December 29, 2009
Climate control matters heat up in offices; agreements ease friction
Detroit Free Press
DETROIT — Holly Myles begins her workday with a heating pad on her lap, wrapped head-to-toe in a fleece blanket. She wears gloves; she is sure that if she didn't her hand would freeze to her computer mouse.
Yet, by the afternoon, Myles has shed her insulation and ends up fanning herself for relief from the dry, hot air that moves in, courtesy of her Troy, Mich., office building's heating and cooling system.
"I'm pretty sure the temperature in my office has a bipolar disorder," quips Myles, an account coordinator for Eisbrenner Public Relations in Troy, Mich. "It goes from arctic to desert temperatures in a matter of minutes.
"I'm not going through menopause," says Myles, 25, "but I think I can imagine what it'll be like after working in this office."
Climate control wasn't just an issue in Copenhagen recently. It's an everyday issue in many offices. It affects what you wear and how you feel.
And a new study released in December found that one-third of the employees surveyed say the variations in office temperature affects their productivity.
A December survey by CareerBuilder found 27 percent of employees consider their workplace "too hot," while 19 percent say it is "too cold." But 54 percent consider their ambient environment, just like Baby Bear and his porridge: "just right."
The employees in the survey reported temperature extremes made it difficult to concentrate. More workers maintained it was harder to concentrate when it's too hot (22 percent) than if it's too cold (11 percent).
And one of 10 workers report they've fought with a co-worker about the office climate, the survey of 4,285 found.
Warm rooms can make workers feel sluggish and sleepy. Cold temperatures can keep folks alert, so alert that they can't help but notice they're shivering.
At Franco Public Relations Group in downtown Detroit's Renaissance Center, Lauren Weber likes it cool, but she shares a cubicle grouping with three co-workers who like to be toasty.
"I'm always burning up. My face is hot right now," says Weber.
Meanwhile, cubicle mates Elizabeth Robbins and Andrea Westfall, both account executives, have space heaters near their feet. So does another co-worker.
Once, when the three of them had the space heaters going at the same time, they blew a fuse. Now, they take turns turning them on.
"It's less about being cold," said Westfall, 32, of Sterling Heights, Mich. "It's more that I like to feel warmth on me. When I'm home watching TV, I'm wrapped in a blanket. I don't have a Snuggie, but if I did, I'd use one."
"I think I'm always cold. I'm always freezing. I should bring a blanket," says Robbins, 27, of Dearborn Heights, Mich. At a previous job, she recalls, the office carpet caught on fire because of a faulty space heater used by a co-worker.
And what happens when co-workers can't agree on climate control?
Bring in the boss and management to find a solution, says John Holmquist Jr., an employment-law attorney based in Ferndale, Mich.
"Management cannot resolve a problem that has not been brought to its attention, so it is critical that notice is given so that the situation can be reviewed with all those affected; various options discussed, and hopefully a compromise, if not a consensus, reached to fix the problem," says Holmquist.
Holmquist has had clients working in a building where the heating and cooling system couldn't deal with extremely cold or hot temperatures outside.
"The employers recognized that freezing/sweltering employees cannot be expected to work happily or effectively so the problem was resolved with either fans or energy-efficient space heaters," says Holmquist.
Bruce Robertson, vice president of A & B Refrigeration in Dearborn Heights, Mich., says technology exists today to more finely tailor office's heating and cooling systems.
"You can do it if people want to spend the money," Robertson says.
He recalled a flurry of complaints from an employee in a bank building he serviced years ago. Robertson went to the employee's office and installed a thermostat control.
"I took a thermostat and drilled a hole in the wall right next to her desk," he recalls.
Robertson never received a complaint about office temperature from the employee again.
"I never ran a wire to it," Robertson said.
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