The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Local Business

September 5, 2012

Susan Miller: Don't blame it on the weather

It’s hard to recall a recent year with stranger weather. Nearly eighty-degree days in mid-March and April showers dampening Labor Day weekend plans make me wonder what the next season will usher in.

I’m crossing my fingers that we won’t experience a Halloween blizzard, although a tropical Christmas would be nice.

Weather is an endless subject of office conversation and a convenient scapegoat, especially when it comes to our attitudes. Hot under the collar? Blame it on the sweltering dog days.

Feeling out of sorts on Monday? Blame it on a washed out Labor Day weekend.

But, except for people who work in outdoor environments such as agriculture and construction, most individuals work in relatively comfortable and consistent temperature-controlled environments. Can the weather really impact workers’ morale or productivity?

Professor Chester Spell, an associate professor of management at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey, has researched factors that contribute to workplace morale and productivity. So can we blame the holiday weekend’s rain for a gloomy demeanor on Tuesday?

Not if we’re going to rely on specific research, although Spell noted that research on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) has explored how some people are more likely to experience low morale in winter months when the sun sets earlier.  

Morale aside, what about the all important P-word — “productivity”? Again, Spell says it’s not the weather that impacts productivity. Workers are much more influenced by the working environment, specifically the people in it.

Ever witnessed a battle over the office thermostat between two coworkers with different comfort thresholds? The heated conflict is apt to create more distraction and discomfort than the temperature setting.

Personal preferences aside, environmental factors that can impact performance include temperature and humidity. Spell said one study found raising the office temperature to 77 degrees from 65 degrees improved typing speed over 100 percent and greatly reduced the error rate as well in an office pool of typists. I can already hear the thermostat versus sweater arguments.

And while gloomy winter weather can bring morale down, is there an up-side to sunny days? In a Rutger’s faculty blog post, Spell referenced a 2008 Scientific American article that concluded “spring fever” or the reverse of SAD exists, even if it is not completely understood.

However, that sunny outlook might come at a cost to productivity. Spell noted, “While I know of no conclusive evidence that employees can be distracted by good weather, research shows that low levels of anxiety and depression are conducive to higher productivity.”

Spell’s research published in the journal Personnel Psychology asserts that it’s not the weather or seasonal fluctuations that positively influence morale, but the presence of supportive social networks in the workplace. Not the online kind of social, but actual people with similar interests.

“Finding people similar to you is important in dealing with all the injustices, unfairness and other adversity often felt at work,” he noted.  Want to be happier at work? Seek out “birds of a feather” instead of blaming the weather.

Susan Miller is owner of Ewing Miller Communications, an Anderson-based marketing and public relations consulting firm. Write to her at susan@ewingmiller.com.

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