According to the National Interagency Fire Center, over 18,000 fires burned across the U.S. from January through May of 2023. In June, Canada burned for several days, sending wildfire smoke across major cities in the Midwestern and Northeastern U.S. A red, hazy film blanketed New York, making it look like an apocalyptic nightmare. It was no question the outdoor air quality ranked poorly, but what about indoor air quality (IAQ)?

You could ask the same question during the lingering concern of COVID-19. Whether it's a school, an office building, a grocery store or a hospital, IAQ of public spaces is critical in maintaining the health and well-being of the people inside. On average, Americans spend approximately 90% of their time indoors. Let's make it a nice place to be, eh?

For those who work in a building, the air we breathe affects nearly every aspect of life, from physical and mental health to comfort and efficiency while working. A successful business builds on the foundation of a productive and healthy workplace. IAQ is one factor that is crucial to creating a healthy work environment. The quality of air affects employee health, productivity, job happiness and even talent retention, but it is frequently disregarded.

This article dives into the impact of air quality in the workplace, how poor quality air can affect employees and strategies that organizations can implement to enhance workplace wellness.

The importance of IAQ

IAQ in the workplace is critically important for several reasons, impacting the health, comfort and productivity of employees. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that airborne viral particles spread between people more readily indoors than outdoors. The concentration of some pollutants indoors is up to five times higher than concentrations outdoors. Numerous factors can contribute to poor IAQ, such as allergies or pollutants present, excessive volatile organic compound levels, and insufficient ventilation.

As a result, these variables may cause a variety of health concerns, from exhaustion and headaches to breathing difficulties, and even serious illnesses like asthma or heart disease. It's time for organizations and businesses alike to act, and ensure worker health and safety is top of mind.

Effects of poor air quality on employees

Air pollution in the workplace can have a range of negative effects on employees, impacting both their health and overall well-being. Beyond just the physical health of workers, poor air quality at work has an impact on productivity, job happiness and general workplace well-being.

Here are five common effects associations with exposure to poor IAQ:

  1. Respiratory issues: Workers exposed to indoor air pollution may have respiratory issues such as coughing, wheezing, dyspnea, and nose and throat irritation. Poor quality air can exacerbate pre-existing respiratory disorders like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  2. Fatigue and discomfort: Weariness and general discomfort can result from breathing in contaminated air. Workers may experience increased fatigue and decreased energy, which can affect their concentration and productivity.
  3. Decreased cognitive function: Research has indicated that there may be detrimental effects on cognitive performance from exposure to air pollution. Workers might have trouble focusing, remembering things and making decisions.
  4. Increased absenteeism: Workers may call in sick because of health problems brought on by or made worse by indoor pollutants, which can result in employee absenteeism. This may cause a team to be less dependable and productive.
  5. Stress and reduced well-being: Unhealthy indoor environments are linked to a decrease in general well-being and stress. Workers exposed to unhealthy working environments may experience anxiety or dissatisfaction.

How to improve air quality and promote workplace wellness

It's crucial for employers to prioritize and actively manage IAQ to create a healthy and comfortable workplace. Providing a conducive indoor environment contributes not only to employee health, but also to overall job satisfaction and productivity. Here are five measures to consider when monitoring the air quality in workplaces:

  1. Regular IAQ assessments: Using smart building technology and automated building assessments can help track the overall health of a building. Conduct regular assessments of IAQ using monitoring equipment to identify potential issues. Building data can help proactively address health and safety concerns early, which improves efficiency and cost-savings.
  2. Increase ventilation: Make sure there is a functional ventilation system in place at work that allows in fresh outdoor air. Proper ventilation aids in removing and diluting indoor pollutants. Don't forget to regularly clean and maintain ventilation systems, including air ducts, filters and fans.
  3. Regular cleaning and maintenance: Establish a routine cleaning schedule for surfaces, carpets and floors to lessen the buildup of pollutants, allergens and dust. Reduce the amount of dangerous chemicals released into the air by using green cleaning supplies.
  4. Control indoor humidity: Keep the humidity in your workplace between 30% and 50% to stop dust mites and mold from growing. If there is a lot of moisture in a certain area, use dehumidifiers and take quick action to stop leaks and spills.
  5. Educate employees: Raise awareness of the value of IAQ and the ways employees can help create a healthier indoor environment. Promote hygienic habits, such as disposing of and storing food properly, to stop the release of pollutants.

Indoor air quality is key in employee wellness

Health is wealth – and that includes the air we breathe in the workplace. By ensuring that your office has great air quality, you're helping your teams feel better and more focused on achieving goals.