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Loud offices are stressful – but so are quiet ones: study


Photo: monkeybusinessimages/iStockphoto

Tucson, AZ — A noisy office can increase stress levels. But now researchers are saying that near or complete silence at work isn’t so great either.

A team led by the University of Arizona and University of Kansas asked 231 U.S. General Services Administration employees to wear two devices. One measured sound levels in the work environment. The other measured stress levels via changes in heart rates.

The researchers say 50 decibels is the ideal noise level in office environments. That’s equivalent to the sound of moderate rain or the hum of a refrigerator. Each 10 dB increase beyond 50 was linked to a nearly 2% “decrease in physiological well-being,” according to a UA press release.

However, when the office noise was below 50 dB, each 10 dB increase was linked to a 5.4% increase in physiological health.

Study author Esther Sternberg, director of the UA Institute on Place, Wellbeing and Performance, says sudden changes in sound can trigger a stress response. That may explain why the mind and body respond better to low and steady sounds.

“People are always working in coffee shops – those are not quiet spaces,” Sternberg said in the release. “But the reason you can concentrate there is because the sounds all merge to become background noise. It masks sound that might be distracting. If you hear a pin drop when it’s very, very quiet, it will distract you from what you’re doing.”

For employers, the researchers recommend consulting acoustic engineers when building or renovating an office.

The study was published online in the journal NPJ Digital Medicine.

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