The open office model spreads not only disease but also noise. The lack of privacy means conversations of coworkers can be heard by surrounding team members, who are typically packed along long tables in large rooms.
The noise isn't just having an impact of productivity; it's also affecting employee health. In 2001, Cornell researchers published a study finding that even moderate noise levels in offices can negatively impact health, increasing the risk of heart disease and musculoskeletal problems.
Sustained noise levels increase worker anxiety, triggering the release of the stress hormone epinephrine. The additional stress led workers to focus more on their assigned tasks, but they were less effective at performing them. The added focus in turn made them less aware of discomfort, so they were less likely to make ergonomic adjustments.
Surprisingly, workers didn't report higher levels of stress due to noise in their self-assessments, which suggests the employees may not have been aware how the environmental conditions were affecting them.
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