Tag Archive: workplace

How noise can affect workplace productivity

Photo credit: Peter Bennets licensed under CC BY 3.0

Joshua Lombardo-Bottema, Born2Invest, examines noise in the workplace and tells us what we can do about it. He writes that “[s]tudies have shown that unwanted noise is one of the leading environmental factors causing distraction and loss of productivity in the workplace.”  Hardly surprising, but how noise effects productivity is a bit more complicated.  First, Lombardo-Bottema says that noise makes us tired, because when we tune out the noise around us, we have to expend energy to do it.  Second, noise makes us slouch, and Lombardo-Bottema speculates that this leads to more frequent breaks to avoid physical damage. Finally, our attempts to block the noise with earphones playing our favorite tunes makes things worse when our work requires information retention or problem-solving skills, as the music fights for our attention.

So what can we do? The post is a bit thinner here, giving us three options: sound masking, quiet zones, or working from home.

The options all have their limitations, of course, which is why we are cheered by this: Is the open office layout dead? Let’s hope.

The CDC issues report on noise-induced hearing loss

and the facts are frightening. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control’s (CDC) current issue of Vital Signs focuses on the dangers of noise on hearing health.  Among other things, the report states that:

  • 40 million Americans aged 20-69 years old have noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition in the US, and almost twice as many people report hearing loss as report diabetes or cancer.
  • 1 in 2 American adults with hearing damage from noise did not get it exposure to noise at work. Noise outside of work can be as damaging as workplace noise.
  • Too much loud noise, whatever the source, causes permanent hearing loss.
  • 1 in 4 Americans who report excellent hearing have hearing damage.  You can have hearing loss without knowing it.
  • The louder the sound, and the longer you are exposed to it, the more likely it will damage your hearing permanently.
  • Continual exposure to noise can cause stress, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, and many other health problems.

This fascinating if distressing report comes with easy to understand graphs and charts that clearly explain the dangers of noise exposure, who is most at risk, the high cost of hearing loss, how hearing loss occurs, and, most importantly, what can be done to prevent NIHL.  Because, in the end, one point is crystal clear: noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable.

And what if they say no?

Thanks to the rush by corporate finance departments to embrace cheaper open plan offices (to encourage collaboration!), this sort of article is likely to pop up more often: Here’s exactly what to say to quiet a noisy coworker — without being rude.  Work is already fraught with potential pitfalls and misunderstandings, and thanks to open plan offices now you get to see whether this Business Insider advice delivers the quiet you crave or a new nemesis at work! So what does Rosalinda Oropeza Randall, “an etiquette and civility expert and the author of ‘Don’t Burp in the Boardroom,'” suggest?  This:

You’ll want to walk over to their desk and say something like, “You know, I have never been able to concentrate unless it’s totally silent. And I know that’s unrealistic … but can I ask you, for the next couple hours, while I’m working on this project, would you keep it down for me? I’d really appreciate it.”

Ok.  So what do you do the next day?

Here at Silencity we’d suggest punting to HR or someone higher in the food chain, especially if you don’t know the person who is making your work life hell. You’re not a psychologist (unless you are), and trying to get your work done in less than optimal surroundings is enough of a burden. If your employer puts you in a situation where confronting a noisy co-worker is inevitable, then surely your employer must have designed mechanisms for dealing with the problem.  So let the HR manager or your boss figure out how to quiet your noisy work neighbor.  That’s why they’re there.

 

The Best Music for Productivity?

Silence.  Olga Khazan, writing for The Atlantic, wonders whether wearing headphones and listening to music to avoid the noise in an open plan office is “just replacing one distracting noise with another.”  And her research, unsurprisingly, leads her to the inescapable conclusion that music interferes with concentration.  Khazan notes that the more engaging the music is, the worst it is for concentration, adding that “[m]usic with lyrics is dreadful for verbal tasks.”

So the next time your boss tells you to don a pair of headphones to drown out the noise of your fellow open plan toilers, send him or her the link to Ms. Khazan’s article along with a request for an office.

Thanks to @QuietEdinburgh for the link.

Companies employ gimmicks in lieu of addressing noisy workplaces

Startup Stock Photos

As cubicles and wall-less offices proliferate, companies are adding special rooms, lounges, even gardens where employees can take a pause.

, The Boston Globe, writes about the quiet spaces Tufts Health Plan offers to its employees.  While quiet spaces may seem like the newest perk du jour startups offer to lure talent, there’s another reason for these amenities:

Watertown-based Tufts is among many companies now offering quiet spaces where employees can step away from their desks for a few minutes and recharge. Such spaces are especially welcome in open offices, where workers sit in close quarters and noise carries easily. The garden and the quiet room at Tufts, which opened in recent years, have been popular with a small, enthusiastic, and growing group of employees. “The more people hear about it, the more they’re willing to try it,” says Lydia Greene, Tufts’s chief human resources officer. “Pretty soon we will need a bigger room.”

Yes, the reason for the quiet room and garden is to compensate for the uncomfortably noisy work space Tufts imposes on its employees.  Sadly, the article prints the unsupported assertion that “firms eliminate private offices to foster collaboration,” when it’s not exactly a secret that the business case for open plan offices is simple: They’re cheaper.

When one considers the cost of providing quiet spaces plus the time lost when employees seek out a quiet space in which to decompress, perhaps the new trend will be a return to offices?

Link via @jeaninebotta.

Yet another gadget to help you deal with workplace noise:

Introducing Orosound Tilde earphones.  So, you may be asking yourself, “what are Orosound Tilde earphones and why do I care?”  Well, the Tilde earphones are “designed to control distracting ambient noise levels, help you focus on the sounds you want, and connect via Bluetooth to phones and wireless audio devices.”  And that means what?  Essentially, Tilde earphones are portable noise cancellation devices that allow wearers to adjust the level of ambient noise immediately around themselves, with attached earbuds through which the wearer can listen to music or take phone calls.

The device is “designed specifically to help workers ‘listen to the sounds that matter and tune out the rest.’”  As the promotional literature explains, “84 percent of people complain about workplace noise levels and 80 percent say ‘they struggle to concentrate because of background noise.’”  That is, Tilde’s reason for being is to address growing worker displeasure over distracting noise that intereferes with them doing their work–a situation that has been exacerbated, no doubt, by the seemingly universal adoption of open plan work spaces.  If the earphones work as described, Tilde should be a hit.  Certainly the developers are well on their way to start making and selling the first run, as they are on the mark to satisfy their Kickstarter fundraising goal.

If only one could have a Kickstarter campaign for a workplace design with walls and ceilings and doors and no need for personal noise cancellation earphones.

How Background Noise Can Ruin Productivity

and the Gadgets That Can Help.

Open floor plans may excite the finance department, but their effect on worker productivity–and morale–is less than fabulous.  Spare us the noise cancelling headphones, please, and design quieter places where people can do their work.