When the unemployment rate goes up, reported sexual harassment goes up as well, study finds.
When the unemployment rate goes up, reported sexual harassment goes up as well, study finds.

Why your office layout might be damaging your health

The way your workplace is organised can impact your stress levels

Olivia Petter
Tuesday 21 August 2018 14:14
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We spend more time at work than we do almost anywhere else, so it’s no surprise that even the most minute of office details can impact our wellbeing, right down to the way we sit.

According to a new study published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, employees working in offices with open-plan seating boast lower stress levels and greater daytime activity levels than those in private offices and cubicles.

The team of researchers who led the study at the University of Arizona claim to be the first to scientifically measure the links between workstation type and the aforementioned factors.

The study examined 231 workers based in office buildings, all of whom were required to wear sensors which measured their stress levels and physical activity for three working days and two nights.

Led by the UA Institute on Place, Wellbeing and Performance, the intention was to investigate how workers’ activity and stress levels varied inside and outside of the office.

They found that those in open seating arrangements were 32 per cent more physically active than those in private offices and 20 per cent more active than those working in cubicles.

The study also revealed that on average, male workers were more active than female workers.

Numerous studies have linked physical activity to mental wellbeing, so it’s unsurprising that workers who were more physically active benefited from 14 per cent less stress outside of the office than those who were less physically active.

"This research highlights how office design, driven by office workstation type, could be an important health promoting factor," explained senior author Dr Esther Sternberg, research director of the University’s Center for Integrative Medicine.

However, she added that the study was observational only and that additional factors, such as the location of stairs and lifts, may also need to be taken into account in order to paint a fuller picture of how seating affects workers' activity levels.

London workers queuing up for free food because they can't afford to eat

While Sternberg’s findings may tout the benefits of open seating from a health perspective, it could be an entirely different matter when looking at it from an efficiency perspective.

Some will laud the benefits of open-plan seating for encouraging communication between colleagues and subsequently fostering a culture of collaboration, however, others argue that private cubicles might be better for promoting a focused environment that is free from distractions..

For example, a 2017 report published in The Wall Street Journal claimed that open-plan offices can lead to lower concentration levels due to an excess of “visual noise”, which it described as “the activity or movement around the edges of an employee’s field of vision.

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