The Surprising Reason Your Employee Productivity Is Suffering

by Tiffany Bloodworth Rivers on July 2, 2019

We’ve talked about how even small factors can have a big impact on employee productivity. Frequent interruptions, unnecessary meetings and outdated technology are just a few of the more obvious productivity-killers.

But there’s one factor you probably haven’t considered because it’s invisible.

It’s in the air.

Air temperature and air quality affect employee productivity a lot more than you think, said Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics and a keynote speaker at our Big Easy Workplace Summit.

How Air Temperature Impacts Employee Productivity

If you’ve spent any amount of time in facilities management, you probably already know the most common service request is related to the temperature of your office.

Obviously there’s no single thermostat setting that will make everyone comfortable 100 percent of the time. But an office that’s too cold makes employees more prone to errors, according to research from Cornell University.

The study found typing errors decreased by 44 percent and typing output increased by 150 when the temperature increased from 68 degrees to 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

“The results of our study also suggest raising the temperature to a more comfortable thermal zone saves employers about $2 per worker, per hour,” said Alan Hedge, director of Cornell’s Human Factors & Ergonomics Laboratory.

If 77 degrees sounds stifling, don’t worry—you don’t have to keep your office that warm.

Lister said the ideal comfort zone for most people is between 69 to 71 degrees. Her research has found that keeping the thermostat in that range increases productivity by 12.5 percent.

How much can this actually impact your bottom line? Lister has done the math on this, too.

First, assume you improve air temperature 30 days out of the year for 69 percent of employees (a conservative estimate of people who are comfortable in that 69-71-degree zone). This improves their productivity by 12.5 percent. Assuming you have 1,000 employees earning an average of $55,000 a year (or $0.60 a minute), those additional minutes of productivity add up to $740,025 a year!

How Air Quality Impacts Employee Productivity

Air quality is another invisible factor in the employee productivity equation.

Proper air circulation ensures you have the right mix of elements and avoid too much build-up of the carbon dioxide we all breathe out through the day.

A 2016 Gensler study published in Environmental Building News found that after two hours in a closed-door meeting, carbon dioxide levels exceeded the acceptable limit and participants experienced impaired decision-making.


The good news is that improving office air quality can boost employee productivity between 8 and 11 percent, Lister said. By improving quality even 10 percent of the time (assuming 1,000 employees earning $55,000 a year), your organization can experience a bottom-line benefit of $679,250.

The ROI of Employee Productivity

These are just two of many factors that improve employee productivity and engagement.

Taking them into consideration along with other factors—like interruptions, stress, and mobile work—can have a significant payoff, as Lister demonstrated. The Global Workplace Analytics website has an extensive library of resources about how to improve employee productivity. There are calculators that can help you assess the impact of implementing a remote work policy or a workplace wellness program, for instance.

If you’re planning to introduce a new initiative and need to make the business case for it, this is a good place to start.

To hear more of Kate Lister’s insights, including how to create an intelligent workplace and measure the impact of employee productivity improvements, download our whitepaper, In Search of Intelligent Space


Tiffany Bloodworth Rivers

Tiffany covers leadership and marketing topics and enjoys learning about how technology shapes our industry. Before iOFFICE, she worked in local news but don't hold that against her.

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