A new global study has discovered that the noise epidemic is worsening in the workplace and employees who work in noisy offices are more likely to leave their job within six months. Only 1 percent of employees now say they can block out distraction in the office, a dramatic drop since 2015, according to a Oxford Economics study.
Open offices are designed to increase employee collaboration, but a new study from Oxford Economics, commissioned by Plantronics, an audio pioneer and communications technology leader, finds 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 such study in 2015.
Oxford Economics interviewed 500 senior executives and non-manager employees from many industries and functional areas for the 2018 study. Participants hailed from the United States, the United Kingdom, 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.
And the findings indicate that open office conditions have dramatically deteriorated:
- 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 1 percent of employees (down from 20 percent in 2015) say they are able to block out distractions and concentrate without taking extra steps in the office.
- 54 percent of executives believe their employees have the tools they need to mitigate noise and distraction in the office, but only 29 percent 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 percent of employees say they need to take walks outside to focus, and 32 percent use headphones to block out distraction. Besides, employees in the noisiest office environments are more likely to say they may leave their job in the next six months.
Noise, distractions and the pressure to be constantly connected—at work and at home—are taking a toll on executives and workers alike. Most workplaces are noisy and distracting:
- Less than one-fifth of respondents say their work environment is quiet, and few have the tools they need to drown out the noise around;
- One in five employees say noise in their office negatively affects their job satisfaction; one in six say it is detrimental to (And executives are even more likely than workers to say noise is detrimental to employee satisfaction and well-being.)
Meanwhile, nearly two-thirds of employees say lack of quiet space for focused work has a negative effect on their productivity, satisfaction and well-being.
These problems persist after leaving the office. Nearly half of executives say they expect their direct reports to be available after-hours frequently or always—and two-thirds of employees cite pressure to work at all hours as detrimental to their well-being and productivity.
Even at home, noise, distraction and constant connectivity are an issue. Roughly two-thirds of workers say they experience information overload—up from just 27 percent in 2015—as well as pressure to be always connected as a result of new digital technologies.
Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of employees say this has a detrimental effect on their well-being and productivity.
Millennials want open offices
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 their 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 energizing (9 percent, versus 30 percent of older colleagues).
- Less satisfied with their office layout than older employees (38 percent of millennials versus 48 percent of others).
- More likely to say their organization should address noise, distraction and information overload (89 percent versus 75 percent of older co-workers).
- More likely to say they take walks outside to focus (84 percent versus 63 percent of older employees), and less likely to use an office break room or quiet space.
Plantronics commissioned the study to better understand how to help create environments where employees thrive.
“This year’s results are telling – open offices may provide overall cost savings, but they’re taking a toll on our productivity and wellness,” said Jennifer Adams, director, Enterprise Solutions Marketing. “We’re applying nearly 60 years of expertise in acoustics to come up with a whole range of solutions to address these challenges, from noise-cancelling headsets to our Habitat Soundscaping solution. Our vision: an open office that employees are excited to come into because it enhances their well-being and inspires them to do their best work.”