Prolonged exposure to air pollution is bad for employee productivity, according to a new study by the National University of Singapore (NUS).
A rise in air pollution is not just bad for employee health; sustained over a period of a month, it could lead to a 1% daily decrease in output.
"We typically think that firms benefit from lax pollution regulations by saving on emission control equipment and the like," said Associate Professor Alberto Salvo, one of the three economists who did the study. “Here, we document an adverse effect on the productivity of their workforce.”
The study included interviews of managers at 12 companies and data gathered from two textile mills in China from January 2014 to May 2015. The researchers compared the number of pieces of fabric each worker produced each day against the level of air pollution the worker was exposed to over time.
They found that workers' productivity was not immediately affected by daily fluctuations in pollution. But prolonged exposure of up to 30 days caused output levels to drop.
Associate Professor Liu Haoming said that besides the physiological impact of pollution, there could also be a psychological element to it.
"Working in a highly polluted setting for long periods could affect your mood or disposition to work," he said.
Although the study was done in China, the results also apply in Singapore, where pollution levels are generally lower, added Liu.
Liu suggested companies in Singapore encourage workers to reduce their exposure to the outdoor air if pollution levels rise. This, either by encouraging them to work indoors or to close the windows when they are at home.
Currently, research on how it affects productivity is very limited, partly owing to worker output being difficult to quantify, said an NUS statement.
However, it stands that long-term exposure to pollution on a regular basis is bad for overall wellness as it’s linked to increased risk of death from complications such as cancer or heart diseas