Weather and Work Habits

by Katie Goodell

Pivot Group - Blog

We’ve had unusually beautiful sunny and warm spring weather in Portland, Oregon, the last couple weeks. At the Portland Pivot office this means we wear shorts and sandals, move our meetings outside to our picnic table whenever possible, and are generally all in cheerier moods. So the sunshine makes us Oregonians more optimistic and friendlier than usual – but what does it do for our work productivity?

On days like last Friday, it was pretty clear that our excitement for nice weather cut into our work schedules. (Click below to watch a video of the Pivot Paper Airplane Obstacle Course)

Video taken by Paper Airplane Obstacle Course Commissioner Dave Nieuwstraten

But is “good” weather always distracting or can it be motivating when it comes to getting our work done? Do we accomplish more on sunny or rainy days?

Chester Spell, an associate professor of management at Rutgers–Camden who regularly teaches classes on organizational behavior, was asked if he thought rain impacted office behavior.  “I’m not certain that rain itself has been linked to morale in any specific way,” Spell said. “But your question reminds me of the research on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), where people are more likely to experience low morale in winter months, which is alleviated by longer periods of bright light in the summer.”

A study conducted by Harris Interactive shows nearly one-third of workers say they tend to be in a happier mood when it’s sunny or warm outside.  “If you’re in a happy mood, you’re typically more motivated and have more pleasant interactions with co-workers,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources for Employers. “Especially those in areas where the weather can get particularly gloomy for days on end could benefit in terms of better productivity and office relations by finding ways to lighten the mood.”

So do we really work best when it’s sunny?

Researchers at Harvard don’t seem to think so, especially because nice weather can be a distraction (feel free to watch that paper airplane clip again).

In their journal article “Rainmakers: Why Bad Weather Means Good Productivity,” the authors perform field and lab research to get at the impact of weather on productivity. Their conclusions state that while most employees expect to be more productive on good weather days (probably because we’re in that happy mood), employees are actually more likely to complete more work tasks, especially clerical work, on rainy days. It found that employees might get more done on rainy days because there is less distraction and temptation to be outside doing something more fun.

A quick survey of our office shows that the majority of Pivot employees do agree they get more work done on rainy days – which is great for our clients considering we live in typically rainy Portland!

So while our spirits might be lifted and optimism increased, our words-per-minute and number-of-emails-sent may be reduced on days we’d rather be outside.

We know that most research on work productivity emphasizes a multitude of factors impacting our on-the-job behavior (health, tools, morale, management, etc.). A lot more is at play here than just blue skies and sunshine. But on perfect weeks like this one in Portland, it seems all we can think about is the weather. Wish you were here!

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