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Is noise pollution stopping the return-to-office?

Author : Amanda Vlietstra

20 September 2022

Noisy offices are driving down productivity and contributing to staff retention problems...

One in five workers aged under 30 have resorted to physical violence because of noise and distractions at their workplace, shocking new research has revealed. Oscar Acoustics, specialists in architectural acoustic finishes, polled 2,000 workers and discovered that not only can a noisy workplace lead to physical altercations, but it has a hugely negative impact on productivity; 60% of those surveyed claimed they were unable to concentrate and were delivering lower quality work as a result of loud workspace. A further 20% did not think their bosses were doing enough to combat the issues.

Holistic view
Of course, from a boss’s perspective, it can be tempting to close the office door and let the rest of the staff just ‘get on with it’. But the impact on productivity cannot be ignored – and as the tight labour market and struggle to fill job vacancies and retain staff continues to plague the FM industry, among others, it’s important to take a holistic view of the workplace, drilling down to the reasons why you may be losing staff and looking at what would encourage them to stay. 

For the FM industry, too, understanding the issues that can affect the services they offer workplaces is key. Britain has still not seen a full return-to-office as the pandemic recedes – indeed, fewer staff have returned to office-based work than any other European country – and although the expensive and time-consuming business of commuting may have had an impact on this, the Oscar Acoustics researchers believe another potential reason could be that our offices are just too noisy. Only 8% of UK employees work in a quiet office, according to their research, with the top noise irritants identified by their survey respondents being colleagues talking to one another (38%), people on calls (34%), the sound of people eating (21%) and co-workers singing/humming (19%).

Passive aggressive
As a result, 17% of workers admit to snapping at their colleagues, with a further 16% raising grievances with HR/bosses and 11% resorting to leaving out passive-aggressive notes.

However, on the positive side, although 20% of employees don’t feel their bosses have done enough to address the issues, the survey respondents admitted that most companies had made some attempt to adjust the office environment to solve noise-based problems. 26% of employers had raised a physical barrier, 25% had arranged training for noisy people, and 21% had installed soundproofing.

Commenting on the study, Ben Hancock from Oscar Acoustics said: “Employers are facing real challenges around staffing and needing to achieve the same results with fewer people. That’s why bosses must consider how employees can use workspaces most effectively. This means understanding that while aesthetics are important, you also have to consider how people work and ensure that there are spaces for collaboration, concentration and connection. 

“Noise may seem a minor irritant, but not addressing this could hurt your business’s bottom line and put your employee’s health at risk,” he concluded.

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