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Build Your Career Office Life

How to Resolve the Office Temperature Debate

Workplace thermostat wars
Credit: Dean Drobot/Shutterstock

Lauren Crain's office is so cold, she was given a Snuggie when she first started working for Health Labs. She also keeps a small heater at her desk to keep her fingers warm and to keep her toes "from getting frostbite." The temperature in Lauren's office in Texas is controlled by the business manager, who lives in California. Lauren finds her office to be freezing but doesn't mind bundling up.

On the other side of the country, Chris Vancheri, vice president of Coyne PR has a fan blasting from the minute he walks into his New Jersey office until the minute he leaves.

"I change the [thermostat] buttons the minute I walk into a room," he said. "I'm that guy."

According to a 2018 Career Builder Survey, nearly half of 1,012 full-time, private-sector American workers say their office is either too hot or too cold.

Whether your office has the climate of a humid rainforest or an icy tundra, it's undeniable that an uncomfortable office temperature has a significant impact on productivity and workplace comfort.

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 degrees Fahrenheit.

The ideal temperature for the "typical" office is around 71.6 degrees F, according to the Helsinki University of Technology Laboratory for Heating, Ventilating and Air-conditioning. But, of course, individual preferences vary, and it's difficult to please everyone.

In general, research has shown that women feel colder than men do at the same air temperature. One study from Eindhoven University of Technology found that men prefer rooms at 72 degrees F, while women prefer 77 F. Body size and fat-to-muscle ratios are largely to blame.

Quartz's Gwynn Guilford explained, "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)."

Despite research and recommendations from OSHA, many offices determine their own optimal office atmosphere. For instance, Matthew Briggs, CEO of Briggs Acquisitions said his office is intentionally kept at 65 degrees Fahrenheit to increase employee productivity and concentration.

"We give away company-branded sweater vests as a resolve if people are cold," he said. "I can attest we aren't the only finance-based company who follows this policy."

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg swears by the mind-focusing efforts of an arctic office – his thermostat is set to 59 F.

At the other end of the spectrum, former president Barack Obama liked his office so warm that his senior advisor David Axelrod told the New York Times, "You could grow orchids in there."

Whitney Meers of Concrete Blonde Consulting 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.

Most workers unhappy with their office temperatures recognize that there are individuals who feel the opposite way in the same space.

Samantha Lambert, director of Human Resources at Blue Fountain Media says her office is split 50/50 between workers who are always cold and others who complain they are constantly sweating.

She said HR does its best to keep everyone happy. Lambert said, "Keep a work sweater or blanket and a desk fan at your workstation at all times."

Vancheri's strategizes by turning down the thermostat to fit his personal preferences. When he has meetings, his colleagues bring blankets, sweaters and jackets. He thinks 95 percent of his office doesn't enjoy the cold the way he does, but they adjust.

Crain, on the other hand, is glad her office doesn't control the temperature, as she thinks it would result in daily disagreements. Her strategy is bundling up and borrowing sweaters while her colleagues use personal fans sitting 6 feet away.

Whether the debate is presented as men versus women or cold-natured versus warm-natured, there's no one who can fight this battle for you. If you're uncomfortable, talk your managers, find a new part of the office to sit, crack a window or bring a sweater to work.

Ultimately, it's unlikely you have the individual power to tamper with the workplace thermostat. You win the temperature wars by determining your productivity preferences and planning accordingly to fit your office climate.

Carlyann Edwards

Carlyann is pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Business Journalism with minors in sustainability and music at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and will graduate in 2020. She is incredibly interested by the intersection of business development and environmental preservation. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys working for non-profit organization Carolina Thrift, running and playing the ukulele. She can be reached on LinkedIn.