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Study Shows Workers in Open Office Settings May Be More Prone to Sickness

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The number of sick days taken by employees would seem to go beyond the scope of reasonable control, yet a new study suggests employers may have more influence over this key productivity statistic than previously thought.

Researchers in Sweden examined data from employees working in a variety of office settings, including single-room offices, shared offices, all the way through large, open-plan offices. They specifically looked at the number of short-term and long-term illnesses, as well as the total number of sick days taken in a year.

The statistics revealed significantly higher risk of short-term sick leaves for workers in three types of open-plan offices, especially among female employees. The study also identified higher rates of short-term sick leaves and a higher number of sick days among men working in flex-offices, which are open-plan layouts with no individual workstations, but some meeting rooms.

In addition to increased access to germs, the data confirmed that, in general, open-plan office environments are not as good for employee health as smaller office spaces. Other environmental factors contribute to this dynamic, including exposure to “irrelevant sound,” the lack of visual privacy and a reduced ability to control personal space.

The group dynamics that exist in many open-space offices encourage employees to come to work even when they probably should stay home due to illness, the researchers noted. This “presenteeism” results in less productive workdays for the sick employees, along with exposing their workmates to germs.

For more information regarding workplace health, please call Chad Clippard, business liaison, at 573-331-3019.