Like many of you, I share an office. There are three of us, and we each have our own preferences about office noise, lighting, and temperature. Navigating shared visual and auditory spaces can be tricky, particularly when we occupy them for so many hours over the course of time. While one officemate may prefer complete silence, I enjoy belting out Bob Dylan ballads whenever they randomly pop into my head. While I prefer the lights to be off at all times, normal people like to have the lights on from time to time, particularly when sunlight is weak.
Energy use in shared, public settings, such as offices, is difficult to manage in part because of these distinct preferences. Although you may not control everything in your office, such as the temperature or whether your office has windows, you do control other uses of energy. This includes the level of the lights, use of shades on the windows, use of computers and monitors, and other assorted sources of energy use. And there is often a social component to office energy use, as we can vary on whether we get along with our officemates, how comfortable we feel complaining about the shared energy use, and how we should go about confronting others over that energy use.
But, unnecessary energy use influences environmental and social issues like climate change. One way to improve our energy efficiency as a nation, and help mitigate climate change, is to improve how we use energy in our buildings, including our offices. There are a lot of ways to do this, but the energy decisions of employees are one piece to the puzzle. And with many offices being shared, this means we need to be more willing to discuss our energy use in constructive ways with our colleagues and supervisors.
In a past blog, I discussed how as a culture we could do a better job of discussing environmental issues with other people, and this certainly holds for our interactions with coworkers. We actually know very little about whether someone talks to their officemates about turning off unnecessary office lights, turning off unused computer monitors, or adjusting the thermostat to save energy. So, along with my colleague Drs. Xiaojing Xu, Chien-fei Chen, Bing Dong, and Julia Day, we recently examined who feels that it is easy to discuss saving energy in the office with their coworkers (published recently by Energy Research and Social Science; accepted version here). Guided by a model in psychology called the A-B-C model, or the Attitude-Behavior-Context model, our interdisciplinary research set out to ask how personal (e.g., someone’s attitude) and contextual (e.g., office norms) variables relate to one’s perceptions of how easy it is discuss energy use with coworkers.
When did people find it easy to talk to their coworkers about saving energy? Here we found that believing your organization supports saving energy also predicted perceived ease of communication, as did believing that saving energy is good. But, we also found that people who believed it was good to save energy felt it was easy to talk to their coworkers about saving energy when they believed their coworkers approved of saving energy (i.e., a supportive group norm). So, the most likely time when an employee feels like it is easy to talk to their coworkers about saving energy is when that employee thinks it is good to save energy AND they think their coworkers also want to save energy. It makes those potential conversations a lot less awkward if you think your coworker is responsive and supportive.
Now, all of these measures were self-reported – we did not observe whether coworkers or the organization were actually supportive of saving energy. Nor were we able to record actual conversations employees had about saving energy. Future work can help provide many more details about these interactions. But for business owners or supervisors, these results do suggest a path forward for helping your employees save energy in the workplace. Emphasize that saving energy in the workplace is important, make sure people feel like their coworkers care about saving energy, and make it obvious that the organization as a whole prioritizes saving energy. This will not only make it more likely that employees as individuals will save energy, but they should also be more likely to recruit their coworkers to save energy in the office, potentially multiplying the effect of their own energy use decisions.
What do you think?