Cold offices could be killing the productivity of women - here’s why

By Claire Schofield
Thursday, 23rd May 2019, 4:33 pm
Updated Thursday, 23rd May 2019, 5:33 pm
Overly-cooled offices could be damaging the productivity of female workers (Photo: Shutterstock)
Overly-cooled offices could be damaging the productivity of female workers (Photo: Shutterstock)

Anyone who works in an office will know that the air conditioning can be something of a touchy subject, with everyone having different temperature preferences.

But a new study has found that overly-cooled offices could actually be damaging the productivity of female workers.

Too cold to work

Scientific studies have shown that most air conditioning systems in modern offices are set based on the resting metabolic rate of a 40 year old man, which runs up to 30 per cent faster than that of a woman.

Previous studies have suggested that the average woman is most comfortable at a temperature of around 25C - three degrees higher than the male equivalent.

New research, published in the scientific journal Plos One backed up these findings, with researchers claiming amping up the thermostat could prove beneficial for the productivity of female workers.

The study, conducted by the University of Southern California, found that increasing a room’s temperature can improve a woman’s ability to complete certain cognitive tasks.

Most air conditioning systems are set based on the resting metabolic rate of a 40 year old man (Photo: Shutterstock)

Improved performance

Researchers assessed 543 college students at a laboratory in Berlin who were asked to complete a range of tests in a room set at various temperatures between 16C and 32C.

The participants each took part in three different tasks, which included a maths test, a verbal test and a cognitive reflection test.

During each session, the room was adjusted to a different temperature, with researchers finding that women performed better on the maths and verbal tasks in higher temperatures.

Just a one degree increase in room temperature was associated with around a two per cent increase in the number of maths questions women answered correctly, and a one per cent increase in their performance on the verbal task.

The ability to perform well in the cognitive reflection test was not affected by room temperature for either male or female participants.

Small temperature changes

One of the most surprising findings of the study was that only a small change in temperature had a big impact on productivity.

"It's not like we're getting to freezing or boiling hot," explained Tom Chang, associate professor and co-author of the study.

"Even if you go from 60 to 75 degrees (15C to 23C), which is a relatively normal temperature range, you still see a meaningful variation in performance."

Researchers recommended that the thermostat in mixed-gender workplaces be set at a higher than average temperature in order to improve productivity, stating businesses "should take environmental factors like temperature more seriously, even if you only care about profit or worker productivity."

"People invest a lot in making sure their workers are comfortable and highly productive," Professor Chang added.

"This study is saying even if you care only about money, or the performance of your workers, you may want to crank up the temperature in your office buildings."

This article originally appeared on our sister site, Yorkshire Evening Post.