HR Strange But True!
March 27, 2008
It's a raging dispute in the workplace. No, not Clinton versus Obama or who will be in the Final Four. It's that age-old argument--some like it hot; some like it cold--and cold seems to be winning.

In an article titled, "Air Conditioning Addiction," in Industrial Hygiene News , writer Marty Watts describes how numerous studies have shown that dissatisfaction with workplace temperatures causes a decrease in productivity and an increase in complaints.

Three-quarters of employees in a Cornell University poll said they were dissatisfied with their office temperature, and "extreme office temperatures" was the most frequently reported complaint (47 percent) in a national survey by Blumberg Capital Partners.

And 69 percent of respondents to a Blumberg poll said that conditions in their building affected their productivity, motivation, and perception of their employer.

But why are America 's workplaces--including industrial facilities--kept so cold? According to Watts, it's because America has a mental addiction to its "beloved" air conditioning. It's not uncommon for indoor temps in the summer to be 30 degrees cooler indoors than outdoors, with workers wearing sweaters and jackets inside in August.

Watts comments that "air conditioning is not meant to make you cold, just comfortable." Yet 18 percent of electricity consumption in the United States (1 kilowatt in 5) is used to cool buildings, including workplaces.

Of course, for years managers have been told that workers are more productive when they are chilly, when the Cornell study actually showed that workers keyed faster and with less errors at 77 degrees than at 68 degrees.

Also, Americans have a mind set, after much publicity about "sick building syndrome" and "building-related illnesses" that cold air is healthier than warm, so they demand chillier worksites. Yet the constant use of air conditioning may actually cause illnesses by spreading contaminants through buildings, rather than preventing them. A study at Cardiff University quoted by Watts says that workers have more colds and viruses and are more predisposed to infections when they work in a continuously air conditioned environment.

So companies are spending staggering amounts of money on electricity to let workers "chill out," yet up to a quarter of the cold air goes out the window--literally--due to the inefficient insulation qualities of industrial glass. Add to this the estimated $2 per hour/per employee cost in lower productivity and lost time caused by overly zealous cooling.

And what are companies doing about it? Some companies are appealing to "green leaning" employees that heavy use of the HVAC system is not environmentally friendly. And HR Strnage but True! has reported previously that some companies are installing "dummy" thermostats to dupe employees into thinking that temperatures are lower. But can your employees ever kick their AC addiction? We'll see this summer.

Source: Industrial Hygiene News

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