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Thermostat wars in the workplace

(Photo illustration by George Frey/Getty Images)

(Photo illustration by George Frey/Getty Images)

The room temperature at work is an ongoing point of contention in many workplaces. It is either too cold in the summer or too hot in the winter.

In summer, it is common to see employees with sweaters or shivering at their workstations, suffering and complaining about how cold it is despite the heat outside. The reason: the dreaded central air conditioning. Despite their complaints, most employees feel they are unable to do anything about it.

The problem, it seems, is exacerbated by employees’ lack of control over their surrounding temperature. 
Compounding the problem is that few people can agree on what a comfortable temperature is.

Software Advice, a company that helps buyers find HVAC software, conducted a survey of office workers to understand employee preferences regarding office temperatures, as well as what temperature the thermostat should be set to and how new technology can provide an effective solution. Their report also analyzes the impact an old HVAC system can have on employee productivity, company morale and a business’s bottom line.

The findings in the report, although US based, covers an issue that affect workplaces around the world and will help Canadian based HVAC estimators, building managers and human resources managers understand these new technologies and how employees feel about them.

Key points of the report

  1. Fifty percent of respondents report being dissatisfied at least several times a month with the temperature of their office.
  2. Forty-two percent of respondents say their offices are too warm during the summer, while 56 percent report that their offices are too cold in the winter.
  3. A majority of respondents (60 percent) say that having more control over their office’s temperature would increase their productivity.
  4. The median preferred office temperature for women is 72 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to 70 degrees Fahrenheit for men.
  5. Frequency of dissatisfaction with temperature increases with age: 46- to 55-year-old employees are 36 percent more likely to be dissatisfied than 18- to 25-year-olds.

Recommendations

Although, how comfortable an employee is during the work day is dependent on several factors, including activity levels, clothing, humidity, air speed, air movement, air distribution, temperature (inside and out), time of day, the building’s heating and cooling system and all the other issues that have significant impact on the working environment; the report provides elements companies should consider when determining how to end thermostat wars once and for all:

  • Determine what your employees want. Consider sending out an anonymous online poll or survey to determine what your employee temperature preferences actually are.
  • Evaluate new software and technology solutions. There is often a business case for revamping your office’s thermostat controls beyond making employees more comfortable: Wasted energy to heat or cool a building is wasted money.
  • Consider alternative solutions. Even with the “smartest” technology, disagreements can still occur, leaving some employees unhappy. Encourage your staff to speak up if they’re uncomfortable, and see if you can relocate them to a different part of the office.

In addition, consider having the system balanced by an HVAC contractor. No heating or cooling system today can achieve a constant temperature all day long. Even newly constructed spaces will fluctuate around a mean target value. The size and use of a space are also important considerations.

The report also speaks about an App to stop workers fighting over office thermostats. Comfy is a new APP that taps in the company’s HVAC system to personalize workplace climate. Worth a try!

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Yosie Saint-Cyr

Managing Editor at First Reference Inc.
Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B., is a trained lawyer called to the Quebec bar in 1988 and is still a member in good standing. She practiced business, employment and labour law until 1999. For over 15 years, Yosie has been the Managing Editor of the following publications, Human Resources Advisor, Human Resources PolicyPro, HRinfodesk and Accessibility Standards PolicyPro from First Reference. Yosie is one of Canada’s best known and most respected HR authors, with an extensive background in employment and labour across the country. Read more
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