The thermometer reads just six degrees Celsius in the morning in Ludwigsburg, Baden-Württemberg, a city of around 90,000 people north of Stuttgart. Customers of the city savings bank are cold: employees have to serve them with a temperature of 19 degrees in their offices, the mark that governs working life in Germany for a few weeks.
From September 1 to February 28, the whole country lowers the heating thermostat to save energy. Creativity is necessary in order not to “freeze”. The Ludwigsburg Savings Bank provided its 500 employees with gray fleece jackets and black woolen gloves. Customers are greeted by employees in thick coats at the counters. Welcome to the new German winter reality!
The aim is to reduce the temperature in office buildings in winter, an order issued by Economy Minister Robert Habeck to ensure energy supplies, endangered by the war launched by Russia in Ukraine and Russian Gazprom’s lack of gas.
In public buildings, work spaces can only have a maximum temperature of 19°C, with the exception of hospitals and retirement homes, schools and nurseries, and establishments for the disabled. And spaces where people work who might suffer from health problems due to low temperatures are also excluded. Everyone just has to bundle up nicely.
Danger of infections, respiratory diseases and asthma
Dr. Anette Wahl-Wachendorf, Vice President of the Association of German Company and Business Physicians, says: “I can understand this political decision by the government very well. But I still think it is hasty. It would have been better to reflect critically on the 19 degrees with specialists and occupational physicians, so we would not have these debates now”.
Definitely, 19 degrees in offices can be a health risk for many people. The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that susceptibility to infections, respiratory diseases and asthma is greatly increased, especially in the elderly, people with low blood pressure and those who do little exercise. exercise. Blood vessels constrict in colder temperatures, and the WHO also warns of an increased risk of stroke and heart attack.
The temperature reduction measure in offices can cause respiratory illnesses and even asthma, doctors say.
Also for people with vascular diseases or those who suffer from an underfunctioning thyroid gland, 19°C is too cold, says Wahl-Wachendorf. In addition, this is also the case for professionals such as air traffic controllers or workers at surveillance stations, who have to sit in front of the monitors for hours, very concentrated. In other words, for jobs that require a rigid physical posture and where people can’t move from time to time.”
Women are more productive in warmer environments
In Germany, the influx into medical practices has already begun. Many people ask for medical certificates proving that they need a higher temperature in the office. 19 ºC also causes economic damage that should not be underestimated, as low temperatures have a negative impact on productivity and performance, especially for 50% of the workforce in Germany: women.
“The Thermostat War?” is the name of a 2019 study, conducted by a man and a woman, based on office discussions about the best room temperature. The conclusion was clear: the ambient temperature significantly influences the cognitive performance of the sexes. More than 500 subjects pondered tough math and language tests in temperatures between 16 and 33 degrees. The result: women think better when it’s hot and are more productive than when it’s colder. The fact that Germany saves energy is therefore a clear competitive disadvantage for them and therefore also for the country as a whole.
“In terms of productivity, the employer must also have an interest in ensuring that employees do not suffer from hypothermia”, specifies Anette Wahl-Wachendorf. “And you have to be interested in having a work environment that workers feel comfortable in, at least the majority of them. Even if that’s the case, with blankets or mats. For workers, I recommend a fruit tea warm, walks during lunch, and warm clothes, like woolen jackets, or two pairs of socks,” the doctor explains.