Open-Plan Offices Are Awful, Especially for Female Employees, Says New Study

A new study suggests that of everyone silently suffering and unhappy in their open-plan offices, women may actually have it the worst.

The research, which was published in the journal Science Direct, found that women in open-plan offices reported feeling more “watched,” “visible,” “observed” and “exposed,” and as a result, more judged for their appearance. Their male colleagues, meanwhile, didn’t report feeling the same, Inc reports.

Study authors Rachel L. Morrison and Roy K. Smollan came to this conclusion while carrying out a 14-month case study of law firm employees who moved to an open-plan office.

Through interviewing and surveying the employees, they found that all workers were dissatisfied by the lack of privacy at their new office. Notably, everyone who mentioned “being watched” in their response were women. “Whether female staff are indeed watched more than male staff is beyond the scope of the current project, but what is striking is that female staff were certainly more likely to perceive themselves to be observed,” the study authors wrote.

The findings add to the mounting evidence that open-plan offices are a huge detriment to productivity and morale. As we reported in 2018, a study found that open-plan offices actually decrease communication and face time between employees—the very thing they’re supposed to promote. And it’s harmful to your health as Vice reported on findings from a 2011 Danish study, which found that those who work in open-plan offices take 62 percent more sick days than those in enclosed offices. And overall, it’s extremely distracting when you must listen to your coworkers’ entire conversations—of personal or professional nature… All. Day. Long!

The finding, however, is even more noteworthy because it suggests the open-plan office layout can mess with people—specifically women—psychologically as well. It’s further proof this workplace trend just needs to retire.

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