The Effects of a Noisy Workplace

Open office spaces are particularly prone to noise problems.
i Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

If your office sounds like a Friday night disco most of the time, you should be concerned. Noise-related hearing loss is permanent and can’t be helped by surgery or hearing aids. Although some people may think of construction sites or factories are places where noise is a problem, many offices are sources of noise, as well. Loud radios, vacuum cleaners and poor acoustics can create noise that is distracting or even damaging to the sensitive structures of your ears.

Hearing Loss

Hearing loss from noise exposure is cumulative -- if you spent your teens rocking out to your faves with the volume on high, you may already have hearing loss and not realize it. A conversation taking place three feet away from you is about 60 decibels, while a vacuum cleaner is higher, between 70 and 80 decibels. The higher the decibel level, the louder the noise and the more ear damage it can cause.


Although your office may have a lower average volume than the floor of the New York Stock Exchange during a trading frenzy, office noise can still be distracting. Poor acoustics -- the architectural design that allows sound to carry or be muted -- can allow you to hear coworkers’ phone conversations, a water cooler argument about baseball, someone’s radio or the meeting next door. Even in a well-designed work area, open office architecture with cubicles instead of actual walls allows sound to travel throughout the work space.

Other Effects

If you are particularly noise-sensitive, you may wince when the phone rings or a door slams. Chronic exposure to noise can leave you stressed, with a low tolerance for frustration, according to Chatterblocker. You may be one of those lucky people who could work in the middle of Times Square, but if not, office noise may prevent you from concentrating on complex tasks. Computer programmers, for example, can get testy if they’re working on a tricky bit of code and the guy in the next cubicle suddenly turns on a heavy metal radio station. Excessive noise can increase the risk of stress-related conditions such as high blood pressure, ulcers or migraine headaches, according to the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse.


Short of enclosing your cubicle in bubble wrap or wearing the same sort of headphones used by airport ground crews, there’s a limit to what you can do about office noise, especially if no one else seems to think it’s a problem. If you have an office with a door, put a sign on it -- “Door closed because of noise pollution. Please come in if you need me.” Extend the same sort of courtesy to others you would like to have returned by avoiding the use of a speaker phone and speaking quietly. Ask the boss to explore technological solutions or to consider implementing a “quiet office” policy.

the nest