Noise causes stress

Even relatively small amounts of noise cause stress and decrease employees’ performance capacity, according to psychologists working at Cornell University in Ithaca. In his studies, Gary Evans, a professor of environmental psychology, came to the conclusion that employees working in noisy offices are 40% less likely to try to solve technical or functional problems. In comparison to people working in quieter rooms, they also make only half as many ergonomic adjustments to their furniture or their computers.

of employees are regularly distracted by noise.

Source: IBA/bso study 2015


The most frequent causes of distraction are colleagues’ conversations and ringing telephones. The problem: Both kinds of noise provide stimulation and information. They are impossible to ignore. The human ear is always in the “receive” mode. The only solutions are room acoustics measures, modern telephony technology, and good spatial planning.


Surfaces for sound absorbers
Surfaces for sound absorbers
Area planning and use of acoustic screens
Area planning and use of acoustic screens
Reduce noise by using communication technology
Reduce noise by using communication technology

Room acoustics measures

In most cases, a combination of sound-absorbing and sound-screening measures can solve the problem. Because of their large surface area, ceilings and walls are ideal sites for sound-absorbing measures. Wall-to-wall carpeting also effectively absorbs high-frequency sounds. Partition walls and cabinets can be used as sound screens. They are especially effective if they are provided with sound-absorbing surfaces. Their big advantage is their closeness to the source of the noise.

More information is in the IBA specialist brochure No. 8 on room acoustics.

The potential offered by area planning

However, optimization already begins with area planning. An analysis of employees’ tasks and communication patterns will reveal which individuals need demarcated workplaces. The reasons for this need might be tasks that require concentration or a high degree of confidentiality. Legal conditions, such as those related to works council offices, may also require separate workrooms. For all other employees,

  • the workplaces should be arranged in such a way that people who communicate often with each other are placed as closely together as possible;
  • meeting rooms and communication areas are located away from workplaces;
  • groups of workplaces and meeting rooms are effectively soundproofed;
  • workplaces are not too close together.

Communication technology

Loud telephone conversations can be avoided through a targeted use of technology. The use of headsets makes it possible to communicate understandably even at low volumes. Distractions due to ringing telephones can also be avoided. One alternative is visual “ring signals” on a computer screen.

Even simple mutual courtesy can be a big help.

You can find more information about this topic in the revised IBA brochure No. 11 on the effects of sound and noise.