Sounding Off at Work – how workplace can influence your health

Sounding Off at Work – how workplace can influence your health – Brief Article

Sarah Smith

IF YOU SIT NEAR ENOUGH TO YOUR CO-WORKERS TO HEAR THEM TYPING, YOU’LL PROBABLY NEED A FEW EXTRA SICK DAYS.

In a new study conducted at Cornell University, design and environmental analysis professor Gary W. Evans, Ph.D., aimed to figure out how low-intensity noise affects people working in open spaces without separate offices or cubicles. Evans recruited 80 female clerical workers and piped in typical office background noises–conversations, typing sounds and ringing phones–to half of their offices as they worked.

Workers toiling in noisy environments showed increased levels of the stress hormone epinephrine, but few of the participants reported feeling particularly stressed. Surprised at his findings, which appeared recently in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Evans suspects that workers tend to get used to the sounds and so become unaware of the possible detrimental effects.

“People are really adaptable,” Evans explains. “When you [adapt like] that, you can do your work, but it takes energy, resources and effort.”

Joshua Grossman, a theater design Consulcant in Chicago, may be a prime example of an unknowingly stressed-out worker. While he doesn’t believe the noise in his converted loft office is stressful, he admits that his proximity to the conference room is annoying. “It’s really distracting,” he explains. “Someone can talk in a normal voice and I feel like I’m sitting at the conference-room table.” He’s even had to work his schedule around meetings, so a call at his desk wouldn’t be interrupted by the noise next door.

The workers in Evans’ study also had difficulty staying focused, indicating that a noisy, distracting office might also disrupt motivation. And they were less likely to make proper adjustments to their chairs and workstations, which can lead to musculoskeletal health problems.

Since workers are often unaware of their stress levels and the subtle but harmful motivational and physical effects of being surrounded by noise, Evans believes that company management should be wary of self-reported stress and job satisfaction. But he acknowledges that environmental changes are difficult and often not feasible. “The only thing they can do is something with the acoustics of the space.”

COPYRIGHT 2001 Sussex Publishers, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group