Thermostat Wars and Stolen Lunches – Little Things Mean a Lot

thermostat wars at work

Little annoyances in the workplace can add up to big trouble, according to a new national survey of American employees by OpenWorks.

The poll found more than half of employees get into conflicts with their co-workers over office temperatures and thermostat wars at work as well as cleanliness (or lack thereof). Rude or disgusting behavior is also cause for resentment.

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Control of the thermostat is a huge issue that can lead to a “battle of the sexes” because men and women generally don’t agree on ideal temperatures. More than 6 in 10 men would rather have the thermostat set at 70 degrees or below. However, women generally prefer 72 degrees or higher.

Three out of five employees will take charge and change the temperature when it’s not to their liking.

Besides the thermostat wars at work, other “bad behavior” that gets on employees’ nerves includes taking the last cup of coffee without starting a new pot, “forgetting” to clean out the coffee pot, leaving dirty dishes in the office sink and leaving food in the office fridge until it rots.

Respondents also wrote of some of the behavior that bugs them, ranging from “singing,” “burping,” and “snorting loudly” to “stealing lunches.”

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When it comes to cleanliness, sloppy co-workers aren’t the only ones to blame. Fifty-one percent of employees say their office is so dirty that they refuse to open doors without using a paper towel or handkerchief.

Does all of this sound like “much ado about nothing?” Here’s how important surroundings are to your staff: More than half (55 percent) of Millennial employees in the survey say they’d consider making a little less in exchange for working at an office with the perfect temperature and cleanliness level — 25 percent of Baby Boomers say the same thing.

It may sound humorous, but real life isn’t The Office, and dealing with festering issues like these can keep them from exploding into bigger conflicts. Three in five respondents have either considered confronting or have actually confronted their co-workers about annoying behaviors.

In addition, consider that a similar percentage of employees will ask the “person in charge” (probably you!) to change the thermostat settings.

Is that how you want to spend your day? I thought not.

Nip these types of problems in the bud by:

Setting Realistic Rules

Switching temperatures all day not only annoys everyone, but also wastes energy and is hard on your HVAC system. Choosing a sensible setting, such as 68 degrees in winter and 74 in summer, will save you money while keeping most employees happy. Program your thermostats to switch on and off automatically at certain times of day — for example, switch it on an hour before people start work so the office has time to cool down or warm up, then off at the end of the day so you’re not paying to heat or cool empty space overnight. You can also put locks on thermostats to prevent people playing around with them.

Encourage Openness

Treat your team like adults, and hopefully they’ll act like them. Encourage employees to politely speak up when something bothers them. Asking the cubicle-mate with the annoying ringtone if he could turn it down during work hours will get better results than silently fuming.

If You Can’t Regulate it, Eliminate it

You can set rules for things like dish washing and fridge cleaning, but will employees stick to them? Probably not. Instead, look for workarounds to eliminate the problems in the first place. For instance, you can lease a single-serve coffee brewer to eliminate the onerous pot-cleaning chores (bonus: fresher, better coffee). Have the office manager throw everything out of the fridge on Friday afternoons, no exceptions. You get the idea.

Keep it Clean

A dirty workplace not only grosses your employees out, but also spreads germs and dampens morale. Spring for a janitorial service to come in on a regular basis. For deeper cleaning, hold quarterly cleanup days where everyone spruces up their work spaces (including cleaning up file cabinets, getting rid of outdated items and purging computer drives).

Maintain a Sense of Humor

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, employees will act like kindergartners fighting on the playground. Try to keep your sense of humor — it will defuse the tensions and hopefully get the combatants to lighten up, too.

Thermostat Photo via Shutterstock

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Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

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