"Managing People with Morecrofts"

Some like it hot – Sexist air conditioning causes frosty relations in the workplace

by Thomas Sutherland

New research carried out by Maastricht University in the Netherlands recently has found that female staff are potentially being discriminated against due to the standard temperature settings of air conditioning units being set too low.

In a nutshell, the study found that men are more comfortable at lower temperatures than women.  More precisely, men are most comfortable at a temperature of 22 degrees whilst women prefer 25 degrees. 

For many, this may help explain why it is usually female staff who comment on the coolness of the air conditioning in the workplace in comparison to men.

It is important to note that research of this nature focuses on the majority of men and women and, naturally, there will be some men and women who react differently and who will be exceptions to the general rule.  Personally, I remember working with a colleague in a previous role who had her desk fan on full-blast continuously throughout the year, even during a particularly harsh, frosty winter.  And we’re not talking about breezy setting number 1 here, it was the full hurricane…  

But enough of that.  What’s the science?  Well, let’s dig down into the standout facts of the study. 

Apparently, the current standards for air conditioning units are based on calculations undertaken in the 1960s based on an 11 stone, 40 year old man.  These calculations focused on the resting ‘metabolic rate’ of this particular man.  Very simply put, the resting metabolic rate is the minimal rate of energy used per unit of time whilst resting.  The lower your metabolic rate, the higher the temperature your body is comfortable at. 

Women tend to have a lower metabolic rate than men due to having less fat free body mass in comparison with men, whilst studies have also found that the metabolic rate lowers with age, meaning that older employees of both genders are equally likely to feel the cold.

So, what can an employer do?  Well, for starters they could read my previous blog on working in hot conditions here.  It should, of course, be noted that this was written during the, all too brief, heatwave in Liverpool!

In terms of air conditioning, it is likely to be a question of common sense in terms of setting the air conditioning system at a safe temperature that best suits the majority of workers and allows work to be carried out productively.  By doing so, an employer is likely to satisfy their obligations under health and safety legislation by ensuring the working environment is safe to work in.

Many will be looking out of the window at this point and finding this blog slightly ironic in light of the cool weather.  I’m sure the majority of people reading this will be longing for the weather to warm up to the point where air conditioning is actually required. 

But, in the meantime, it is important to consider that Some Like It Hot rather than feeling Frozen…