The current heatwave in Southern California and across the country has placed enormous stress on power grids — and on workplace cooling systems.
This raises an interesting question: Do we overcool offices?
If your workplace is like mine, it’s common to see some employees — mostly women — wearing sweaters or covering themselves with blankets even though outside temperatures may be in triple digits.
What’s up with that?
Jacking up the AC is actually something that goes back decades, to when air conditioning became standard in most office buildings in the 1950s.
Salvatore Basile, author of “Cool: How Air Conditioning Changed Everything,” says building owners tended to “overcool” offices just to show they could do it.
“One building exhibitor published an advertisement stating that people got sick after spending time in his air conditioning, just to prove how cold his building was,” he told CNN.
The tendency to overcool has persisted over the years, with one common explanation being that this keeps things comfortable for men wearing suit jackets (and despite the fact that most women aren’t sporting unnecessary layers).
Some businesses also maintain a belief that a chilly workplace is a productive workplace.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, back when his company was still called Facebook, liked to keep the thermostat at a brisk 59 degrees because he believed this would keep staffers working harder.
I know, nice guy, right?
Many offices are also too cold because they’re designed for full occupancy. With many workplaces now less than full because of remote or hybrid work, that means air flow is set for more bodies than may be present.
Japan has responded to changing office temps with its “Cool Biz” campaign, which promotes wearing lighter clothes during hot summer months.
Clearly many U.S. offices are using antiquated standards when it comes to workplace temps. Things are out of whack when a good portion of your workforce is huddling for warmth.
Thermostats should be set at more reasonable levels — 70, 72 or even 75 degrees would accommodate most workers’ needs.
This is also an opportunity for employers to pitch in on battling climate change. Energy usage (and bills) can be lowered by turning down the AC.
Women have taken to adopting the hashtag “women’s winter” on social media to highlight the discomfort some feel over too-cool offices.
That’s a sign that things have gone too far when it comes to keeping jacket-wearing guys comfy.