Noisy offices take a toll on our well-being

Photo credit: CoWomen

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition, and Honorary Chair, Quiet American Skies

In this article on Phys Org, a science and research news aggregator, Oluremi (Remi) Ayoko writes about the findings of her study on open-plan offices. She reports that this type of office takes a toll on our well-being.  The noise created in these spaces can affect one’s heart rate, she said. Research from Cornell University environmental psychologist Gary Evans and associates over twenty years ago also pointed to the fact that noise in an open-plan office can adversely impact our heart health. Those researchers found that the noise in this type of office did not have to be loud to have an adverse effect on human health

The article goes on to state that the stress of working in an open-plan office can push people to try to regain control over their spaces, which explains why people surround these spaces with potted plants and other personal items like photos. Additionally, there can be more disagreements among workers because of the noise in the office setting. Ayoko and her co-researchers on the study inquired about the noise the study’s subjects experienced and found a link to their feelings and behavior. They found a strong relationship between office noise and frustration and anxiety. The link was much weaker between noise and conflicts among colleagues.  

This article suggests that office noise can be reduced through hybrid working with fewer people coming in to their offices daily. Thus, the author suggests that the recent push to get people back to the office may not be such a good idea. While employers might think having their workers back in the office will lead to more productivity, Ayoko suggests that office noise may lead to employees being “grumpier and more frustrated.” Would this behavior really result in increased productivity? A more positive influence, according to Ayoko, would be allowing employees to make their spaces more personal, as discussed above.  

Open-plan offices may be cheaper, cost effective and more accommodating for teams to work together but they are also noisier, more distracting and stressful. Companies must weigh the pros and cons of open-plan offices when they decide on office layouts. They should also inquire about architectural designs that could reduce the noise and distraction of open-plan offices.    

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