Open-Plan Office Workers ‘Sick, Stressed’

SYDNEY ~ Open-plan offices are making people sick, with workers more likely to suffer stress, catch a cold and be less productive, Australian researchers have found.

A review of global studies into the impact of modern office design found the switch to open-plan spaces had been overwhelmingly negative, with 90 percent reporting adverse health and psychological effects.

High levels of stress and conflict, elevated blood pressure, and rapid staff turnover were associated with open-plan environments, according to review author Vinesh Oommen.

“Employees face a multitude of problems such as the loss of privacy, loss of identity, low work productivity, various health issues, overstimulation and low job satisfaction when working in an open plan work environment,” Oommen wrote in the latest Asia-Pacific Journal of Health Management.

Workers were plagued by insecurity, he said, ever-conscious of their colleagues’ ability to see what they were doing on the computer and eavesdrop on their phone calls.

High noise levels led to impaired concentration and low productivity, he said. There was a higher incidence of workplace conflict, with people sitting so close to their neighbor that even a ringing phone could irritate.

Ease of germ transmission also meant illnesses such as influenza were more swiftly passed around.

“It is estimated that organizations can save up to 20 percent in development costs when creating an open plan work environment,” Oommen wrote.

“(But) workplace design must go beyond cost-saving to cater for the multifaceted social and psychological needs of employees.”

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