We work in an open-plan office, where some of the employees find the noise level distracting. Carrying out routine duties is not a problem but tasks that require more concentration and thinking often prove difficult. There are people in the office who do not see why they should restrict their conversation or control the sound level. One of the culprits is the boss. Any request to turn down the volume is interpreted as nagging. How to resolve this conflict?
The problem is by no means rare, and research data is available on the topic, showing that noise and interruptions have a detrimental effect on work. Companies have embraced the idea of open-plan offices en masse but this may have a negative impact on employees’ wellbeing.
The common notion is that an open-plan office increases the sharing of ideas and camaraderie, but these plus sides are far outweighed by the downsides.
Earphones with a noise-cancellation feature may work as a quick fix if it is not possible to find a conventional office space for the employee or working from home is not a viable option. Some people find that listening to music helps. If lyrics are a distraction, classical music may be a better option.
You have to find the solution that works best for you through trial and error.
The main cause of friction in the office seems to be that no proper ground rules have been set. If the work community has regular weekly meetings, it might be a good idea to agree to bring up the topic at one of these gatherings.
You should try to come up with solutions together as a community. Any idea that has been agreed on together and suits the nature of the work is a workable solution. The office should have a designated space for negotiations. One idea that is worth considering is quiet periods when talking is restricted.
When the boss is one of the causes of noise pollution, it is essential to get them to understand that chatting can be a distraction to other people. For this to work out, the topic should be discussed in a constructive manner, instead of only commenting on the distracting behaviour when it occurs.
It should, however, be acceptable to mention a noise level that is a source of distraction without the comment being labelled as nagging.
If a solution for the problem cannot be worked out, this failure may be a sign of other, underlying problems causing tension in the office. Perhaps some changes have taken place in the working conditions, leading to increased stress levels, which are proving a strain on communication.
If this is the case, it might be helpful to get an outside consultant to assess and defuse the situation.
The ability to solve conflicts together is a sign of a healthy work community.
Lilli Sundvik is a managing director and consultant on organisational psychology at Cresco Oy, psychological consultants.
Niina Woolley – HT
Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva