A BC Hydro report finds the increased use of A/C in B.C. workplaces is leading to worker discomfort and conflict between employees and employers.
The report entitled ‘Cold War: How many B.C. employees are losing the battle over office A/C’ finds air conditioning use in commercial buildings has increased by almost a third since 2006. The increase in A/C usage has resulted in close to one-quarter of British Columbians surveyed saying they have argued with a fellow employee over the office temperature, or witnessed this type of argument between co-workers.
The survey commissioned by BC Hydro found two-thirds of British Columbians do not have the ability to adjust the office temperature themselves, or must ask permission to do so. Amongst those, 60 per cent find the air conditioning too cold in the summer months, making it difficult to concentrate on work – with women feeling this way more than men.
The survey found women are feeling cold more often than their male coworkers – with almost 40% describing the office as too cold in the summer months, compared to just 14% of men. The survey found men are twice as likely to describe their office temperature as ideal.
Women also report having more trouble getting work done in a chilly environment. For instance, twice as many women surveyed said that the office temperature during the summer makes it difficult to concentrate on work – and while both women and men resort to coping mechanisms to deal with chilly office temperatures, women do so more often. For example the survey found:
Over half of women wear layers or use a blanket at work to combat the chilly temperature, while only 26% of men report needing to do this.
One-third will sip a hot drink to stay warm compared to less than 20% of men.
About 15% will use a space heater at their desk, while 10% of men report doing the same.
Around 20% of women will leave their office and go outside more during the day while just about 10% of men report needing to do this to stay warm.
When it comes to controlling office temperature, women are twice as likely as men to say that the management at their workplace has too much power over the temperature, and one-quarter of women report that steps have been taken by their workplace to stop employees from adjusting the temperature.
About 20% of women surveyed said that they feel the office temperature is better suited to men, and recent research supports this. According to a study published in 2015 in the journal Nature Climate Change, many building climate systems were developed in the 1960s using an outdated thermal comfort model that relies on a formula based on the resting metabolic rate of men.
Specifically, the key variable in the thermal comfort model is based on the resting metabolic rate of a middle aged 150-pound male who wears a business suit in the office. The study goes on to say that perhaps this middle-aged man in a business suit once represented the majority of office workers, but women now make up half of the workforce, and usually have a slower metabolic rate than men, which could point to why women feel colder in the office.
And when it comes to productivity and cognitive performance, a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE found women work better in warmer indoor temperatures, while men work better in cooler indoor temperatures.