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How air conditioning affects employee productivity

23rd February 2016

It is hard to believe that early air conditioning units completely ignored the benefits they could offer to human beings, never mind their productivity in the workplace. The early 1900s saw air conditioning units developed chiefly for use as food and drink chillers, and to cool heavy machinery.

The first tests on how air conditioning affected humans and their workplace productivity, were not carried out until 1950s, by which time some theatres, cinemas and other public places in the USA were climate controlled. These early tests discovered a 25% increase in productivity and reduced absenteeism in workplaces that had air conditioning.

Research by Yale University found that, on a global scale, productivity in cooler climates was 12 times that of output in hotter climates. Pretty soon air conditioning was becoming a standard feature of developed workplaces and now it is unthinkable that it wouldn’t exist in some environments.

Certainly as the summer months appear on the horizon, it is now an essential part of any commercial operation’s planning to have air conditioning systems fully serviced and maintained, as the repercussions of asking people to work in the summer months without it are well known.

It is generally accepted that working in hot conditions above the norm can lead to stress, frustration and exhaustion. Warm weather naturally depletes the glucose levels in the body in order to maintain the required body temperature, and because glucose is needed for fundamental cognitive processes, this can lead to poor decision-making, loss of concentration and mistakes.

In addition to this, fatigue can set in if air conditioning breaks down or is not available at all, and more work breaks are required to retreat to cooler areas or to where air conditioning might be working. It is not unknown for employees to fall asleep in hot weather and air conditioning certainly contributes to keeping employees sharp and alert.

Humidity also causes sluggishness, laziness and low quality work output. Humid air doesn’t allow the body to evaporate sweat and so employees can become uncomfortable and distracted. Commercial air conditioning systems have condenser units which draw humidity out of the air and hence, are essential as a basic human right, never mind simply to increasing productivity in the workplace.

Physical discomfort is one cause of a loss of productivity from having no air conditioning in the workplace, but another is the effect on general health. It has been found that hot weather can cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, which of course can lead to absenteeism and in extreme cases can result in fatalities.

For this reason it is in any organisation’s best interests to make the environment that employees work in as comfortable as possible, this relates to ergonomics as well as climate control.

But be warned that chilly weather can also be a cause of distraction and a drop in work standards and output, so keep a close eye on your thermostatic controls, and instruct your employees to bring a jumper to work, just in case!

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