Office Chill: The Controversy Over Gender-Based Temperature Preferences

Office Chill

Office Chill: The Controversy Over Gender-Based Temperature Preferences

As summer temperatures rise past the 100-degree mark in numerous areas across the nation, office workers find themselves in a starkly contrasting environment. The same short-sleeved shirt that left you perspiring on your commute could have you hunting for a cozy blanket or browsing for portable heaters by midday. Despite the scorching heat outdoors, the phenomenon of the office’s “winter in summer” is hardly new.

Salvatore Basile, author of “Cool: How Air Conditioning Changed Everything,” traces this back to the 1950s when air conditioning became a standard feature in buildings. Property owners were keen to demonstrate the luxury of air conditioning, often overdoing it to the point where it became uncomfortable. A building exhibitor once advertised that his air conditioning made people ill, just to emphasize its chilling capacity.

So why are offices still so cold? The reasons are manifold, ranging from different physiological responses to temperature across genders and body types, outdated temperature models, and the design of office air conditioning systems that cater to more formal dress codes. There’s also the popular belief that a cooler environment enhances productivity. Sheryl Sandburg, former COO of Facebook (now Meta), revealed in her 2013 book “Lean In” that Mark Zuckerberg kept the office at a brisk 59 degrees to boost productivity.

Architects and engineers further explain that airflow in buildings is designed for maximum occupancy. However, with many employees now working from home at least part-time, buildings are rarely filled to capacity. Additionally, buildings are designed to withstand the hottest day and don’t necessarily adjust for an average summer day. David Lehrer, architect and communications director at UC Berkeley’s Center for the Built Environment, likens it to having a high-performance NASCAR engine when all you need is a trip to the local grocery store.

The situation is exacerbated by the use of outdated and inaccurate models for determining office temperatures. Ruiji Sun, a researcher at the Center, explains that these models erroneously assume that all humans react identically to specific temperatures. Women, in particular, seem to feel colder than their male counterparts. The term “Women’s Winter” has emerged on social media as women express their frustration with freezing office environments.

In 2016, a CollegeHumor sketch humorously highlighted this disparity, depicting women in an office setting shivering and sporting icicles while their male colleagues applied sunscreen. Kassia Miller, the writer of the sketch and now a television screenwriter for shows like “The Good Place,” noted that complaints about cold office temperatures usually come from women.

So why do women seem to feel colder in offices than men? Basile suggests that air conditioning was a sexist technology favoring men due to biological differences and men’s traditionally heavier office attire.

However, scientists disagree on this issue. Boris Kingma, a senior biophysics researcher at the Netherlands Institute of Applied Scientific Research, argues that reactions to temperature can be influenced by factors such as body size, composition, clothing, and activity level. Kingma’s 2015 paper suggests that office temperatures are typically set based on the thermal needs of a 40-year-old man weighing 154 pounds.

Fortunately, there are potential solutions to this problem. One approach is to allow employees to dress more casually. Japan’s ‘Cool Biz’ campaign encourages workers to wear lighter clothing between May and September, while indoor temperatures are set at 82 degrees Fahrenheit to save energy.

Another solution is to give employees access to fans. Stefano Schiavon, a professor at UC Berkeley, suggests raising the office temperature by 5 degrees and providing fans at each desk or installing them in the ceiling. Employees who prefer warmer temperatures can leave their fans off, while those who feel hot can turn them on.

For those who still feel uncomfortable, Schiavon recommends requesting a change of seating. Seats near windows tend to be warmer, while those under vents in the center of the office offer a cooler alternative. The key is flexibility – allowing employees to adjust their attire or the air around them as needed.

In conclusion, while outdated office temperature models may be causing “Women’s Winter,” there are feasible solutions available. Whether it’s choosing the best standing desk near a window for warmth or opting for an electric height adjustable standing desk near a cooling vent, it’s important for employers to consider employees’ comfort and health benefits when designing workspaces.

author avatar
Guy Director
Higher Diploma in Mechanical Engineering. Ergomotion Director since 2005.

Google Reviews

Ergomotion

Google Reviews

Andrew Pieterse 14/06/24

Google
Great service and really quick shipping. It is great to know that you are getting quality parts from a Scandinavian manufacturer with your standing desk purchase rather than the cheap knock off stuff you get from other major brands. Reasonably priced for the quality too!

Janette Clarke 20/05/24

Google
Guy was very accommodating with meeting him at a time that suited me. He assembled the desk prior to me collecting so I only had to carry it inside with help (it's pretty heavy). The desk is great, the storage racks underneath with the 6 x built in powerpoints was worth the extra money. I have a functioning & tidy workplace.
Guy was brilliant, I highly recommend.
Janette

Nickel 10/05/24

Google
Have now purchased 2 stand up office desks off Guy, benchmark sales service from him, all via email, so easy; from quote to plug in, only matched by the strong quality of these machines, solid and stable. If only everything in life was this easy and reliable.

Jennifer Fadriquela 23/03/24

Google
I purchased an EDesk this month from Ergomotion, and it was a remarkably smooth transaction. Guy was eager to answer all my questions before my purchase. As a first-time buyer of a standing desk, I truly appreciated how he addressed my queries with thorough details and provided options within my budget.

The delivery process was also smooth, despite a slight delay in the ETA. Guy ensured I received all necessary updates from the courier/removalist.

I've been using the desk for a couple of weeks now and I'm satisfied with it. It's sturdy on all height adjustments and the motor works as expected. I also like oak finish because it's clean-looking and suits my room setup.

Overall, I'm happy with my purchase and I'll definitely recommend Ergomotion to someone looking for their desk needs.

Josh Oliver 04/02/24

Google
I've had an ergomotion desk for 10 years. It's still as good today as it was brand new. Over the years Guy has always responded promptly to any guidance I've needed (mostly help putting the desk back together after removalists take it apart).

Michael Cheung 18/01/24

Google
Great service from Guy and the team at Ergomotion! Helped with all my queries and was able to source a standing desk part for me when many others weren't able! Highly recommend!

Shao Lei 30/11/23

Google
Decent desk and awesome service. Highly recommend

Rod Hathway 10/11/23

Google
Awesome experience. Great value, super customer experience, ordered, assembled and picked up in 24 hours!

Dom K 06/11/23

Google
Skip the big name brands and buy from Guy instead, 10/10 linak parts with a very well built tabletop.

Chris Wu 06/11/23

Google
I purchased the edesk from Guy at Ergomotion. Guy was a pleasure to deal with and the desk arrived the next day. Guy was highly knowledgeable on the desk and provided very prompt support on the installation. I can highly recommend Ergomotion.
Read more...