Why Office Productivity Slumps in the Summer

I’m not getting much done this summer. You? Sure, we have big plans – don’t we? – but vacations, conferences and early happy hours with the folks in purchasing keep getting in the way. And day baseball. Don’t forget about day baseball.

This is not exactly big news. Almost every study of office workers that has examined the question indicates that productivity slows during the summer months. In one recent British survey 25 percent of staffers claim to work hard only ONE DAY PER WEEK this time of year. Human resources managers in another survey estimated that productivity slows between 20 and 30 percent during the summer in their offices. It’s worse among younger workers. In one poll, 79 percent of Gen Yers said they expected extra time off during the summer (as opposed to the 74 percent who expected extra time off the rest of the year, I presume).

One of our Talent Management editors, the lovely and talented Deanna Hartley, published a piece examining this issue in greater depth, and offering some helpful suggestions on what employers can do to maintain productivity during the ice cream and hot dog months. While researching her article, she asked me (your intrepid “Psychology at Work” correspondent) whether there are issues beyond the obvious that interfere with work during this time of year. The answer might surprise you.

I am sure you are aware, from personal observation or media reports, that weather has an effect on mood. It is called seasonal affective disorder. Winter and its darkness induce symptoms of depression in a certain number of people, and the longer it is cold and dark, the worse the symptoms. That is one reason why I and about 25 million other people choose to live in Florida.

However, the reverse isn’t necessarily true. Summer isn’t all smiley faces, band concerts, and Slurpees in the town square. Summer results in decreased mood in a certain number of people and slows down their mental processing abilities. A study of weather on mood and cognition, published in 2005 in the academic journal Psychological Science,  showed that hot weather over long periods of time actually decreases mood and cognition. We don’t want to work as hard on tough issues because we just aren’t up to the mental heavy lifting.

Another study, recently published in the journal Emotions, found that people can be lumped into one of four general groups based on their reaction to summer weather:


Summer Haters

Summer Lovers

Rain Haters

Yes, there are actually people called “Summer Haters.” You wonder why the company picnic winds up a bust some of the time.

Soon, Deanna will offer us some ideas for motivating ourselves and those around us during the dog days, and I look forward to her commentary (keep your eye on www.talentmgt.com). Until then, if your workgroup seems a bit unresponsive, remember that the psychological effect of summer might have something to do with it.

And I’ll be out in the boat. I’m a Summer Lover.