Are open-plan offices bad for your wellbeing?

Posted 01 Oct 2015 by John Hackston - Head of R&D at OPP

In the modern office environment, our attention has been very much focused on the tangible, physical aspects of our wellbeing. We have workstation assessments, we know about taking regular screenbreaks and we’re aware of the repetitive strain injuries that can come from desk-based work. But we're much less focused on how the physical environment affects the mental side of our wellbeing: our satisfaction, our happiness, our motivation. And perhaps we need to change that.

If we look at open-plan offices, we know that they’ve become the 21st-century norm for many reasons (budget, space, the belief that they lead to better communication, etc), but how well do they suit the people who actually work in them? 

Do you work in an open-plan office? If so, what do you think about it?

Of course, we are all different and I might answer this question very differently to you. One person’s calm, productive workspace may feel like a morgue to someone else, and a noisy set-up is energising to some but hell for others. We all have different personality preferences and this means we have different needs at work; unfortunately, the open-plan office imposes one environment, and one way of working, on everybody.

And guess what? It might be working against you. 

Earlier this year, OPP conducted research into the impact of work environment on different MBTI personality Types. Our research suggests that open-plan office design favours Extraverts.

Given that almost half of the UK’s working-age population are Introverts, that’s a lot of people negatively impacted by their working environment. But the truth is that Extraverts can find open-plan working challenging too.

Type & env image

Gloomy reading... so how do we tackle this?

The good news is that the MBTI personality framework helps us understand different Types and what they need from their office space – and can give clues about how we can help. By understanding what impacts each Type, we can, as far as possible, create workspaces that fit the needs of all different Types.

OPP is sharing and building on this work environment research – as well as discussing it with industry experts. It’s the start of a conversation to get us thinking about office space, to be aware of personality Types, and to understand how they interact. Our aim is to encourage a people-centred approach to workplace design that considers wellbeing and accommodates the different personality Types of people who work in offices. 

Find out more in our new Quick Guide, which includes tips from the research.

Share your thoughts and experience @opp_psychology using #loveyourworkspace or join us on LinkedIn.

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