The autumn season marks a season of change in the world around us. The leaves change color, the days get shorter, the school year starts up again, and we start to prepare for the holiday season.
But we rarely talk about how the autumn season changes our workplace performance. While we might like to think that our performance stays constant throughout the year, we must remember that we are not immune to the effects of environmental change. We are not robots.
The more aware we are of how our minds and bodies change with the weather, the better we can set ourselves up for success.
Here are 5 ways the colder weather will affect your workplace performance:
1. You will become more productive.
A recent Harvard Business School study shows that bad weather makes for great workplace productivity. On ugly weather days, workers are not tempted by the alternatives to work: taking a walk outside, going to the beach, suntanning, etc. Because there is less of this mental distraction, workers tend to be much more efficient in their business tasks.
However, to keep up this productive momentum, be sure not to remind yourself, or your co-workers, of beautiful sunny days. In the study, participants who performed tasks on rainy days but were shown pictures of the beach were less efficient in their work than those who completed tasks on rainy days but were not obviously reminded of the possibility of beautiful weather.
2. You will become less productive.
You read that right! While ugly weather can help you stay focused on your work tasks, you should still be prepared for work interruptions during the colder months. Sick days are not surprisingly most common during the winter. Particularly bad weather might keep people from arriving to work on time, and in extreme cases it will keep workers at home for days at a time. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, while less than .5 percent of workers miss a day of work because of the weather during the warmer months, that percentage increases to almost 2 percent during the colder months.
This lost time means lost productivity. You may not miss a day of work, but no doubt you'll have to pick up the slack when your co-workers are out. As we head into autumn and winter, make an effort to stay on top of your game, keep up with work even when you can't be at the office, and help others get caught up when they return from an absence.
3. Your negative moods will be amplified.
A 2008 study showed that weather affects our negative moods more than it does our positive moods. Bad weather, especially increased wind and darkness, will heighten our negative dispositions while beautiful weather will ease them. If you tend to be a more positive person in general, the weather won't affect your moods as much.
The change in seasons can also trigger a seasonal depression, called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is a much more intense shift in mood, often caused by our decreasing exposure sunlight and vitamin D as the days get shorter. If you feel particularly depressed, less energetic, and tend to sleep more yet still be tired, you don't have to just chalk it up to the "winter blues." There are ways to address this serious condition, including phototherapy and medicine.
As we welcome autumn and its shorter days and chilly winds, be aware of how these environmental changes might affect your mood and general feeling of well-being, your work and your interactions with co-workers and clients. Awareness is critical to abate the effects of environmental influences. Don't be afraid to take action and ask for help or understanding.
4. You will be more empathetic.
There's a reason the weather is a go-to conversation topic--we all have it in common. In the face of challenging climate--dropping temperatures, chilling winds, increasing darkness and chance of weather emergencies--we band together. We are more accepting when a co-worker comes in grumpy because their car was buried in snow, and we go out of our way to show our understanding and cheer them up. At some point we all fall into the pit of bad weather grumpiness and suffer the consequences of weather emergencies, but we will help each other overcome.
Combined with an autumnal season of giving, don't be surprised to see a more cooperative and generous team. Given the lows moods but increased empathy that comes with colder weather, focus on keeping people together in the workplace. If your company often has people work in isolation, consider a change in office structure, with more co-working spaces and fewer individual offices.
5. You will become more (and less) creative.
Interestingly, the weather makes us conducive to certain types of creativity. In this 2014 study, researchers found that our levels of physical warmth affect the way our brains process information. So when we are warm, we are more relationally creative--creativity that involves thinking about others and the relationships between people and objects. When we are cold, our distant and abstract creativity thrives. If you are a leader or manager in your workplace, think about how you frame certain problems or brainstorming prompts--the weather can affect the results you receive.