While there may be different reasons behind employee performance ranging from management to personal issues, there’s one thing that can commonly affect the performance of the human race and even the entire planet itself: heat.
And with temperatures in the US and the UK at blazing highs in the past few days, keeping your office’s temperature cool may just be the key to keeping a working atmosphere that is pro-performance and good mood.
But first, does heat really affect cognitive performance?
Ask the National Safety Council and apparently, there’s no question to it.
“The negative effects of heat stress on human performance are well-documented. Private research and government tests have consistently proven that an ambient temperature exceeding a person’s normal skin temperature (90-95° F at the surface) causes mental fatigue and physical exhaustion.”
(Yes, it wasn’t just your imagination why you were feeling extra tired that day when the office air conditioner was down.)
People can unwittingly make as much 60 mistakes per hour if the temperature is sustained at 95°F for a period. And here’s the science behind it:
Our body’s remarkable cooling system is our skin; 65% of our body heat radiates off this amazing organ.
But despite its regulatory cooling powers, it’s quite helpless when it comes to external heat sources that are above our body’s temperature.
Thus, when it’s hot, nearly half of our blood moves towards the skin which leads to perspiration, bringing our internal temperatures down.
That means there’s less blood (and oxygen) for our brain and muscles. And with the heart making 150 beats per minute (with less blood), it’s no wonder we feel more physically and mentally exhausted.
In fact, according to a recent Harvard study, it’s not that our wits are going down for good, it’s just that the temperatures are really up there.
Temperatures up, smarts down
The study involved students living in the Boston area who had air conditioning and those who didn’t. They were given two kinds of tests in the morning after waking up, with each test aimed to measure a different cognitive function.
During the heatwave, the students who had air conditioning performed better in the tests than those who didn’t.
The researchers found out that when people are exposed to high temperatures, cognitive function decreases to about 13%. In other words, we get dumber by that much when it’s hot.
Of course, judging by our senses and actual realities alone, it’s hard to focus on any task at hand when you’ve got the sun in your eye and its heat on your skin.
Then, there’s the myriad heat-related discomforts and diseases to back up the fact that high temperatures and homeostasis don’t mix.
So the next time your office worker argues that it’s a little too cool and moves wishes to turn up the A/C despite you having sweats in your body’s unreachable places, then you’ll know better to understand and explain that it’s actually the heat just getting to them. And that it would be wiser for everyone to keep it cool.