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How to Set the Ideal Temperature for Everyone in the Office

Updated on October 28, 2022
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David has over 15 years of supervisory experience and has extensive knowledge of how to handle personnel issues across many areas.

In the office, who is in control of the thermostat?
In the office, who is in control of the thermostat? | Source

It's a known fact that everyone wants their environment to be a certain temperature. When people are at home they strive for that perfect balance so they can be as comfortable as possible. But depending on mood, health, and other factors, that need can change. Someone could prefer it warmer than usual, or cooler.

In an office environment, there are a lot more things to contend with. There are multiple people in the office, each with their own desire to feel comfortable at a certain temperature. How is the organization supposed to contend with that? Are they required to by law? And what effects does the temperature have on an employees productivity? These questions will all be answered in this article.

OSHA Recommendations

OSHA recommends the following for any office environment for employee comfort levels:

  • 68-76° F (20-24° C)
  • Humidity in the range of 20%-60%
  • However, high heat situations can be considered a hazard. Action must be taken to prevent heat-related illness.

By U.S. law, employers are required to address high temperatures before heat-related illness sets in.  Heat-related illness can cause great harm and even death.
By U.S. law, employers are required to address high temperatures before heat-related illness sets in. Heat-related illness can cause great harm and even death. | Source

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Are Employers Required to Make Employees Comfortable?

The answer to this question is no, not legally, depending on what country you are working in. For example:

  • In the United States, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) handles employee issues as far as providing a safe work environment. According to OSHA, they recommend "temperature control in the range of 68-76° F and humidity control in the range of 20%-60%." Temperature control is not considered a hazard, just human comfort, so employers cannot be in trouble for failing to provide a comfortable environment.
  • Additionally, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) states that each employee should feel "thermal comfort" in the workplace. While an employee is wearing standard work attire, they shouldn't feel too hot or too cold.
  • However, if a work area gets too hot, then employers are required to address the situation, by law. Heat-related illness is an issue that OSHA takes seriously. Even though this is geared mostly to those who work outdoors, if an indoor area gets to hot, then it could become a serious issue that will require an immediate remedy.

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How Office Temperature Affects Worker Productivity

There are various ways office temperatures affect worker productivity, for example:

  • Increased heat levels will seriously slow down the speed of your employees. Movement and work generate heat. So the less someone moves, the less heat they will generate. In jobs that require lots of movement, this could slow down the work being accomplished. Not to mention that if the heat gets high enough, it becomes a work hazard.
  • Hot weather, which can result in hot temperatures in the office, can result in employees being in a bad mood. They could be short tempered, angry, or rude to their co-workers or to customers. This could dip into the profits of an organization.
  • Low temperatures can also result in the slowing down of your employees at the workplace. Decreasing temperatures may be good in areas that have a lot of movement with the work involved. However, in jobs that require someone to sit at a desk all day, it could mean less getting done. If someone needs to move around a lot so they can stay warm, they could be up and about without getting any work done at all.
  • When temperatures are uncomfortable, everyone talks and complains about it until something is done about it. It's an office-wide issue which everyone will vent about until it gets addressed. With employees that have health issues affected by the temperature, it could result in those employees calling out sick and missing work more frequently until it's addressed.
  • In comfortable temperatures, everyone is doing their work without having to worry about how hot or how cold it is. This means work is getting done, customers are being helped, and your staff are doing their job. It also means the employer is abiding by policy set forth by any governmental agency that regulates employee health and safety.

Keeping the office temperature at a comfortable level will keep your employees hard at work.
Keeping the office temperature at a comfortable level will keep your employees hard at work. | Source

Getting the Perfect Office Temperature

There are various ways employers and employees can try to obtain the best office temperature so it's at an optimum level for everyone in the office:

  • First, realize that you can't please everyone. In large office environments, everyone is going to have their own idea of what the temperature should be. An employer can't please everyone, so they have to try to please the majority. If it's a huge building with many organizations inside of it, then you may have no choice but to set it at a standard temperature that can't be adjusted.
  • Adjust according to the season. This is for both employers and employees. Employees (both male and female) shouldn't come in wearing skimpy clothes during the winter, then complain that it's too cold. Nor should someone come in wearing a wool sweater during the summer. Dress responsibly. Keep a change of clothes at work just in case you need to change to adjust to the temperature in the office. Employers should adjust the thermostat accordingly as well, if possible.
  • Drink something warm or cold, according to what the temperature is. If it's cold, drink some hot tea, hot cocoa, or coffee. That will warm you up as you start your day. If it's hot, drink some cool water. Don't drink soda! That won't help you, so stick with just water. Offices should provide a place to easily obtain water, or have a water company deliver water right to your office.
  • Provide personal heaters and fans to each office area. If one person is hot, but someone else isn't, provide a fan to the hot employee so they can cool down. If it's cold, then provide a personal heater to a cold employee to warm up their immediate area. Better yet, an employer (or an employee, if they want to buy their own) can buy a dual heater/cooling fan to ensure there is always a way to keep an employee comfortable.
  • Adjust work tasks according to temperature. If it's a hot day, then try to keep staff at their desks so they don't have to move around as much. If it's a colder day, then assign your staff tasks that require them to move around so that they can keep warm.
  • Provide more frequent breaks. If it's a hot day, then give your staff more breaks, even if it means cutting a 15 minute break into smaller, five minute breaks. This will give them a chance to relax and re-hydrate.
  • Upgrade the heating and cooling equipment in the building. While this is expensive, upgrading the equipment can make it easier to provide a comfortable temperature for all employees. If the equipment is years or even decades old, replacing with newer equipment can be energy efficient and may even save some money.
  • Shut off the electronics. Computers, monitors, and other equipment can generate heat. If it's older equipment, it could generate even more heat. So shut those devices off if you are in a hot office so you can cool down.

Ever Have a Heat-Related Illness?

Have you ever suffered from a heat-releated illness in the workplace?

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Experiences in Dealing with Office Temperature

I have a few experiences in dealing with extreme temperatures in my office environment:

  • Once a month I have to move multiple boxes from one building to another, with some of the movement requiring me to be outside. During the hot months of the year, I would do this in the early morning so I wouldn't get as hot. I would also drink water before and after. During the colder months, I would do it in the late afternoon so I wouldn't feel as cold and generate heat.
  • When I was working the graveyard shift, my office would get so cold I wouldn't want to move because I felt it made it worse. My office did provide a personal heater for me to use, which was just barely enough for me to continue working. I also tried to get up as little as possible, since I did not want to move away from my personal heater. This did affect my productivity.
  • At a previous job, whenever the workplace suffered a power outage, as many employees as possible were given the opportunity to go home for the day. One day in particular was during the summer. It was very hot, and with the power out, it only made the inside of the building that much hotter. So my boss gave me the opportunity to go home, which I did.
  • An employee filed a complaint with the union due to the heat. This employee consistently complained about the heat. While the area was warm, it was not outside of OSHA standards. I had to make sure we were complying with those standards and try to find ways to make the office area cooler.
  • My office building had a broken air conditioner for months. While it broke towards the beginning of winter, it wasn't fixed until the summer months. We were working from home more because of it. They gave us desk fans, but it wasn't near enough. I eventually moved to an office without windows so it would be cooler!

It doesn't make a difference what temperature a room is, it's always room temperature.

— Steven Wright

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2013 David Livermore


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