In the early 1970s, the psychologists Judith Rodin and Ellen Langer performed an experiment in which they got a Connecticut nursing home to give each of its residents a plant. Half of them were assigned the job of watering their plant and attended a lecture on the benefits of taking on responsibilities in their lives. The other half had their plant watered for them and attended a lecture on how the staff was responsible for their well-being. After a year and a half, the group encouraged to take more responsibility — even for such a small thing as a plant — proved more active and alert and appeared to live longer.
(1) There are two possible explanations for the results of the study: (i) watering the plants gave the nursing home residents a small degree of purpose, which they were lacking, or (ii) requiring the residents to water their plants gave them a sense of ownership and control over their environment.
(2) Note that nursing homes and company offices share a common characteristic — their inhabitants spend a large amount of time there, but are not in control of their environment.
(3) Perhaps the implication of this study for offices is therefore that companies should offer to give employees responsibility for their work environment if they want it. Why not let employees choose plants (with agreed criteria) and take responsibility for their upkeep, if they want to?
(4) Cf. How to create an office your employees love.