling unexplainably ill, your office setting could be to blame. Over the past several years, dubious indoor air quality findings have resulted in a medical condition dubbed “sick building syndrome,” which can cause anything from headaches to nausea.
Fortunately there are strategies to combat both sickness and the dullness of beige walls without putting in a new HVAC system or painting your office. One of the easiest ways to both improve the quality of your office air and bring life to your workspace is by growing plants on your window sill. Growing herbs like mint and basil can also act as a natural air freshener in addition to perking up your packed lunch. The following vegetation grow easily and adapt well to indoor conditions; pick one or two to get started, and you’re well on your way to a spruced-up office space—green thumb not required.
Aloe is a familiar ingredient in sunburn remedies but it’s also a superb choice for an office plant. In addition to growing well in both artificial and natural light, aloe is a powerful air cleaner: The NASA Clean Air Study found that the plant could zap a number of noxious chemicals, including formaldehyde and benzene. As an added bonus, aloe gel can be harvested straight from the leaves to treat any minor burns or scratches sustained at the office during the day.
2. Spider Plant
Spider plants are one of the more popular houseplants because of their tenacity and aesthetic appeal, but their benefits don’t stop there. NASA’s Clean Air Study also found these easy-to-grow plants to be stupendous air-purifiers, capable of ridding the air of formaldehyde, xylene and toluene—chemicals used in common solvents and disinfectants.
3. Peace Lily
Peace lilies are similar to spider plants in their popularity and tenacious nature, but are perhaps even more potent cleansers due to their ability to combat mold spores in addition to chemicals. These lilies don’t require direct sunlight due to their rainforest origins, making them particularly well-suited for an office that lacks windows.
4. Rubber Tree
Rubber plants scored fourth on NASA’s list of air-purifying houseplants for its ability to detox formaldehyde from the atmosphere, making it a valuable addition to a workspace. But their real strength lies in their hardiness: Rubber plants require less water and light than other houseplants, making them an ideal choice for an office space. One word of caution: People who are highly sensitive to latex may want to avoid rubber trees, as they are a natural source of the rubber used to produce latex.
5. English Ivy
English ivy is another superstar from the NASA research: Out of the five chemicals tested, the English ivy plant was able to remove four of the five from the air. Its ability to thrive under fluorescents also makes it a solid contender for an office plant. The ivy is toxic to animals and humans, so it’s better used in an office than a house to get the same air-purifying benefits without the risk.
Mint is known as a vigorous herb in the garden, making it a natural choice for an office space, which don’t always have ideal growth conditions. Mint does prefer sunlight, making it more suited for a space with a sunny window, but is otherwise one of the easier herbs to grow and matures quickly; it also acts as a natural air freshener.
Basil, like mint, is another easy-to-grow herb that prefers copious amounts of sunlight but don’t be deterred; the plant also flourishes under fluorescents. Basil doesn’t require too much maintenance and its leaves—once plucked, they grow back readily—can be thrown onto a sandwich for some quick flavor. While neither mint nor basil has the same air-cleansing properties as other foliage on this list, both herbs act as decorative elements in addition to being edible.
The 21st century has been a pioneer in changing how we work, and awareness of what constitutes a productive environment has never been greater. Take advantage of this trend and consider installing some greenery in your office space: You’ll breathe a little easier and you may just work a little better.