In Stress and Coping

Can you stay sane in an open-space office?

Everyone needs alone time: arrive an hour early or have lunch outside the office to give yourself a breather.

It’s already become popular to work in a wall-free space for decades. It seems that everyone got used to this and do not think whether it is easy to deal with the sensory overload – the unexpected phenomenon in our hectic lives nowadays.

The open working space has been accepted by many companies to foster collaboration, employee bonding and an egalitarian sense of all for one and one for all. The outcome of this experiments is suspicious: despite employees became tolerant to co-workers with their eating behaviours and to their managers with their manners of talking to other employees, the environment has been elevating stress, reducing motivation and causing cognitive overload.

In 2011, researchers at the University of Leeds have made an attempt to explain the result of that shift in office environment. The study reported that open offices do increase distractions and interruptions and impede concentration, which cab leave you feeling frazzled and frustrated. Although several studies have showed that people feel happier when they can control over their environment, more than 40% of workers in North America do not even have a private space to take a confidential telephone conversation.

A survey conducted by Canada Life Group Insurance discovered that employees who worked in open-space offices took 70% more sick days rather than those who worked in a private office. This is not surprising, as germs spread through offices as speedily as videos about pets on Facebook. Noisy environments even affect how you think, impairing your ability to recall information and even solve basic arithmetical tasks.

“Our brains evolved to pay attention to people around us, because it was in our survival interest to know what others nearby were up to. An open office forces us to override this innate impulse and try to tune other people out.”

– Sally Augustin, an environmental psychologist

Most of us are not very good at it. Employees lose about 86 minutes a day due to destructions, according to a study by office-furniture company Steelcase.

What is a solution here? Sally Augustin advised to take charge of your space as best as you can: bring a leafy plant that particularly obstructs your view of co-workers and invest in good noise-cancelling headphones.

“We’re calmest when we have a territory we can control – and having control of our experiences boosts performance and reduces stress.”

– Sally Augustin, an environmental psychologist

To cope with the anxiety that comes from seeing peers meeting without you, ask yourself, “What story am I telling myself about this situation?” Your imagination may be in overdrive. Just remember that many of our fears are NOT based on objective reality! Your perception of the situation is more likely incorrect. If this situation bothers you, analyze your feelings, your thoughts and your behaviour applying a technique that can be found in my book The Solving Life’s Problems Workbook.

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