A buzzing printer, someone who keeps clicking their pen or a colleague who practices for The Voice during working hours. Anyone who shares a room or open-plan office with colleagues is familiar with noise pollution in the workplace. While you are sitting behind your desk trying to concentrate, you hear an annoying sound, or two colleagues start a pleasant conversation about their plans for the weekend. The more you focus on the noise, the more prominent it becomes and the more difficult to tune out.
What is noise pollution?
Noise pollution is nothing more and nothing less than a negative reaction to noise. Sometimes noise pollution in the workplace is a personal experience, but it can also affect an entire department. The Health Council and the WHO (World Health Organization) speaks of noise pollution as “a feeling of disgust, anger, discomfort, dissatisfaction or hurt that occurs when noise affects someone’s thoughts, feelings or activities” (Health Council, 1994).
We all have a unique experience when it comes to sound. How we make sense of sound depends on various factors, like our bodies, our surroundings, and our cognitive context. Psychoacoustics takes a deeper look at how humans perceive sound. Psychoacoustics combines how our bodies receive sound with how our brains process and interpret sound. Together, these disciplines provide insights into understanding how and why sound impacts individuals in different ways. Psychoacoustics can explain why one person is not affected by noise in the workplace, where another person can get physically sick from noise pollution.
The impact of noise
Noise has a significant impact on employee well-being, satisfaction, and task performance. But because we all have different preferences for sound, and noise perception can vary among colleagues, it usually takes some time before noise pollution is seen as the cause of the problem. Research has shown that prolonged exposure to noise pollution can lead to high levels of stress which can make the body produce certain hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Long exposure to noise pollution can cause heart and cardiovascular diseases.
A positive soundscape benefits both employer and employee. A soundscape is the overall sound environment in a particular location. It includes all the sounds present, whether they are natural, or humanmade. It’s not just about the level of noise, but also about the quality and character of the sounds in an area. How a work environment is designed is crucial for employee well-being and performance. Studies have shown that high noise levels impair memory and motivation while reducing noise can support restoration and energy maintenance. Making sure your office has a positive soundscape keeps employees happy and productive, resulting in higher retention rates, improved morale and reduced sick leave.
There are quite a few ways to improve the soundscape of a working environment. Designated quiet areas, office pods and noise-cancelling headphones are popular solutions that can be easily implemented in any workplace. These solutions help manage the problem, but they don’t solve the noise pollution. A sound map of the workplace will give insights into the environment’s acoustics and will visualize the sound source and the sound pressure level.
Once you have visualized the sound issues in the soundscape, precise measures can be taken to eliminate unwanted sound.
Possible measures are:
- Improve insulation
- Fix sound or air leaks in the building
- Regular maintenance of HVAC-units
- Quiet areas or office pods
Here to help
The Sorama CAM iV64 is an acoustic camera that measures sound and will help you with detecting, analyzing and sound visualization. With a sound level meter and sound camera in one, you will find the source of any sound. The CAM iV64 is as easy to use as a smartphone, so no need to call in the experts.
But if you do want an expert’s opinion or help in optimizing the working environment of your office, please let us know. Our team of acoustic consultants are highly experienced and have profound knowledge of acoustical and mechanical engineering, as well as being highly skilled with the use of our sound cameras. In the Netherlands, we also work together with Heart2Hear, an organization that is focused on making annoying noise visible and providing insight into the impact of noise on health.