Can air quality in the workplace affect your work quality?

Air quality at work does not just affect the health of employees, but also the ability to create solutions at work, new research from NTU shows.
By: | January 8, 2024
Topics: News | Singapore

The physical environment of a workplace has been known to affect the work and productivity of their employees, but research has shown that air quality on the company premises can affect not just the physical health of the employees, but also their creativity.

This is the main focus of study by researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore, which found that high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – chemicals released by certain products – can impair the creativity of employees.

The study focus, which involved 87 undergraduate and postgraduate students in a six-week study working in a controlled environment, used the Serious Brick Play technique, inspired by the Lego Serious Play method.  The surveyed were asked three times to read a summary of a global issue, such as climate change or mental health, and then to propose a solution using the Serious Brick Play method, detailing it in writing.

The researchers, as shown in their study published in Scientific Journals, found that high levels of VOCs affected the creativity of the study participants. The scientists reported that a 72% reduction in total VOCs (which can originate from products like detergents, pesticides, perfumes, paints and aerosols) could improve a participant’s creative potential by 12%.

“While most people would correctly associate indoor air quality with effects on the lungs, especially since we just emerged from a pandemic, our study shows that it could also have an impact on the mind and creative cognition, or the ability to use knowledge in an unconventional way,” said Ng Bing Feng, co-lead researcher of the study.

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“Our findings suggest that relatively low total VOC levels, even if well within the accepted threshold, could impact an individual’s creative potential,” said Ng, noting as an example of making minor adjustments in the office, such as reducing the use of aroma diffusers or ensuring adequate ventilation, to positively impact employees and their productivity.