Can an Open Plan Office Cut Workplace Stress?

Posted on written by Nisha Dhingra

Love them or hate them, open plan offices are a very common working environment. Can they reduce stress levels? We look at a new study to find out if open plan offices help to reduce stress at work and how this fits in with health and safety.

Open plan offices are hardly a new phenomenon.

They’ve been about for ages and whether or not they are a good thing is up for debate. Some people like them as they find it increases communication within the workplace however other people find them noisy and have a detrimental impact on job satisfaction.

What do the mean for health and safety?

We’ve looked before at how bad workplace stress can be in the UK and this can have a negative impact on health and safety, even in an office environment. Poor mental health that comes with consistent stress at work can lead to safety issues, poor performance and a variety of other health problems.

A new study has found that open plan offices can actually reduce workplace stress and enhance physical activity at work for people that generally sit at their desks 9-5 every day.

What did the study find?

The study which was carried out by the University of Arizona used sensors to monitor over 230 people working in offices in the US.

What the study found was that workers in open plan offices were 32% more active physically than those who weren’t. The sensors were worn both during and after work and those that work in open plan offices were 14% less likely to have physiological stress after work too.

It goes without saying that office workers are less physically active during working hours than those that work in construction for example however this study has showed that in open plan offices at least, there is more physical activity. You can read the report here.

Open plan offices and productivity

While an open plan office can reduce stress (according to some studies anyway) which then have a knock-on effect for employee well being, what do they do for productivity?

Some research has shown that open plan offices actually cause a 15% drop in productivity in addition to a significant number of employees stating that sound privacy is a major issue and leads to a lack of concentration at work.

They have also been found to reduce collaboration as well.

Open plan offices and health and safety

Mental health and work is becoming a real issue in the UK (and across the world) and there is now much more emphasis on ensuring workers are satisfied with their work and have as low stress levels as possible.

Everyone has stress at work at some point however there is a difference between manageable temporary stress and stress that leads to poor mental health and health and safety issues.

Open plan offices might not be everybody’s cup of tea – listening to your co-worker’s weekend plans when you are trying to finish a piece of work before you leave on a Friday afternoon can lead to stress in itself! – however new research has found potential benefits in regards to stress levels.

An open plan office and its benefits are still up for debate even after all these years however in regards to mental health they can have a positive impact at work.

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