Workplace Doctor: How to survive in an igloo-like office



I get very cold in the office, not just cold but seriously cold. It's a case of taking in jumpers and shawls to wrap myself up against the chill. I realise it's hot outside, but why does it have to be freezing inside? We have a central chilling system, so when I complain to my manager, he tells me everyone else is fine. Moving to a warmer spot in the office would require ousting another member of staff. What can I do here? MM, Sharjah

It’s a shame that you are getting the cold shoulder in the office in more ways than one. The weather is certainly heating up outside, and as everyone prepares for summer you seem to have colleagues who are trying to create a winter solace far removed from the desert heat. We have the same conversations in my office, when some people are too cold and others too warm. Unfortunately, optimum room temperatures are different for different people, but there can be only one indoor climate when working in a modern, open plan office. So when you ask yourself ‘why does it have to be freezing inside’, others are probably telling themselves ‘I wish it was a little cooler in here’.

The way different people experience temperature depends on a range of factors, including body type, clothing, activity level and closeness to vents, computers and windows – as well as personal preferences. Your tolerance may also depend on where you come from, and the temperatures you are used to. Those from cold and rainy climates like me (the UK) may struggle with the heat outside, and revert to our chilly default through the artificial air chilling systems inside our office to remind us of home. I can’t speak for everyone, but I certainly do anything to avoid the heat here in the summer.

That said, this challenge is certainly occupying you enough to complain to your manager, and the response that you have received is not what you want to hear. I imagine that your manager is personally comfortable with the temperature, as are some others in the office.

As you said, you could move to a warmer spot in the office, but rather than seeing it as “ousting” another member of staff, you could enquire whether they are similarly affected by the temperature. If your colleague prefers a colder office environment or is indifferent to the temperature, they may be happy to move.

If you explain your problem to them, then they may understand and appreciate your situation.

Alternatively, find out whether anyone else in the office is affected by the temperature in the same way as you. Ask around and maybe lobby some support; observe who else may be shivering or bringing in shawls and jumpers to keep the cold at bay. We actually have a system in my workplace, where if someone decides they are too cold, we take a democratic approach and everyone in the office casts their vote on the temperature. This is working well.

Unfortunately, if you find yourself out in the cold on this matter, then you may need to continue to adapt by wrapping up, moving to that warmer spot, or finding another workstation for parts of the day.

If you really feel that it is affecting your well-being and productivity at work, and, ultimately, your ability to do your job, then another option is to talk with your HR team. However, try to sort out the air-conditioning issue within the team first.

A possible repercussion, if you take it to HR and the temperature is changed, is that you may return to the office to face a heated situation with your colleagues.

Doctor’s Prescription:

Employees who are cold tend to work less efficiently – few people can focus properly on their work when they’re trying to stay warm, so do take steps to create a better working environment. But you don’t want a chilly atmosphere to lead to arguments over what the ideal temperature should be. Try to avoid a heated backlash over air-conditioning by talking to your colleagues first.

Alex Davda is a business psychologist and consultant at Ashridge Business School, based in the Middle East. Email him at business@thenational.ae for advice on any work issues.

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