Better Air Quality Means Better Decisions

Air quality has a critical role to play in the health and decision-making ability of office workers and students, according to Harvard researchers.

The university’s Center for Health and the Global Environment investigated the effect of working in green-certified buildings, which had better lighting conditions, temperatures maintained within the ideal range, and lower levels of indoor pollutants and carbon dioxide. Occupants had 30% fewer symptoms of sick building syndrome and scored 26% higher in cognitive function tests.

A Profound Impact

Lead author Joseph Allen told National Geographic many people fail to realise building managers can play a role in physical health that is “nearly equal” to that of doctors. “The janitor of a school, for example, has a big impact on the health of those kids,” he said.

Energy-efficiency has been a key concern of businesses for some time, but the research observed an unintended consequence. When buildings are made more airtight to preserve heat, ventilation is often overlooked so air can become stagnant and high in CO2.

“We spend 90% of our time indoors and 90% of the cost of a building are the occupants, yet indoor environmental quality and its impact on health and productivity are often an afterthought,” said Allen. “Even modest improvements to indoor environmental quality may have a profound impact on the decision-making performance of workers.”

No Compromise on Health

The team built on their previous research into air quality, which identified a clear improvement in cognitive function when CO2 levels are kept below the typical indoor level. In the new study, workers in buildings that had achieved green certification were more effective and slept better, even compared to those in buildings with good ventilation but no certification for factors such as lighting and temperature.

The findings came as Sodexo predicted wellness will become a more prominent consideration in the workplace. Staff are less willing to compromise on health, so they will seek out employers who optimise the working environment.

“As the boundaries between work and life continue to blur, employees expect their workplace not to be a source of stress, but rather a wellness ‘destination’ designed to enhance their quality of life,” the 2017 Global Workplace Trends report predicted.

Tomorrow’s workplace will be designed with employee health in mind. Given the Harvard researchers’ analysis, companies that prioritise air quality can expect to see benefits in every aspect of their teams’ work.

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