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Indoor air pollution may impact your productivity - Air quality matters

Your indoor air quality may affect your performance during work.

Air Pollution May Be Impacting Workplace Productivity


working on laptop

We’ve all been there—no matter how hard we try, we just can’t find the motivation to get work done. Every keyboard stroke feels like a marathon. Your attention can’t help but drift from that presentation to the next episode of Scandal. And when your productivity drops, so does your work performance. For anyone looking to move up in the business world, that just isn’t an option!

Some experts may tell you to get more sleep or exercise daily. Others may point to your diet or lifestyle, arguing that your body just lacks the energy it needs to stay productive. But what if we told you your workplace productivity was out of your hands?

Study after study has shown that air quality and pollution affect how productive we are—both at work and at home. We also know that most workspaces aren’t properly filtered and lack purifiers to monitor air quality. In turn, air pollution easily invades indoor spaces, resulting in the air indoors becoming up to five times more toxic than that outside.

As a result, your workplace slump may just be out of your hands. The environment and your office are working against you. In order to remedy the problem, get informed on just how air pollution and quality affect you and what you can do to improve the situation.

What’s So Dangerous About Indoor Air Quality

If the pollen count is high or you have to use your headlights to see through smog, it’s common sense to stay inside. Protected by four walls and some insulation, it’s easy to feel guarded against the harmful effects of air pollution. However, indoor air is often even dirtier than outdoor air. And that lower air quality can affect both your health and your productivity.

The chemicals and air pollution you’re exposed to outside are harmful on their own. However, they diffuse throughout the entire atmosphere while you walk down a city street or through a park. When you’re in an office, that air pollution has no option other than sitting stagnant. It gets the opportunity to build up, meaning you’re breathing more and more of it. And because we spend most of our time indoors, that means we’re breathing in the most toxic air possible for the longest periods of time.

Part of the reason indoor air can get up to five times more toxic than outdoor air is the lack of ventilation. Most offices don’t leave the windows open and instead cycle the same, stale air around and around for hours. In addition, businesses rarely invest in air filters or purifiers (aside from the basic set-up in air conditioning units) which means nothing is being done to remove harmful particles from the air you breathe.

And aside from outdoor air pollution being magnified indoors, office life comes with its own slew of dangerous air pollutants. Indoor air quality is greatly affected by tobacco smoke, building materials, furniture finishes, cleaning products, cooking, and a variety of other workplace staples. Combined, these can wreak havoc on air quality and your productivity.

The Connection Between Productivity and Air Quality

In the 1970s, there was a push throughout the United States to conserve energy. This resulted in many businesses tightening up their insulation and reducing rates of ventilation. While this helped with electric bills and lowered fossil fuel consumption, it also limited the amount of fresh air that made its way indoors. Without meaning to, these efforts allowed air pollutants to build up plaguing workers with issues ranging from eye and throat irritation to what the Environmental Protection Agency has termed “sick building syndrome”.

Studies consistently show that a lack of ventilation negatively impacts the workplace. When indoor air is not filtered out and moved around, workers become less productive. They have been shown to become sick more often, missing work and ultimately lowering the productivity of the entire business. Workplace morale also drops with regular illness, resulting in higher turnover and less enthusiasm in terms of work performance.

But the problem runs deeper than simply missing work. Poor indoor air quality and the presence of air pollution may impact our ability to think, work quickly, and stay on task. That’s why a recent study committed to finding out just how much indoor air quality impacts human productivity. By manually altering air quality in a controlled workspace, they were able to see how productivity shifted and the ways in which they could optimize it.

They learned that indoor air with less pollution improved performance across the board. Participants performed higher on cognitive tests when exposed to improved ventilation, lower levels of harmful chemicals, and lower rates of carbon dioxide in the air. There were also large improvements in strategic decision-making skills, preparedness, and crisis management. And when discussing productivity, these skills are all required in the workplace.

Despite common beliefs, reaping these benefits by limiting pollution and improving indoor air quality doesn’t have to be costly! First things first, managers should review their air quality indicators and analyze areas for improvement. While improving ventilation and implementing air purification methods will cost money, some studies have shown that managers anticipate costs being anywhere from two to ten times higher than they actually are.

Of course, the cost falls to the wayside when you consider the benefits. Before taking the decrease in absenteeism and sick benefits into account, the average worker’s productivity increased by $6,500 annually when working in an office with clean indoor air. That means that based on productivity alone, investing in eliminating air pollution can bring in tens of thousands in improved productivity.

Read more: Your Neighbor's Dirty Air Pollution | Air Quality 

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