The surprising health issues caused by open-plan offices

Who knew?

The list of downsides to open-plan offices is long. They’re loud, there’s no privacy, you can smell everyone else’s lunch and they tend to cram as many workers into one area as possible. However, a new health issue caused by open-plan offices has been identified by new studies, and you may be surprised by the findings.

In the 2019 Sony Sound Report, it was revealed that 80% of Australians endure unwanted noise at work. Of the 1000 Australian workers surveyed, the majority reported being annoyed by the sounds their co-workers make, such as playing music loudly, talking on the phone loudly or being inundated with construction work noise in and around the office or building.  The study also found that 39% of Aussies are annoyed by the sound of crying babies, 35% of people despise having to listen to someone cough, sniff or sneeze, and 26% or respondents reported that having to listen to someone chew is a truly agonising experience.

man wearing headphone sitting at computer
(Credit: Getty)

However annoying these sounds may be, many people overlook the impact that noise pollution can have on health and wellbeing. In fact, having to listen to annoying sounds can have a negative impact on mood and concentration, increase stress levels, decrease motivation and reduce productivity. Unfortunately, it isn’t just these short-term symptoms that noise pollution causes.

Experiencing things such as increased stress levels, poor concentration and bad moods for a pro-longed amount of time can actually have a negative impact on both physical and mental health.

“Stress increases cortisol levels, which can affect our weight, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, depression and lead to lower life expectancy,” Professor and Director of Audiology at Macquarie University, Catherine McMahon told Lifestyle.

“Noise can also reduce our ability to sleep, and due to the need for increased attention to what we are doing – listening to someone speaking, reading or writing – we are generally more fatigued by the end of the day. Of course, this can also cause increased effort when thinking, frustration and anxiety.”

Short of removing yourself from the loud environment, there’s a limited list of what you can do to combat the side effects of noise pollution.

  • Minimize unnecessary noise
  • Try to avoid dropping by co-workers desks for a chat or yelling questions across a room
  • Wear noise-cancelling headphones
  • Take a lunch break from the noise regularly

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