Temperature Impacts Workplace Productivity Too

Hot weather drops productivity of people by 4 per cent per degree, a study suggests

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By Nidhi Singh

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Meetings, conference calls, internet, emails are known to be productivity killers at the workplace, but did you know that rising temperature can make people less productive as well? A new study has found that hot weather may cause significant global economic losses because workers are less productive when it is warm. It also adds that adaptation measures such as air conditioning may not fully solve this problem.

The study, led by researchers E. Somanathan, Rohini Somanathan, Anant Sudarshan and Meenu Tewari, at the University of Chicago in the US, examined the impact of temperature on worker productivity and absenteeism using data from India, the third largest economy in the world. It puts together data from individual workers as well as factories, spanning labor-intensive and highly automated manufacturing processes.

Can Temperature Affect Productivity?

Your work area temperature can have a huge impact on how productive you are. The study shows that productivity drops by as much as four per cent per degree when temperatures rise above 27 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit) in workplaces requiring manual labour. In highly automated settings, this effect was not observed.

Less productive workers mean a less productive business, and a less productive economy. To determine if the declines in worker productivity decreased the output of factories, the researchers looked at data from almost 70,000 plants across India. They found that the value of output declined by about three per cent for every degree above the average temperature. This loss is large enough to explain the entire reduction in India's economic output in hot years.

When employers cool the workplace they can prevent productivity losses, but it does not prevent workers from staying home during hot spells, the study says.

Fight Climate Change

The study suggests that to sustain and grow worker productivity, businesses and governments must adapt to climate change.

Climate control, such as air conditioning, is an expensive solution and may still be only a partial fix. In the long-run manufacturing sectors may migrate to cooler climates, or automation may increase to make up for less productive human employees, it adds.

"Because human physiology is the same whether you live in India, the US or anywhere else in the world, the connection between hot temperatures and lower productivity has fundamental implications for how we should think about climate change," says Anant Sudarshan, co-author of the study, and South-Asia director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.

Nidhi Singh

Former Correspondent, Entrepreneur Asia-Pacific

A self confessed Bollywood Lover, Travel junkie and Food Evangelist.I like travelling and I believe it is very important to take ones mind off the daily monotony .

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