Anyone who has worked in an open office or shared a confined space with colleagues knows ambient sounds become synonymous with stress. But there are, at times, biological reasons why open office noise can be so particularly irritating.
A Cornell University study of 40 clerical workers who were exposed to open office noises showed that the sounds increased epinephrine levels, the trigger for the body’s fight-or-flight response. The crunch of an apple, the bark of laughter or sounds of sniffling and coughing can activate feelings of anger or irritation among employees, ruining productivity and creating resentment.
Noisy workplaces have, in part, led to over one-third of workers feeling disengaged, according to a 2016 Steelcase study across 17 countries. But since many office workers worldwide already use open-plan or shared office spaces, organisations can’t easily shift or respond to employees’ concerns. Instead, the onus is on employees to find solutions to office sounds or lack of privacy.
I – Word Understanding
Ambient – surrounding
Fight-or-flight response – body’s response to stress to either fight or flee
Onus – duty or responsibility
II – Have Your Say
1. What are the noises you hear around you, at work and/or at home? What are the effects of these noises to you?
2. What do you do if you are exposed to irritating noise?
3. What are the regulations regarding noise control at your work? Are they effective enough?
4. What would you do if you hear loud noise from your neighbor?