The debate over the ideal air conditioning temperature in the workplace is a common feature of workplaces across the UK, regardless of whether you are dealing with office air conditioning, industrial air conditioning, or air conditioning in a shop, restaurant or hotel. Often, what quickly becomes apparent, is a divide between men and women.

A 2015 study found that women tend to prefer a warmer temperature to men, yet most office heating and air con is based on the metabolic rate of men, resulting in a situation where many women spend the day in some amount of discomfort. Worryingly, a new study suggests this ‘sexist’ air con can also have a negative impact on performance.

Air Conditioning and Work Performance

The reason for the difference in temperature preference between men and women is mainly due to our metabolisms, with women having a lower metabolic rate than men, meaning they tend to require more warmth. While it may seem that this is a simple matter of comfort, research from the University of Southern California suggests otherwise.

Indeed, in a study of more than 500 people – believed to be the first major study measuring the impact of air conditioning units on cognitive performance – it was found that temperature can have a considerable impact on workplace performance. A variety of cognitive tests were carried out at a range of different temperatures, starting from 16.19ºC (approximately 61ºF) and going up to 32.57ºC (approximately 91ºF).

Over the duration of the study, the women performed better on mathematics and verbal tests when the thermostat was set to higher temperatures, while the men performed better at lower temperatures, adding further support to previous studies indicating this fundamental difference between the two sexes.

Striking the Ideal Temperature Balance

The results of the study are likely to increase pressure on workplaces to make adjustments to their heating and ventilation, in order to ensure a fairer balance is achieved. Crucially, another key finding of the study was that even small differences in temperature can make a difference to performance, so it is not about going to extremes.

“It’s been documented that women like warmer indoor temperatures than men,” says Tom Chang, from the University of Southern California. “But the idea until now has been that it’s a matter of personal preference. What we found is…your performance on things that matter – and how hard you try – is affected by temperature.”

According to an article from the Huffington Post, previous research from the Netherlands concluded that women tend to settle on around 25ºC as ideal, while men tend to have a preference for a temperature of around 22ºC. This would suggest that the optimum temperature to please both sexes would be somewhere in the 23ºC to 24ºC range.

Of course, the findings also highlight the importance of air conditioning on work performance more generally, making functional air conditioning units even more essential and meaning air conditioning breakdown can have serious consequences. For this reason, commercial and industrial businesses should prioritise air conditioning repair services.

The Final Word

Debates about heating and air conditioning are common, and while men and women tend to have different preferences, it is important to understand that this can have a real impact on work performance. For this reason, offices, commercial properties and other workplaces need to try to strike the right balance and avoid ‘sexist’ air con settings.