Quick fixes costlier than smart energy savings

Looking to save a little money this winter by turning down the thermostats in your offices?

Think again before you fiddle with those temperatures settings.

Doing that alone could cost you far more than you save, especially if employees take their workplace comfort into their own hands.

That's the key finding of a new study by energy efficiency giant Johnson Controls Inc., which took a look at the effect workplace comfort has on employee productivity and energy conservation.

"Employers may be tempted to turn down the thermostats this fall, but this quick fix could lead to hidden costs," said Clay Nesler, Johnson Controls' vice president of Global Energy and Sustainability in announcing the study. "Energy efficient systems and equipment is the win-win alternative, allowing businesses to save energy and money without sacrificing workplace productivity."

Sixty-nine percent of the 800 U.S. office workers surveyed for the study said they are "willing to sacrifice" their preferred ideal temperature on the job if that helps conserve energy. Forty-five percent said they think their employers are not doing enough to make their offices more energy efficient.

However, the study also found that 78 percent of workers said their productivity falls when they feel too cold or too hot at the office -- and a whopping 98 percent said their offices are too hot or too cold at some point.

So what do they do? Things that can drive a company's energy bill higher or stall work, according to the study findings:

49 percent said they use a fan when they feel too hot,

28 percent said they use a space heater,

30 percent said they leave their office building to warm up or cool down by taking a walk.

The study also found that 41 percent report their discomfort to an office manager or facilities worker, and 69 percent try to remedy the situation by donning or doffing a layer of clothing.

The findings provide further insight into employee behavior and workplace conditions.

A study earlier this year by the International Facility Management Association found that some of the biggest challenges for facilities managers arise when attempts to save energy bump up against workers' complaints about office temperatures.

The IFMA study, which listed some of the novel solutions workers have devised for their comfort, examined the types and timing of temperature complaints, what facilities managers do to address them, sanctioned and unsanctioned steps taken by workers and the age of HVAC systems in buildings. Researchers surveyed facilities managers and others who have a big say in how buildings are operated for the report.

The Johnson Controls study considered employees' expressed interest for energy conservation, alongside their desire for comfort, and their accounts of what they do when office temperatures make them feel uncomfortable. The company's report of its findings makes the point that a well-thought-out energy saving strategy is a better than an action taken in a vacuum.

That conclusion dovetails those of a Johnson Controls white paper, "Workplace Productivity, Environmental Comfort and Individual Control: A Direct Relationship" (pdf), which documents how employee productivity increases when workers have more control over their personal environment on the job.

Employees who are able to adjust the environmental conditions such as lighting, heat, ventilation and noise reduction in the own workspaces -- based on preset ranges that conform with a company's efficiency strategy -- are more comfortable, more satisfied, more productive and more engaged in helping their companies achieve energy saving goals, the white paper found.

The findings of the workplace comfort study released October 29 are based on an online survey conducted by Harris Interactive for Johnson Controls over a two-day period in April. The 784 respondents, who reported working full or part time in an office setting, emerged from an initial nationwide sample of 2,160 adults in the U.S.

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