Office noise epidemic getting worse

A new survey suggests that employees in noisy offices are more likely to leave their job within six months.

According to a new survey, only 1% of employees now say they can block out distraction in the office – a dramatic drop since 2015.

The study, conducted by Oxford Economics on behalf of Plantronics, involved 500 senior executives and non-manager employees from many industries and functional areas. Participants hailed from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, India, China, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway. The study also included detailed interviews with executives who are taking steps to deal with these business collaboration and productivity challenges in their open offices.

Some 63% of employees say they lack quiet space for focused work, which has a negative effect on their productivity, satisfaction and well-being. 

Only 1% of employees say they are able to block out distractions and concentrate without taking extra steps in the office – down 20% since 2015.

More than half (54%) of executives believe their employees have the tools they need to mitigate noise and distraction in the office, but just less than a third (29%) of employees agree – compared to 41% in 2015.

 As a result, employees are taking matters into their own hands by leaving or tuning out their surroundings to get work done: three-quarters employees say they need to take walks outside to focus, while 32% use headphones to block out distraction.

Employees in the noisiest office environments are more likely to say they may leave their job in the next six months. 


Environmental influence on performance

Almost all executives surveyed (96%) view employee productivity as critical to their financial performance, yet just 40% understand the link between noise, distraction and productivity. A mere 6% of executives report having equipped their office with noise mitigating features. 

The survey also showed a correlation between companies’ revenue growth and how those same companies approach their work environments. More than three-quarters of top performers (revenue growth above 10 percent 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. These top performing companies are more likely to provide workers with tools to block out noise and quiet space to focus.



According to the study, millennials (aged 22 to 36) are more accustomed to an open office versus older colleagues, likely because they started careers in such a setting. Despite that, they are the first to acknowledge the issues that come with these environments and tend to deal with these challenges differently than their older colleagues. Millennial employees are:

  • Much less likely to say they find a noisy working environment energizing (9%; versus 30% of older colleagues).
  • Less satisfied with their office layout than older employees (38% of millennials versus 48% of others).
  • More likely to say their organization should address noise, distraction and information overload (89% versus 75% of older coworkers).
  • More likely to say they take walks outside to focus (84% versus 63% of older employees), and less likely to use an office break room or quiet space.


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