Noise and Wellbeing at Work

Survey 2019

Introduction

Before we discuss whether noise impacts our wellbeing at work with the ‘Noise and Wellbeing at Work’ survey results, we must first define what is ‘noise’ and
what ‘workplace wellbeing’ is.

Noise is unwanted sound judged to be unpleasant, loud, or disruptive to hearing. Noise perception is subjective. Factors such as characteristics,
duration and time of occurrence may affect one’s subjective impression of the noise.

Workplace Wellbeing relates to all aspects of working life, from the quality and safety of the physical environment, to how workers feel about their work, their working environment, the climate at work and work organization. The aim of measures for workplace well-being is to complement OSH measures to make
sure workers are safe, healthy, satisfied and engaged at work. In this white paper, we refer to workplace wellbeing that is affected by ‘noise’.

With this in mind, the Remark Group, in collaboration with Dr Nigel Oseland a workplace strategist and environmental psychologist, have created this report from their Noise & Wellbeing at Work survey, with over 1,000 UK respondents, to determine whether or not noise does indeed impact a person’s workplace wellbeing and in turn their productivity and overall happiness.

“As more companies are adopting open plan design and agile working, the core challenge to the workplace community, designers and suppliers is to resolve office noise distraction and enhance focussed work, whilst maintaining collaborative and creative environments. Remark’s research and services contribute to providing the solution.”

– Dr Nigel Oseland

Survey Overview

WHAT IS YOUR PRIMARY PLACE OF WORK?

  • Open Plan
  • Shared Office
  • Home Office
  • Private Office
  • Elsewhere

ALL FIGURES ARE PERCENTAGES

GENDER

  • Female
  • Male

ALL FIGURES ARE PERCENTAGES

Key Findings

Remark’s research shows that noise is the biggest cause of dissatisfaction in the modern workplace, along with an associated loss of performance, increased stress and poorer wellbeing.

• Noise has a negative impact on a person’s workplace wellbeing

• Over half of UK office workers say that noise is an issue in their workplace

• Noise has a high impact on a person’s stress level in the workplace.

• Over half of UK office workers say that they feel anxious about overhearing something discussed in the workplace.

How many times in a day do you think your work is interuped by noise disruptions?

  • 2 - 5 times a day
  • 5 - 6 times a day
  • 7 - 9 times a day
  • Fewer than twice a day
  • Never

ALL FIGURES ARE PERCENTAGES

Noise and Privacy

In the ‘Noise and Wellbeing at Work’ survey it shows a growing concern for the lack of privacy in the modern-day office. Acoustic conditions in the workplace have been noted as a leading source of dissatisfaction when compared to other elements that contribute to overall comfort such as office layout, furnishing, thermal comfort, air quality, lighting and general cleanliness.

Sixty four percent of people have overheard a confidential or sensitive conversation in the workplace that they shouldn’t have, because of this almost half of people are reluctant to discuss a private or sensitive issue in the workplace.

Almost two thirds of UK office workers say that they suffer from a lack of privacy at work. The lack of somewhere private can cause employees to be less confident in expressing their anxieties or worries at work, causing a decrease in workplace wellbeing. This is indicated in the ‘Noise and Wellbeing at Work’ survey with over half of UK office workers feeling anxious about being overheard in the work environment due to lack of privacy.

It is not just the office that suffers from a lack of privacy; when asked whether they had ever overheard a private or confidential conversation in an environment outside of the office such as a GP surgery, pharmacy, lawyers’ firm or even a school or college, over half of the respondents said yes.

Have you overheard confidential or sensitive information discussed in your workplace?

Are you reluctant to speak about a confidential, business-sensitive or personal issue for fear of being overheard?

ALL FIGURES ARE PERCENTAGES

Noise and Productivity

Productivity levels across the UK have fallen to a dramatic low, as 38%* of office workers call on their employers to do more, with a further 60%* believing their business has productivity issues. Distractions contribute a huge amount to lack of productivity.

In the ‘Noise and Wellbeing at Work’ survey it was found that, shrieks of laughter and conversations of variable volume are reported as the most distracting and being listened to whilst on the phone is an annoyance. Interestingly it was sudden bursts of noise that employees found most distracting at work compared to a constant background buzz.

One in four UK office workers say that their working environment is not conducive to productive working with over a third of people saying that their workplace would benefit from a private area for employees to use. However, having a space where staff can openly collaborate and discuss ideas is also
important, finding a balance between having a collaborative space and a more private space is crucial.

Over half of UK office workers say that their workplace does not encourage productivity with sixty-five percent stating that their workplace impacts on their
motivation to work. For productivity levels in the UK to increase again we seriously need to think about the working office environment and what employers can do to ensure that their employees are at their most productive.

What do you find most distracting in the workplace?

Music 40%
Coughing, sneezing, sniffing 50%
Business conversations 52%
Eating noises 54%
Doors Slamming 55%
Telephone Ringtones 57%
Sudden Laughter 62%
Personal Conversations 65%
Colleagues' telephone conversations 74%

Noise and Wellbeing

Noise, whether it be speech or otherwise, has subtle but profound effects on workers psychologically, behaviourally and cognitively, however, complete silence can be just as distracting as loud environments as it highlights the sudden disturbances.

Almost half of UK office workers state that noise has a negative impact on their workplace wellbeing. When you consider that two thirds of people consider the working environment when accepting a job and an amazing eighty percent say that the office environment impacts on them remaining in a job, this is a worryingly high number.

When you consider that frequent feelings of stress can cause you to be at risk of developing a mental health problem, like depression or anxiety, you would expect employers to take into consideration the impact that noise has on their employee’s stress levels.

Fifty-eight percent of UK office workers say that noise has a high impact on their stress levels in the workplace. That is over half of UK office workers at a
high risk of developing a mental health problem due to noise in the workplace.

A healthy workplace is one where employers and employees work together to support and promote good health. When asked whether they found their work environment ‘healthy’ and conducive to performing well in their job over a third of respondents said no.

Would the workplace environment make you more likely to stay in a position with a company?

Does ‘noise’ have a negative impact on your workplace wellbeing?

ALL FIGURES ARE PERCENTAGES

Conclusion

We can clearly see from the results of ‘Noise and Wellbeing at Work’ that noise, whether it be speech or otherwise, has subtle but profound effects on workers psychologically, behaviourally and cognitively.

Loud sounds and prolonged exposure to certain types of noise can trigger physiologic stress responses in our bodies whilst laughter, conversations of
variable volume and sudden noises are all claimed to be major forms of distraction.

There are solutions that can increase the acoustic comfort of the building without changing the architectural design.

Sound masking and treatment is an effective method that, when installed correctly, has the potential to bolster acoustical privacy and reduce distracting noises which in turn helps to improve the overall office comfort.

Sound masking systems are designed to deliver an unobtrusive background noise which imitates airflow, masking background noises in the office environment and thereby reducing distractions, increasing productivity and improving employees sense of wellbeing at work.

Sound masking in its raw sound, can create a relaxing atmosphere that promotes the overall well-being of office workers. It also has the ability to intertwine with natural sounds, creating a completely immersive and calming
environment where employees can focus and collaborate naturally.

Increased productivity, reduced distractions and an increase in office comfort are just some of the documented effects of sound masking

“Whether we are introverted or extroverted will affect how we interpret noise. Extroverts are more tolerant of noise whereas introverts prefer more calming environments. So, when we have different types of people in the same environment, this can be tricky as they have different levels of preferred noise. That doesn’t mean we can’t help them in the workplace, we can introduce Sound Masking, sound absorption or different spaces where they can do their work from; private areas or more collaborative open spaces.”

– Dr Nigel Oseland