It’s a common complaint in the office: the room is too cold to function properly. A new study now says this may be true for women.
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A study published Wednesday in PLOS ONE found that women were more productive when they were working in a warmer room, showing that cold offices may be hurting female employees’ performance.
“It’s been documented that women like warmer indoor temperatures than men, but the idea until now has been that it’s a matter of personal preference,” Tom Chang, USC Marshall School of Business’ associate professor of finance and business economics and co-author of the study, told USC News.
“What we found is it’s not just whether you feel comfortable or not, but that your performance on things that matter — in math and verbal dimensions, and how hard you try — is affected by temperature,” he added.
More than 500 college students were asked to take three different tests — math, verbal and cognitive reflection — while the room was set to temperatures between 61 and 91 degrees Fahrenheit at various times. Although the test scores seem relatively normal as a group, researchers found that there were differences between the male and female students when it came to answering questions.
The women’s math and verbal test scores suffered when the room was set below 70 degrees. Women’s math scores, however, began increasing by 1.7 percent as the room got warmer.
“If temperatures are cold, men are much better than women. So there is this gender gap,” Agne Kajackaite, a behavioral economics researcher at WZB Berlin Social Science Center in Germany and co-author of the study, told The New York Times.
Kajackaite said the gender gap disappeared with each degree the room got warmer.
“When the temperature was below 70 Fahrenheit, females solved, on average, 8.31 math tasks correctly. And when the temperature was above 80 Fahrenheit, females solved 10.56 tasks,” she added. “That is, female performance increased by 27 percent.”
The report showed men performed better in cooler office spaces than warmer ones. The decrease in productivity was partially due to the fewer answers they submitted, while women began answering more questions in a warmer setting. The difference in performance was "larger and more precisely estimated" among women than men, the study found.
“It’s not like we’re getting to freezing or boiling hot. Even if you go from 60 to 75 degrees, which is a relatively normal temperature range, you still see a meaningful variation in performance,” Chang told USC News.
Researchers concluded that when it comes to the “battle of the thermostat,” employers should consider raising room temperatures above the normal standard when there’s a mix of female and male employees.
“People invest a lot in making sure their workers are comfortable and highly productive,” Chang said. “This study is saying, even if you care only about money or the performance of your workers, you may want to crank up the temperature in your office buildings.”