There’s an Upside to This Terrible Weather

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Pedestrians navigate the snow, ice and puddles along Manhattan's streets on February 2, 2015 in New York City. Another winter storm has brought inclement weather to much of the Northeast, canceling schools and hundreds of flights throughout the New York metro area.
Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

There may be a slight silver lining to terrible wintry weather like the kind we’re getting today in New York, argue three researchers from Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: At least you’ll get a ton of work done? According to their paper, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, the idea that bad weather decreases productivity (an idea that we nodded to in a Science of Us post just a couple of hours ago!) is understandable, but, ultimately, wrong. “The conventional wisdom may be based on the view that bad weather induces a negative mood and therefore impairs executive functions,” write Jooa Julia Lee and Francesca Gino of Harvard and Bradley R. Staats of UNC in their paper. “In contrast to this view, we propose that bad weather actually increases productivity through an alternative psychological route.” 

The research was highlighted today on a Wharton Business School podcast that featured Staats as a guest. He explained that the basic argument here, which the researchers tested and confirmed over a series of three experiments, is that people are less distracted when it’s miserable outside than when it’s nice out, allowing them to focus more when they’re at work. In one experiment, they analyzed the productivity of employees at a mid-sized bank in Japan over two-and-a-half years, focusing on the data entry involved in pushing a loan application through. Here’s what they found:

In terms of the effect size, we found that a one-inch increase in rain is related to a 1.3% decrease in worker completion time for each transaction. Given that there are approximately 100 workers in the operation, a 1.3% productivity loss is approximately equivalent to losing one worker for the organization on a given day. Based on the average yearly salary of the associate-level employees at this bank and the average frequency of precipitation, this loss could cost approximately $18,750 for this particular operation a year.

My own personal research on the subject, for what it’s worth, so far suggests a pretty strong a correlation between bad weather and binge-watching, not so much productivity.