Moderate office noise in the office increases employee wellbeing

While excessive noise in the workplace can be a distraction, a lack of background sounds can be detrimental to employee health.
By: | February 6, 2023

While loud noises at work can have an adverse impact on employee wellbeing, complete silence does not necessarily create a healthy work environment. Therefore, employees may be better off working in the murmur of a busy coffee shop than in an office with library-level silence.

What then, is the ideal noise level in the office? Around 50 decibels, which is roughly equivalent to the sounds of birds singing or light rain falling, according to a new study by the University of Arizona and University of Kansas.

Ester Sternberg, co-author of the study and Director of the University of Arizona’s Institute on Place, Wellbeing and Performance, said, “Everybody knows that loud noise is stressful and in fact, extremely loud noise is harmful to your ear. But what was new about this is that with even low levels of sound – less than 50 decibels – the stress response is higher.”

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To measure the impact of sound in the workplace, 231 employees were asked to wear two devices for three days. One device measured sound levels and the other measured participants’ stress levels using heart rate variability, which reflects breathing patterns.

The results showed that when office sound was above 50 decibels, each 10-decibel increase led to a 1.9% decrease in physiological wellbeing. But when office sound was lower, each 10-decible increase led to a 5.4% increase in physiological wellbeing.

To address how humans are easily distracted by spontaneous changes in sound due to the brain’s stress response, organisations can implement measures to reduce sound distractions if they want to prioritise employee health, Sternberg concluded.