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Shhh! I’m trying to work – The HR Dept

The ‘workplace buzz’ doesn’t suit all employees, as Peter Jones of The HR Dept Swindon & Wiltshire explains.

Do you have an office buzz? It may be a good indication of a thriving culture, business booming, teamwork in action… It may also be driving some of your employees to distraction.

Everyone is different. It is stating the obvious to say so, but it may be surprising quite how differently people function depending on the level of noise they are exposed to.

Some will thrive in the hustle and bustle, others may be so averse to it that they become afflicted with a newly recognised condition called misophonia – where particular sounds can trigger extreme feeling, like panic, rage or anxiety.

It begs the question: how can you fine tune your working environment so that everybody can be at their best?

Modifying the environment

A good place to start is to look at the workplace and ensure it is reflective of the type of business you want or need to run. Do you want it to be dead quiet, or would you prefer it to have an energy that will generate noise as a by-product.

You may not, of course, have much choice – some industries will demand a certain ambience: think a funeral parlour vs a call centre.

For many though, you may have some flexibility to cater for different working styles. With open plan or communal areas where people can come together to collaborate, problem solve and bond; phone booths where people can talk freely without bothering others; and quiet rooms or pods where team members can take themselves off to concentrate.

Assessing your workplace is also an opportunity to make conscious decisions about things like whether you have background music playing or not (and who plays DJ); seating plans and other environmental factors such as heating/ventilation.

Managing your employees

If you can’t strike the right balance with the workplace environment, another approach is to explore with individual employees ways in which they can work comfortably.

Most people will actually find it possible to acclimatise themselves to working in noisy conditions. In other words: “Just getting on with it”. It is worth sympathetically suggesting this as a solution to someone who is struggling, before making further intervention. If they need more support, though, here are some ideas.

Headphones are one device that many office workers need no second invitation to reach for, to shut out the outside world. Some may choose noise cancelling ones, or just earplugs, while others opt for music.
While listening to music is proven generally to not be as effective for concentration as silence would be, the very reason we are discussing this is that you do not have silence to begin with – so it could help. The genre of music and the type of task being performed will have a bearing on whether this is a successful tactic.

Noise levels may not be consistently high throughout the day. Could people who prefer the quiet have the opportunity to come in earlier so they can have focus time to concentrate before the office fires up? Or start and finish later to catch some quieter time at the end of the day?

It is not just noise that can be distracting – interruptions from emails, phone calls and messaging apps can easily derail the most conscientious of workers. Some training around time management may help here.

What about noise when working from home?

If you have staff who work from home, school holidays especially may be a time when a once quiet home office becomes overrun with noisy children. To protect your productivity, it is important to make clear that a working from home arrangement is not childcaring time.

When on the clock for you, employees with the privilege of working from home should have a demonstrable strategy for childcare that allows them to perform their roles without distraction.

Peter Jones runs the HR Dept in Swindon and Wiltshire www.hrdept.co.uk/offices/south-west/swindon

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