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Employees battle over thermostat woes

Forget international summits on environmental policy. An ugly waragainst climate change is probably being waged in your workplace.


Forget international summits on environmental policy. An ugly war against climate change is probably being waged in your workplace.

The scene is the same in many an office: Sally in Accounting shivers at her desk bundled in a wool sweater, while Tim in Human Resources sweats through the 10 a.m. meeting.

Extreme office temperature consistently ranks as a pet peeve among office workers in informal surveys. Finding a climate that makes everyone happy is next to impossible, because individuals can experience the same temperature differently. Factor in old buildings with outdated heating and cooling systems, and you’ve got a widespread workplace woe.

“My fingers get so cold when I’m working, I can barely type,” said Robin Clay, a project manager at a bank. She sometimes wears her coat in the office, which is chilly year-round, she said. “I don’t know which makes me crankier, freezing in the winter or freezing in the summer,” she said.

But more than just workers’ moods are affected by uncomfortable temperatures, according to recent research. Alan Hedge, a professor of ergonomics at Cornell University, is completing his third study into the effects of climate on worker productivity. Using software that records the keystrokes of about 30 workers in a New Jersey office, Hedge found performance dropped and errors rose when conditions were perceived as too cold.

“If you are thermally comfortable, then you actually do better than if you are freezing to death in the building,” Hedge said.


Women tend to run cooler than men, thanks to lighter clothing, less body hair and a tendency to move around less, he said.


A temperature range of 22 to 24 degrees Celsius is ideal, Hedge said.


 
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