The well-being of employees is becoming ever more important as organisations strive for productivity and efficiency improvements, without impacting the work-life balance.

The office environment is receiving increasing attention, with care given to seating, lighting, opening hours, access to break-out areas, fruit, water and even happiness managers. But what about the temperature?

While installing air conditioning is not a legal requirement yet, the temperature and air quality in a working environment can have a significant impact on those working within it.

As unlikely as it may seem to a generation brought up with the ‘open a window when it’s hot’ solution, modern heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) systems will typically improve productivity, cut absenteeism and demonstrate love for your staff.

The law

There are laws governing acceptable temperatures in the indoor workplace, outlined in the ‘Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992’. These place a legal obligation on employers to provide a ‘reasonable’ temperature for employees to work in.

The Approved Code of Practice suggests the minimum temperature in a workplace should be at least 16 degrees Celsius, but only 13 degrees Celsius, if rigorous physical effort is required. However, these temperatures are not absolute legal requirements and each employer has a duty to determine what temperature delivers reasonable comfort in the unique environment of their workplace.

Now of more concern for air-conditioning engineers like Holborn, is the upper temperatures for office environments. Now it’s hard to set an upper limit, as some working environments, like kitchens, bakeries and foundries involve temperatures higher than the average office.

Thermal comfort

A range of 20-22 degrees Celsius might be regarded as comfortable for most office environments, but what we really have to consider is thermal comfort.

Now, according to the Health and Safety Executive, thermal comfort is hard to define as you have to take into account environmental, work-related and personal factors when deciding what makes a workplace comfortable.

The best any organisation can realistically hope to achieve is a thermal environment that pleases most of the people in the workplace. Thermal comfort is not measured by room temperature, but by the number of employees that complain they are too hot, or for that matter too cold.

Why thermal comfort matters

Effectively managing thermal comfort within the workplace demonstrates a clear commitment to employee well-being, improving morale and boosting productivity.

It can also improve health and safety as people working in environments that are uncomfortably hot or cold have been found more likely to behave unsafely as their ability to make decisions and/or perform manual tasks deteriorates.

It’s easy to imagine people attempting to complete tasks too quickly and risking short cuts to get out of cold environments as soon as possible. Employees might not wear all the personal protective equipment they need when they are too hot and increase the risk of injury.

Extremes of temperature also affect an individual’s ability to concentrate on any given, which increases the risk of errors being introduced. Now these are perhaps extreme examples, but employers should be aware of the risks and try to understand the reasons behind unsafe practices and actively discourage or prevent them.

Adaption only goes so far

People will adapt their behaviour to cope with cold or heat, adding or removing clothing, moving around the office, using fans or heaters, possibly bringing in their own (a problem all of its own). But problems can arise when dress restrictions prevent people making the necessary changes and they are unable to adapt.

Climate change means the problem of heat in the office is likely to be a growing issue. And perhaps now is a good time to consider a modern heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) system to maintain a productive working environment, before the rush starts and you’re at the back of the queue.