The office temperature debate is nothing new. After all, everyone works better at their preferred room temperature. Unfortunately, that temperature can vary from worker to worker, sometimes leading to disagreements over the thermostat setting. Addressing the workplace temperature debate before it becomes a contentious distraction is a priority for many managers. This guide explains how you could address it before it becomes a problem.
The conversation around workplace temperature in the office can echo “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”: Some like it hot, some like it cold, and it can be a challenge to find the temperature that’s just right. It is impossible to please everyone, but most employers and employees agree that a concerted effort to accommodate as many people as possible goes a long way.
Extreme office temperatures can lead employees to extreme measures in response. For example, Lauren Crain, a freelance writer and content marketer, was so cold in her former office at HealthLabs.com that she was given a Snuggie when she first started. She also kept a small heater at her desk to keep her fingers warm and to keep her toes “from getting frostbite.”
The temperature in Crain’s former office in Texas was controlled at the time by the business manager, who lived in California. Crain found her office to be freezing but didn’t mind bundling up.
On the other side of the country, Chris Vancheri, associate director of product communications for neurology at Eisai US, turns down the thermostat to fit his personal preferences. When he has meetings, his colleagues bring blankets, sweaters, and jackets.
“I change the [thermostat] buttons the minute I walk into a room,” he said. “I’m that guy.”
In general, research has shown that women tend to feel colder than men do at the same air temperature. One study found that men tend to prefer rooms at 72℉, while women tend to prefer 77℉. Body size and fat-to-muscle ratios are generally the reason why.
“The discrepancy dates back to the 1960s and ’70s, when scientists and regulators set workplace indoor climate standards based on the metabolic rate of a 40-year-old man weighing 70 kilograms (154 pounds),” wrote Gwynn Guilford in an article for Quartz.
“Gender norms do play in,” said Sarah Anderson, SEO manager for TODAY at NBCUniversal. “Normal women’s work attire lends itself to being a little cooler in the summer, making air conditioning necessary for men and a problem for women.”
Whitney Meers, a freelance writer and content creator, has given up her fight and works from home for the summer. “I’ve tried dressing for winter weather and wearing jeans and a sweatshirt despite the 90-degree heat outside … I just can’t seem to get warm,” she said.
How serious is the workplace temperature problem? According to Lessons Learned from 20 Years of the CBE Occupant Survey, published in 2021 by the Center for the Built Environment at UC Berkeley, 39% of respondents were dissatisfied with the temperature in their building. This means the office temperature debate has been impacting a significant number of workers in many offices across the U.S. for decades.
Whether your office has the climate of a rainforest or an icy tundra, an uncomfortable office temperature has a significant impact on productivity, cognitive performance and workplace comfort. In a world driven by distraction, businesses are concerned about the potential effects temperature could have on their employees’ productivity and what that means for revenue.
Vicki Salemi, a career expert at Monster, says that it’s more about comfort than anything else. “When you feel comfortable in your workplace, you can focus on the work itself and not being too cold or too hot,” she said.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) doesn’t mandate employers to maintain specific temperatures in the workplace, but it recommends that employers keep the thermostat between 68℉ and 76℉. Despite this research and recommendations from OSHA, many offices determine their optimal office atmosphere based on managerial preferences.
It is important to regularly check in with your workers and follow the wishes of the majority, with allowances for individual modifications as needed.
“When there is a debate around temperature, the solution should be to reach a happy, reasonable medium,” said Salemi. “It’s important to address the issue with employees so they know you’re listening to them.”
To make sure your office is at a neutral temperature, consider consulting an HVAC professional.
Marla Mock, vice president of operations at Molly Maid USA, recommends looking into HVAC zoning, where multiple thermostats are used to control temperatures in different parts of the building. “Different areas of your office have different heating and cooling needs,” she said. “The copy room with its heat-generating machines needs more air conditioning than offices that never receive any direct sun.”
In the end, the debate of high temperatures versus overall thermal comfort can come down to company policy. You may be better off enforcing one temperature and requiring your employees to stick to it. This sets an overall expectation around temperature, and your employees can adjust to meet their comfort as a result. This means office managers won’t have to deal with temperature and productivity issues, and your business may be able to increase its energy efficiency.
Most workers who are unhappy with the temperature in their office buildings recognize that there are individuals who feel the opposite way in the same space.
Samantha Lambert, human resources business partner at Pactera EDGE, says that her office is split 50/50 between workers who are always cold and those who are constantly sweating. She said HR does its best to keep everyone happy. “Keep a work sweater or blanket and a desk fan at your workstation at all times,” she recommended.
Whether the debate is presented through the lens of gender norms and differences, body sizes, or cold-natured versus warm-natured, no one can fight this battle for you. If you’re an employee at a company where there’s an impassioned temperature debate, here are some options:
If you are still uncomfortable in the office because of the temperature, you can do the following:
Even if you don’t have the individual power to tamper with the workplace thermostat, you win the temperature wars by determining your preferences and planning accordingly to fit your office climate.
Both managers and employees have opportunities to end the dissatisfaction, disagreements and lost productivity due to the temperature in their workplaces.
Managers should listen and learn before they use their authority to set the temperature at a consistent level they feel is best for the workplace. Once that standard temperature is set, managers should communicate that information and offer approved strategies employees may use to increase their comfort in the office, including desk fans and company-branded sweaters and jackets.
Employees have a voice in their workplace, and they should share their needs with their managers. They should come to those conversations prepared to share potential solutions for managerial consideration, including moving their desk to a different temperature “zone” in the office and sharing OSHA’s guidelines and recommendations.