Air Quality and Worker Productivity

ProductivityEver find yourself at the office feeling irritable, lethargic, or just plain lazy? Do you often blame it on a Monday or the mid-week blues? There could be something else driving decreased productivity..  

Many conditions and circumstances affect a person's mood and behavior. For example, studies have shown that rooms with high temperatures can cause you to feel fatigued. On the other hand, a room with a cooler temperature can help make you stay alert. Consumer behavior can also be conditioned. Advertising and marketing experts use specific colors, or sounds, to subliminally target consumers' emotions. So what about air quality and it's effects?

Indoor air quality could be adversely affecting, not only your health, but your overall mood and cognitive function. 

A recent study conducted by The Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, SUNY Upstate Medical University, and Syracuse University, found that there is a direct link between air quality and worker productivity.

According to the study, one's ability to focus, concentrate, and abilities to respond can be hindered by "inadequate ventilation, elevated levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), and indoor pollutants" (). The double-blind experiment took place over the course of 6 days and examined two groups of professionals. The first group was exposed to elevated levels of volatile organic compounds and CO2, while the other group experienced lower levels of volatile organic compounds and CO2, and enhanced ventilation. At the end of each day, the participants were asked to complete a cognitive test. The results showed that participants who were in a well-ventilated space, with low levels of VOCs and CO2, had cognitive function scores that were twice as high on average as those of the employees in conditions with elevated levels of contaminants (Lozanova).


What does this mean for employers? 

The effects of poor indoor air quality and worker productivity can be measured by absenteeism, decreased worker productivity, and economic costs. Here are some interesting statistics:

  • The American Lung Association says that U.S. adults miss approximately 14.5 million workdays due to asthma
  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that sinus infection sufferers miss an average of four workdays per year
  • Studies show an average productivity loss due to IAQ between 3 and 7 percent (or higher), with individual productivity losses of 33%
  • The World Heath Organization(WHO) estimates that up to 64 million U.S. office workers and teachers may be at risk of suffering from Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)
  • Indirect costs from asthma, make up $5.9 billion. This includes lost pay from sickness or death and lost work output from missed school or workdays (AAFA).
  • Total costs to the U.S. economy from poor IAQ range as high as $168 billion per year

So, how can you improve your indoor air quality? 

While some sources of pollution may be out of your control, there are strategies to reduce and control it. The EPA lists three basic strategies to help you create a healthier indoor environment, which include:

  •  Source Control- decrease emissions and reduce individual sources of pollution
  • Ventilation- increasing ventilation can reduce or dilute indoor airborne pollutants
  • Install a High-Efficiency Air Cleaner