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The Office Cold War Heats Up

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.

At LLoyd, we too have someone who patiently fields our staff members’ complaints and tries to amicably resolve our hot vs. cold differences. It is a thankless task being “Master of the Thermal Zone” and one with limited control of the office climate since it is really managed by the office building we occupy and not the business itself. Our Facilities Manager 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 in his administration 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 LLoyd’s Facilities Manager 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.”

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