A new study from India finds hot weather may cause significant economic losses because workers are less productive when it is warm. Air conditioning may not solve the problem.

In this study, Anant Sudarshan, the South-Asia Director at the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago and his coauthors analyzed the productivity of workers in India, the world’s third largest economy. They looked at both labor-intensive and highly automated manufacturing processes. In the first category, they found that the productivity of workers engaged in cloth weaving or garment manufacturing dropped by as much as 4 percent per degree as temperatures rose above 27° Celsius (80.6° Fahrenheit). However, when studying workers in the steel industry who were operating in plants with highly automated production they found that productivity did not fall when it got hot outside.

Heat did more than influence productivity at work. It also increased absenteeism. A one-degree increase in the ten-day temperature average increased the probability that a worker would be absent by as much as 5 percent. Interestingly, this remained true even where the workplace used automation. Mechanization might reduce the effects of temperature on the shop floor, but may not solve the problem of employees missing work.

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