Office Noise


Can we focus in the workplace or is there too much ear pollution?

Click for AUDIO version.

Back in 2003 the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) conducted a survey of the most common complaints of office workers. Office temperature, which we have discussed in the past, topped the list, but there were others, including office noise which many workers found to be very distracting. However slight, noise can distract us in just about anything, which is why libraries want you to be quiet so that others can concentrate. Offices though are typically more hectic than libraries with phones ringing, people visiting, employees meeting and holding discussions, and office equipment humming away. It can all be rather chaotic.

In addition to affecting concentration, studies have shown that noise levels also affect worker motivation and contributes to stress. I have also read that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) permits noise exposures in the workplace up to 90 decibels on the average over an eight hour period. That’s like having a radio playing next to you on your desk at medium volume. Try working under such an arrangement for a while and you’ll see how it affects your work and why OSHA is concerned.

Sure, music has charms to soothe the savage breast, but too much noise can also create a lot of unnecessary havoc in the office as well, thus affecting worker performance. The intuitive manager will understand the role of noise as it affects the corporate culture and take measures to assure it has a positive effect on their workers, such as installing certain types of wallboard and ceiling tile to absorb sound, establishing quiet zones for work, and separate rooms for meetings and discussions.

So, are managers paying attention to the effect of noise in the workplace? Probably not as much as they should. The fact that many workers are plugging into iPods or other audio devices is indicative that management is not paying enough attention. Such devices can be useful for allowing an employee to focus on their work, but they can also be a safety risk in areas where it is necessary for workers to communicate in certain job functions. Personally, I have a problem with such devices as I believe workers who use them tend to plug in and tune out the real world. Whenever I see such devices, it tells me that managers have abdicated a certain amount of control over the workplace.

Frankly, I think it’s time for a lot of managers to take a refresher course in ergonomics, a discipline which seems to have faded from view over the years. At the center of ergonomics is how the workplace affects the human senses, which includes sight, taste, smell, touch, and, of course, hearing.

Keep the Faith!