If your work environment has negative health impacts, it seems obvious that productivity would take a hit. To be at your best, your workspace needs to be comfortable and safe. Beyond that, it needs to be tailored to ensure maximum productivity! And while most companies have accepted this, shifting towards a more worker-friendly office set up, it’s important to realize how easy it is to overlook poor air quality in the workplace.
You can’t see a lack of ventilation or a build-up of cleaning supplies. Air quality extends beyond visible pollutants like smoke. Factors which are harder to trace—like volatile organic compounds—can still hinder both health and productivity. They are the reason regularly monitoring indoor air quality is of the utmost importance to ensure worker productivity.
Indoor Air Quality and Productivity
Not convinced of the impact air quality can have on workplace productivity? Then consider this study from Columbia University, the University of Southern California, and the University of California at San Diego.
Researchers studied Californian workers whose salary was based on the weight of fruit they picked each day. Comparing daily salaries to daily air quality measures, the researchers found that the workers earned the least amount of money on days with the highest ground-level ozone readings. In other words, the worse air quality got, the less productive workers were when it came to picking fruit. The overall drop in efficiency? From three to five percent, on average.
Of course, ground-level ozone isn’t a huge issue indoors. That being said, it’s fair to assume that the same logic applies to other pollutants. In order to test that theory, the same researchers studied factory workers who were exposed to high levels of particulate matter in the workplace. By measuring the concentration of particulate matter and worker productivity, they were able to conclude that indoor air quality has a definite effect on production levels.
It’s particularly worth noting that this study investigated the particulate matter. Unlike ground-level ozone, particulate matter can be found both indoors and outdoors. In fact, it is often far more concentrated inside a building than it is outside due to a lack of proper ventilation. In the simplest terms, particulate matter comes from a variety of sources, including fires and car emissions. Tiny, solid particles mix into the air and are virtually invisible to the naked eye. Humans then breathe in these particles and suffer from a wide variety of health effects.
Most modern office spaces are climate controlled, meaning that doors and windows are sealed tight. This prevents air from steadily moving in and out of the room, allowing particulate matter, among other harmful air pollutants, to build up. This is especially true in urban environments. And given that most American businesses are based on large cities such as San Francisco and New York, indoor air quality may be impacting productivity and the bottom line of nearly every major industry in the United States.
Keeping this in mind, it’s also important to note the type of job an employee performs impacts the extent to which indoor air quality impacts their productivity. If workers are moving around a lot, such as in a traditional factory setting, they are using more energy and taking in more air. An individual typing away at a computer uses far less energy, thus taking in far less air. And when it comes to the impact of air pollution on worker productivity, the less air an employee takes in, the less pollutants they’re exposed to. As a result, industries dependent on manual labor are, particularly at risk.
Nationwide Productivity Benefits
Improving air quality is often perceived as extremely expensive. Many businesses would opt to take a small dip in productivity as a result of poor air quality rather than make what they believe to be a large, unnecessary investment in environmentally-friendly technology. Surprisingly, that couldn’t be further from the truth! Research shows that improved air quality has greatly benefited the United States economy since 2000.
The economic effects of air pollution are profound. Improvements in overall air quality nationwide have been estimated to have saved manufacturers $20 billion annually in productivity lost from 2000 to 2008. And that’s only the manufacturing industry! Those benefits trickle down to other industries as well. Beyond that, individual companies likely saw even larger boosts as the nationwide average takes into account industries with both poor and high air quality.
Managing Indoor Air Quality
First and foremost, you can work to remove the source of pollution! While some pollutants will be unavoidable—particularly those coming from outdoors—you can limit the air pollutants produced in your own office. This can be switching to different cleaning products, performing a deep-clean to remove potential mold and dust, and even having your air and heating units cleaned. While all pollutants have a major impact on air quality, and in turn productivity, the ones closest to home will be among the most concentrated.
It’s also important to remember that indoor air quality is often much lower than outdoor air quality. Keeping this in mind, improving ventilation can be a major step towards improved indoor air quality and productivity. This can be as simple as opening windows and doors or running fans. The more air circulates, the less likely it is to have concentrated levels of pollutants. This is extremely important if you’re performing an activity that produces a lot of air pollution in a short amount of time, such as a painting or cleaning.
Last, but not least, technology can play a major role in maintaining both indoor air quality and productivity. The right air purifier can make a world of difference. Beyond that, performing at-home tests can help you identify what air quality concerns impact your workspace the most. Being informed is one of the best ways to improve indoor air quality and ensure that your working environment is optimized for your success.