The surprising effect an open-plan office has on your emotional well-being

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Susan Devaney
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Open plan offices could be making us miserable, study suggests. 

For many of us, working in an open-plan office is now the norm as companies phased out closed-off cubicles many moons ago.

Since creation, open-plan offices — with wider spaces and better social interactions — have long been hailed as the solution to creating a more harmonious and creative environment for workers.

But a new study has suggested that the opposite is occurring, making many an employee miserable.

The study, recently published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health, looked at the link between the type of office and the satisfaction levels of staff by focusing on two main factors: ease of interaction and general well-being.

The researchers from the CTF, Service Research Centre at Karlstad University in Sweden, suggested that open-plan offices can impact productivity levels.

“The results show a negative relationship between the number of co-workers sharing an office and employees’ job satisfaction,” said Dr Tobias Otterbring, lead author of the study. 

Will open-plan offices soon be a thing of the past?

The study found that employees working in small numbers (3 to 9 people) and medium-sized (10 to 20 people) in open-plan offices reported lower levels of well-being and ease of interaction with other employees.

“The open plan offices may have short-term financial benefits, but these benefits may be substantially lower than the costs associated with decreased job satisfaction and well-being,” Dr Otterbring further commented.

“Therefore, decision-makers should consider the impact of a given office type on employees rather than focusing solely on cost-effective office layout, flexibility, and productivity.”

It’s not the first time the productivity of open-plan offices has been contested. In 2017, a BT futurologist, Dr Nicole Millard said that large open-plan offices are inefficient and would soon die out. Instead, we would all carry our office in our backpacks and work in small teams in coffee shops.

“The trouble with open-plan offices is they are a one-size-fits-all model which actually fits nobody,” Millard said.

“We’re interrupted every three minutes. It takes us between eight and 20 minutes to get back into that thought process. Email. We get too much. Meetings, colleagues. It’s all distracting.

“So we will become shoulder bag workers. Our technology has shrunk so we can literally get our office in a small bag. We are untethered, we don’t have to have a desk anymore.”

Let’s see what the future holds for our workspaces…

Images: iStock 


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Susan Devaney

Susan Devaney is a digital journalist for, writing about fashion, beauty, travel, feminism, and everything else in-between.