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Too Hot! Too Cold! Temperature Affects Productivity
 

By SHRM Online staff  1/4/2010


When it comes to the workplace, if you can’t stand the heat … productivity suffers.

That’s the conclusion of a CareerBuilder survey of 4,285 full-time U.S. workers that found 22 percent claiming a too-hot workplace makes it difficult to concentrate at work. Eleven percent made the same claim about chilly workplaces.

“There are many factors that can affect workplace productivity,” CareerBuilder’s vice president of HR, Rosemary Haefner, said in a news release. Those factors include the workplace temperature as well as burnout and the economy, she added.  

Other findings from the survey, conducted from Aug. 20, 2009, through Sept. 9, 2009, and released in December 2009:

  • 27 percent of workers described their workplace as too hot; 19 percent said it is too cold; 54 percent said it is just right.
  • 19 percent of workers suspect that their employer turned down the thermostat in 2009 to cut costs.

The survey results are the latest in a number of studies on workplace temperatures’ effect on productivity.

Workplace performance increases with temperatures up to between 69.8 degrees and 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees to 22 degrees Celsius), with the highest productivity at around 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit, according to a study published July 2006 by researchers from the Helsinki University of Technology, Laboratory for Heating Ventilating and Air Conditioning in Finland, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Environmental Energy Technologies Division at Berkeley, Calif.

A month-long Cornell University study conducted in 2004 at Insurance Office of America’s headquarters in Orlando, Fla., found that chilly workers make more errors and potentially increase a worker’s hourly labor cost by 10 percent.

The number of typing errors fell by 44 percent and typing output increased 150 percent when the office temperature rose from 68 degrees to 77 degrees Fahrenheit, the study found.

“The results of our study also suggest raising the temperature to a more comfortable thermal zone saves employers about $2 per worker, per hour,” Cornell professor Alan Hedge said in a news statement when the results were released in October 2004. Hedge teaches design and environmental analysis.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not have regulations that address temperature and humidity in an office setting specifically, but a subsection of its technical manual does recommend temperatures ranging from 68 degrees to 76 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity ranging from 20 percent to 60 percent.

CareerBuilder’s Haefner suggests optimistically that if the office temperature is a concern, workers and employers can “easily work together to find common ground so productivity does not suffer.”

The challenge, though, is agreeing on a comfortable temperature—10 percent of workers CareerBuilder surveyed have fought with a co-worker about it.

Some suggestions Haefner offers:

  • Instead of slinking around and changing the office temperature behind co-workers’ backs, discuss the issue to determine what, if anything, can be done.
  • If a particular time of day or office space is too warm or too cold for productive work, talk to your manager about adjusting your work schedule, telecommuting or moving to a conference room for a portion of the day.
  • Dress appropriately, including dressing in layers or keeping a sweater or similar garment at your work station.
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