Office Temperatures Affect Worker Productivity

Cold office

September 19, 2012

Employers have long sought new ways to boost worker productivity, investing a substantial amount of money in the process. Research suggests that one of the simplest solutions, however, is as close as the nearest thermostat.

According to Fast Company, a study conducted by researchers at Cornell University found that employees who worked in cold temperatures were less productive and more likely to make errors in their work. For the study, researchers tinkered with an insurance office's thermostat and found that when the temperature was set to a chilly 68 degrees, employees committed 44 percent more errors and were less than half as productive as when it was set to a warmer 77 degrees. The theory behind the decline in productivity is simple: When your body's temperature drops, you expend more energy trying to keep warm -- energy diverted from concentration, creativity and insight.

Lost productivity in a chilly office may cost employers in the long run -- as much as 10 percent more per hour, per employee, according to the 2004 study -- but it can have a detrimental effect on workplace relations, too. According to PayScale, another study published in Science magazine suggests that colder temperatures can actually erode interpersonal relationships, causing people to perceive each other as emotionally cold. Likewise, warm temperatures can make people feel more open and can boost their perception of and ability to relate to their colleagues.

PayScale notes that the explanation for the correlation lies in the physical structure of our brains: Our empathy centers in the cerebral cortex rest right beside the part of our brain that senses temperature. So when we are cold on the outside, we perceive others to be cold on the inside.

Therefore, notes Fast Company, regulating office temperature is important. Employers should adjust their thermostats to ensure their workers are comfortable, and therefore more productive on the job, but what about factors that they cannot control, like the weather? According to Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, a recent study shows that conditions outside of the office can also impact workers' productivity. According to the research, bad weather actually boosts productivity while warm, sunny days can diminish it. The reason: Warm weather can lure workers into daydreams of walking in the park or along the beach, distracting them from their work and increasing errors. Dreary weather, it seems, is far less tempting.

"It seems to feel different to do your job, whatever that is, if you have a very sunny day outside versus a very rainy day, because your mind seems to be distracted by all the outside opportunities that you have on sunny days versus rainy ones," Francesca Gino, an associate professor at Harvard Business School and co-author of the study, told HBS Working Knowledge.

Gino suggests that managers can take advantage of this phenomenon.

"Although weather conditions are exogenous and uncontrollable, organizations could assign more clerical work on rainy days than sunny days to tap into the effects of bad weather on productivity," she said.

Compiled by Aimee Hosler


"Blue Skies, Distractions Arise: How Weather Affects Productivity,", September 17, 2012, Carmen Nobel

"Want More Productive Workers? Adjust Your Thermostat,", September 17, 2012, Ron Friedman

"Workers Are More Productive When They Aren't Totally Freezing,", September 18, 2012, Jen Hubley Luckwaldt

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