Open office seating linked to lower stress, greater activity levels among workers

TUCSON, Ariz. — Tens of millions of Americans spend a significant portion of their time each week at the office. With this in mind, it isn’t a stretch to assume that an office’s layout and design can potentially have a big impact on the people working within its walls on a day-to-day basis. To that end, a study by researchers at the University of Arizona on the effects of office work environments finds that factors such as layout and opportunities for daytime activities affect overall worker health.

The researchers found that greater physical activity at the office was directly related to lower physiological stress outside of the office, including during after-work hours. Additionally, open office seating and a more spacious layout was linked to lower daytime stress levels and increased activity levels compared to workers confined to cubicles and private offices. This is the first study to analyze the effects of various workstation types on workers’ wellbeing.

For the study, 231 federal office workers wore stress and activity monitors all day for three workdays and two nights. This was intended to measure the workers’ stress activity levels both in and out of the office during a typical work week.

The results showed that workers in open bench seating arrangements were 32% more physically active at the office than those who work in private offices and 20% more active than those in cubicles. Furthermore, workers who were more physically active at the office had 14% less physiological stress outside the office compared with those who engage in less physical activity at the office.

“This research highlights how office design, driven by office workstation type, could be an important health promoting factor,” says Dr. Esther Sternberg, the study’s director, in a media release.

Statistically, office workers are at a higher risk of inactivity and all of the subsequent health concerns that may stem from such a lifestyle. According to a 2015 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, workplace-related illnesses cost the national economy over $225 billion per year.

Over recent years, open office designs and collaborative desk arrangements have grown increasingly popular; this study adds some objective, empirical information to the ongoing debate surrounding the advantages and disadvantages of modern office layouts.

“Objective measurements using wearable sensors can inform policies and practices that affect the health and well-being of hundreds of millions of office workers worldwide,” says study author Casey Lindberg.

The study is published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, a publication of British Medical Journals.

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Ben Renner

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