Managing workplace temperatures for a more productive environment

How does temperature affect brain function and is this invisible factor important to consider in the workplace? You may be surprised to find that it is one of the main underlying factors used to create a more productive environment.

How temperature affects basic brain function

Researchers Amar Cheema and Vanessa Patrick conducted a study on the influence of warm vs cool temperatures on decision making and complex tasks.

They put a group of healthy adults in two different rooms, one with temperature set at 19 °C and the other set at 25 °C.  The human body feels most comfortable at 22°C, so the two rooms were only 3 degrees outside of the optimal comfort level.

They then asked participants to identify spelling and grammatical errors in an article. Those in the colder room identified twice as many errors as those who were in the warmer room. Next, participants were asked to pick the most cost-effective cell phone plan out of two choices.  Participants in the cooler room picked the right plan half of the time but the participants in the warmer room picked the correct plan only a quarter of the time.

With such a simple conclusion, there may be more in the temperature spectrum that we need to consider. Let’s continue to unpack other impairments with regards to sub-optimal temperatures.

The effect of temperature on wellness and productivity

Wellness is something that is not often considered in a traditional working environment, but employers don’t realise that it poses a risk to their bottom line. While employees in warm spaces may be impaired on a functional level, those in overly air-conditioned rooms can be victim to airborne illness.

This not only impacts long-term health and well-being but also contributes to many sick days and a decrease in productivity. A reasonable temperature largely depends on the work activities and the environmental conditions of the workplace.

That said, navigating the optimal temperature for a working environment is easier said than done. Hygienists generally recommend that temperatures should be between 21 – 24 °C for summer and 24 – 26 °C for winter. But research undertaken in the Netherlands on building efficiency found that women generally are more comfortable if the temperature is closer to 25 °C – about 3 degrees warmer than men.

The way people experience temperature also depends on a range of other factors like clothing, body type, individual preferences and expectations just to mention a few. Therefore, in cases where disagreement occurs, it should preferably be governed by a company policy or agreed on by the employees.

What does the law say?

Section 8 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (Act 85 of 1993) stipulates that the employer must provide and maintain, as far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of its employees.

The same section stipulates that the employer is duty bound to establish, as far as is reasonably practicable, the hazards to health or safety of persons come with work which is performed. This includes risks associated with air conditioning systems. Risks associated with air conditioning should thus be identified and reduced as much as possible.

An efficient way to monitor work place temperature

The use of room temperature monitors or temperature data loggers are recommended. These devices will display the current room temperature so that adjustments can be made if necessary (with or without the use of an air conditioner).

One is also able to download a report indicating the either maximum and minimum temperatures for past periods or temperatures recorded at regular intervals.

Paired with this, employers can identify and control risk related to indoor air quality by:

  • Air quality test reports
  • Workplace inspections
  • Investigating complaints from employees about the air quality

Good health and comfort of your employees guarantees a more productive environment. Ultimately, investing in the most seemingly unimportant details can yield the greatest result for your company long term.