Open-plan offices, noise top the list of workplace stress triggers

26 April 2019 - 11:20
By TimesLIVE
Open-plan offices are supposed to promote co-operation but most people just want to be left alone.
Image: Thinkstock Open-plan offices are supposed to promote co-operation but most people just want to be left alone.

While only a tiny percentage of people seek help from human resources departments, there are a number of stress triggers in the workplace.

Top of the list are open-plan offices, ubiquitous across South Africa.

This is according to a CareerJunction survey exploring office etiquette.

"One finding was clear; South Africans like to keep to themselves," the company states.

An open-plan office environment is the norm for more than 70% of the 2,000 people who participated in the survey.

In contrast, most said they prefer to be separated from their colleagues by closed or sectioned-off spaces.

Their reasons? Peace and quiet.

CareerJunction said while the intention behind open-plan offices is to increase collaboration between colleagues, South Africans are in two minds about whether this holds true, with half admitting they don’t agree and the other half being "in agreement" or "uncertain".

"When looking at people's behaviour at work, this ambivalence is clear. About half seem to wear their headphones and list things like interruptions and background noise as their biggest pain points."

Headphones are not necessarily the best option, though.

Nearly 15% of those surveyed said they will wave their hands close to their colleagues’ faces to get their attention if they are wearing headphones and 2% said they will go as far as throwing something at them.

Another sign that open-plan offices do not necessarily promote collaboration is that three-quarters of people surveyed said they would approach colleagues only if it's urgent and won't bother them with e-mails or instant messages unnecessarily.

Inappropriate use of language, weird smells and personal phone calls are also on the list of major irritations for people surveyed.

Colleagues arriving late for work or meetings is another irritation, as are annoying ringtones.

On a sour note, many confessed that they are all too familiar with office politics, said CareerJunction.

When asked how they handle conflict in the workplace, most people surveyed said that they prefer to go to a co-worker directly if they have any issues with them instead of going to a manager first (11%) or directly to HR (1.5%).

"Favouritism in the workplace seems to be an issue, with 43% of respondents saying that they've been negatively affected by it," CareerJunction noted.