14 Aug 2012  Working Papers

Rainmakers: Why Bad Weather Means Good Productivity

Executive Summary — Most people believe that bad weather conditions reduce productivity. In this research the authors predict and find just the opposite. Using empirical data from laboratory experiments as well as from a mid-sized Japanese bank, the research demonstrates that weather conditions influence one's own cognition and focus. For indoor work contexts, worker productivity is higher on bad rather than good weather days. By reducing the potential for cognitive distractions, bad weather was actually better at sustaining individuals' attention and focus, and, as a result, increasing their productivity. Overall, findings deepen understanding of the factors that contribute to worker productivity. Key concepts include:

  • Seemingly irrelevant factors that managers cannot control, such as weather, may have powerful effects on workers' productivity.
  • Organizations could assign more clerical work on rainy days than sunny days to tap into the effects of bad weather on productivity, assigning work that does not require sustained attention but does allow for more flexibility in thinking.
  • There is a significant gap between people's general beliefs about the effects of weather on their productivity and the actual effect of weather on their behavior.
  • Despite the widespread belief that bad weather conditions are related to low productivity, this research provides compelling evidence that people are less productive on good weather days because their attentional resources are more likely to be depleted when they have more choices (such as outdoor activities), and face higher opportunity costs of being indoors.

 

Author Abstract

People believe that weather conditions influence their everyday work life, but to date, little is known about how weather affects individual productivity. Most people believe that bad weather conditions reduce productivity. In this research, we predict and find just the opposite. Drawing on cognitive psychology research, we propose that bad weather increases individual productivity by eliminating potential cognitive distractions resulting from good weather. When the weather is bad, individuals may focus more on their work rather than thinking about activities they could engage in outside of work. We tested our hypotheses using both field and lab data. First, we use field data on employees' productivity from a mid-size bank in Japan, which we then match with daily weather data to investigate the effect of bad weather conditions (in terms of precipitation, visibility, and temperature) on productivity. Second, we use a laboratory experiment to examine the psychological mechanism explaining the relationship between bad weather and increased productivity. Our findings support our proposed model and suggest that worker productivity is higher on bad rather than good weather days. We discuss the implications of our findings for workers and managers.

Paper Information