Is Air Pollution Making Workers Less Productive?

Distractions like gossip among coworkers, social media and smartphone usage are all major productivity killers in the workplace. When workers are distracted, they’ll naturally spend less time working. But there’s new evidence suggesting that air pollution may also hurt productivity levels in the office.

How Dirty is Your Office Air?

Just because your office looks clean, doesn’t necessarily mean that the air is pollutant-free. Mold, bacteria, pollen and other compounds could be circulating throughout your workplace, placing workers’ health in jeopardy. Furthermore, workers who are forced to travel through busy cities are often exposed to outdoor air pollution.

Researchers from the Harvard Business Review (HBR) recently conducted a study to determine the effects of air pollution on workers’ productivity. For the study, researchers analyzed data from one of the China’s largest travel agencies, Ctrip. They discovered a relationship between air pollution levels and worker productivity, with workers experiencing a 0.35% decrease in performance for every 10-unit increase in air quality index. Long story short, this study suggests that workers were 5-6% more productive exposed to clean air as opposed to polluted air.

Particulate matter is small enough to be absorbed into the bloodstream, and even travels along the axons of the olfactory and trigeminal nerves into the central nervous system (CNS), where it can become embedded deep within the brain stem,” explained Harvard researchers. “Greater exposure to fine particles is associated with lower intelligence and diminished performance over a range of cognitive domains. If the negative impact on productivity that we found in our research are the result of diminished cognitive function, it could mean that the negative impact of pollution on productivity may be greatest in higher-skilled jobs.”

How to Improve Air Quality in the Office

So, what steps can you take to keep your office air clean and pollutant-free. For starters, make sure the HVAC filter is changed on a regular basis. Depending on the size of the air conditioning system, filters should be changed once every 60-90 days. Allowing a filter to remain inside the unit for any longer reduces its effectiveness at filtering impurities from the air.

You can also improve the air quality in your office with plants. Plants capture dust and impurities, and they also produce fresh oxygen. Try placing several plants in your office for cleaner air.

Of course, investing in a professional office cleaning service may also help to minimize airborne pollution. A professional office cleaning company will vacuum and dust, eliminating particulate matter that could pollute your office air.