Here's a little known fact: according to multiple, peer-reviewed  scientific studies, employees in offices that are "too cold" have lower productivity. I put "too cold" in quotes because what's "too cold" for you might be "too warm" for me.

To address the subjectivity of office temperature, most companies set their thermostats to the "Standard 55" guideline, which assumes the average worker is a 40-year-old man dressed in a business suit, i.e. the average office worker in the 1960s.

Unfortunately, what feels "just right" to today's button-downed male baby boomer male often feels "too cold" for women of any age because, as science has repeatedly shown, women get colder faster and more easily than men.

Specifically, women on average have higher core body temperatures than men, especially women using hormonal birth control. Because the two temperatures (skin and air) seek equilibrium, the higher difference between air and skin make women feel colder.

Women also have metabolic rates that are between 20 to 32 percent lower than their male counterparts. A higher metabolic rate means you burn food more efficiently, a process that (among other things) heats up your body. The lower your metabolism, the colder you feel.

Feeling "too cold" usually first manifests in women's hand and feet, which in an overly air conditioned environment can become several degrees cooler than the hands and feet of their male colleagues. And when your extremities feel cold, you feel cold.

There's no question that the outmoded "Standard 55" guidelines force women to pay a productivity tax. For example, a 2004 study of women doing clerical work (for which it is easy to measure productivity) found that

"women were significantly more productive when their office was kept at a warmer temperature. At 77° F (25° C), the women were typing 100% of the time with a 10% error rate. But, when the temperature dipped to a cool 68° F (20° C), typing rates plummeted and error rates rose to 25%."

The productivity tax women pay for offices that are "too cold" peaks in August,  because that's when companies put air conditioning on overdrive to compensate for the "dog days," turning the office into a fridge when the outside temperature drops.

Not surprisingly, the open plan office has increased the severity of this productivity tax. Back when most everyone had privates, all it took was a strip of duct tape over the vent to make your work area warmer. That doesn't work with open plan.

Fortunately, the solution for an open plan environment is almost as simple: 1) check to see if a majority of the women in the workplace feel it's too cold and 2) if so, raise the thermostat a few degrees.  Easy-peasy.

But won't that make the men correspondingly less productive? Uh, no. In fact, raising the thermostat will make men more productive, too, it will encourage them to ditch the business suits, which science shows make men less intelligent.  So it's win/win.

Published on: May 2, 2018