Focus on Research

September 21, 2012 11:13 am

Something for the weekend

Rainy days and grey days tend to make many people feel a little despondent, but if you are an employer and the weather forecast is for showers, you should be smiling.

Researchers have found that bad weather is good for business and employees tend to be far more productive when the skies are overcast.

The authors of Rainmakers: why bad weather means good productivity’ say the reason is a straightforward one, employees are simply not tempted by thoughts of what they could be doing if the day was a sunny one. While pleasant days encourage daydreams of walks on the beach or in the park, heavy downpours focus employees’ attention on the job in front of them.

The academics, Francesca Gino, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, Bradley Staats of Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Jooa Julia Lee of the Harvard Kennedy School examined pre-existing field data from a bank in Tokyo that had tracked employee productivity for 30 months following the launch of a mortgage processing system. They matched the data to meteorological data in the city during the same period and discovered that on rainy days workers completed their tasks more rapidly than on sunny days which tended to correlate with relatively low productivity.

They then tested these figures further in the controlled setting of a research laboratory. They recruited 136 students and asked half to come in on rainy days and the remainder on sunny. Some of these students were then reminded via photographs taken on sunny days of outdoor activities such as sailing or walking, while control groups were not shown any photographs.

As expected the researchers found that their results correlated with the Japanese field data.

“Once again we see that people tend to be more productive on a bad weather day than on a good weather day,” says Prof Gino.

“On bad weather days, people tend to make more errors and preform more slowly when you just make them think about outside options,” adds Prof Gino.

They found as well that the performance of those participants who had come into the lab on a rainy day, but were then shown photographs of a sunny day also decreased significantly

The results have implications for managers the authors say. They suggest managers could consider assigning repetitive clerical work requiring sustained attention on rainy days and assigning work that allows for more flexibility in thinking on sunny days. A further step they say would be to remove pictures of idyllic beach scenes from the office.

When confronted with a new product how much information do consumers want on how the product works?

Researchers have found that while some want as detailed an explanation as possible and are willing to pay more for the product if they are given this, others recoil when given additional detail. In fact these latter consumers – if given extra details – are more inclined to pay less for the product. Quite a dilemma for the manufacturer.

Philip Fernbach, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Colorado-Boulder Leeds School of Business and Steven Sloman, a professor of cognitive linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown University conducted a series of experiments to see how people differ on the level of detail they feel that they need to understand a product.

They discovered that individuals who were eager for as full and as detailed an explanation as possible “became more motivated the more the product was explained”. However others, although initially confident when given superficial information on how a product worked, found that their understanding of the product was eroded when they were given additional information, as was their willingness to pay for it.

The professors say that both groups of individuals are in fact closely aligned because they both wish to understand how the product works before agreeing to buy it.

“The more they feel like they understand, the more they will be willing to pay for the product,” says Prof Fernback. But he stresses, the consumers differ sharply on the level of detail that they need to feel informed.

The paper, Explanation fiends and foes: How mechanistic detail determines understanding and preference, is also co-authored by Brown undergraduates Robert St Louis and Julia Shube and published online in the Journal of Consumer Research.

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