I have a toasty private office that seems to stay warm even when the rest of the office is so cold they can see their breath forming. This is a good thing in the winter months, but not so great in the summer when I am usually setting up a row of fans even though the air conditioning is blasting. I was prompted to write this column by the sight of one of my coworkers bundled up to her neck in her winter coat while she blew on her fingers before typing on the keyboard. I immediately thought of Bob Cratchit imploring Mr. Scrooge for a bit more coal.
For as long as I’ve been employed, I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t some sort of thermostat war raging in my place of work. As a teen I worked in a building where two colleagues nearly came to battle over it. I didn’t understand it back then, but now my own internal human furnace has made me much more appreciative of finding the right temperature in order to get the job done.
As it turns out, a professor of design and environmental analysis at Cornell University, Alan Hedge, who also leads Cornell’s Human Factors and Ergonomics teaching and research programs, did a study on this very topic a few years back. He investigated the link between workplace climate and worker performance. His studies showed that warmer offices yielded fewer typing errors and higher productivity. In a press release issued by Cornell University Communications, Hedge said, “The results of our study also suggest raising the temperature to a more comfortable thermal zone saves employers about $2 per worker, per hour.” Hedge continued, “At 77 degrees fahrenheit, the workers were keyboarding 100 percent of the time with a 10 percent error rate, but at 68 degrees, their keying rate went down to 54 percent of the time with a 25 percent error rate. Temperature is certainly a key variable that can impact performance.”
Still, with companies trying to reduce their carbon footprint and ease energy usage, it’s a tough compromise between employee satisfaction and environmental awareness. A 2009 study released by the Facility Management Association titled “Temperature Wars: Savings vs. Comfort” examines workplace complaints and the actions taken to make workers more comfortable so that they may concentrate on their jobs. You can check this out yourself here.
I brought the study to the attention of our own company’s Facilities Director, Frank Cardillo, who patiently fields our staff members’ complaints and tries to amicably resolve our hot vs. cold differences. I asked Frank about the thankless task of being “Master of the Thermal Zone” and he told me that he has limited control of the office climate since it is really managed by the office building we occupy and not the business itself. Frank said he tries to educate staff to seasonal temperature fluctuations while judging whether to report complaints to building management based on weather factors outside their control like sun, wind and unusual outdoor temperatures. It’s a tougher job than I ever realized and he handles the disharmony with good humor.
No workplace appears to be immune to the hot vs. cold debate. Even President Obama came under fire earlier this year when it was reported that he had cranked up the White House thermostat high enough to “grow orchids in there.”
So what to do…what to do? I asked Frank for some of his weathered wisdom and he replied that our company’s magic happiness number seems to be 72 degrees, but, he noted, “You can make some of the staff comfortable some of the time, but you can never make all of the staff comfortable all of the time.”
Nancy Schuman is a vice president at Lloyd Staffing, headquartered in Melville, and is the author of eight how-to books on career guidance and job-search techniques. Lloyd Staffing offers temporary, contract and full-time employment services on a regional and national basis. Send your career-related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.