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 . Often we have to interrupt our work for a while. If we are exposed to noise for several hours, we become dissatisfied , 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 . Even a low noise level or irrelevant conversations are enough  to throw us off track while we are working on complex and demanding tasks .
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 . However, if the noise reappears and we fail to ignore it, we feel just as stressed as before the rest period . 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 .
Predominantly industrial noise, as it occurs, for example, in production halls, can have an effect on our bodies . Thus, the endocrine, neurological and gastrointestinal, but especially the cardiovascular system, are affected in such a way  that our blood pressure and heart rate rise [13,14].
Concrete recommendations for action
In open-plan offices, a noise level of 55 dB is the upper limit . This corresponds approximately to the volume of a normal conversation . For mainly cognitive activities, 35-45 dB should not be exceeded to ensure concentration . 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 . 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.
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