Sunday, March 24, 2013

Does the Weather Affect Business Performance?

My logic was completely wrong on this question where I assumed, before checking the research, that most people and hence most businesses would perform better on a sunny or bright day, compared with a wet or cloudy one. I know that I personally always feel better on a sunny day, waking up with the sun shining and not feeling cold just seems to be invigorating, giving me a feeling of increased energy and ‘drive’ and hence I assumed that I would therefore be more ‘productive’.
But Carmen Noble, writing in the Harvard Business Review, highlights how “a new research paper reports that a decrease in sunny weather is directly related to an increase in worker efficiency. In Rainmakers: Why Bad Weather Means Good Productivity, the authors show that workers are especially productive on rainy days, simply because they're not tempted by the possibilities of a sunny day, a walk in the park, for example, or an afternoon at the beach. The paper also explores the practical implications of these findings. For example, should managers save certain tasks for days when skies are grey?”
In a research study covering a period of two and a half years they found that an increase in rain correlated with a decrease in the time it took for workers to complete their tasks. Low visibility and extreme temperatures also matched periods of high worker productivity. Clear, sunny days correlated with relatively low productivity.
What’s intriguing about the research is that having observed it in a business setting they then tested it under ‘lab’ conditions, where the researchers found that “the top performers (those who completed the task the fastest and the most accurately) were the rainy-day control group participants, who had seen neither the actual sun nor pictures of the sun before doing the task.”
What’s interesting is that “exposure to the sunny-day photographs significantly decreased the performance of participants who came to the lab on rainy days. For those who came in on sunny days, the added distraction of the sunny-day photographs had little effect on performance.”
So their findings indicate that workers are indeed most productive when the weather is lousy but only if nothing artificially reminds them of good weather where the researchers conclude by suggesting that “although weather conditions are exogenous and uncontrollable, organisations could assign more clerical work on rainy days than sunny days to tap into the effects of bad weather on productivity, ideally assigning work on sunny days that does not require sustained attention but does allow for more flexibility in thinking,"
The danger of course with these kind of findings is that in the right organisational culture with the right leadership it can be used to add that little bit of extra value to their business performance; but in the wrong hands you can image someone taking a weather chart to their performance appraisal and blaming the sun for them not achieving their targets or job responsibilities and quoting Professors from Harvard to back their case.
What’s even more interesting is that research shows that stock market activity is also affected by the weather where, Professor Ben Jacobsen’s paper ‘Is it the Weather?’ confirms that “there is definitely a strong seasonal effect in stock returns in many countries: stock market returns tend to be significantly lower during summer and autumn months than they are during winter and spring. However, says Professor Jacobsen, it is premature to conclude that weather affects stock returns by causing mood changes in investors - while the effect on the markets is there, we still don’t know why.”
One can’t help wondering what the future might hold, if any, for the incorporation of ‘weather patterns’ into business thinking and performance? It shouldn’t be completely laughed off, as we know a lot of effort has been invested by organisations into finding out what makes their customers ‘tick’; where this includes the impact of weather conditions, or ‘pleasing’ visual displays of ‘sunny scenes’, for example, on consumer purchasing behaviour - so why not look at improving employee performance in the same way?
Noble, C. (2012). Blue Skies, Distractions Arise: How Weather Affects Productivity. Harvard Business Review. September. [On-line:]
Does the Weather Affect the Stock Market? [On-line:]. Dec, 2005.

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