With extreme temperatures hitting the UK, a decrease in work productivity and employee motivation could be a concern. Several studies have investigated the effect of office environment on work efficacy, with Howarth and Hoffman (1984) showing that “among adults, performance decreased under uncomfortably hot or cold conditions”.
A formal statistical analysis was carried out by a team at Helsinki University of Technology (Seppänen et al, 2006) using 24 studies concerning the relationship between temperature and work performance. The analysis revealed that performance increased with temperature until around 21-22 degrees, before decreasing with a rise in temperature above 23 degrees, with maximum productivity observed at around 22 degrees.
With some extreme temperatures hitting the UK this week, it’s important to bring the temperature of the office/workspace back to the forefront of our minds; air conditioning units, fans, heaters and humidifiers are vital systems in the office. Obviously with the cold weather comes changes in humidity, which Allen & Fischer (1978) found “has [an even] greater impact on performance than temperature”.
Extreme humidity levels have negative impacts upon those present in the environment; low humidity contributes to the level of dehydration and can increase transmission of airborne viruses whereas high humidity lowers concentration and alertness. Both extremes, negatively impact employees working in the environment and so humidity within the workplace should be monitored, alongside temperature, with an optimum level being between 40% and 70% relative humidity (Heat and Safety Executive, n.d.).
Controlling temperature within the workspace is a starting point for maintaining employee productivity. but the TUC has recommended several actions employers can take to support employees during this time of cold weather:
• Draw up bad weather plans so staff know what is expected up them. Make sure they’re communicated to everyone.
• Not withhold pay from staff or make them take holiday. This isn’t fair and could be unlawful.
• Keep workplaces safe and warm enough. The legal minimum indoor temperature is 16°C (or 13°C if much of the work indoors involves severe physical effort). If it gets colder than this (for example if the heating has broken down) you’re entitled to go home until it is fixed without losing pay.
• Ensure workers aren’t working outdoors in very cold weather unless absolutely necessary, and even then only if they have suitable clothing.
• Make sure that entrances to workplaces are thoroughly gritted and not slippery.
The cold weather is both a blessing and a curse; moods are lifted in times of snow with excitement and jovial activities, but the cold can make people more anxious about getting home or travelling to run errands. By monitoring workspace environment, and maintaining the different factors at the optimum levels, the negative impacts of cold weather can be limited enabling firms and businesses to continue to operate as normal.
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