Temperature control and IAQ are often overlooked when businesses plan new facilities. Both temperature and air quality can have a major impact on how employees work, which affects everything from productivity to how long they stay with a business.

New research shows that effective temperature control can boost a company’s employee retention and productivity — sometimes by a significant margin.

Right now, retention is more important than ever, as most businesses face a historically tight labor market. With the right HVAC design, these businesses can encourage their employees to stay with them.

How Comfort Cooling, Employee Comfort, and Retention Are Linked

Research has found that employee comfort can have a major impact on turnover intention. If employees believe they are working in poor or dangerous working conditions, they’ll be much more likely to become dissatisfied with their job and start looking for other employment opportunities.

While workload and job stress are often considered the top factors influencing perceived working conditions, safety and workplace comfort can also affect how employees view their workplace.

These findings are in line with earlier research that has found a correlation between productivity and workplace comfort.

Finding the Ideal Temperature for Productivity and Retention

There appears to be a comfortable range of temperatures that people work best in. If a workplace is too hot or too cold, productivity can dip sharply.

Because productivity and employee engagement are often a good predictor of employee turnover — employees who feel disengaged or undervalued at work are likely to look for other employment opportunities — this suggests a correlation between comfortable temperatures and retention.

One study from Cornell University, conducted in an insurance office, found that temperatures around 77°F were optimal for productivity. At this temperature, staffers keyboarded 100% of the time with a 10% error rate. When the temperature dropped to 68°, productivity fell to 54% while the error rate increased to 25%.

One CareerBuilder survey has also found that a majority of workers self-report lower productivity when their workplace is too hot or too cold with more workers saying that too-hot working environments cause them to become less productive.

Many other studies have also found that temperature, along with other workplace characteristics, like lighting, ambient noise levels, and air quality, can also positively or negatively impact a worker’s productivity and engagement.

Several companies that specialize in products like HVAC systems, safety equipment, and personal protective equipment (PPE) have also independently identified a correlation between temperature and turnover rate.

For example, work clothing supplier RefrigiWear claimed in a case study that by providing cold-weather gear it was able to reduce the turnover rate of “one of the largest cold-storage companies in the world” from 62% to 34%. The company also claimed productivity as the client’s business increased at the same time.

Specific recommendations for an ideal workplace temperature vary depending on who you ask, but most tend to be in the range of 70°-77°. OSHA, for example, suggests employers keep the thermostat between 68°-76°.

One study from the Helsinki University of Technology's Laboratory for HVAC found that the ideal temperature for the “typical” office is exactly 71.6°.

Employers Care More About Retention Than Ever

Across industries, employers face a tight labor market right now. Businesses in logistics, warehousing, and manufacturing face particularly wide labor gaps which experts believe could continue well into the future.

At the same time, many of these businesses either overlook workplace comfort or struggle to create comfortable working environments. Discussions around HVAC in facilities like warehouses and manufacturing plants may not fully consider employee comfort or the potential benefits that comfort cooling can provide both workers and employers.

This approach could be a losing move for businesses. Employee comfort is not prioritized at every workplace, but it’s increasingly likely that if there is a secret to encouraging employees to stay with a company, it’s in creating a work environment that is as comfortable as possible.

Research on other facility characteristics that can impact employee comfort, like lighting and workplace furniture, has also found a strong correlation between comfort and retention.

High Temperatures May Pose Long-Term Health Risks

When temperatures become high enough, heat may also be a health and safety issue. It doesn’t take much heat for workers to be at risk of developing heat illness — a range of conditions including heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

These illnesses can have significant long-term health consequences. Depending on the severity of the heat illness, workers may require multiple days off work to recover enough to return to their jobs. Complete recovery may not come until one to two months after the employee became sick.

It’s possible for workers to develop heat illness with long enough exposure to a heat index of just 77°. Researchers have found that this is the same temperature at which heat starts to make workers become less productive — with each degree above 77° decreasing productivity by 1%.

At 82°, the health risks of heat become more severe, with heat exhaustion and heat stroke both becoming possible. Once temperatures rise above 89°, heatstroke becomes likely.

A temperature-controlled facility allows businesses to avoid these risks almost entirely. So long as a building is kept in a comfortable temperature range, businesses significantly mitigate the risk of heat illness.

Strategies for Creating Comfort Workplace Temperatures

HVAC system designers may take different approaches to facility comfort cooling, depending on the needs of facility workers.

For example, a facility with mostly stationary workers may benefit from spot cooling or heating that concentrates temperature control areas where workers will spend most of their workday.

These spot temperature control systems will prevent areas of a facility from becoming too warm or too cold while keeping site HVAC operation costs reasonable.

Larger buildings with a more mobile workforce may require a different strategy. Some experts recommend the use of high-velocity, low-speed (HVLS) fans for cooling wide areas, as these fans use evaporative cooling to keep large areas of space comfortable while remaining cost-effective.

HVAC zoning can give building owners additional control over temperature throughout the facility. By diving a building into multiple zones, it may be possible to spend less energy on cooling rooms where employees may not spend significant amounts of time, like mechanical rooms or archives, without running the risk of compromising employee comfort.

Effective monitoring and control of building temperature will be important. Many modern buildings are beginning to use smart temperature monitoring, smart HVAC equipment, and advanced control systems to intelligently manage facility HVAC systems.

Smart HVAC systems are increasingly common in the warehousing industry, where IoT sensors and technology, like smart vents, may help control zones and dynamically adjust facility temperature based on factors like cost, employee location, and storage needs.

How Temperature Control Can Help Reduce Turnover Rates

Researchers have found that comfort and job stress can have a major impact on turnover intention. Workers who don’t feel comfortable on the job tend to consider quitting sooner than those who are comfortable.

Temperature control may be able to increase employee retention. Both spot cooling and wide-area cooling can be used in HVAC design to ensure comfortable working conditions that may boost productivity while reducing turnover.

Employers face a tight labor market and are likely to struggle with a worker shortage well into the future. For these businesses, temperature control may be an especially essential investment.