I laughed when I read that a recent study found that just one office plant can increase office morale.
I’ve seen plants destroy morale and, in one case, almost result in murder.
Odd really when you consider that my colleagues rarely noticed our plant. Occasionally someone would say “that thing’s going to die if we don’t water it’ and we would all drown it with the remains of our tea/coffee and forget about it for another few months.
The problem was management.
For some incomprehensible reason, several managers I’ve known had a weird attachment to their plants.
One such manager was Robert. Robert chose, bought and deeply cared for the rubber plant in the reception area and was somewhat disturbed to find its’ leaves were dusty. The dust, in his opinion, was preventing the plant from breathing properly. The obvious solution was that that the cleaning lady, Carol, must dust each leaf separately, every single day.
This demand put quite a strain on Carol’s normally friendly disposition. When she was finally convinced Robert wasn’t joking, she devoted five minutes each day to shaking the plant vigorously.
Weeks later Robert was walking through reception when he did a double take. The shaking sessions were affecting some areas more than others, and the poor plant looked like it was developing alopecia. A distraught Robert scurried off to get water. A few days later, when the plant was showing no signs of improvement, he cut short a team meeting to run out and buy plant food.
Carol responded to this tender care by doubling her shaking sessions. Eventually, Robert reluctantly concluded that the, now almost leafless branches, were not suited to an office environment, and had it removed.
Carol eventually recovered from the trauma and office morale was restored.
Not so for my friend, Sarah, who lost her job because she couldn’t accommodate her boss’ obsession with his plants.
At that time, Sarah lived in a country that was experiencing a major terrorist incident and the street where she worked was only yards from the danger area. The police guarded the entrance to the street and only people who lived or worked there were allowed entry. Each individual was given a police escort to the office door and asked not to leave the building unnecessarily.
It was a worrying time for everybody but Sarah’s manager had an additional concern. The people who tended his window boxes were not allowed to enter the street. What if his plants died before the terrorist incident was resolved? He turned to the one person he expected to solve all his problems, his secretary.
‘Sarah, go outside and water the plants please.’
‘Now? What about the terrorists?’
‘What about them?’
‘They might shoot me.’
‘Nonsense, they couldn’t get into this street without the police noticing. You’d have plenty of time to come inside.’
‘I don’t think it would be safe. The police said not to go outside unnecessarily.’
‘They’re overreacting. We aren’t in any danger. You’ll be fine.’
‘I’m afraid to go out there.’
‘Please don’t be ridiculous, Sarah. The plants will die if they don’t get some water. You don’t want that to happen, do you?’
‘If it’s a case of them or me, then yes, I’d much rather the plants died.’
‘I have already explained that you are in no danger whatsoever. Now I’ve got a lot of work to do. Please go outside and water my plants immediately.’
‘What did you say?’
‘I’m not going outside until the police say it’s safe.’
‘You would let my plants die?’
They were the last words he ever spoke to her.
He stormed into his office and banged the door. From that day he communicated with Sarah only by e-mail. The terrorist incident ended and the plants survived but he never forgave Sarah for valuing her own life above that of his plants. A couple of months later she was let go.
It was incidents like these which inspired me to set my thriller in an office.
Perhaps morale in the organisations covered in the study mentioned, improved, not because their employees got any particular pleasure from a single office plant, but because they were responding to their bosses’ efforts to provide them with a pleasant working environment, something definitely lacking in my protagonist’s world.
Click on the link if you would like to know more about my thriller ‘Girl Targeted’.