We’ve all heard of ‘sick building syndrome,’ but now it seems that the problem may be more widespread than we thought. Research out of Queensland University of Technology indicates that packing employees into crowded, noisy, open-plan environments … [drum roll] makes them sick.
Okay, not exactly jaw-dropping stuff, but Dr Vinesh Oommen, who conducted the study was nevertheless surprised at the extent of the problems that open-plan offices can produce. Here are some of his thoughts, along with the kind of responses I would expect to hear from a Daddy Warbucks style business owner:
  • Transmissible diseases spread more readily without walls and doors. (a) People shouldn’t be coming to work if they have transmissible disease and (b) I don’t know how you were raised, but I trap my germs in my immaculately pressed, monogrammed, linen handkerchief.
  • People in open plan offices have higher blood pressure levels than people who work in environments with walls and doors. Pish tosh. I have a huge, comfortable, mahogany-panelled office and my blood pressure is through the roof! Of course, my doctor blames my diet of port, stilton and fine cigars, but what does he know?
  • People in open plan offices report feeling more stressed and insecure than their individually officed counterparts. And there are privacy issues because everyone around them can hear everything they are saying and see everything they are doing on the computer. I don’t employ people so they can have private telephone conversations or correspond on the interwebs. I employ them to do a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage dammit! And if they’re feeling insecure, they should play a few chukkas of polo – always cheers me up!
  • High levels of noise in open plan environments cause employees to lose concentration and results in diminished productivity. Lower productivity? Not for long. Where’s that HR wallah? I’ll put him on the case …
  • Open-plan offices are likely to have higher staff turnover levels. Which results in much lower ongoing staffing costs. If no-one stays with the firm long enough to qualify for promotion, I pay them a constant entry-level salary and none of them qualify for benefits going forward. Explain to me how this is a problem?
  • There is a higher chance of conflict between workers in open-plan offices. Conflict? That isn’t conflict! An all-night artillery barrage followed by a charge across no man’s land – that’s a conflict.
  • But Mr Warbucks, you keep your polo ponies in separated stables, why would you do less for your employees? Because (a) an open plan stable would be bad for my beautiful babies (b) good polo ponies are damned expensive to replace and (c) I like my ponies. Actually that doesn’t sound very good and the PR wallahs are forever reminding me to trot out this “Our people are our most important asset” guff. So don’t print that. And If you do, I’ll hunt you down like the cur you are and thrash you on the steps of your club!

I had a lively back and forth with the excellent Mr Yates on Newstalk radio on this very topic, which you might enjoy:

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