How Temperature Affects Workplace Productivity

Jun 27, 2013
4 Min Read

One time last winter, the heat in my office wasn't working.  I put on my hat, coat, and gloves, but I was still shivering.  I didn't get much work done that day, and now I know why.

Men’s Health was kind enough to send me an article regarding a new research study on the relationship between office temperature and productivity. The research, from Northumbria University, analyzed 16 workplaces and the results of 400 employee questionnaires and found that cold office temperatures cause employee productivity to plummet – especially in the afternoon.

This finding is in agreement with another study released in 2004 by Cornell University, which discovered that office temperatures of 68 degrees or lower increased on-the-job error by a whopping 44 percent. Sixty-eight is that cold, huh?

Your Body’s Natural Response

I've talked about the post-lunch dip before.  Well, according to the Cornell folks, the dip rears its ugly head again with respect to temperature.  Unlike the early morning and early evening hours when body temperature and hormone levels are elevated, you experience a drop in both between 1PM and 4PM in the afternoon.  This is due to your body’s natural circadian rhythms.  And just as your body temperature drops at night when you're asleep, the afternoon dip causes drowsiness that gets worse when your office is cold.

I don't know about that last part.  Maybe my office was too cold that day when the heat was out, but I was anything but drowsy.  If anything, I wanted to spring out of my chair and run a 5K so I could warm up.

The Magic Number is 71

Still, the optimal temperature for maximum afternoon productivity is 71 degrees – or so they say in Finland.  So turn up the thermostat yourself or make a suggestion to your office manager to do so.  Most will love this suggestion as after all, it saves on energy bills!   You can also tell them that, according to Cornell, raising the temperature to a more comfortable thermal zone saves employers about $2 per worker, per hour.  Now there’s an ROI no one can argue with.

However, if your efforts don't result in a change, consider using a space heater in your office (not one that’s a fire hazard, of course) or drinking a hot cup of tea or coffee.  Wearing layers is helpful, as is taking frequent breaks in a warmer area.  Note that you probably don't want your workspace to be too hot either, although the Cornell researchers say that productivity remains high up to 77 degrees.

When In Doubt, Experiment

Of course, there are individual differences and personal preferences that impact how productive you will actually be at various temperatures, For example, people with a bit more meat on their bones can apparently tolerate colder temperatures.  So it’s probably best to experiment a little to see what works best for you.

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