Open plan offices increase employee physical activity and lower stress

Open plan offices mean lot of walking around compared to partitioned cubicles. A new study of US government employees has now shown that these open plan offices can increase employee physical activity by up to 20 percent compared to those who worked within walled cubicles. Their activity was 32 percent higher compared to those who worked from private offices found the survey.

The new study was published in the latest issue of the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine. Esther Sternberg, director of the University of Arizona Institute on Place and Wellbeing led the study and she explained that increased physical activity among employees could have a beneficial effect on their health. The team also noted that the workers who are most active have a 14 percent lower stress compared to their colleagues who were not moving around as much.

Image Credit: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

The NHS advises at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week for maintaining good health. Sitting for long hours and generally leading a sedentary life can lead to several health problems including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, some types of cancers and an early death.

Sternberg and her colleagues tried to find an association between office layouts and stress levels of 231 US government employees. Some of these participants worked in open plan offices with no partitions while other worked within cubicles with walls dividing their desks. Some of the participants also worked in their own offices. For this study the team monitored the workers’ activity and heart rates using chest sensors that were worn by the participants. The duration of monitoring was three days and two nights for each of the participants. During the study period, the moods of the participants were checked on using short quizzes sent to their smart phones. Results showed that the older and the more obese or overweight workers tended to be more stressed. Open plan office workers seemed to be more active and also scored lower in stress scales, they found.

According to Sternberg, people working at open offices may be moving around more for one-on-one video calls or conferences or small group meetings. This could be the reason for their greater movement compared to those working in cubicles or their own offices. Sternberg said in a statement, “If we can figure out how to design offices to allow people to be more active, that will result in better health and lower stress, so educating people about that is really important.”

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