Business Columns & Blogs

Diane Stafford: When the office thermostat battle heats up

Twenty-three percent of workers say their offices are too cold. Twenty-five percent say their offices are too hot. If they’re in the same room, it’s a thermostat war.

Office temperature battles rage year-round, as documented by a national Harris Poll for CareerBuilder. One in five office workers admitted arguing with a co-worker about the temperature. About one in four admitted secretly adjusting the controls.

“It’s impossible to change the thermostat to something that pleases everybody,” concluded Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder’s chief human resource officer.

Generally, the survey found, men are more likely to say they’re too hot (28 percent) and women are more likely to say they’re too cold (31 percent). But men and women agreed an office that’s too extreme one way or the other is a negative effect on productivity, with “too hot” the worst headache.

Aside from personal preferences, some workplaces can’t do a good job of controlling temperature. Blame old buildings, outdated heating and air conditioning, inadequate weatherproofing or changes in building use from what originally was devised. So if the building or its HVAC system can’t be remodeled, it calls for a balanced response by individuals and management.

Keep in mind that some people really are more sensitive to environment than others. Organizations that want best performances out of their people shouldn’t ignore serious temperature complaints. A desk reassignment, a vent baffle, a desk fan or a heater might be an easy remedy to a true problem.

Of course, we can dress in layers. We can keep a sweater or jacket at work. One of my friends solved her cold-office complaint by wearing gloves that had no fingertips. Keeping her hands warm, but still being able to type, made a big difference in how she felt.

It’s harder to deal with the too-hot problem. Most professionals can’t strip too many layers at work. Remedies could include getting up from the desk at regular intervals and walking to a cooler spot in the building or outside. And drink ice water. Another friend swears by keeping a wet cloth on the back of his neck to feel cooler.

Thermostat wars aren’t fun. There may never be a clear winner or loser if controls constantly are jiggled up and down. It’s a reminder that people are different (duh) and we need common ground to get along. Duh, again. It’s also a reminder that temperature isn’t the only source of office conflict.

Perfume that one person finds pleasant may be an irritant, if not a health hazard to someone else. One person’s voice can be annoying to another. A clicking ballpoint pen, a squeaky chair, a constant foot tapping – any number of things can upset a co-worker. Sometimes the offender simply isn’t aware, so it pays to ask, please and kindly, if the offense could be stopped. If that fails, try to figure out a way to relocate – the offender or yourself.

Diane Stafford is a columnist for The Kansas City Star:, 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford,