People, Workspace

Sound effects – The impact of noise on employee productivity

Axiom Workplaces

We spend up to eight hours a day in an artificial office space, surrounded by noise caused by other people. Shaun Baker, Creative Director of Envoplan, says there are many factors impacting wellbeing in the workplace. “The biggest topic of all is sound … being allowed to alter the level of sound that you are anticipating, because it disrupts … your day, and when they put dollars against that, that’s a big loss to your business.”

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Studies have shown noise is a primary cause of decreased employee productivity and increased staff absenteeism. In Australia, absenteeism and ill-health cost business $7 billion per year, unsurprising considering staff costs, including salaries and benefits, make up 90 percent of business expenses.

Noise is a primary case of decreased employee productivity and increased staff absenteeism. Click To Tweet

Work is work and home is home … but we spend nearly a third of our lives at work. Coming into an environment that we can physically enjoy, feel at ease in, and look forward to arriving at should be as high on an employer’s list as productivity levels. Employers should focus on making the work environment as comfortable for their employees as possible.

Work is work and home is home, but we spend nearly a third of our lives at work. Click To Tweet

The physical environment affects job perception, attitude, satisfaction and work ethic. An employee productivity study by British Gypsum in 2015 found reducing noise in the workplace increased the ability to focus by almost 50 percent and decreased stress levels by almost 30 percent.

Organisations need to carefully think about the design of their workplace and how to manage noise levels. What might seem an insignificant or moderate change may be the difference between an employee choosing to stay with your company or look for work elsewhere. The negative effects of noise on employees can have financial impacts comparable with the positive impact of investing in acoustic improvements. Therefore, it makes good business sense to invest.

The British Gypsum study found 54 percent of British workplaces have an open plan layout that gives employees an opportunity to boost teamwork, flexibility and communication. However, two significant problems with open plan offices are unacceptable noise levels and a lack of speech privacy.

The British Journal of Psychology published a study that asked workers to perform two tasks, firstly tested without noise and then with a recording of general office noise. The test with noise showed a decrease in the accuracy of their work by almost 67 percent.

Noise can decrease the accuracy of employee’s work by 67 per cent. Click To Tweet

Interestingly, UK employers expect 99 percent of their employees to be high performing, even while 98 percent should be creative and innovative, and 96 percent should be relaxed and stress-free. Even though open plan offices may promote ease of communication, they do not account for distractions caused by work neighbours. As the trend for less formal office spaces gains more traction each year, organisations need to look at more than how desks in an open space affect their employees.

Physically, it is easier for colleagues to communicate and solve challenges. However, the impact to their mental health through the lack of privacy and peace, can cause higher numbers of absenteeism and staff turnover.

A study at the University of Berkeley analysed acoustic satisfaction in office environments. Researchers found 40 percent of respondents indicated noise interferes with their ability to complete their work. A further 64 percent were dissatisfied by their colleagues’ phone conversations, and 76 percent found overhearing private conversations distracting.

The key for organisations moving forward will be considering the intangible aspects of office design, like acoustics, as well as the regular thermal, ventilation, architectural and engineering aspects. There are three traditional factors acoustical engineers analyse to reduce noise and improve speech privacy:

  • Absorption – using high performance acoustic tiles in the ceiling to absorb sound
  • Blocking – integrating high performance partitions, walls and windows to cut some of the noise
  • Covering – overlaying the office noise with another low-level background sound, such as music

Expecting your employees to perform well is reasonable. However, expecting your employees to perform well under unreasonable conditions is where the issue lies. Making a small modification to the office ceiling tiles won’t cost much in the grand scheme of things but it will create a healthier work environment and more satisfied employees.

Axiom workplace designs effectively manage noise acoustics to improve productivity for your business, your teams and your people. Make sure you ask us how.

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