Research: impact of noise in open-plan office often underestimated

Back in the office after the summer holidays, means for many office workers being back in the open-plan office. Research in the Netherlands* shows that the majority of employees (59%) is adversely affected by ambient noise in the open-plan office. Talking, loud ringtones and noisy phone calls are amongst the biggest irritations.

Also 59 per cent of the employees say to be more effective in a room with less noise, and 56 per cent indicate they will then make less mistakes. Ambient noise isn’t only distracting, it can also cause physical complaints in the long term. Despite all this, better acoustics isn’t high on the agenda of most employers.

Physical complaints
67 per cent say that they are disturbed several times a day due to ambient noise. Concentration problems (51%), frustration (36%), feeling uneasy (34%), fatigue (27%) and headache (17%) are indicated as the five most important consequences of noise pollution. Yet the open-plan office is still very common in most offices: the majority of people with an office job (55%) work in such office, with an average of 18 colleagues in one open space.

Minor attention
What’s striking, is that there is only minor attention from employers when it comes to good acoustics in the workplace. Only 10 per cent say that they pay attention to this in the design of an office, while more than half of the employees (55%) have raised the issue with their employer. In 45 per cent of the cases, no action was taken.

In addition to the short-term impact, such as concentration problems and stress, continuous ambient noise can also have a negative effect in the longer term. Previous research** shows that people who are exposed to ‘office noises’ for longer than three hours a day have a higher adrenaline level. By reducing the noise level in the office as much as possible, there will be a better workplace and the concentration can be significantly improved. Smart use of carpeting and sufficiently isolated spaces to make phone calls can make a huge difference.

*This research was conducted under 1,000 Dutch people aged 18 years or older and working in an office, in August 2018, by research agency PanelWizard commissioned by Specsavers Netherlands.
**Evans, G. W., & Johnson, D. (2000). Stress and open-office noise. Journal of Applied Psychology.

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