As summer approaches, we’re seeing more articles on how cold temperatures impact office productivity, particularly for women. The most recent article appeared in the New York Times: “Battle of the Thermostat: Cold Rooms May Hurt Women’s Productivity.”
As women are 90% more likely to have Raynaud’s than men, and 20% of women of childbearing age are estimated to have Raynaud’s (the age group most likely to be working in office environments), Raynaud’s sufferers represent a sizable portion of the workforce. Given the statistics, we do wish that the subject of Raynaud’s would be recognized in articles discussing office temperatures, but at least the issue of how cold offices are bad for productivity is getting research and media attention.
Why are offices so cold? We listed several explanations in the blog post Summertime, and the Livin’ is Freezing, including how high-end retailers use cold temps to evoke prestige, the fact that building managers don’t take into account less wardrobe coverage in summer months along with more casual business attire, and how more efficient building construction keeps cool air trapped indoors. There’s also the false impression that cold workers are more productive in colder environments, even though past research conducted by Cornell University provides scientific confirmation that this belief isn’t true (see our blog post on the study: Workers Are More Productive in Warmer Offices).
One additional explanation is that workplaces were originally built for male workers and their comfort, and males have higher metabolic rates than women, so they can more easily tolerate colder temperatures. The research covered by the recent article in the New York Times titled “Battle for the thermostat: Gender and the effect of temperature on cognitive performance” published this month in the journal PLOS ONE addresses this issue head on by comparing the relative productivity of men vs. women at different temperature levels.
The study was conducted among 500 college students given tests in rooms set at between 61 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Three categories of tasks were measured for performance: Verbal, math and cognitive tests.
Results showed no difference between males and females on cognitive (logical) tasks at different temperature levels, but verbal and math scores were significantly higher for women at warmer temperatures, while the reverse outcome was observed for men. The test period only lasted one hour, so imagine how results might have been even more dramatic for a full work day!
One additional finding was that women’s math scores improved in warmer temperatures not only because they were supplying more correct responses, but also because they were completing more problems in more comfortable environments. That means they were able to work harder and be more productive, not just more accurate, an important fact to be noted by any employer.
The researchers concluded: “Our findings suggest that gender mixed workplaces may be able to increase productivity by setting the thermostat higher than current standards.” Amen for Frosties!
Below are links to several articles from our blog, the New York Times and the Washington Post (including our editorial published in the New York Times). You can see this is a very popular topic!
Donning Sweaters and Snuggies to Combat the Office’s Deep Freeze in the Heat of Summer (Washington Post subscription required)