Stressed mind: An underlying cause of low work performance caused by poor indoor air quality

Indoor Air Cartoon Journal, November 2020, Volume 3, #112

The impact of poor indoor air quality (IAQ) on low work performance is well documented in the literature. Low work performance is attributed to low cognitive ability and performance on a task at hand caused by poor IAQ. The low cognitive ability makes it difficult for humans to complete work accurately or on time. Distraction and attention have been attributed as a link between poor IAQ and low cognitive ability and performance in the literature.

What is the underlying cause of distraction and low attention on a task at hand? The answer is a wandering mind. The mind is referred to as the outcome of perceptions, throughout processes, or psychological activities that take place in the brain.

Psychologists Killingsworth and Gilbert revealed, based on their research evidence published in Science, that the human mind is designed by nature to wander from the task at hand. The question is, why does the human mind wander? I mean, what is the human mind seeking for? The psychologists suggested that the human mind wanders to seek happiness and always in this constant state seeking what can provide more happiness.

Of particular concern is the state of mind when stressed. Without stress, the human mind wanders. A stressful situation will speed up the rate of the wandering. A situation that causes stress to human health and wellbeing physiologically, psychologically, socially, and economically will stress the human mind. Poor indoor air quality can compromise human health and wellbeing, leading to an increase in the human stress level.

A stressed mind will consciously or unconsciously seek happiness. What determines happiness? The human mind seeks comfort, convenience, and knowledge on issues such as how and what could provide comfort and convenience. These are the prerequisite to happiness the human mind seeks. Refer to article 110 in this journal for details on how humans need for knowledge, comfort and convenience consciously and unconsciously affect their behaviour.

Mind wandering could be a conscious or unconscious act (behaviour). The wandering of mind in the pursuit of happiness becomes a concern when the task at hand requires full concentration to ensure accuracy and completion of a task within the stipulated period. The distraction or low attention means there will be a lack or a low level of thinking required to finish work at hand on time and accurately.

Low quality of analysis on work or problem at hand will occur when thinking level is compromised. When the analysis is poor, especially in tasks that require full concentration, there will be a high probability of an error occurring and an inability to spot an error made in the task. The increased stressed level, due to compromised health and wellbeing, and the resulting effect of not being able to focus on work done may also cause affected person to be absent from work or school.

Low work performance leads to low productivity because resources, time, manpower, and costs are invested in producing work that contains errors that provide no usefulness to people who are supposed to benefit from the work done. Perhaps, improving indoor air quality and other indoor environmental quality conditions in many infrastructures could improve productivity delivery, which many governments are advocating for because of productivity’s direct implication on economic developmen.t and growth. Making buildings where learning takes place healthy will also improve students’ learning and educators’ productivity in enhancing the learning process.

Elimination of pollutants’ sources as much as practically possible will reduce pollutants’ concentration in buildings or indoor environments. The adoption of ventilation and filtration or air cleaning strategy as sinks for indoor air pollutants generated by sources that could not be eliminated will further reduce the air pollutants’ probability of stressing the human mind and reducing work performance. The achievement of healthy indoor air quality and air thermal parameters, like relative humidity (RH) and air temperature, do have energy implications.

It is not uncommon for many building professionals to focus on saving energy consumption as much as possible while paying little attention to the strategies needed for achieving healthy buildings. Such practice will increase the stress level of occupants of unhealthy buildings or indoor environments. What is needed is creativity and intelligence for delivering healthy buildings or indoor environments while ensuring energy efficiency delivery at the design, construction, and facility management stages of the building delivery process.

The key takeaway from this article is to endevour to reduce the contributions of indoor environmental qualities, especially indoor air quality, to stress the human mind is exposed to by making them healthy. Remember, a stressed mind leads to low work performance.

Do you want to learn more about this topic? Read Fadeyi (2020), Killingsworth and Gilbert (2010), and Wargocki and Wyon (2017) articles.

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