Along with “the dog ate my homework”, weather seems to take the brunt of the blame for a lot of mishaps, from forgetfulness to lack to motivation, right down to a drop in productivity. But the fact is, there’s more truth than excuse there. Weather affects everything from your mental state to your ability to get things done in the office. Winter has its own down sides and they can be costing you money in the form of lost time and productivity.
Here are the major ways that winter conditions affect employee productivity in the office and how you can mitigate those things for a happier, healthier and more profitable work environment.
Winter Cold = Poor Concentration
Contrary to what you might have heard (ie: turn the temperature down to keep people awake and on their toes), cold indoor temperatures can have a negative impact on a person’s ability to concentrate. And we’re not talking about 40-degree cold – just a few degrees below room temperature and you’re flirting with a productivity disaster.
In fact, studies of working environments have shown that when office temperatures were set to 68 degrees, employees committed 44% more errors and were, overall, 50% less productive than when the thermostat was set to the mid-70s.
The problem is that cold employees are distracted employees. With a drop in body temperature, people spend more time and effort trying to get and stay warm, which means less time and energy on concentration and creativity.
There’s another, subtler factor, too: job satisfaction. And it may not be as obvious as you think. Sure, comfortable employees are more satisfied employees, but did you also know that when people feel physically cold, they feel – and behave – mentally colder? That translates to lower trust, worse interactions with other employees and with management, and less effective teamwork.
Warmer temperatures actually create warmer relationships and that means higher job satisfaction and ultimately better performance.
The problem with cold office temperatures isn’t because someone is sitting in upper management pulling tight on the purse strings and refusing to make everyone comfortable. The problem is usually a poorly designed or inefficient HVAC system.
Chances are that some employees are complaining about the heat while others are freezing at their desks with space heaters. It’s not uncommon for someone near an entry door to suffer the cold while everyone in the server room is wiping their brows.
The solution isn’t to raise or lower the temperature, but to revamp the HVAC system to suit the building. It should be properly sized to service not only the square footage of the building, but each room depending on its exposure to wind and sunlight, the number of people and computers in the room, and other factors.
A properly designed system will run efficiently, require minimal maintenance and keep everyone comfortable so that you can enjoy a boost in morale, teamwork and productivity.
Winter Air = Poor Decision Making
During the 1970s, conservation efforts resulted in tighter buildings. Insulation was improved, which ultimately led to less ventilation and less fresh air being recycled into the building. That may have been great for energy bills but it turned out to be not so great for the health and productivity of the people working in those buildings.
Numerous studies have linked the amount of fresh air ventilated into a building with health – namely, the more fresh air, the healthier the people inside are.
In some studies, researchers changed the working environment to measure differences in productivity levels. They changed the amount of fresh air brought into the building, from less than the amount required by the “acceptable indoor air” standard, to better and worse than the standard. In other studies, they changed the amount of chemicals commonly found in the air in office buildings – chemicals from cleaners, dry erase markers, even the building materials themselves.
Then they tested employees’ decision making performance. The results were quite stark: breathing fresh air led to significantly improved performance. The biggest improvement was in strategic decision making, the kind most crucial to being productive and successful in a knowledge economy.
You may not give it much thought, but indoor air quality is one of the leading issues when it comes to employee health and cognitive function. And the cost of improving air quality is far lower than the cost of lost productivity and poor decisions that can have long-tail effects on your business for years to come.
The solution lies in improving indoor air quality through proper ventilation and HVAC maintenance. Old, inefficient, blocked or dirty air ducts can exacerbate the problem. A poorly designed system can contribute to poor air quality just as it contributes to poor temperature distribution.
But a good HVAC system, maintained regularly, will ventilate fresh air into the building, filter out unwanted chemicals and irritants, and keep everyone healthy and performing at their best.
Winter Humidity = More Illness
We should say “winter lack of humidity”, since some studies of office buildings have shown humidity levels to be as low as the single digits. That’s actually drier than the Sahara desert, which clocks in at an average of 25% humidity! Dry air in winter is more than a nuisance. You may have gotten used to cracked hardwood floors, itchy skin and flyaway hair, but it can also have negative effects on health.
Prolonged exposure to low humidity can dry out the protective linings of the respiratory system, making people more susceptible to colds, flu and sinus infections. Some viruses can survive longer in low humidity, making them harder to get rid of and increasing the risk of spreading infection throughout the office.
Poor ventilation is also part of the problem. Chemicals and carbon dioxide get trapped inside the building where they are breathed by employees all day. Viruses and bacteria circulate throughout the building instead of being flushed out. Couple that with a low humidity level, which can increase the instance of respiratory illnesses, sore throats, bloody noses, sinus irritation and even dry eyes and an inability to wear contact lenses, and health suffers.
And when health suffers, productivity suffers.
You probably don’t need statistics to tell you that during winter months more employees get sick, stay sick and lose valuable time. A loss in active working time, plus a loss in continuity and focus can wreak havoc with your business and profitability.
An HVAC system that regulates humidity, combined with one that is properly designed and ventilated, can have a tremendous impact on your bottom line. In the short term, employees will be more comfortable, which leads to an improved working environment and better mental and physical health. In the long term, productivity rates will improve and will certainly exceed those under poor working conditions.
There’s no need to suffer another uncomfortable, flu-ridden winter. It’s easy to get a free estimate for improving your building’s indoor air quality and comfort level. Just contact us online and we’ll visit your location to let you know what you need to do to improve working conditions. We also offer financing options to make the investment easier. Let us help keep your employees – and you – healthier and more productive all winter.