Study: Air Pollution Impairs Worker Productivity

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Oct 3, 2016
Image by servus under the Creative Commons license

A study of call center workers in China has found a strong link between air quality and productivity: namely, that when air pollution is ascendant, worker productivity takes a hit, according to The Harvard Business Review. The researchers, who published their work through the National Bureau of Economic Research, noted that examining a call center in particular was ideal for their study, as the firm--Ctrip, China's largest travel agency--keeps detailed records of completed calls each day, length of breaks and time logged in. Through comparing these metrics and comparing them to the Air Quality Index on the same day, researchers found what they called a "surprisingly robust" relationship between the two. The data showed that, on average, a 10-unit increase in the Air Quality Index led to a 0.35 percent decline in the number of calls. Conversely, when the air is good, workers are 5 to 6 percent more productive. 

The researchers said that this could mean that air pollution is costing its service sector billions of dollars a year in terms of lost productivity. They add, though, that there's only so much an individual business can do in this situation beyond just making sure they have a good filtration system. 

"The air we breathe is the epitome of a shared resource, and air pollution recognizes no corporate or political boundaries," said one of the study's authors. 

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