September 14, 2015
A new study from Swedish researchers suggests that the layout of offices not only affects how people respond to noise at work but may also be a source of conflict between co-workers. According to the study of more than 5,000 office workers, men and women are likely to react differently to specific types of office layout. Perhaps surprisingly, the researchers found that conflict is less commonplace in open plan offices than it is in workplaces that apply contemporary models of office design that offer workers a choice of how and where to work. They conclude this may be linked to the type of work associated with these particular layouts. The study also claims that women are more bothered by noise in these types of offices than men. According to the study, there was also a more readily discernible link between office type and workplace conflict for women than for men.
The findings, based on data collected by the Swedish Longitudinal Occupational Survey of Health,were published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, by co-authors Christina Bodin Danielsson, a researcher at Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology School of Architecture & Built Environment and Stockholm University’s Stress Research Institute and a contributor to Work&Place; Töres Theorell from SU’s Stress Research Institute; Lennart Bodin from Karolinska Institute; and Cornelia Wulff, from Mäldardalen University.
The authors suggest that part of the explanation for their results may be the type of work associated with specific office design models. “In a combi-office, the fact that you work as a team could be a possible explanation for the environment’s negative impact on conflicts”, Bodin Danielsson says. “Group work itself has been shown to lead to conflicts. Men appear to be less sensitive to the influence of office type for workplace conflicts. Although men are also affected, it seems that other factors play a larger role in the occurrence of conflicts among men. We found among women that most conflicts occur in the two activity-based office types, combined and flex office.”
Women are also more likely to claim they are bothered by noise, according to the study. Under half (46 percent) of men admitted to being annoyed by noise in small open plan offices, compared to just under 6o percent of women.