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Noise-induced stress at the workplace

Imagine an open-plan office … conversations here, conversations there; printers making seemingly endless copies a day; telephones ringing uninterruptedly and construction site noise in front of the window! That doesn’t sound like a quiet and relaxed workplace for now. But even in smaller offices we quickly reach our limits with our ability to concentrate due to constant background noise [1]. Often we have to interrupt our work for a while. If we are exposed to noise for several hours, we become dissatisfied [2], feel helpless – our motivation [2,3] and cognitive performance decrease [4,5,6].

Which factors distract us the most?

Researchers have found that conversations between colleagues are the most disturbing (55%) and distract from the actual work [7,8]. The ringing of a telephone that remains unanswered or the monotonous humming of the air conditioner and office machines can also be annoying [7]. Even a low noise level or irrelevant conversations are enough [9] to throw us off track while we are working on complex and demanding tasks [2].

Do we ever get used to the noise?

Quiet moments at work provide a short period of weaning during which our attention is not focused on the disturbing noise for a moment [6]. However, if the noise reappears and we fail to ignore it, we feel just as stressed as before the rest period [10]. Even small changes in a sound (e.g. volume control, sound frequencies …) increase the degree of interference as soon as we become aware of this change [7].

Physical effects

Predominantly industrial noise, as it occurs, for example, in production halls, can have an effect on our bodies [11]. Thus, the endocrine, neurological and gastrointestinal, but especially the cardiovascular system, are affected in such a way [12] that our blood pressure and heart rate rise [13,14].

Use noise-absorbing partition walls to prevent noise-induced stress.

Concrete recommendations for action

In open-plan offices, a noise level of 55 dB is the upper limit [15]. This corresponds approximately to the volume of a normal conversation [15]. For mainly cognitive activities, 35-45 dB should not be exceeded to ensure concentration [15]. If possible, workplaces should be separated according to cognitive requirements, i.e. those employees who need rest to carry out their work should sit further away from workplaces where it is generally louder.

Low-noise office machines (printers etc.) or the relocation of these devices to another room contribute to improving room acoustics [15,16] . If a desk is not occupied, it is helpful to forward telephone calls to a switchboard [17]. Irrelevant background conversations between colleagues should be transferred to a separate room or fixed communication regulations (mobile phones, private conversations, etc.) introduced [15,16]. Noise-absorbing partition walls or floors are also suitable. On this page you will find effective sound insulation to achieve the desired acoustics in the room.

Identification of stressors with CompanyMood

We will be happy to assist you in recording job-related charges. Use CompanyMood to assess mental hazards and identify stress factors in the workplace. Please also read our articles on psychological risk assessment, stress and resilience.

Sources

[1] Keighley, E. C. & Parkin, P. H. (1981). Subjective response to the noise climate of landscaped offices. Technical Report, Watford: Building Research Institute.

[2] Evans, G. W. & Johnson, D. (2000). Stress and open-office noise. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85, 779–783. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.85.5.779

[3] Evans, G. W. (2000). Environmental stress and health. In A. Baum, T. Revenson, & J. E. Singer (Hrsg.), Handbook of health psychology (pp. 365–385). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum

[4] Loewen, L. J. & Suedfeld, P. (1992). Cognitive and arousal effects of masking office noise. Environment and Behaviour, 24, 381–395. doi:10.1177/0013916592243006

[5] Banbury, S. & Berry, D. C. (1997). Habituation and dishabituation to speech and office noise. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 3, 181–195. doi:10.1037/1076-898x.3.3.181

[6] Banbury, S. & Berry, D. C. (1998). Disruption of speech and office-related tasks by speech and office noise. British Journal of Psychology, 89, 499–517. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1998.tb02699.x

[7] Boyce, P. R. (1974). User’s assessments of a landscaped office. Journal of Architectural Research, 3, 44–62.

[8] Langdon, J. (1966). Modern offices: A user survey. National Building Studies Research Paper, 41, London.

[9] Jones, D. M., & Morris, N. (1992). Irrelevant speech and cognition. In D. M. Jones & A. Smith (Hrsg.), Handbook of human performance (pp. 29–53). London: Academic Press

[10] Tremblay, S. & Jones, D. M. (1998). Role of habituation in the irrelevant sound effect: Evidence from the effects of token set size and rate of transition. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 24, 659–671. doi:10.1037/0278-7393.24.3.659

[11] Singhal, S., Yadav, B., Hashmi, S. F., & Muzammil, Md. (2009). Effects of workplace noise on blood pressure and heart rate. Biomedical Research, 20, 122–126.

[12] Anticaglia, J. & Cohen, A. (1970). Extra-auditory effects of noise as a health hazard. American Industrial Hygiene Association Journal, 31, 277–281. doi:10.1080/0002889708506243

[13] Mahmood, R., Ghulam, J. H., Alam, S., Safi, A. J., & Salahuddin, A. (2007). Effect of 90 decibel noise of 4000 Hertz on blood pressure in young adults. Noise Pollution, 4, 1–4.

[14] Peterson, E. A., Angenstein, J. S., & Tomis, D.C. (1981). Noise raises blood pressure without impairing auditory sensitivity. Science, 211, 1450–1452. doi:10.1126/science.7466404

[15] Beermann, B., Henke, N., Brenscheidt, F., & Windel, A. (2010). Wohlbefinden im Büro. Arbeits- und Gesundheitsschutz bei der Büroarbeit. Dortmund: Bundesministerium für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin

[16] Abele, S. (2019). Lärmschutz im Büro – Tipps für mehr Ruhe. www.barmer.de. Abgerufen über https://www.barmer.de/arbeitgeber/service-beratung/arbeit-gesundheit-worklifebalance/laermschutz-im-buero-25574

[17] Banbury S. P. & Berry, D. C. (2005). Office noise and employee concentration: Identifying causes of disruption and potential improvements. Ergonomics, 48, 25–37. doi:10.1080/00140130412331311390

Stephanie Wörz

Als Master-Psychologin mit dem Schwerpunkt der Arbeits- und Organisationspsychologie bin ich im Bereich Business Development tätig. Ich stehe meinen Kollegen bei der Entwicklung von CompanyMood mit psychologischem Fachwissen zur Seite.

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