Why does productivity drop in a heatwave and how can you minimise the impact?
With June underway, it'll soon be time to say goodbye to spring. But, even with summer close at hand, it's not all barbecues in the sun. Work can't grind to a halt just because the weather is nice. So, to understand employee productivity in the summer, let's look at what hot weather does to a person.
The UK is typically characterised by weather that ranges from mild to miserable. But, not for the first time in recent years, 2022 gave us the UK's hottest summer on record. So, a year later, it's entirely possible we've got another scorcher on our hands. That's why it's essential to support workplace wellbeing by encouraging employee self-care.
What happens to employee productivity in a heatwave?
You might be wondering how sunny weather affects employee productivity. The short answer is that it doesn't seem good. But you'd be forgiven for finding that surprising. After all, sunny weather is also associated with an elevation in mood. This is because exposure to the sun boosts our levels of vitamin D. Conversely, in the winter, many people struggle wth "Seasonal Affective Disorder."
So, if we're happier in the summer, you'd think that positive energy would carry over into our work. But, apparently, that isn't the case. In 2019, 46% of surveyed workers reported a drop in personal productivity during summer months. And, even more damning is the fact that 78% believe that this applies to their colleagues too.
Obviously, the physical impact of hot weather plays a role. And you can bet we'll be getting into that. But plenty of offices are air-conditioned or well-insulated. So, what other factors are there?
It's not just a matter of physical wellbeing
The study also found that 1 in 4 employees admitted to skipping work to enjoy sunny weather. So, it's clear that a lot of people wish they weren't in work on a nice summer day.
It's understandable. After all, we associate summer with a lot of positive experiences, like trips abroad and family gatherings. It could be argued that summer is when your people are most likely to wish they were somewhere else. Keeping people engaged in these circumstances is key to managing employee productivity in the summer.
How high temperatures affect productivity
When managing employee productivity in the summer, you've got to keep physical wellbeing in mind. High temperature affects the human body in all sorts of ways. Some of these are obvious, like how we sweat. But what's less noticeable is how it affects our brain.
Significant cognitive impact
A large body of studies have shown a decline in cognitive abilities as a result of hot weather. A study of office workers found consistent performance decrease at just over 75°F. And this research isn't limited to only the workplace. A study of high school students found that a 90°F day reduced exam performance by up to 14%. As a result, students were, on average, almost 11% less likely to pass their test on a given subject.
Heat stress, also known as hyperthermia, is when the blood-brain barrier becomes thin. This causes inflammation, as proteins and ions build up. At its most extreme, heat stress can even cause cell death in the brain.
Dehydration affects just about every part of the human body. So, naturally, that includes the brain too. Our bodies lose so much more moisture in hot weather, impairing heat regulation and other functions. Along with heat stress, dehydration is associated with reduced cognitive performance, and even symptoms like depression.
The best ways to beat the heat
Heatwaves aren't something you can expect people to ignore. They're uncomfortable at best, and a workplace health risk at worst. Without the means for people to look after themselves, you can't expect employee productivity in the summer to stay high. So, here are a few tips to help you to stay cool.
Get out of the office
Often offices have a host of well-meaning, but not helpful rules about what can and can't be done to the environment. From windows that don't open, to IT-controlled thermostats, when it's hot, people often want more control. This is much easier to manage, especially at an individual level, for remote workers. It might not always be possible but offering your people the chance to stay away from the office on particularly hot days will help people beat the heat.
You shouldn't need us to remind you to stay hydrated on a hot day. But it's a good thing to bear in mind when considering how to support your employees. It might be so simple as keeping the water coolers filled, and the breakroom stocked. But you can take it a step further by giving employees some relevant perks. Like coupons or loyalty programs for coffee shops, shake shops, or delivery apps. You can also look at some free refillable water bottles to not only help people stay hydrated, but be more environmentally-friendly too.
Take regular breaks
More breaks might seem counterintuitive to employee productivity in the summer. But it's the best way to pace yourself for the long haul. And that doesn't just apply to people working outside in the hot sun.
More often than not, people in offices spend most of their time sat in front of computers. And, when a heatwave really gets going, their cooling fans struggle to keep up. It's important to be able to step away from your overheating device every now and then. Breaks give you the chance to stretch your legs, refill your mug, glass, or water bottle, and have some time to think.
Relax the dress-code
Dress codes vary wildly from one workplace to another. And not every employer can make this accommodation. But, if possible, consider easing back on uniform restrictions. This gives people greater flexibility to dress appropriately for the weather. If you need to maintain employee productivity in the summer, swapping suits for shorts might be worth it.
How Weekly10 keeps people engaged
It's much harder to stay engaged in a heatwave. But having the right tools can help to make up the difference. So, let's look at how Weekly10 can help to keep your team on task.
Check-in with employees about their needs
Everyone has different needs. While some of your employees may handle the heat well, not everyone will. People from colder areas, those with some health conditions can be more vulnerable to the heat. The same can be said for the elderly, and any remote workers lacking a comfortable workspace.
Luckily, this is where an employee check-in can make all the difference. They're customised for each individual. So it's easy to identify and follow up on the problems faced by specific people. The first step to crafting personalised support measures is getting informed on where support is needed.
Goal-tracking keeps people focused
Maintaining high employee productivity in the summer is easier said than done. But the first step is helping people to stay focused. Effective goal-tracking is one of the most valuable tools in this regard. At Weekly10, we offer your choice of SMART Goals and OKRs.
OKRs connect individual projects (key results) to larger objectives. But, in this case, SMART Goals might be more useful. Since hot weather impacts our cognitive ability, it's best to keep things simple. And that's literally the first letter in the SMART acronym!
SMART Goals work by dividing a large project into smaller, more manageable sub-goals. That way, employees trying to beat the heat only have to focus on one thing at a time.
Recognition shows vital appreciation
Never underestimate the value of recognition for employee productivity in the summer. Unabating hot weather raises the barrier for engagement. But recognition can help you get there.
Recognition shows people that you value their contributions. And, in hot weather, it shows you appreciate what they're going through to deliver results. Plus, one of the benefits of recognition is that it's self-perpetuating. Recognising the efforts of employees can inspire them to recognise others.
Sustaining employee productivity in the summer isn't always easy. Between the impact of heatwaves and the desire to enjoy sunny weather, staying focused can be a real chore. But, with the right support policies, you can make it much easier for your people to stay engaged on a hot day.
A weekly employee check-in is the foundation of more modern performance management practices. Download your fully editable Employee Check-in Template here 👇