“The open-plan design of modern offices can lead to harsh acoustic environments, which can harm worker productivity and well-being.”
A lot of the blame for clamorous offices can be leveled at the trend of open plan offices. These sleek, open spaces are usually comprised of reflective easy-to-clean surfaces (think glass and concrete), which reflect sound, create harsh echoes and compound environmental noises. Now accounting for over 70% of modern offices, it is safe to say the open-plan phenomenon is here to stay.
Noise Stresses Us Out.
Loud sounds and prolonged exposure to certain noises trigger physiologic stress responses in our bodies – such as spikes in blood pressure and heart rate. Research has shown that even intermittent exposure to loud noises can lead to higher long term stress hormone levels and hypertension.
Productivity Can Plummet When It’s Noisy.
Workers can be up to 66% less productive when exposed to just one nearby conversation. A British Journal of Psychology study found that whether reading or writing – background noise is a productivity killer.
Conversations Are Especially Disruptive.
“There is plenty of research that shows that the most destructive sound of all is other people’s conversations.” – Julian Treasure.
It’s A Costly Business.
The World Health Organisation estimates that the annual cost to Europe from excessive noise levels is £30 billion. This includes “lost working days, healthcare costs and reduced productivity”.
Multitasking Becomes (Even More) Difficult.
The more you attempt to multitask, the more likely you are to be distracted by environmental noise. Habitual multitaskers, according to Stanford University neuroscientist Anthony Wagner, are not only more likely to have their attention disrupted by noises, but they also found it harder to get their head back into their original task once distracted.
Speech Intelligibility Isn’t Necessarily A Good Thing.
Open plan offices are designed so workers can collaborate, share and communicate openly. Yet their very design can harm work performance. Studies have demonstrated that in spaces with a high Speech Intelligibility Index (indicating good speech intelligibility) such as open plan offices, workers’ performance actually suffered.
Noise Can Be Tiring Work.
Noise is a stressor and exposure to excessive noise levels stimulates our nervous system – raising blood pressure and releasing stress hormones. But even if you try and block it out this means you “have to work harder to complete tasks because you’re actively working to try and ignore the sound”.
Plugging In Your Earphones Can Make Matters Worse.
An easy solution to blocking out unwanted sounds is to reach for the nearest pair of headphones and get lost in your own world. Unfortunately, this can also have its perils. While repetitive tasks can benefit from listening to music – tasks that require the retention of information actually suffer.
Earbuds Can Lead To Irreversible Hearing Loss.
Earbuds sit within the ear canal, putting sounds closer to your inner ear and cochlea, boosting music levels by 9 decibels. This increase in decibels can damage tiny sensitive hair cells located in the cochlea, which are responsible for relaying sounds to the brain.
Noise Can Affect Our Ergonomics.
Studies have found that workers exposed to prolonged noises typically found in open plan offices were less likely to make postural adjustments and were more susceptible to slumping at their workstations – risking musculoskeletal disorders.
Our Motivation Can Suffer.
The same workers were also less likely to concentrate on complex tasks following exposure to the same sounds. The workers recorded higher than normal epinephrine levels – a hormone associated with a spike in stress levels. They also displayed behavioural after effects, including fewer attempts at completing unsolvable puzzles.
Even Moderate Noise Can Damage Our Hearing.
While you are unlikely to experience a lawnmower or chainsaw in a modern office, prolonged exposure to moderate noise levels can even lead to hearing damage and loss.
Shared from “12 Ways Noise Affects Worker Well-being and Productivity”. Click here for the full article.
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