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Help your workers beat the winter blues

By Rhea Attar


Employers may be facing grumpier-than-usual workers this month. The culprit? Cold temperatures. Of the Canadian employees responding to a 2018 Accountemps survey, 56 per cent said winter weather has a negative impact on their state of mind and 25 per cent cite January as the unhappiest month of the year.

Managers may often see this “winter of discontent” mood spilling over into the office. In another Accountemps survey of Canadian workers, 41 per cent said they’ve had run-ins with co-workers or facilities personnel over climate control.

What may seem like a small thing can actually have a considerable effect. Understanding how temperature affects productivity can help management implement strategies to keep employees comfortable and conflict-free as temperatures swing.


Some like it hot

Temperature is only one component of the office environment, but it has a real impact on overall employee satisfaction. When workers are uncomfortable, they can become irritable and grouchy. Their grumblings may drag down employee morale, especially when management doesn’t seem concerned about their complaints. What’s more, people who are already stressed are not very tolerant of chilly air.

However, the answer isn’t just to crank up the heat. Each person’s metabolism and personal preferences are different, so it’s often impossible to arrive at a perfect thermostat setting for the entire building. When the Accountemps survey asked workers whether they were more productive when the office temperature was warm or cool, 45 per cent of respondents said “cool,” 30 per cent answered “warm,” and 26 per cent said there was no difference.


Thawing out their differences

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety offers some guidelines for optimal thermal comfort, which is when a person wearing normal indoor clothing feels neither too cold nor too warm. If that seems a little obvious, here’s a more detailed range of what that means on the thermostat:

  • In winter, 22°C is the optimal temperature. The acceptable range is 20–23.5°C.
  • In summer, 24.5°C is the optimal temperature. The acceptable range is 23–26°C.
  • The ideal relative humidity for both winter and summer is 50 per cent.
  • The ideal average air speed is <0.15 m/s.


These are only recommendations and these temperature ranges are comfortable for about 80 per cent of individuals. Is it enough to make four out of five workers happy?

Companies can do much more than just leave the thermostat at 22°C and hope for the best. Here are some tips to help get it closer to five out of five:

  • Open lines of communication. Making an ongoing effort to listen to staff is key to preventing office conflict. Encourage employees to email their manager or HR contact with any temperature-related complaints or drop by for an in-person chat. Online apps like Google Surveys and SurveyMonkey make it easy to gauge the temperature of worker sentiment and gain anonymous – and potentially more honest – feedback. 
  • Reassess the office layout. Just because the thermostat is set at one temperature doesn’t mean the entire office is at that temperature. Desks next to north-facing windows might be one of the nippiest places during winter, while cubicles directly below a vent could get too toasty or breezy for some workers. By identifying the cold and hot spots in the workplace, then asking people if they’d like to switch places, managers can help employees find a climate zone that fits their personal temperature preferences.
  • Give the gift of warmth. Show employees the company cares by reimbursing each person for a temperature-related freebie of their choice for the office. It can be considered a late holiday gift. People who are perpetually cold can buy a personal space heater, heating pad, electric hand warmer, fingerless gloves or electric socks. Those who are sensitive to dry winter temps could opt for a mini humidifier or hand lotion for their desk. Set a dollar limit like $30-$50.
  • Raise spirits with cozy perks. Grey skies and less daylight can have as much of a negative impact on workers’ moods as colder temperatures, but companies can brighten up the office with a little post-holiday cheer. A hot chocolate station is a great addition in the break room. Treat employees to a variety of piping hot soups for lunch. Throwing a luau-themed office party, complete with heat lamps, is another possibility. Some companies even offer free valet parking, which helps workers avoid the bone-chilling walk from the parking lot.
  • Focus on wellness. During cold and flu season, companies can help employees boost their immune system. Many people are more sedentary in winter, which leads to weight gain and poor health, but employers can help offset this effect. Perhaps offer a weekly Zumba or team spin class to get the blood pumping and heart rate up, while boosting team spirit. Replacing the soft drinks in the vending machine with 100 per cent fruit juice, coconut or flavoured water provides healthy alternatives. Companies can remind workers to get moving by taking the stairs rather than the elevator.


Business leaders and HR professionals can’t do anything about Canada’s notoriously cold climate, but they can take active measures to make sure workers don’t get hot and bothered, or that morale doesn’t dip as low as the thermometer. Banishing the winter blahs with proactive measures can really make for a warmer office environment and happier workplace overall.


Rhea Attar is a branch manager for Accountemps, a division of Robert Half.




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