Workers in open plan offices more active and less stressed

By June Shannon Policy News   |   22nd Aug 2018

Open plan offices with no desk dividers may be healthier – study

An open plan office, with no partitions between desks may be better for your health than other types of workstations such as individual offices, new research has suggested.

According to the US study which looked at the impact of the type of office people worked in on their health, an open plan office with no partitions was linked to higher levels of physical activity while at work, and lower levels of stress outside the office.

This was the first study to look at how types of workstations might affect both physical activity and stress levels of office workers.

For the study researchers recruited 231 US government workers from four different sites, working in three different types of office environments: open bench configuration with no or very low partitions between desks; cubicles with high walled partitions that can’t be seen over while seated; and private offices.

Workers in open plan offices with open bench configurations clocked up more physical activity than workers in cubicles or private offices.


Participants in the study wore heart sensors and physical activity monitors, which captured activity levels for three consecutive work days and two nights. They also answered questions every hour on their smartphones during working hours to gauge their mood. Afterwards they filled in a survey to assess their overall stress levels.

The data showed that workers in open plan offices with open bench configurations clocked up more physical activity than either workers in cubicles (20% more) or in private offices (32% more).

Stress levels were significantly higher among older, heavier office workers, while activity levels were lower among women than among men. Those who experienced higher levels of stress in work were also more likely to be stressed at home, the study found.

However, those who were more physically active experienced lower (14%) levels of stress outside the office than those who were less active.

The researchers noted that this was an observational study, and as such, could not establish cause. Furthermore, they said there may be other workplace design features that affected physical activity, including the availability of informal meeting space, and accessibility of stairs.

"Organisations must realise the potential of including exercise into the working day to boost productivity and happiness among workers,"

Mr Enda Campbell, Workplace Health Promotion Officer , The Irish Heart Foundation

However, they said that this was the first study to show that an open bench configuration “may be an unrecognised positive factor in promoting physical activity levels at work.”

“Given the importance of physical activity to health, the fact that office workstation type may influence how much people move at work should not be overlooked in the health field,” the researchers added.

Commenting on the study Mr Enda Campbell, Workplace Health Promotion Officer with the Irish Heart Foundation said, “We know that exercise increases job performance by reducing absence, improving mood and reducing fatigue. Organisations must realise the potential of including exercise into the working day to boost productivity and happiness among workers”.

“Even light activity such as standing and walking around the office can have a positive effect and is more achievable and inclusive of all workers,” he added.

This study was recently published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.



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