Shivering at work? Broker a truce in the Thermostat War

Your colleagues shouldn’t need sweaters and space heaters during the Dog Days. Here are sensible solutions to keep employees comfortable and productive.

Have you ever walked into a workplace where the person at the front desk is hunched over and wearing three sweaters and greets you with an ice-cold handshake—in August?

According to a 2014 study, employees’ top complaint is being cold at work—including during the summer. In your own workplace, do you see sweaters on the backs of chairs or hear the hum of space heaters beneath people’s desks?

These cold offices are evidence of an ongoing Thermostat War. Some employees freeze while others are sweltering. Others couldn’t care less. When you are cold, you leave your desk in search of hot beverages, you’re lonely or view co-workers around you as distant, and you don’t recognize others’ work because you are physically and psychologically withdrawn.

Employees are not robots. They need nourishment (coffee), friends (amiable co-workers), encouragement (recognition) and, yes, climate control (comfortable temperatures).

Productivity, money and the workplace environment

According to a Cornell University study, employees made 44 percent more mistakes when room temperature was 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) or lower. (Optimal temperature was determined to be 77 degrees Fahrenheit/25 degrees Celsius.)

Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, noted that when humans are in work environments below 70 degrees they are 4 to 10 percent less productive.

Companies may think they are saving money keeping temperatures low, but U.S. buildings alone could save $40 billion over seven years if they worked on energy efficiency.

Psychological effects

Sally Augustin, an environmental psychologist and principal at Design With Science, says, “Being in a space at a particular temperature is one of those situations where reality can take a back seat to perceptions of reality.”

When it’s cold you can think your employer doesn’t care about your basic human needs—seeing yourself a modern-day Bob Cratchit begrudged an extra bit of coal for warmth—or you can believe your employer to be sexist or ageist.

You can resent co-workers who turn the thermostat down or don’t notice the cold. You can feel lack of control over your environment. (Lister even mentioned “at least one company that installed fake thermostats saw job satisfaction go up.”)

Clients can perceive your organization as callous when their first impression of your office is seeing a greeter at the front desk suffering in a parka.

Here’s how to forge a truce in the thermostat war:

1. Change up the wardrobe

  • Male managers, in particular, have power in this area, as they set the uniform for other males in the office. Experiment with wearing short sleeves instead of a suit jacket. Japan’s Cool Biz campaign has been employing this social experiment since 2005.

2. Support your peers

  • Ask a nearby, shivering co-worker whether they’d like a coffee or tea on your way to the kitchen. Do this just once—not every time. It takes 20 seconds for the question and 20 seconds to pour a second cup of coffee. When you bring your co-worker the hot beverage, you’ve recognized their humanity, brought them out of their shell, and made a friend and collaborator for future projects.

3. Take control of the office

  • Change the office temperature. The standard office temperature is outdated. The model was devised for men’s metabolic rates in the 1960s, according to a study released this year.
  • Survey those in your office about temperature. Identify cool or hot office areas, and question the use of space heaters or the number of clothing layers used.
  • When HVAC systems break, get to work fixing it immediately and send an office-wide email recognizing the temperature and reporting actions being taken.
  • Make warmer, unused rooms and conference rooms available for employees to share.

How comfortable are you at work? What are your co-workers wearing in summer and winter? What can you do to promote a more pleasant and productive space?

A version of this article originally appeared on Recognize This!

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