Work + Growth

Office Temperature Wars

  • We’ve all worked where people complain about the temperature—and those complaints often fall along gender lines
  • Some people even consider colder office temperatures sexist, since it’s usually female employees who must bundle up to feel comfortable
  • There are steps offices can take to increase the comfort of more employees

It’s that time of year again: Let the office temperature wars begin!

You may feel a little overheated while some of your colleagues are wrapped up in pashminas and complaining about how cold it is. Or maybe you’re the one throwing on a sweater while your sweating officemate looks at you like you’re nuts. Either way, you’re probably used to being uncomfortable with the temperature at your workplace—and you’ve noticed that whether you’re too hot or too cold will usually correlate with whether you’re a guy or a gal.

Why the War Exists

There is no law about maintaining specific office temperatures, but OSHA recommends offices be kept anywhere from 68 to 76 degrees, and individual offices and buildings are free to deviate. The problem is that the same temperature can feel very different from one person to the next—we experience temperature differently based on sex, body size, age, and metabolism.

Back in the 60s and 70s, scientists and other experts did studies to determine the ideal office temperature. They based their recommendations on the metabolic rate of a 40-year-old, 154-pound man. Women have average metabolic rates 20 to 32 percent lower than the average man, which means they tend to generate less heat. In addition, men tend to wear heavier clothing than women, especially in a professional setting. It’s no wonder that women are the ones who usually complain about the office being too cold, while men tend to be fine with chillier temperatures. Look around your office: Do many of your female colleagues have space heaters under their desks and sweaters hanging from the backs of their chairs? How about the woman who wears a Snuggie to the conference room, or the woman who has gloves in her desk? Most women simply resign themselves to freezing while they are at work and not being able to wear season-appropriate clothing to the office in the summer.

Is the Temperature War Sexist?

No one purposely decided to make offices uncomfortably cold for many women. However, when studying the ideal setting for office temperatures, there are consequences for using only average-sized men to make that determination—most women get the short end of the stick by not being factored into the equation. The argument has been made that women’s comfort not being considered in basic office design is a type of sexism, since it reflects their lower standing in the power dynamics of corporations and the larger society. And, complaining to higher-ups or building maintenance about a too-low temperature is usually futile. So Snuggies and gloves and space heaters it is.

What side are you on in the office wars: Are you freezing or sweltering? How do you deal with either extreme?

How Your Office Can Be More Comfortable

Everyone has his or her own temperature preferences, and no office will be able to please everyone. The best plan of action is to make the majority as comfortable as possible and put measures in place to help those who fall outside of the majority’s comfort level. Some methods that may work:

  • The Comfy app. Give people a bit of control. The Comfy app allows employees to request blasts of hot or cold air for up to 10 minutes. It also gives you the opportunity to tell the app when you’re “comfy” so it learns what temperature is desirable for the most people most of the time.
  • Just ask. Have all employees provide their ideal temperature and find that happy medium. Some people will be too hot, some will be too cold, but it’s one attempt at fairness.
  • Crank it up to casual. If you find that complaints about the temperature fall along gender lines, make a radical decision: Turn the temperature up a bit. Allow your female employees the opportunity to ditch the blankets and scarves in the office. Provide desk fans to your male employees just as mini heaters were provided to the women. Help everyone out by relaxing the dress code so men don’t always have to wear full suits.
  • Dummy thermostat. It’s dishonest, but tricking people can work! Thermostats with fake dials give the illusion of control. Research shows that people are happier if they think they’re able to fiddle with the temperature, even if nothing actually happens.