We all know that bad weather often leads to a bad mood, and therefore it must also lead to bad productivity, right? Not so, according to this Idea which suggests that bad weather actually increases productivity. Through a field study and laboratory experiment, researchers show that when the weather is rainy, there is low visibility and extreme temperatures, workers seem to be more, not less, productive.
Seasonal depression is well-known and has traditionally been easy to recognize: difficulty concentrating, low levels of energy, etc. — all related to bleak winter weather conditions. So naturally, it follows that we assume the opposite in weather conditions leads to positive outcomes. Indeed, some previous studies have found this link to be true, linking good weather to outcomes such as higher stock-market returns and more consumer spending. However, these studies focused on contexts outside of traditional work settings. Researchers from Harvard University and Kenan-Flagler Business School have gone a step further and examined the effects of the weather on individual productivity in the workplace.
They found that bad weather increases individual productivity by eliminating potential cognitive distractions resulting from good weather. In other words, you are more likely to think about how you could be spending time outside enjoying the weather when it is good; but this distraction doesn’t interfere with productivity during rainy or low visibility weather conditions.
It is often assumed that productivity is something within an organization’s control. As such, they employ different strategies to boost employee productivity, such as incentives, etc. Though this research does not undermine these strategies, it points out that they fail to account for powerful exogenous factors, such as weather conditions on a given day.
Methodology: Staats, Gino and Lee tested their hypotheses in two studies; in the first, they matched data on employee productivity in a mid-size bank in Japan with daily weather reports. Temperature, precipitation amount and visibility were all accounted for, and productivity was measured by the length of time taken to complete a task. They found an increase in rain was significantly related to better productivity, as were low visibility and extremely high or low temperatures.
As this study did not examine what drives such behaviour, in the second study the researchers undertook a laboratory experiment with over 100 students given various data-entry and memory tasks. Participants were asked to rate whether they thought the weather was good or bad that day, and one group was also shown photographs of a sunny day to induce thoughts about sunny-day activities. This group’s performances decreased when they came in on rainy days, suggesting that even thinking about good weather on bad weather days can hamper productivity.
According to this Idea, seemingly irrelevant factors that managers cannot control (such as the weather) may have powerful effects on workers’ productivity. As such, managers should consider assigning repetitive, clerical work on rainy rather than sunny days. On an individual level, because cognitive distractions have been shown to lead to higher error rates, employees may wish to avoid working on a task in which errors would be costly on good weather days.
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