Open-plan offices spread germs and stress

Open-plan offices are more likely to create illness among the workforce, mostly by spreading colds and other infections and increasing stress levels, latest research has suggested.

The Australian study published in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Health Management found that 90% of employees polled who worked in open-plan spaces reported adverse health and psychological effects.

Key problems included greater insecurity because of the lack of privacy, catching colds, and low productivity.

The dynamic of such offices could also lead to higher levels of stress, conflict and elevated blood pressure, the research argued.

These health effects and rapid staff turnover were associated with open-plan environments, said the report’s author Dr Vinesh Oommen, from the Queensland University of Technology’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation.

“Employees face a multitude of problems, such as the loss of privacy, loss of identity, low work productivity, various health issues, over-stimulation and low job satisfaction when working in an open-plan environment,” he added.

Modern-day workstations have in the past been criticised for spreading bugs through dirty keyboards and desks, particularly as more employees now ‘hot-desk’ and do not have their own regular, personal space.

Workers were plagued by insecurity when working in open-plan offices, the report found, often worried about their colleagues’ ability to see what they were doing on the computer or eavesdrop on their phone calls.

Similarly, the high noise levels in many open-plan offices often harmed concentration and resulted in lower productivity, he said.

The ease of germ transmission also meant that illnesses such as flu could be passed around more ­easily.

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