Your Office Affects Health Happiness

Do you hunker down in an office with a noisy open floor plan? Or do you spend each day in a cubicle? Maybe you labor away in a private office? Your answer to these questions could influence your health.

The Lowdown on Open Floor Plans

If you work in an office with an open plan, you have the benefit of chatting with your colleagues about new ideas without having to make a trip to a conference room. But you and your colleagues may also need to take more sick days.

According to a new study published in the journal Ergonomics, working in an open floor plan and without individual workstations may negatively affect a worker's health.

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In their study on the effect of office type on sickness absence, Christina Bodin Danielsson and colleagues at Stockholm University evaluated data from 1,852 office workers over two years. The workers toiled in single-room offices; shared-room offices; small, medium-size, and large open-plan offices; flex-offices (with no individual work stations); and combination offices.

Employees who labored in offices with one of the three open floor plans phoned in sick more often. Women who spent their workdays in these environments were particularly likely to be absent for short sick periods. In flex-offices, or open-plan layouts without individual workstations but with some meeting rooms, male workers logged higher rates of short sick leave times and individual days for sickness.

Why all these sick days? People sharing workspace may have a higher infection rate risk, say the researchers. Exposure to noise and the loss of personal control may also be to blame.

Group dynamics also figure in the negative effects tied to traditional open-plan offices, particularly large open-plan offices. But there is some good news for employees who work close to each other: strong group identity and peer control is more likely to be fostered in a smaller group of people, according to the researchers.

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Clap Your Hands If You Feel Happy

In a separate study, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, Jungsoo Kim and Richard de Dear studied 42,764 respondents who worked in enclosed private, enclosed shared, and open-plan spaces. The researchers found that in general, people who toiled in enclosed private offices had the highest satisfaction level with their workspace environment.

When comparing people in private offices to those in open-plan spaces, the researchers found a huge discrepancy in their perception of privacy, acoustics, and proxemics. What bugged the people in open plan office layouts most? You guessed it—they were distracted by noise and loss of privacy.

Finally, while you might think that open-plan offices foster better communication between colleagues, the study indicated that people in private offices were the most satisfied about their interactions with others.

What’s more, the degree to which open-plan dwellers were satisfied with their interactions failed to offset the negative impacts of noise and privacy. So even though workers might be satisfied with interactions in open-plan layout, their overall workspace satisfaction will eventually decrease unless a certain level of privacy and acoustical quality is provided, according to the researchers.

Learn How to Create a Healthy Office »

Bright Lights Intensify Feelings

Do you work in a brightly lit office? Or is the lighting so dim that you feel like you are in a dark basement? A study, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology shows that bright lights cause a feeling of warmth that intensifies a person’s reactions (positive and negative) and that turning on the lights can affect how people make decisions.

According to the study, lowering the lights during a highly charged meeting may soothe people’s emotions, while maintaining bright lights may help people influence others’ opinions.

The study involved half a dozen experiments that were carried out at Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. There were a total of more than 500 students, with 299 women and 205 men. Study subjects were placed in bright or dim rooms and asked to decide about a variety of issues, such as feelings of warmth, choosing spicy chicken sauces, judging a late worker’s aggressiveness in a script for a fake TV commercial, and rating the attractiveness of several models in print advertisements. They were also asked about their feelings after drinking fruit juices.

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Study subjects in the bright rooms liked spicier sauces and believed their selections were spicier than those subjects in the dimly lighted room. Brightness also influenced their emotions about aggression and sexiness in other people.

What's more, bright light enhanced positive feelings about the favored juice, which was orange, and also enhanced negative feelings about vegetable juice, which was the less preferred juice.