Employees are the single-most important asset in a business. If you are an office manager, you have to learn how to get the best out of your workers by providing the most comfortable working environment. Now that most employees spend their time indoors, one of the most important factors you have to consider is the indoor air quality and overall healthy environment in your office.
Indoor air pollution is one of the most overlooked work-related occupational safety and health hazards. Research now shows indoor air pollution is among the top five environmental health hazards. The EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) also says indoor air pollution levels are higher than those of the outdoors by as much as 3-5 times.
Research now shows that the presence of pollutants in the work environment can affect business productivity and profits. For business owners or personnel managers, anything that affects productivity poses a grave risk to the company’s future.
There is a diverse and well known range of indoor air pollutants that exist in the workplace, such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, environmental tobacco smoke, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), ozone, nitrogen oxides, TSP (total suspended particulates), asbestos, radon, lead, formaldehyde, and biological agents. Vehicle exhaust and particulate matter from wildfires are not uncommon.
This post explores the connection between poor indoor air quality and low employee productivity and suggests courses of action and monitoring solutions.
How Poor Air Quality Affects Productivity
According to the Communications Workers of America (CWA), air pollution in the workplace can develop in the following ways:
i. Limited amount of fresh air circulation throughout the office work environment (tight building syndrome)
ii. High-speed air circulation at too fast a rate within the workplace
iii. Presence of toxic substances in the office environment
iv. Circulation of polluted outdoor air into the workplace
Multiple factors contribute to indoor air pollution in the workplace, including cigarette smoke and outside traffic, cooking gas, office machines, mold, poor ventilation, cleaning products, carbon dioxide, poorly designed offices, and others.
· Impact on Employees’ Health
Several studies have shown a close relationship between a high concentration of indoor pollutants and reduced productivity levels. This happens when contaminants, such as carbon dioxide lead to health issues which can cause sickness, greater incidence of absenteeism, higher health costs, and lower productivity.
Common health problems due to poor indoor air quality include dizziness, headaches, fatigue, and eye and skin irritation. When suffering from these health problems, it is difficult for employees to focus and work optimally, resulting in more sick days. A sick indoor environment can also lead to general fatigue in your entire team which will have a negative impact on your bottom-line. It is not just the air quality inside the building that matters, a 2-degree temperature change in an office environment will have multiple negative cascading affects on the occupants and the business as well.
In industries dependent on manual labor, the impact of indoor air pollution on productivity is even greater.
· Inhibiting Employee Cognition
Indoor pollution can also affect employees’ cognitive abilities. Particulate Matter (PM) and VOCs, for instance, it can affect the normal functions of the human brain. With high levels of these compounds in your office, there is a risk of memory and concentration impairment. When your employees suffer lack of concentration, memory loss or other cognitive issues, the overall productivity in your company suffers.
· Impact on Employee Mood
Rising levels of pollution in your office can also impact your employees’ productivity. Some compounds can make employees start experiencing mood swings, increased stress levels, and poor concentration.
Some chemicals such as tobacco smoke reduce oxygen circulation, and this starves the workers’ blood of this essential nutrient. Workers suffer fatigue, dizziness, and general lethargy. The business suffers greatly when employees cannot produce their best work.
When employees continue to suffer from these circumstances, they form a negative view of the company and this affects motivation and morale throughout the company. When workers report to work in your office, they’re already demotivated and this affects their productivity and your bottom line.
A sick building affects productivity and translates to shrinking revenues, and it is the last thing any business owner or manager wants to contemplate. For this reason, it is necessary to monitor and track your office’s indoor air quality and overall healthy building conditions, consistently. Monitoring these conditions and providing transparency and access to the data in a post Covid-19 economy will be critical to building credibility and trust with employees. Demonstrate that you care about your employees well-being, as they are the single most important asset inside your building. If you are not tracking IAQ and other healthy building metrics today, you cannot begin to assess various levels of pollutants or take the necessary steps towards improving your indoor environment, and this will negatively impact productivity and quite possibly, your bottom line. IAQ matters now more than ever.