Published: Thu, August 23, 2018
Medicine | By Tracy Klein

Staff in open plan offices are fitter and less stressed

Staff in open plan offices are fitter and less stressed

Office managers should remove partitions between workers' desks to improve employee health, a study suggests.

Sternberg and her colleagues tried to find an association between office layouts and stress levels of 231 United States government employees.

When it came to stress, measured by heart monitors, open-plan workers had lower levels than those in cubicles. According to a 2015 report published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, workplace-related illnesses cost the U.S. economy more than 225 billion Dollars a year.

The study showed that workers in open bench seating arrangements were 32% more physically active at office than those in private offices and 20% more active than those in cubicles.

According to the researchers, the more physical activity a person may have at the office, the lower their physiological stress they had during after-work hours. The office staff were required to fill in hourly questionnaires sent to them on their smartphones to gauge how they were feeling. Also, those who were more active had 14 per cent lesser stress levels than those who were not.

Writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine, Sternberg and her colleagues describe how they investigated the impact of office layouts on the activity and stress levels of 230 U.S. government employees.

And workers in open plan seating experienced lower perceived stress at the office than those in cubicles.

But they said the study was observational only and factors like location of stairs and lifts could be at play too. This is the first known study to investigate the effects of office workstation type on these objective measures.

The authors, led by experts from the University of Arizona, said that open plan offices may lead to increased physical activity by encouraging "interaction and mobility, including movement to spaces designed for unplanned meetings and phone calls, when available".

Sternberg said she could only speculate why more active people tended to work at partition-less desks.

"The results of this study are an important step towards establishing best practices and guidelines for office design and operations", they conclude. "There are ongoing and accelerating trends towards reducing dedicated individual work space in offices in order to save rental and other overhead costs, and to reduce environmental impacts of underutilised space".

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