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Office Noise is More Than Just a Nuisance, Says Survey

Young female architect working in the office

If you’re a small business owner, next time you’re recruiting you might like to point out that smaller businesses are generally quieter. According to of the ‘Noise and Wellbeing at Work’ survey, it makes for better employee well being.

The survey showed that 61% of employees within large companies say that noise is an issue at work, compared to just 37% of small business staff.

The negative effects of noise

1,000 UK office workers took part in the survey carried out by business solutions specialist The Remark Group. It showed, unsurprisingly to many, that excessive noise in the workplace is having a negative impact.

Sudden bursts of noise were judged the most irritating in the workplace.

The top five of irritating workplace noises are:

  • Colleagues’ telephone conversations (74%)
  • Personal conversations (65%)
  • Sudden laughter (62%)
  • Telephone ring tones (58%)
  • Doors slamming (56%)

It effects productivity.

  • 65% said that noise in the workplace impacted on their ability to complete work in an accurate and timely manner.
  • 55% said they were interrupted by noise in the workplace, with 46% admitting to wearing headphones at work to block out noise distractions.
  • 52% of people report they are interrupted by noise distractions more than five times in a working day.
  • 17% state that they are interrupted by noise more than 10 times a day.

The Remark Group noted that when the time taken to refocus is factored in, this can mean that over half the workforce is losing more than an hour of work time a day.

It effects well being.

  • 44% said that noise had a negative impact on their overall well being.
  • 40% said that noise at work had caused them to feel stressed.

Other workplace issues

Unfortunately, it’s not just noise that’s an issue. A lack of privacy was also highlighted as a problem.

64% of respondents reported that they often suffer from a lack of privacy at work. It’s not surprising when the survey found that more than a quarter of offices don’t have private rooms for meetings and a third don’t have a quiet, private place for employees to use. Yet 71% feel their offices would benefit from a private place for discussions.

  • 51% said they’d overheard confidential or sensitive information being discussed in the office.
  • 70% have overheard a colleague being upset or distressed.
  • 50% said they are reluctant to speak about a confidential, business-sensitive, or personal issues at work for fear of being overheard.
  • 45% say they feel anxious about hearing something they shouldn’t.


In nearly all cases the percentage of people impacted by noise or a lack of privacy was significantly higher among those working in large businesses with 500+ employees.


The work environment matters

Dr Nigel Oseland, a senior lecturer at UCL’s Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering, was involved in the survey.

“As more companies are adopting open plan design and agile working, the core challenge to the workplace community, designers and suppliers is to resolve office noise distraction and enhance focussed work, whilst maintaining collaborative and creative environments.”

It’s an issue small businesses can’t ignore, either as recruiters or retainers of employees.

  • 65% said the workplace environment would impact on their decision to accept a job offer.
  • 64% of respondents said their work environment impacts on their motivation to work.
  • 42% felt that their workplace didn’t encourage productivity.
  • 80% report a good working environment would affect their decision to stay with a company.

Is there a quiet place for your employees to have a private face-to-face or phone conversation, or to have privacy if they’re distressed? How noisy is your work environment?

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