Are You Working in a Desert Without Even Knowing It?

One in five of us are working in dry office environments that compares to Death Valley. It isn’t just bad for your health; it also reduces your productivity. Here’s how to fight back.

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How would you like to go to work every day in the Sahara Desert?

Me neither. Blazing hot and crackingly dry, they’re no place to conduct business.

But our current office environments may not be much better. That’s according to a recent study of 500 workplaces in the U.K. It found that one in five spaces has about 25% relative humidity, which is about as parched as the Sahara Desert, and one in 10 had only 23% relative humidity, about as dry as Death Valley.

By contrast, the ideal level of relative humidity indoors is somewhere between 40% and 60%.

Keep in mind that the study was conducted by a company that sells mineral water, so they of course are interested in keeping as many office water coolers filled as possible. But the results do highlight the broader issue of the impact of the office environment on worker health and productivity.

Indoors, our eyes are particularly susceptible to dry air, which quickly evaporates the thin layer of moisture on the cornea. Our nose and throat, which humidify the air we inhale, begin to dry up in conditions below 55% relative humidity, leading to nasal stuffiness, dry mouth and sore throat. Persistently low relative humidity increases our susceptibility to colds and coughs. Other symptoms of a dry indoor environment include headaches, sore eyes, skin irritation and contact lens discomfort.

Drying Up Employee Productivity

Just imagine how much employee productivity is lost to a dry work environment. For employees who spend much of their day on the phone, it’s difficult to converse, resolve issues and add value with a dry mouth and throat, a raging headache and itchy eyes that make it hard to see and concentrate.

This is especially true of employees such as call or contact center agents. On average, they spend more than four hours a day on the phone conversing with clients. Even a modest increase in productivity through an improved working environment can translate into real bottom-line results.

In fact, it’s been shown that employees who drink more water during the day tend to be more productive. In a study of contact center agents, we at Jabra found that most productive agents are 22% more likely to embrace the habit of drinking water throughout the day than less-productive agents.

The Solution: Stay Hydrated!

Fortunately there are some things we can do to head off the ravages of working in a dry indoor environment. For employees, it’s important to stay hydrated and refreshed by drinking plenty of water throughout the workday, especially during conversations. This will also keep your mouth and throat lubricated and thus make conversing easier. (And yes, make the company that commissioned the study happy too!)

For their part, many organizations are beginning to recognize the negative effects of a dry office space. They’re introducing humidity into their heating and air conditioning systems to create a more comfortable, healthy and productive work environment.

Is the key to increasing employee productivity as simple as drinking more water? It just may be. See you at the water cooler!