Employee productivity
Photo credit: ©istockphoto.com/Lauri Patterson


Last summer, when we were roasting in that July heat wave, Ron Friedman, Ph.D, wrote a brilliant article for Psychology Today magazine. He titled it, “Want More Productive Workers? Adjust Your Thermostat.” This grabbed me by the lapels and gave me a good shake, of course.

He started off by mentioning how the marketing geniuses at Campbell Soup figured out that most folks like to eat hot soup when the frost is on the pumpkin and not when the weather is hot and sticky. I had to agree with that because I am a big soup guy and spend most winter lunchtimes slurping the stuff. And the thicker the better.

But that wasn’t the brilliant part. I mean seriously, who doesn’t know that hot soup and cold weather have been dating each other for years? What was brilliant was that Campbell Soup decided to plan their advertising campaign around local weather reports. Friedman wrote that if you’re hearing a Campbell Soup commercial you don’t need The Weather Channel. Rest assured it’s crummy outside.

From there, Friedman wondered that if a change in temperature changes the way we buy, might it also change the way we think? I know that when I’m cold here on the Isle of Long I’m always thinking about getting to someplace where it’s warm. I make my living off the cold but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I’ll take a Southern beach over a ski slope every time.

But about thinking: “If you sit near a vent, share legroom with a space heater or use your desk to store outerwear, the question warrants serious consideration,” Friedman writes. “One of the painful ironies of office life is that we can never quite get the temperature right. We spend our summers shivering in meat lockers and our winters sweating in saunas. Central air hasn’t made us comfortable, so much as made us uncomfortable in a different way.”

And the opposite also is true. We were visiting our accountant and I noticed she has two space heaters and two fans in her fancy corner office. There’s a lot of glass in that office. “You comfortable in here?” I asked. “Are you serious?” she said.

And that’s in a modern building. It’s always too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. I had to wonder if it affected her productivity. I mean she’s looking after our business, right? I don’t need this woman to be angry all the time.

In his article, Friedman mentions a Cornell University study where researchers fiddled with a thermostat in an insurance office, lowering the temperature to 68° F. They found that employees made 44% more mistakes than they made when the temperature was a toasty 77°. The researchers also found that those cold employees were costing their company 10% more per hour because they were distracted by the cold and wasted lots of time trying to get warm.

If you’re doing commercial work in the heating industry and you fail to mention those statistics to your clients, well, then you’re just not paying attention.

Friedman goes on to say colder temperatures also change the way we view the people around us and, I imagine, the people we speak to on the phone. He mentions a study reported in the prestigious journal, Science, where they found that cold people view other people as cold and treat them as such.

No surprise there, right?

But when the temperature goes up, so does our mood. We’re happier with other folks when we’re cozy and we’re happier at our jobs.

Think you can use that when you’re talking to clients?


The cure for loneliness

From there, he dips into some psychological stuff about how the insular cortex (that’s the thermometer in our brains) also begins to buzz when we are with people we like and trust. So apparently cozy temperatures equate with human trust and isn’t that just fascinating. This is probably why hugs feel so good. Hey, get over here and give my insular cortex a squeeze.

Which brings us, amazingly, to plumbing. Friedman mentions that the cold makes us feel isolated. Amen to that. He says it’s the reason why people who are lonely spend a lot of time in the shower and in the tub. The cure for loneliness, it seems, is to get warm.

Hugs, warm showers and baths, thermostats that do what they’re supposed to do, balanced HVAC systems — all these things lead to happier, more-productive people. Isn’t that something you just want to rush out and tell people about? But be careful who you’re hugging. You do want to stay out of the news, right?

Friedman concludes: “And this, ultimately, is why office temperature matters. Great workplaces aren’t simply the product of good organizational policies. They emerge when employees connect with one another and form meaningful relationships that engender trust. What’s often overlooked is that connections don’t operate in a vacuum.

“It seems obvious that the temperature of a restaurant or theater can alter our experience. So why do we continue to neglect it in the workplace?”

And isn’t that a fine question? I’m so glad he asked it. Give that guy a hug!

When we talk to building owners about the value we bring to the job, we often get lost in the technical blah, blah, blah of what we’re going to install. Seriously, who but us cares about Delta-T and air balance, ECM motors and smart controls? Those are all features of an HVAC system.

The stuff that Friedman is addressing here is what building owners really want and need to hear, and to buy. He’s talking about benefits, not features. Benefits are in the building owner’s self-interest. Benefits are what sell. Don’t tell me how it works; tell me what it does. Remember that no one ever went to Sears to buy a drill because they wanted to own a drill.

They wanted to own a hole.

Talk up those Friedman’s statistics. Uncomfortable employees make 44% more mistakes than comfortable employees and cost their companies 10% more in time wasted as they try to get comfortable. That’s huge and it’s persuasive. Tell it.

And if it helps you close that next sale, which I’ll bet it does, the next time you see me or Dr. Friedman, give us both a big hug.