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Global study finds noise epidemic worsening at work

The open office is designed to increase employee collaboration, but a new study from Oxford Economics, commissioned by audio pioneer Plantronics, has found that the resultant noise pollution of the open office is reaching epidemic levels. According to the findings, conditions have grown much worse since Oxford Economics conducted its first study in 2015.

Oxford Economics interviewed 500 senior executives and non-manager employees from many industries and functional areas for the 2018 study. Participants came from the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, India, China, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway. The study also included detailed interviews with executives who are taking steps to deal with these business collaboration and productivity challenges in their open offices.

Key findings of the survey revealed:

Open Office Conditions Dramatically Decline
The majority of executives and employees report near-constant noise in their workplace and many say they lack quiet space for meetings or to focus. Conditions are much worse now than three years ago, yet the executive disconnect remains:

  • Only one per cent of employees (down from 20 per cent in 2015) say they are able to block out distractions and concentrate without taking extra steps in the office.
  • 54 per cent of executives believe their employees have the tools they need to mitigate noise and distraction in the office, but only 29 per cent of employees agree (down from 41 percent in 2015).

As a result, employees are taking matters into their own hands by leaving or tuning out their surroundings to get work done:

  • 75 per cent of employees say they need to take walks outside to focus, and 32 per cent use headphones to block out distraction.
  • Employees in the noisiest office environments are more likely to say they may leave their job in the next six months.

Wellness, Productivity and Financial Performance
The findings suggest that noise and distraction impact wellness, productivity and even financial performance, yet executives aren’t doing enough to address the problem:

  • 63 per cent of employees say they lack quiet space for focused work, which has a negative effect on their productivity, satisfaction and well-being.
  • 96 per cent of executives see employee productivity as critical to their financial performance, yet just 40 percent understand the link between noise, distraction and productivity.
  • A mere six per cent of executives report having equipped their office with noise mitigating features.

Millennials
According to the study, millennials, or those aged 22 to 36, are more accustomed to an open office versus older colleagues, likely because they started careers in such a setting. Despite that, they are the first to acknowledge the issues that come with these environments and tend to deal with these challenges differently than their older colleagues. Millennial employees are:

  • Much less likely to say they find a noisy working environment energising (nine per cent, versus 30 per cent of older colleagues).
  • Less satisfied with their office layout than older employees (38 per cent of millennials versus 48 per cent of others).
  • More likely to say their organisation should address noise, distraction and information overload (89 per cent versus 75 per cent of older coworkers).
  • More likely to say they take walks outside to focus (84 per cent versus 63 per cent of older employees), and less likely to use an office break room or quiet space.

Top Performers Have the Right Recipe
The survey shows a correlation between companies’ revenue growth and how those same companies approach their work environments. More than three-quarters of top performers (revenue growth above 10 per cent and less turnover) report that office design and noise mitigation are important to financial performance and are proactively addressing the noise epidemic in their offices. These top performing companies are:

  • More likely to provide workers with tools to block out noise and quiet space to focus.
  • Less likely to say some employees find a noisy environment energising (28 per cent versus 50 per cent of others).

Plantronics commissioned the study to better understand how to help create environments where employees thrive. For more information about the study, click here.

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