From Distracting to Damaging: How Noise Affects You at Work

Be it a construction site or an office, every workplace is susceptible to noise that affects hearing and productivity.

A 2011 study by the Better Hearing Institute revealed hearing loss can pose a barrier to performance and earnings. Ensure your work environment supports your hearing and your income.

Distracting: Noise Pollution

You’re writing an important email, but all you can hear is your co-worker yammering. Distracting environmental noise is known as noise pollution. Disturbing sounds that interfere with activities can cause problems like stress-related illnesses, high blood pressure, sleep disruption, and reduced productivity.

According to The New Yorker, open office plans make up 70% of office layouts. Though they were created in Germany in the 1950s to encourage communication and transparency, studies have often found the opposite to be true.

In a study published in the British Journal of Psychology in 1998, researchers found that employees were significantly distracted and less able to perform their duties when they could hear others talking around them. Office noise is also associated with increased stress hormone levels and a lower willingness to participate with others.

Advocate: Talk to your manager about having a quiet space where you can focus, or try noise-canceling headphones.

Damaging: Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), occupational hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illnesses in the United States. NIHL, the most common type of hearing loss, is caused by repeated noise exposure. Impairment can begin at levels of 85 decibels (as loud as a lawn mower) if the exposure continues for eight hours. The louder the sound, the quicker it causes damage. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health notes the amount of time you should listen is cut in half with every 3-decibel (dB) increase over 85 dB.

Advocate: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates that employers provide hearing-conservation programs in workplaces where noise levels equal or exceed 85 dB for an eight-hour time-weighted average. Talk to your manager about your office’s program.