Summer is right around the corner, and the air conditioning is already firing up in office buildings across Canada, leaving millions of Canadians -- the majority of them female -- reaching for an extra layer to keep from shivering through their workday.
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Most office buildings use a model developed in the 1960s which predicted an 'ideal office temperature' of 21ºC (or 70ºF). Even here at The Weather Network, where we pride ourselves on having a handle on the temperature, the office HVAC settings hover between 22ºC and 23ºC via an automated system.
The problem with that for the modern office environment? In the 1960s, the model used for the 'average office worker' was a 155 lb, 40-year-old man in full suit and tie.
Past studies have shown that this nearly 50-year-old temperature ideal is out of date in more ways than one, but especially when it comes to the surge in the female office population. Women, on average, radiate less heat than men -- by up to 35 per cent -- and a woman's blood vessels constrict more quickly than a man's, making them more sensitive to changes in temperature.
This isn't just a sore point for fighting over the office thermostat but presents challenges for so-called green buildings and energy-efficient approaches to office environments. The more climate standards in the office cater to only a portion of those working within, the more likely inhabitants are to take steps that counteract that energy efficiency (space heaters, I'm looking at you.) An earlier study proposed 24ºC (75ºF) -- the mid-point between what men and women tend to find comfortable -- would be a good setting for offices of the early 21st century.
HIGHER THERMOMETER, HIGHER PERFORMANCE
A new study is adding fuel to this fire, showing that women are actually more productive in offices that are warmer.
Researchers presented 543 participants, male and female, with math, verbal, and other cognitive tasks while varying temperatures between 16 and 33º and found, generally speaking, female performance improved at the warmer end of the spectrum, while the reverse was true for males.
Specifically, women not only answered more questions correctly when the temperature was warmer, but they also attempted more questions; something the team interpreted as an increase in overall effort.
The results also showed that the womens' improvement at warmer temperatures was greater than the mens' decrease in performance, suggesting there's more to gain for a company by boosting the temperature than there is to lose.
While the study's authors highlight these results as a cautionary tale for others designing experiments in psychology, economics and other social sciences to keep in mind, they also acknowledge its importance out of the lab and into the office.
"Ultimately, our results potentially raise the stakes for the battle of the thermostat, suggesting that it is not just about comfort, but also about cognitive performance and productivity," conclude the study's authors. "Given the relative effect sizes, our results suggest that in gender-balanced workplaces, temperatures should be set significantly higher than current standards."