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The Lure of the Outdoors: Does Weather Influence Productivity?

Having just relocated to sun-soaked LA from my hometown of London, notorious for its meteorological mood swings, I’ve been readjusting to new environments in a number of ways. This got me thinking about the weather and work – could there be a difference between the working lives of those in cities experiencing a year-round summer compared to locations with a full four seasons?

Staff productivity is always a concern for employers; ask any Manager and they’ll describe the challenges of keeping a team motivated throughout their working hours. As an employer, you work hard to get talent in the doors but if they’re not performing once on board, you’re unlikely to see results. Low productivity is a vicious cycle: Money is wasted, deadlines are missed and customers disappointed. This in turn triggers a domino-effect of employee disengagement and dissatisfaction, further exacerbating the productivity problem.  Short attention spans, tedious administrative duties, low motivation and poor management can all lower productivity but there may be another factor in play which is harder for us to influence– the weather.

We all feel it – in the months which bring short days, cold starts and runny noses it’s difficult to work at full speed, let alone tackle the more challenging tasks on our to-do lists. Then spring arrives with its balmy evenings, holiday plans and bank holiday weekends, filling us with fresh energy and good intentions. We probably expect to be more productive due to higher spirits when the weather is fine, but is this accurate?

Research on this matter is limited and inconclusive. When asked, most people rate themselves as more productive in good weather, but the experimental evidence doesn’t support this. Some studies report no differences in productivity relative to the weather. Others have found that we are actually more productive in bad weather rather than good weather. Interestingly, this “rainy day” effect is diminished if workers are reminded of nice weather, apparently triggering the distractions and short attention spans.

Although our gut tells us we should be more productive when the sun’s out, it makes sense upon further consideration that the opposite would be true. During the summer there are so many temptations outside of work. “I should make the most of the sun this evening.”; “Let’s have a barbeque for dinner!”; “Why don’t have a picnic in the park for lunch today?”; “Let’s go on holiday!”.

In the winter, however, very little exists outside of the warm, cosy office where cups of tea and heating are aplenty. Why would you venture outside where it’s cold and dark and unpleasant when you could stay indoors, powering through that to-do list.

The implications for employers of being able to tap into, predict and hopefully influence the productivity of their staff in varying weather conditions (heaven knows the UK climate keeps us guessing!) can be game-changing. Whilst modern technology stops short of offering us full control of the climate (The Truman Show style), we can tailor the work environment to maximise staff performance. Employee engagement is actually a much more reliable predictor of high performance than weather is, so keeping your workforce satisfied and connected with the business should be a priority. Firms who shift their working hours during the summer months to give employees longer evenings believe this boosts staff morale, engagement and therefore productivity. Save the big, tedious admin jobs for the rainy days when no one’s thinking about life outside.

With summer approaching, many employers will be thinking about implementing measures to keep employees focused. However, in the end it all comes down to the individual. Those lacking basic motivation will always find a distraction, whether this is conscious or not. Similarly, others seem able to remain their focus and perform at consistently high levels whatever their surroundings. In my opinion, if you can find a job which you love, you will find it easy to dedicate your full attention to.

 

We’d love to hear your ideas – tweet @ConSolPartners with the hashtag #RainyDayEffect to tell us how you plan to maintain staff engagement!

By Marc Cohen, Co-Founder of ConSol Partners and EVP of ConSol Partners USA. Twitter: @Marc_Cohen_ 

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