RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Wearing a blanket - and, Noel, there you are wearing a shawl. And why are we doing this?
NOEL KING, HOST:
Because it's freezing in here.
MARTIN: Yeah, maybe this happens to you. It's hot outside, and then the AC in your office gets crazy cold. A recent study from economists at the University of Southern California suggests that cold office temperatures could actually be affecting women's productivity. Stacey Vanek Smith from Planet Money's The Indicator podcast sat down with the study's co-author Tom Chang to find out why.
STACEY VANEK SMITH, BYLINE: So, Tom, you decided to take a deep dive into the office thermostat. Specifically, you looked at how different temperatures affect the work of men and women. Now, how exactly did you put this study together?
TOM CHANG: The thing we did is before they would show up, we would experimentally manipulate the temperature of the room to be anywhere from 61 degrees to 91 degrees, I think, is about as hot as we could get it.
VANEK SMITH: And what did you find?
CHANG: We found that as the temperature went up, women did substantially better, especially in math. And men did a little bit worse.
VANEK SMITH: So they did - like, 91 degrees, women were just, like, killing it. They were adding like it was their job.
CHANG: (Laughter) The biggest effects were if you went from, like, the 60s to 75 degrees. There's where you saw the largest effect on women. And going from 60 to 75 degrees, it was like a 10, 15% increase in the performance of women when it came to the math test.
VANEK SMITH: And what about the men?
CHANG: The men did slightly worse.
VANEK SMITH: Oh, they did slightly worse when it got warmer.
CHANG: Warmer, yes.
VANEK SMITH: And what about when it got colder - in the 60s?
CHANG: So that's when men did their best was when it was in the 60s. And their performance steadily dropped as the thermostat went up. So to go from the 60s to the 70s, like I said, it was around a 10, 15% increase in female performance. And it was about a 3% decrease in male performance.
VANEK SMITH: Were you surprised at the degree to which people's performance was affected? Or was that what - about what you thought or...
CHANG: Oh, no. It was much, much larger than I thought, right? So obviously, extreme temperatures will affect you, but we're not talking about extreme temperatures, right? I would think going from the 60s to the low to mid-70s is a pretty standard range for an indoor environment. And yet, we're finding large effects there.
VANEK SMITH: What do you think is going on?
CHANG: You know, when it's too hot or you're too cold, you just don't perform at your best.
VANEK SMITH: And you made a recommendation, actually, in the paper for workplaces.
CHANG: So if you have a gender-balanced office, the optimal temperature is around 75 degrees. So there's a number for you.
VANEK SMITH: Seventy-five.
VANEK SMITH: Oh, that's pretty warm.
CHANG: That's the skin-melting temperature for me.
VANEK SMITH: Oh, you hate this. You hate the conclusion of your own research.
CHANG: Oh, yes. My advice to a business or any office would be, look. Temperature matters, right? So if half your workers are coming to work with - you know, keep blankets in their desks or have - illicit space heaters somewhere or, alternatively, half your workers are sweating through their T-shirts, that's something you want to take seriously. What the research says is that if as a business, you care only about profits or productivity, you should still take the comfort of your workers into account because it has the real potential to significantly affect your bottom line.
VANEK SMITH: Tom, thank you so much for talking with us.
CHANG: Oh, thank you.
VANEK SMITH: Stacey Vanek Smith, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF AVALON EMERSON'S "2000 SPECIES OF CACTI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.