Imagine walking into the office and being met by the vibrant, happy faces of people glad to come to work. That's what every manager and business owner wants to hear. But the truth is, early in the morning, people will be vibrant and ready to work, but as time moves, you start noticing how sluggish things have gotten.
This decline in productivity has nothing to do with the on-job-training you feel they need or the incorporation of new protocols and advice from consultants. While all these things are good and essential for a successful business, there is a little uncelebrated input into productivity that people hardly talk about: clean air.
Numerous researches have proven the effects air pollution has on your health. Still, it's only recently that research has gone further into looking at the effects air pollution has on worker's productivity. While most research has been on the effect air pollution has on a farm and factory workers, there is evidence that indoor workers in an office setting suffer as much.
Causes of air pollution at the workplace
Poor air is linked to many health effects, especially to people with pre-existing health conditions. But poor air is a concern for all people as it has been linked to sick leaves, mental fatigue, headaches, and even eye and throat irritation. All these health conditions affect how well a worker will perform and reduces on-the-job productivity. So, what causes air pollution in the workplace?
The building's location
A building's location has implications on how clean the air you breathe at work is. If your building is located near highways, you will be subjected to a lot of vehicle emissions. Some buildings are also located in previously industrial use sites or near a high water table. The chemicals from the industry don't die out just because there is a new building on the site. The air quality will still be compromised. In cases of high water tables, you can expect water leaching, which is a known factor in air pollution.
Dust, paint smell, and other renovation activities pollute the air. If you are working in a building that's undergoing renovation, you will come into contact with these elements, sometimes without knowing it. Demolitions may cause exposure to mold, lead, bird waste, asbestos, and other respiratory irritants. That's not all. Application of tiles, roofing materials, and other products is an air pollution risk as the chemicals and products used may cause respiratory irritation.
I'm sure you've heard the phrase quantity over quality, but this is one place where both are equally important. In fact, the quality of fresh air and how clean the air is are used to determine air quality. When your building has an effective and well-maintained ventilation system, you are sure the air you breathe is of high quality since it replaces used air for fresh. When the ventilation system is broken, old, or doesn't work properly, the opposite is true. The systems are ideally designed to eliminate air contaminants in huge quantities, but the degree of air pollution efficiency may decrease if it's damaged.
Dampness, moisture damage, and leaks
Dampness and moisture may occur during flooding, heavy rains, and leaks. Condensation due to poor ventilation is also a culprit here. Moisture from the ground sometimes penetrates the building. These excess water, moisture, and dampness create the perfect environment for molds to grow and thrive. For these little suckers, it's like a party on the 4th of July, but for you, your workers, and on-job productivity, it's like a slow gas leak waiting to explode. Disastrous!
Mold is not the only issue to be concerned about. Water and moisture also cause materials to start breaking up, emitting chemicals, and realizing compounds during degradation. If your building has inadequate ventilation, the levels of compounds indoors will be high, polluting the air you breathe.
These causes are not always noticeable to the human eye, and will often become noticed when the problem is a little advanced. But, even when they are not as pronounced as the statue of liberty, there are a few tell-tale signs you can use to tell if your workplace air is contaminated.
Signs and effects of air contamination at the workplace
Increased number of worker's sick days
Let's face it. Numbers never lie, and workers will often call in sick from time to time. But, when there is a surge in worker's sick days, it's time to investigate why. If people are constantly complaining of flu and colds, allergies, and respiratory-related infections, take it as a sign that your workplace air may be the problem. Ensure you pay attention to why workers call in sick, so you don't miss out on the bigger picture.
Increased complain of workplace conditions
Employees are humans and will notice the change in air quality if it happens. Don't assume they are looking for a way to get out of work. When talking to James and Linda over lunch and they complain of the office being too hot, cold, and dry, take it seriously because it could mean your workplace air is polluted. Sometimes, you may hear someone say the air is stale or stuffy. This is your cue. Re-evaluate the conditions.
There is always one worker who can't resist some shut-eye during working hours, but when you notice a few more people joining the siesta, take note. Low productivity is not always a sign of laziness, although sometimes it. It could also mean you need to check the quality of air around the office. Poor air quality is a leading cause of mental fogginess, headaches, and forgetfulness. That intern may be inexperienced, but if other people start showing these signs, check the air before you blame your workers of inefficiency.
Besides cognitive drains on your employees, indoor air pollution can cause more damage. Generally, people want to work where they're valued and where an employer shows that they care about them. So, why would they work in a building that's posing a danger to their health? This is especially true of high-level employees who could work anywhere they wish. They would prefer to leave their current position and find a job where a healthy working environment is part of the package. Check your employee's data and see if the ones who left complained of respiratory irritation or related illnesses. If they left the company, the reason could be air pollution-related.
Loss of work opportunities
Scientists have been in the business of finding the effects of air pollution for years, and although research continues to be undertaken, you may be tempted to imagine that nothing new will be found. But, recent studies show a fascinating discovery. Though still subtle, science seems to suggest that air pollution affects how you make decisions and the risk you are willing to take.
Science continues to explain that your cognitive abilities decline in the face of air pollution, which affects your confidence in your ability to make decision shifts. If you work in a toxic work environment, you will be reluctant to take risks even when you know they will do the company a solid if things work out. Air pollution has, thus, been associated with risk aversion.
According to one study, an increase in air pollution was found to lower the return on a trade in at the NYSE. Pollutants such as fine dust particles were directly related to market risk aversion because it increased the “fear index.”
What can you do?
Knowing that harmful air contamination affects your work productivity is important, but it's not helpful if you don't do anything about it. So, the big question is: where do you go from here? How can you rectify the situation?
Eliminate the source of the pollutant
This should be your first option. Check around your building for pollutants such as chemicals, dust particles, and emissions from vehicles and eliminate them from the workplace. When applied effectively, it's the most effective method in dealing with air pollutions. For instance, if you notice water leakage when it rains or floods, do something about it to ensure the problem does not persist. The same goes for mold and poor ventilation.
Your building may be going through renovation, which means some pollutants will find their way in your workplace. If this is the case, liaise with the building management and ensure they are using low VOC emitters to prevent IAQ issues. Also, the areas under renovation should be well sealed off to prevent dust particles and other harmful particles from finding their way to your work area.
Use administrative controls
Eliminating the source may prove to be difficult in some cases, and when that happens, you need a plan B. That's where administrative controls come in. First, prepare work schedules where each worker is not required to spend too much time exposed to the pollutants. You can do this by moving a task that would affect other employees to when the least number will be exposed. For instance, you can paint a building once everyone leaves after work.
Train your workers on how to prevent dirt and other pollutants from entering the workspace. The housekeeping team should use proper matting, storage practices, and appropriate cleaning products. Building occupants should also be educated on the sources and effects of air pollution to enable them to take action needed to reduce personal exposure. For example, hanging out in a specific area may be limit if the air quality is worse at the said spot.
Use of personal protective equipment
Personal protective equipment or PPE should also be used, especially if the first two options have proven insufficient in fighting air contamination. Workers should have respirators, gloves, eyewear, necessary footwear, and protective clothing if need be. This way, they are less exposed to pollution, which protects their health and keeps their productivity high.
Air pollution affects us all, but often, it doesn't get the attention it deserves until someone's health is affected. Air pollution at the workplace is getting worse as constructions continue to favor air-tight, energy-efficient buildings. Luckily, this problem can be fixed even though it will take a real effort from the company and your employees. Start by using the advice we spoke about in this article, and you will see improvement in your employee's productivity. You may even start noticing people who are happy to be at their work stations.