When managers consider ways to boost workplace performances, air quality may not always be at the forefront of their minds. But… it should be!
Air quality has a profound effect on many aspects of our health, which, in turn, can make an enormous difference in productivity. Here are five reasons that improving your air quality can increase your company’s profitability.
Air pollution is made up of a complicated combination of suspended gases, solids, and liquid particles. There are numerous toxic ingredients in this mix which can cause serious health issues, including PM2.5, VOCs, and carbon dioxide.
PM 2.5: also known as fine particulate matter, PM2.5 generally comes from smoke, dust, and exhaust. PM 2.5 is 30 times smaller than the width of the average human hair, so small that it can remain airborne for long periods of time, and infiltrate buildings and our bodies. Ultrafine particles are even smaller, less than .1 micrometer across. Their tiny size makes them almost impossible to monitor.
These tiny particles are able to get around the body’s defenses and go straight from the nose to the brain, bypassing the blood-brain barrier. A host of contaminants come along with PM2.5 including chemical compounds and metals, all of which can interfere with cognition.
Inside the brain, PM2.5 can interfere with immune cells and cause inflammation and a host of other issues. Studies around the world have linked dirty air with a rise in various brain diseases.
From a workplace perspective, PMs alone can cause a 5% to 6% dip in productivity.
VOCs: VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are airborne chemicals that are given off by much of the equipment and products commonly found in workplaces. Some VOCs, such as formaldehyde, can cause a range of adverse health effects. Unfortunately, while most outdoor pollutants are regulated in the United States, indoor ones are not, leaving us on our own to protect ourselves.
Vocs have been associated with a range of health issues including visual disorders, fatigue, and memory impairment, all of which can have a detrimental impact on productivity.
Carbon Dioxide: While the cognitive effects of CO2 are more subtle, they can still impact employee productivity. At levels commonly found in meeting rooms, carbon dioxide can reduce focus, increase feelings of tiredness and drowsiness, and induce headaches. In a closed up meeting room or office space, CO2 levels can quickly rise to disruptive levels.
Minimize sick days
Air pollution has been linked to many serious long-term health issues, including heart and lung diseases, and even premature death. But, beyond the longer term health concerns, there are also the day to day inconveniences and vulnerability to transmittable illnesses that are often part of working in a building with poor ventilation.
In the 1990’s the term “Sick Building Syndrome” was coined to refer to buildings with poor heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in which workers frequently experienced health issues such as irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, nausea, and headaches. It’s those same HVAC systems that are responsible for recycling germs and other pollutants in office buildings, putting workers at greater risk for contracting COVID-19.
While there is still much we don’t yet know, scientists have determined that air pollution, especially particulate matter, is closely associated with higher rates of sick leave, up to 20 years after exposure!
Boosts mental health
Depression is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for people ages ages 15 to 44.3, affecting over 16 million people.
Globally, the problem is even worse. As of 2017, 300 million people around the world were diagnosed with depression.The situation is so dire that almost one million people take their own lives each year.
It’s not just depression. Anxiety, schizophrenia, personality disorders, and bipolar syndrome are all on the rise. In fact, one out of every four people in the world (that’s 450 million people!) suffer from mental health issues. And the numbers keep rising.
Mental health is a complicated issue involving many different variables, but recent studies have consistently pointed to pollution as a key factor.
A US study showed that counties with the worst air quality had a 27 percent increase in bipolar disorder and a 6 percent increase in depression, compared to the national average.
Studies in London, China, and South Korea have discovered similar links between dirty air and poor mental health.
While researchers don’t yet know which components of pollution are responsible for impairing mental health, it’s clear that improving air quality can have a major impact on workers’ mood, which, in turn, affects productivity.
Helps retain consistent staff
High-level, talented people with many employment options will choose to work at companies that invest in their health and wellness. Sick Building Syndrome, or other health concerns will result in a high turnover rate of qualified employees.
Air pollution can have strange effects on our bodies, including heightening our fear and limiting our ability to take calculated risks. For instance, A study performed by the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health investigated the link between New York City stockbrokers and air pollution. The study found that increases in particulate pollution correlated to lower returns on the New York Stock Exchange. Brokers who were exposed to PM2.5 were much less likely to take the calculated risks necessary for success in the stock market.
How to Improve the air quality in your workspace
It’s clear that air quality plays a major role in workers’ performance and the overall profitability of your company. But, how do you make sure that you’re doing everything you can to keep your air clean?
The first step is to assess the current state of your indoor air. Carbon dioxide monitors can be a good way to evaluate if your indoor air is being properly refreshed. If the indoor air has no more than 1,000 parts per million carbon dioxide content, air circulation is generally adequate.
After determining the airflow, it’s important to provide proper filtration.The CDC recommends using air purifiers with True HEPA filters to eliminate particulate matter and lessen disease transmission. For even more protection, look for air purifiers that combine a HEPA filter with an activated carbon filter to remove both particulate matter and VOCs.
Workspaces with clean air foster a healthy environment that allows your employees and colleagues to perform at their highest level, improving the productivity and profitability of your entire company.