HR Strange But True

Is Your Work Air Conditioning Sexist?

Some like it hot, while others like it cold. For most offices, this is a real workplace battle. But is it one that is also based on gender? A recent NPR article suggests office air conditioning standards are based on outdated research, created in an era when the majority of workers were male.

According to the article, at some point in the 1930’s the scientific community defined “metabolic equivalents.” This is how much energy a body requires while sitting, walking, and running in order to keep its vital organs at a cozy 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The body has to work harder if the temperature isn’t quite right. Interestingly enough, while the data hasn’t really been updated, it is still used for many calculations, including the standard for air conditioning an office. The problem, according to the article, is that these numbers may be biased toward men.

Apparently, women generally feel colder than men do in the same air temperature. They prefer rooms at 77 degrees Fahrenheit, while men prefer 72. This is mostly because of body size and fat-to-muscle ratios. According to science, women’s bodies need higher temperatures to be comfortable. However, when the metabolic equivalent research was initially conducted, most offices were staffed by men who wore suits all day. Therefore, the generally recommended office temperature may be a bit “off.” The article also suggests that in addition to that research, it is usually the case that the person who makes decisions about the office temperature, such as the building manager, is a male.

Obviously, there is a lot more to this issue than just a squabble about “hot air.” Temperature influences a worker’s productivity. Uncomfortably chilly or hot offices can affect concentration and increase errors in basic tasks like typing. Plus, keeping the office a lot colder can just be expensive. While the solution may not necessarily be to change the temperature just yet, it does raise some issues for employers to explore, such as rethinking that summer dress code.