Open-plan offices ‘put health at risk’

Workers have been given a fresh excuse with which they can their blame feelings of illness, paranoia and wanting to quit on – the open-plan office.

Researchers in Australia found that 90% of workers in the ubiquitous corporate space reported adverse health and psychological effects, as well as higher turnover.

Feelings of insecurity and paranoia, brought on by others being able to see what you are doing on the computer or hearing what you say on the phone, were typical.

Combined with the noise, lack of privacy and shortage of personal space, workers can be more aggressive, resulting in shorter concentration spans and lower productivity.

Having studied all the health research ever collated on open-plan offices, Dr Vinesh Oommen, of Queensland University, said there was also a higher chance of conflict.

“Sitting so close to someone” that each time their phone rings others get irritated, or distracted, by the noise, increased the likelihood of staff coming to blows, he hinted.

He called on bosses to scrap their ‘one size fits all’ approach, defined as huge, uninterrupted large banks of desks, staged to foster informal ‘open’ working.

“The research found that the traditional design was better – small, private closed offices,” he said.

“The problem is that employers are always looking for ways to cut costs, and using open-plan designs can save 20 per cent on construction.”

Employers who ignore the call could be exposing staff to higher blood pressure and increased risk of illness and viruses, which spread around open-plan spaces easily.

So the question for all bosses, Oommen said, is do you want happy workers – or a high staff turnover and high absenteeism – characteristics of the open-plan office.

He reflected: “Having an office environment that promotes health and high productivity would be more beneficial to employers in the long run.”

(Source: )

Richard Reid is the founder of Pinnacle Proactive, Specialising in theEmployee Assistance ProgramStress ManagementStaff Retention & Absenteeism. Take a Proactive Approach to Growing Your Organisation & its People. For more info visit


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