Can an open-plan office help improve employees’ health and wellbeing?

Published by Bupa guest author

24 August 2018 . International

Written by Paul Zollinger-Read, former Bupa Chief Medical Officer

Working in an open-plan office has a positive impact on your health and mental wellbeing, new research published this week suggests.

Bupa London office environment

I’ve previously spoken about work-related stress being a significant problem that employers need to address, with Bupa’s own research revealing that an increasing number of people are turning to Google for practical support. So could an open-plan office be one of the answers for employers looking to make positive steps?

The study found workers in open-plan environments to be 20 percent more physically active than those who worked in cubicles and 32 percent more than those in private offices. It also found workers experience significantly lower perceived stress at the office in an open set-up in comparison to those in cubicles. The benefits also seem to extend outside the workplace with those more physically active having 14% lower levels of stress outside the office than those less active. The researchers suggest one reason for the increased activity could be that the design of an open-plan office means employees often have to move to a quieter place for phone or video calls, while other benefits could include improved communication and awareness of others.

The observational study carried out by researchers at the University of Arizona, published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine, involved 231 self-described healthy adult workers who work across four US federal buildings. For three days and two nights, they were all kitted up with activity monitors and answered questions every hour on a smartphone about their current mood.

The researchers themselves conclude while the study has its limitations, it’s the first to show the potential benefit of an open-plan environment on workers physical activity. They also highlight factors that should be considered in future research.

At Bupa, our people’s physical and mental wellbeing is high on our list of priorities, which is why we’re increasingly designing our spaces around the world in this way. This is something that has been recognised with the accreditation of 3 Star from Fitwel, the world’s leading award for using building design to support the health, wellbeing and productivity of the people working inside it, for our head office in the City of London. In Australia, our corporate offices are rated 4 stars or higher on the National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) 6-star scale, ensuring we create supportive environments for the health and wellbeing of our people. While, our offices in Manchester and Madrid, are both certified by BREEAM, the world’s leading sustainability assessment for buildings, which accredits site that help to protect natural resources while enhancing the wellbeing of the people who work within them.

While the study is not conclusive it makes some good observations, which if proven to promote a healthier lifestyle, can only be a positive in helping employers to design spaces that support improving the health and wellbeing of their employees.

Bupa guest author