There is a significant causal relationship between open-plan office noise and physiological stress, according to a recent research study, which found such noise heightens workers’ negative moods by up to 25 per cent.
The research, which was conducted by academics at Bond University and Resonate Consultants in Adelaide, suggested COVID-19-induced changes in the workplace present a timely opportunity to consider and remediate the deleterious effects of noise – a commonly cited complaint of employees working in open-plan office environments.
While self-reports suggest that open-plan office noise is perceived as a stressor, the researchers said there is little experimental research that comprehensively investigates the effects of noise on employees in terms of their cognitive performance, physiological indicators of stress and effects.
Employing a simulated office setting, the researchers compared the effects of a typical open-plan office auditory environment to a quieter private office auditory environment on a range of objective and subjective measures of well-being and performance.
While open-plan office noise did not reduce immediate cognitive task performance compared to a quieter environment, it did reduce psychological wellbeing as evidenced by self-reports of mood, facial expressions of emotion, and physiological indicators of stress in the form of heart rate and skin conductivity.
Specifically, open-plan office noise heightened negative mood by 25 per cent and increased sweat response by 34 per cent – based on testing participants in a simulated open-plan office for just eight minutes at a time.
In a real office, where workers are exposed to noise continuously during the day, the researchers said they would expect the effects on stress and mood to be even greater.
The researchers said the findings should assist HR practitioners to make data-driven recommendations about the design and modification of workspaces to minimise negative effects and support employee wellbeing.