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I know this can be a sore topic... But I work in an office with very few men and the vast majority of women. There is a dress code for men, but none as such for women. The male dress code is: Long sleeve shirt, black trousers and smart shoes. Tie is optional.

We're currently hitting the start of summer weather, and I'm really struggling to cope with the heat. I'm experiencing issues with concentrating, heat rash and fatigue. It's causing me a lot of trouble with my productivity.

Currently I'm the only male in the office, and alone I don't hold much sway in 'air con wars'. The current temperature in my office is 37.1 °C in the shade (99 ºF).

At home I try to maintain the temperature between 16 ºC and 18 ºC so when I arrive in the morning, this wave of heat really hits me as I open the door. I've got a desk fan that I have aimed at my face every second I'm in the office, but it doesn't provide much relief for me.

Me and some of the other guys have tried to gently negotiate some kind of middle ground, but it's usually met with tantrums and arguments, which we didn't really want to take it to that level, so we just exited the discussion at that point and avoided talking about it as the women can get angry. It's quite strange as we are a really casual small company and never argue about other things and take very few things seriously. HR consists of a single woman who enjoys the heat, and the company director in our office also is on that side of the argument.

My departments sit next to windows. These windows are extremely old-fashioned and do not open. I have the blinds closed to avoid being blinded / having the sun magnified on me.

Does anyone have any ideas what I can do? We've tried jokingly suggesting we will wear mankinis/skirts/dresses/copy what the women are wearing until the temperature becomes acceptable and even that got shut down with quite a firm response that we would be breaking the dress code.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio May 13 '16 at 16:17
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    I would love it if my employer would let the heat go over to 37 degrees, over here in Finland. If the temperature raises above 33 degrees then by law the employee gets to keep a 15 minute break in a lower temperature every HOUR. In addition the employer needs to schedule a healthcare worker to irregularly asses the situation. So i can guarantee that the AC would be turned on here. – joojaa May 16 '16 at 12:53
  • One more option is to buy clothes from ministryofsupply.com These guys have participants wearing their suits during marathons. Their clothes are designed to keep cool, and they look good, but they're not cheap. – Stephan Branczyk Jun 20 '16 at 9:43
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One option is to ask your manager. Sitting in 37 degrees in a full suit is unbearable and detrimental to your productivity in the short run (as you're experiencing) and detrimental to your health in the long run. Mention to your manager that because of the heat your productivity suffers and ask for the airco to be turned up. Also point out that clients are suffering in the heat and turning it down to a comfortable level will make them happier (and this is a good thing!)

If this does not work and HR is uncooperative ask why there is a dress code for men. Do you have to meet with external parties where you need to look representative? Or is this for another reason? By doing away with this policy for office-bound employees like yourself the airco does not need to be switched on and you can work in a healthier environment.

Additionally you can look into the options for working at home. When alone in a room you can make it as hot or cold as you like without bothering anyone else.

If all of this fails you should start looking for a new job. Mention that your old employer did not have the physical well-being of its employees in mind, which is why you started to look for a new job. And hope that you find a new one before suffering a heat stroke. In case that you do you could seek legal recourse against your employer, but this will not be good for your relationship with your employer and might scare away potential new employers.

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    I don't have to wear my full suit in summer, I can do away with the blazer and tie during the summer. But I still struggle in a long sleeve shirt and black trousers. The dress code is because we occasionally bring clients into the office and everyone is meant to dress smart, it's a lot harder to limit women in their dress code so over time the women's dress code has degraded to the point where jeggings are okay if it's deemed tasteful by the other women. Recently some prospective clients complained about the heat so all clients are now met in a colder room and kept out of the main office space – Matadeleo May 13 '16 at 10:23
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    From my own experience black trousers in 27 degrees is a trial already, I can imagine how unbearable it must be in 37 degrees. – Thomas Jacobs May 13 '16 at 10:24
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    @Matadeleo I recommend that you add "clients complained about the heat" to the main question as it's useful ammunition to make your case. – Lilienthal May 13 '16 at 11:10
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    Fwiw, if leggings are deemed acceptable, the dress code is worthless. That's commonly seen on lists of "fashon don't s" and many clients would see that as unprofessional, if they really cared about that. The male equivilent of the "sun dress" might be a Hawaiian silk shirt and Docker shorts. It dresses "up" by using a leather braided belt. – JDługosz May 13 '16 at 15:40
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    @djechlin But do you really want to work for an employer that needs a law to care about your well-being? That's either an indication of a very toxic environment or an awful job market; if the OP has a choice, staying sounds like a terrible idea. – Luaan May 14 '16 at 22:28
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I'm going to take your word that your claims are accurate and because of this I'm recommending a more alarming and drastic approach:

37° Celsius is far, far beyond acceptable temperatures in any office, let alone in one where you have to wear a suit. That's completely ridiculous.

You can take a couple different approaches to get this remedied:

The Nice and Cooperative Approach

Have a talk with your managers. Explain to them that your productivity (and health) is suffering because of the current circumstances and that you need relief. A desk fan won't cut it.

The recommended Approach

In addition to #1, start looking for a new job. No, seriously. In situations such as this, where the coworkers are so blatantly neglecting your needs and your health, you'd rather be in another company.

Lawyering Up

Depending on the specific regulations in the UK, that might actually be illegal (No, seriously, talk to an employment lawyer). I know that in my country (Germany) excessive Heating in the workplace is classified as a illegal health hazard and can be taken to court. A quick google search reveals that in the UK the Employer has an obligation to provide a "reasonable temperature" in the office (Source).

In Conclusion

You should definitely not just try to soldier through it. 37C in a suit has severe negative impacts on your productivity, health and even mental health. Do not try and suffer through this.

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    In UK legislation (from my non-expert reading a few years back) there's no numerical maximum temperature (unlike the minimum for indoor workers), giving them more wiggle-room. – Chris H May 13 '16 at 12:52
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    There is a "reasonable temperature" rule though. And I fail to see how 37C for an office with dress code is in the same hemisphere as "reasonable". (cc @ChrisH) – Magisch May 13 '16 at 12:54
  • I'm in complete agreement on that point. Even with no dress code at all there's an argument to be had. But unlike "must be below xx" they've got plenty of chance to prevaricate. – Chris H May 13 '16 at 12:57
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    @ChrisH Thats why I specifically recommend talking to an employment lawyer. They might know how to approach something like this. – Magisch May 13 '16 at 12:58
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I expressed skepticism of your claim about the temperature in the comments, but I'll move on and take it as a given that you really are being asked to work in a 37.1C (99F) environment.

I think you should look for a new job.

A company that asks you to bear that level of discomfort, with no business justification, and refuses to consider even mild actions to address the situation, does not value you as an employee.

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    I've provided proof in the form of a photo taken of a thermometer in the office - but what reason do I have to lie about a couple degrees? This isn't the place to go to get sympathy from people. Just want some advice on how I can maybe ask or approach this touchy situation. I'd consider leaving my job as an extreme option - British Summertime is notoriously short but has heatwaves and although I don't describe mid twenties as comfortable, I am not affected physically in those ranges. Even with the heating turned on they struggle to go above 26 when UK cold sets in. – Matadeleo May 13 '16 at 10:49
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    @Matadeleo Your claim is so outrageous, that you have to be mistaken. I have many female coworkers and they complain about the heat if temperatures approach 30 °C the same as my male colleagues and we don't have a dress code. Being from middle Europe I couldn't even work at 37 °C productively not wearing any clothes. I would quickly overheat completely and need to be rushed to a hospital if I had to wear formal clothes at such a high temperature. – Roland May 13 '16 at 11:23
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    @Matadeleo 37 °C is about typical body temperature. It's impossible that a whole group of human beings would enjoy a temperature that is not below their body temperature. Our bodies produce heat, which we have to get rid of. Even sweating strongly this gets difficult at ambient temperatures above body temperature. (A photo of a thermometer is not really a proof.) – Roland May 13 '16 at 11:39
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    @Matadeleo I have nothing constructive beyond this answer. If your office is that hot (most people would consider 25 °C hot, thus I don't believe 37 °C), go to the CEO and ask the temperature to be adjusted to something remotely reasonable. If they refuse, quit, effective immediately. No job is worth risking your health. – Roland May 13 '16 at 11:50
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    @Matadeleo I'm sorry that people are reluctant to believe you. For the record, last summer in Stuttgart had highs of just over 41C, but the classroom where I took a German course never went above 30, so try to forgive some skepticism. I imagine 37 is plausible if the office is right beneath the roof (top floor apartments get hot) and you're getting a lot of direct sunlight through windows. – LLlAMnYP May 13 '16 at 13:01
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There's two methods (apart from all these suggestions of quitting).

Firstly, you can go with the game or just turn on the aircon and ignore their tantrums which is probably what I would do. Then stand up to HR if I need to. I'd do it as politely as I could, but I'd be firm about it.

Secondly if you want to play your own game because you can't concentrate on work etc,. Whatever these women say, they're hot as well. Just start avoiding them subtly like they have BO, that really gets women thinking and worried and their game will dissolve on it's own. It's one thing to hassle others as a group, not so funny when it backfires. I have used this tactic on a room full of female colleagues in a different situation, and it did work.

Unobtrusively spray a bit of airfreshener around after they have passed you, move your head back a tiny bit when they're close. Women are sensitive to these things. Cover your nose a bit when speaking to them. I'm sure you get the picture.

Or you could save the drama and just discuss it with your manager....

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    I've only mentioned it in the comments I think but the women openly admit that it's hot, but the difference is -they like it this hot.. They all love any excuse to wear next to nothing in the office and having it this hot does just that. The only reason it's gotten this bad is because the office is extremely casual, and everyone avoids getting into arguments or being 'professionally stubborn'. I like the last suggestion, not sure how it would work while I'm as wet as a fish and the one with BO though! – Matadeleo May 13 '16 at 13:54
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    They don't like it that hot, they like torturing you, big difference. – Kilisi May 13 '16 at 13:56
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    @JennyTengsonMandani They turned down our offer of the men wearing mankinis, dresses or yoga pants, so I doubt it sadly.. I've been told shorts are a no-go too, which I was a little upset about because I'm proud of my chiselled calves. – Matadeleo May 13 '16 at 14:37
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    @Matadeleo Wear a dress anyways, if they fire you for it, they're discriminating against you based on sex. – Waterseas May 13 '16 at 16:11
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    "Playing your own game" will make your hot workplace hot and hostile. Leave these games to middle schoolers. – MackM May 13 '16 at 17:45
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Assuming that everything in the question is really true, I see these realistic options. It seems management is already aware in some sense of the misery you are experiencing, though you have framed it as a male vs female issue. So, regardless of what you do from here, keep sex and gender out of it. This is about having an environment you can work productively in. Similarly, drop the dress code issue, don't even talk about it, it's a separate concern. Any mention of these, at all, will be used against you. Disavow these issues if others bring them up, immediately, every time.

  • Get a big thermometer that is legible from the door. As a control, leave it on your kitchen counter at home and take a photo of it after a few hours, to prove its accuracy. Then take it to work and put it on your desk and leave it there. Everyone else with a problem, do the same. If it really reads 37 on your desk, take a picture and make sure a clock is also in frame for time of day.
  • Take the photos to your manager and ask in all seriousness for something to be done. Offer to exchange similar work spaces with someone else if their space is naturally cooler. (Don't offer to give up your office for a cube, or your cube for a "sales office".) If your manager sympathizes, give it some time (a few days). Allow yourself one follow-up discussion with the boss, no more.
  • You said that others in your office feel similarly. You might call a parking-lot or offsite lunch meeting with them to suggest that they do the same as you, going to their managers with objective temperature measurements of their workspaces. Individually, not as a group. Just keep in mind, this carries risk for you if you are fingered as the "ringleader" or "mastermind". In that event, it should not shock you to be retaliated against as an example to the others.
  • If your manager does not support you, or if it drags on too long, decide whether to give up on the situation or go to HR with the photo and make your case directly. (If you go to HR, then even if you win, you may still lose in your relationship with the boss, so be ready for that.) Allow two weeks. Again, no more than one follow-up discussion. And don't tell anyone else about this, and don't recommend that they do this.
  • If none of this is effective, and you are still determined, then I see one further option if you want to try it. Look up local regulations on workplace temperature. It is entirely possible that your situation violates the law. If there is a violation, you could file a complaint to the local government. Even if you don't do this, tell no one about this, even about the idea. Complain anonymously if possible, but you may have to provide the photos, which will identify you, to show that you are not just being difficult. Keep in mind, cynical though this may be, the government does not actually care about productivity or safety, they really only care about compliance, so focus narrowly on that aspect. Just know that if the company finds out it's you, retaliation should not be a surprise to you. And only follow up if somebody asks you to; don't be a pain to them.
  • And of course, if at any point in this whole process you give up, just stop fighting it and look for another job. In fact, I recommend doing that anyway. You might find a really nice position somewhere that's a good move for you, without having to worry about things like this that shouldn't be such a problem.
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Computers do not like hot temperatures either

You are not the only victim in your workplace, all the computers in your workplace are likely also suffering with you. If you go the route of talking with Management you can also bring up the damage the office temperature is having on the computers.

Based off of several articles: PC Operating Temperatures and Computer Room Temperature . The upper end of temperature you want in your workplace is 27°C/80°F otherwise you risk damaging the PCs in your workplace. Even if the machines do not crash (which at the temperatures given in the question is not hard), at higher temperatures the PCs could throttle their CPUs to prevent them from over heating and thus the machines would appear to be running slowly.

  • Yep, that is usually a stronger argument (regrettably). – Peter Mortensen May 18 '16 at 16:51
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I worked for a very large company. They had a very formal dress code. Suit, white shirt and tie required. Over time, the rules relaxed to sport coat and tie, and then colored shirts were okay...

At one point in time, one group of engineers decided they'd had enough with wearing a tie to work. So regardless of the stated dress code these guys all grouped together, and just quit wearing ties. They worked together on this, and although other divisions of the company were wearing ties, this one group just refused. It turns out they were essential workers and they knew it. Management just didn't say a word. Nobody complained and life went on. I suspect nobody from that group got promoted, but what do I know? (I was jealous, we had to wear ties!) Eventually the dress code relaxed and ties were no longer required.

Who know? Could you adopt a no tie, short sleeve shirt business casual attire that would be appropriate for the business and its reputation? Shoot first, ask questions later?

One other note: I find it very hard to believe that the women in your office really prefer the heat. They may say they do, but if they had a choice without a perception of 'career risk' what would they choose?

  • An ex gf of mine like the room so hot that entering the room was like walking into a wall. 37 still sounds way too high though. – gbjbaanb May 15 '16 at 23:21
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Another option may be to purchase a portable air-conditioning unit, either yourself or through the company, which may be enough to keep yourself cool but without cooling the entire office. They cost from around £100 new.

On the downside they can be rather noisy, would need to vent the hot air outside and empty the collected water periodically.

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    This is solving the wrong problem. – MatthewRock May 13 '16 at 15:28
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    Vent the hot air into the colder client meeting room. – Dan Henderson May 13 '16 at 16:57
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You could always outright ignore/refuse to follow the dress code. Possibly start looking for another job first as it could backfire, but simply show up in lighter (but still professional looking) clothes.

If you're tackled by the management, simply tell them it's too hot to work in the black trousers and long-sleeved shirt, matter-of-factly. As in you need to state it as a fact, rather than simply your opinion. (Besides, clients only show up in another room now)

If they insist, you must insist on them doing something about the temperature. You can pass the blame onto others by mentioning that you've already asked to turn down the heating but were refused. Whenever they bring up your clothes, make the conversation about the heat.

Be assertive.

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