According to a large office survey and an analysis of Twitter data, women are more likely to feel too cold at the office and more likely to report that the office temperature is impacting their performance at work. The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Temperature discomfort is one of the most common sources of complaint within office environments. In particular, research suggests that excessively cold office temperatures are a frequent issue. Notably, studies also suggest that women bear the brunt of the discomfort, being disproportionately affected by cold offices.
Study authors Thomas Parkinson and his team note that there has been little research into why offices tend to be set at temperatures that are less comfortable to women. With this question in mind, the researchers analyzed two large datasets of office workers in the United States.
First, Parkinson and his colleagues analyzed survey findings from the CBE Occupant Survey, an online questionnaire that assesses workers’ satisfaction with their physical workplace environment. In particular, the researchers focused on answers to items related to satisfaction with temperature, which included 38,851 responses from 435 office buildings located in 168 cities in the United States.
Overall, 38% of the survey respondents were dissatisfied with the temperatures in their offices, and almost two-thirds of them were women. Respondents who said they were dissatisfied were further asked to evaluate the temperature separately for summer and winter, and most of these respondents chose ‘too cold’ for both seasons. Women seemed to be most impacted by this year-round cold, with 76% of reports of excessive cold in the summer coming from women. Moreover, 44% of men felt that the temperature in their office improved their performance compared to only 31% of women. But 42% of women said that the temperature hindered their performance.
To expand on this research, the study authors next turned to Twitter data. The researchers searched for tweets from US residents that included either of the keywords “freezing” or “cold” alongside either “office”, “desk”, or “building”. This left them with 16,791 tweets posted between 2010 and 2019 that were presumed to be discussing cold discomfort in US office spaces.
Although around 55% of Twitter users are women, 66% of these cold office tweets were written by women — once again suggesting that women were more likely to feel too cold at the office. While men tended to tweet more about being cold at work during the winter, women tweeted more about cold offices in the summer.
The researchers matched each tweet to the average temperature on the day it was posted, according to its location. They found that as temperatures increased, the likelihood that a cold office tweet came from a woman’s account increased. It was also found that people from the South “contributed the largest portion of tweets about overcooling in warm temperatures”, which may suggest that these climates had particular issues with excessive cooling due to dehumidification requirements.
In areas with both hot and cold seasons like the Midwest, tweets about cold offices were common whether local temperatures were warm or cold. “These results show that although the phenomenon of overcooling varies slightly with climate, the unseasonably cold indoor temperatures consistently affect the thermal satisfaction of women,” Parkinson and colleagues say.
The authors highlight that office overcooling is a massive energy waste that not only contributes to greenhouse gases but costs billions of dollars a year in the US. According to the current study, overcooling also negatively impacts women’s ability to focus at work. While it remains unclear why offices are kept excessively cool, the researchers say that thermostats are commonly set below comfort levels to temperatures that “favor the thermal preferences of men”, and heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems (HVAC) are often improperly configured. Actions to curb overcooling may be as simple as raising the office thermostat in the summer or reconfiguring HVAC systems.
The study, “Overcooling of offices reveals gender inequity in thermal comfort”, was authored by Thomas Parkinson, Stefano Schiavon, Richard de Dear, and Gail Brager.