Study Shows Freezing Office Temperatures Affect Women’s Productivity

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Maybe you know colleagues who keep a sweater or a blanket at their desks to stay warm as the air conditioning tries to ice them out. Alternatively, maybe you have a co-worker who always comments on how warm the space is.

Either way, it's evident that the battle for the thermostat is being waged in offices and homes across the United States.

It's the debate that Tom Chang and his wife have been having for more than a decade.

Chang is an associate professor of finance and business economics at the University of Southern California. He says that their "vigorous discussion" is, in part, what prompted him to study the effect of temperature on people's cognitive performance.

He, along with Agne Kajackaite of the WZB Berlin Social Science Center, took 543 German college students, put them in a room and made them take tests at different temperatures — ranging from as low as 61 degrees to as high as 91 degrees.

The study showed a difference in performance between men and women depending on the temperature.

"As the temp went up, women did better on math and verbal tasks, and men did worse," Chang says. "And the increase for women in math and verbal tasks was much larger and more pronounced than the decrease in performance of men."

In other words, the warmer the room, the better the women did on the tests overall.

But the point of the study isn't to say whether there is an ideal office temperature, Chang says.

"I think, if anything, what I want people to take away from this study is that we're all a little different here and that one size doesn't fit all," he says. "More broadly, I think we should be more aware that environmental factors, like temperature, have a much bigger impact on your day-to-day lives than we generally give them credit for."

Chang says if you see half your workers keeping blankets at their desks, or sweating through their shirts, maybe consider changing the temperature.

"Our research says that even if as a business you only care about profit and productivity, you should take the comfort of your workers into account, as it will affect the bottom line," Chang says.

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