Temperature Wars

Shawnee Love   •   October 10, 2019

Each time the season changes, another opportunity for conflict arises in offices across Canada:

Conflict around temperature

It seems everyone has a different “comfort zone” and opinion about what the right temperature should be in their office.  This conflict is exacerbated by the fact that people can be truly uncomfortable if the temperature is above or below their individual comfort zone.

In general, males prefer lower temperatures than females, although women going through menopause often are happy with the AC on year round.

As the season changes, someone has the ignoble task of turning off the AC and turning on the heat. They can be assured to get it wrong the first time, and set the ambient temperature too high or too low for most people even if that actual temperature setting is the same as has been used every year for that season.  (I think that is because we take awhile to settle into a new temperature.  For example, -5 always feels frigid in October but in February in most parts of Canada, that’s a balmy day.) Regardless, someone will certainly point out the error and raise or lower the temperature a degree or so.  When the space doesn’t heat or cool quickly enough, another person will jump in and adjust a couple more degrees.  The room temperature will finally catch up and other people will complain it has gone too far the other way.  Someone will adjust the other way, and so it goes.

I have been in spaces where this debate/ battle goes on for days until someone puts their foot down on what the “right” temperature is according to “experts” (i.e., the ones searchable on Google) and sets the temperature there.  They usually have to issue a cease fire (and cease adjusting the temperature) order as well to allow the temperature to settle into its happy place.  Things will stabilize for another season, and then we start all over again.

Enough about why temperature wars  occur, more importantly, how do we solve them?

Honestly, I am not sure you can.  Different people, changes in what is personally comfortable (as I age, I am more likely to just have with me and “put on that sweater” that my cohort admonishes me to use), and the weather variations that exist mean you can’t just program once or even establish a policy and assume it is going to be the same forever.

I do think you can reduce the warring, by communicating well though:

  • Tell people in advance when you are going to be making an adjustment to the temperature.
  • Ensure they know what to do and/or who to go to if they are uncomfortable.
  • Advise what your plan will be to calibrate so everyone is comfortable.

And if all else fails, offer options such as seating near heat or cooling vents, fans, personal heaters, etc.

Being uncomfortable at work (whether too hot or too cold) is not conducive to good work or a positive attitude, so it pays to get this right.

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