How the weather affects staff productivity

April 1, 2015 Uli Aschenbrenner No Comments

The weather can affect our mood, how productive (or distracted) we are, and even our health. We can’t change the weather. But what if understanding how it affects us could help us have happier, more productive workplaces? Let’s take a look at how the weather affects us and our staff.

We’re more likely to be distracted when we can see nice weather outside

Surprisingly, good weather is actually bad for productivity, assuming we’re inside looking at the weather through a window. When we see that it’s a nice day outside, we tend to get distracted by thinking about the weather and get less work done as a result.

When the weather outside is dreary, on the other hand, we’re less likely to be distracted by thoughts of nice weather activities we could be enjoying. So bad weather makes us more productive.

This is a tad counterintuitive, as most of us think bad weather will make us less productive. But a study of bank workers in Japan found that productivity dropped on good weather days. Another study found that working memory (the kind that helps us remember a phone number until we dial it) was enhanced by good weather, but when asked to remember a selection of random items, participants performed better when they were in a weather-induced bad mood.

The season also made a difference to the effects observed in these studies: in spring, higher temperatures led to better cognitive abilities, but the opposite was true of summer. Overall, this suggests we’re most comfortable in moderate temperatures, and extreme highs and lows negatively affect our mood and our cognitive abilities.

Put it to work

Researchers suggest we’re distracted by good weather outside because it makes us think about outdoor activities we could be doing, rather than working. Try sending staff outside for 5- or 10-minute breaks to enjoy the sunshine so they don’t feel deprived of the good weather by being stuck inside.

We’re prone to lack of sunshine during winter months

During winter months some people are affected by the lack of sunshine and low temperatures by developing symptoms of winter depression, or SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder. Studies have shown the length of the day and minutes of sunshine are highly correlated to low moods in winter. Since we can’t make the sun come out any more than it chooses to, we need to be on guard to manage our own light exposure during winter months. Spending time in daylight whenever possible, and particularly exercising outside, can help fend off symptoms of winter blues or SAD, such as moodiness, irritability, and lack of energy.

Put it to work

Let more light into your workplace whenever you can, but especially during winter months. Open windows or blinds early in the day to give your staff as many hours of natural light as possible. And when you can, move staff closer to windows to work, rather than keeping them tucked away in artificial lighting.

You can also try encouraging staff to go outside during breaks. A short walk around the block during a break won’t take long, and it’s worth it to improve their health and mood.

We’re more likely to be in a good mood in temperate conditions

Humans are meant for temperate conditions. Our bodies don’t handle extremes well, and we can see in study results that temperate conditions tend to bring out our best moods.

In spring, higher temperatures have been shown to improve memory and relate to better moods. In summer, however, higher temperatures relate to worse moods. During summer lower temperatures not only improve our mood, but can also make us feel less tired and stressed.

We don’t all like the exact same temperatures, but as a general rule we like to avoid extremes.

Put it to work

Set the temperature to 22°C (71.6°F) If you can control the indoor temperature of your workspace, research suggests setting the dial to around 22°C, or 71.6°F. Making the temperature too hot or cold will mean staff expend energy warming or cooling themselves, making them uncomfortable and less productive.

Next time your staff are complaining about the weather, don’t discount it. Weather clearly makes a difference to how we feel, and how well we work. It’s worth paying attention to how it affects your staff if you want a happy, productive workplace.

This post was written by Belle Beth Cooper

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