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Research: Office Thermostat Settings May Be Sexist

Topics: Data & Research
office thermostat settings

Whether it’s a sweater, a blanket or a clandestine space heater, women who work in offices often rely on help to stay comfortable and productive at work. And their discomfort is not imagined, studies show.

Research shows that office thermostat settings are based on a decades-old formula that uses the metabolic rates of men. Introduced in 1966 by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers, the set of guidelines used in modern air-conditioning systems – called Standard 55 – is based on the metabolic rate of a 40-year-old man weighing about 154 pounds, dressed in a 1960s business suit.

Different Metabolic Rates

Women tend to have lower basal metabolic rates, Dr. Devi Nampiaparampil of NYU School of Medicine told Today. They tend to be colder because they give off less heat. They may wear skirts, baring their legs to the elements, and sleeveless shirts sometimes, too.

Noted Australian author and scientist Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki asserts that the glass ceiling is partly to blame for women’s discomfort. Women, who are less likely to get promoted regardless of their qualifications, are relegated to the center of buildings, while men get the corner offices with great views and lots of windows, where the glass leaks heat. In summer, that means the air conditioning can be cranked to make the corner-office dwellers comfortable, while the people in the center of the building shiver, because that’s where the AC vents typically are.

Temperature and Productivity

If you’re a man or even a woman who tends to run warm, you might think, “What’s the fuss? Throw on your office cardigan and quit complaining.”

But productivity is at stake. Some studies show that workers are more efficient when they’re warm. A small field study by a Cornell University psychological scientist found that women were significantly more productive when their office was kept at a warmer temperature.

Yet, some studies show that staying cool has its benefits. Anna Hensel cited three different studies in an Inc article titled 3 Reasons to Keep the Office Air Conditioning Cranked. In one, U.S. Department of Energy and Finnish researchers reviewed 24 different studies to find that, on average, worker productivity decreased once the office temperature hit 73 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

What’s the Ideal Temp?

In general, the Standard 55 guidelines call for temperatures from 67 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) recommends to employers to set the thermostat between 68 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit, keeping humidity in the range of 20 to 60 percent.

Even in those ranges, some people will be too hot and some too cold.

But one researcher might be on to a solution. Wang Dan, associate professor in the Department of Computing at Polytechnic University, has invented a smart device that can adjust the temperature of a room’s air conditioning using data collected from occupants. Using their smartphones, people enter their height, weight, gender and other relevant information, and The Personalized Thermal Comfort Platform uses its algorithms to calculate the best thermal comfort level for all in the office. It even automatically adjusts the temperature.

Even then, it won’t cater to the needs of every person – male or female.

But until your office adopts the new technology, if you’re the one responsible for setting the thermostat, try these tips to avoid workplace temperature feuds.

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Wayne CooperIanJust sayin'Vince Recent comment authors
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Sexist? That’s hilarious…if you mean sexist against men, then perhaps. I’m ‘in charge’ of the thermostat and we use no ‘formula’ for setting it. It’s set for about 72 in the summer and at 75 now. No matter what, I get complaints every day, There are people sitting right next to each other; one complains it’s too hot, the other that it’s too cold. This happens every single day. The 72 and 75 wasn’t calculated, they ended up being the… Read more »

Wayne Cooper
Wayne Cooper

Are you kidding? Office temperatures may favour men in the USA but in Britain it’s the men who suffer. Open a window in summer and we get looks of disgust from our female colleagues who slip cardigans on to prove a point. In winter, men sit in short sleeves with desk fans as the younger women crank up the air conditioning. Those of a certain age however can be seen fanning themselves!


This is a silly topic. the paper is from 2015 and the link is to a 5 pages summary only. I found this interesting discussion of it on Reddit. The argument isn’t that the thermostat is sexist but that work attire expectations for men and women differ where women’s options have more options for cooler attire. Men’s options for work attire are generally not as cool. the up shot is that the folks who feel the cold more (Women)… Read more »

Just sayin\'
Just sayin\'

Of course they’re freezing with most of their body out while men are still forced to work in full suit.

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