Home' HR Monthly : July 2018 Contents July 2018 HRM magazine 27
re you giving this article your full
attention? Or are you battling with the
radio playing in your workplace? Is
the annoying ringtone of a colleague’s mobile
phone driving you to distraction? Or is it the
mechanical wheezing of a photocopier, or the
loud conversation drifting over from the coffee
cou nter? Sometimes the world can seem like a
very noisy place, particularly at work.
Many companies encourage and are proud of
the ‘open communication’ environments they set
up, but do these fun, lively workplaces come at
the expense of quality work and productivity?
Noise levels in the workplace are a health and
safety issue – and while this article isn’t about
the high noise levels endured by workers in
construction, agriculture or anyone toiling in a
nightclub, for example, it is about the increasing
ubiquity and impact of ‘background’ noise.
An international study from last year, that
included Australia, and was conducted by
economic consultants, Oxford Economics,
found that a mere one per cent of employees
(both senior executives and lower ranks
from across industries) say they can block
out distraction. This is a dramatic drop from
2015 when 20 per cent said they were able to
concentrate despite office noise.
Cavernous, open-plan offices have a lot to
answer for. Some 63 per cent of employees said
they lacked a quiet space for focused work,
which has a negative effect on their productivity,
satisfaction and well-being.
Celia Walker (name has been changed) works
in a large, glamorous creative agency in Sydney.
Although she is of a generation that is used to
music being part of her work environment, she
says the noise of people walking in high heels
across the highly-polished floor drives her mad.
“There’s very little I can say or do about it,
but I’ve come close to throwing something, it’s
Her response is to retire to a local coffee shop
with her laptop or go for a walk to calm herself.
Three-quarters of employees in the Oxford
Economics su rvey do the same, while 32 per cent
use headphones to block out distraction. More
worryingly for H R, employees in the noisiest
office environ ments are more likely to say they
may leave their job in the next six months.
Pitch and performance
There is a correlation in the survey between
companies’ revenue growth and how those
companies approach their work environments.
More than three-quarters of top performers
(revenue growth above 10 per cent and
less turnover) report that office design and
noise mitigation are important to financial
performance and are proactively addressing the
noise epidemic in their offices.
Take the Barangaroo office blocks in Sydney.
When P wC moved in, one (windowless) office
room was allocated for workers who require
peace and quiet.
The reality is that while HR can’t change the
layout of an organisation without a commitment
from the company, there are ways to get
colleagues collaborating to limit the noise and
elements you can introduce to dampen the din.
• Don’t single out particularly noisy people, but
bring up the issue of office etiquette in a group
meeting so everyone is onboard with noise levels.
• Explain why colleagues may need a quiet
environment, to conduct a phone call or to meet
a deadline so that your request seems reasonable.
• Lead by example: If someone talks really loud,
respond in a softer voice with something like,
“I want to hear this, but I don’t want to disturb
people, so can we step into a conference room?”
• Semi-private lounge groupings with furnitu re
that shields out noise. Carpet and underly or
padding help in areas of high pedestrian traffic.
• Indoor plants, such as the Ficus Tree or Peace
Lily, placed strategically also absorb noise.
• Establish dedicated quite and loud zones.
• Introduce random, natural sounds to the
workplace environ ment that obscure or “mask”
the sound of distracting conversations. The
sound of waterfalls is a popular choice. •••
While HR doesn’t want to be the
office police, hubbub can
affect wellbeing and work rate.
BY AMANDA WOODARD
more likely to say
they may leave
21/6/18 5:43 pm
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