Employees working in open-concept offices take 70 per cent more sick days than their counterparts working in isolation, found a survey by Canada Life Group Insurance.
In 2013 employees who worked from home took an average of 1.8 sick days while workers in open-concept offices took 3.1 sick days, found the survey of 918 people in the United Kingdom.
The move towards a more collaborative working environment means employees are working in closer proximity than ever before and, along with the mingling of personal and shared belongings, this is further increasing their chances of becoming ill.
“Generally, respiratory infections spread by either being within two metres of somebody — being close enough that someone could cough or sneeze on you — or through contact with the environment,” said Bryna Warshawsky, public health physician for Public Health Ontario in Toronto. “So if I coughed into my hand and touched a surface, someone else touching that surface throughout the day would be at risk of introducing that infection into their mouth, nose and eyes.”
Warshawsky recommends frequent hand washing and regular disinfection of shared work spaces.
Stress can also increase the likelihood of catching a cold, and 28 per cent of workers in open-concept offices reported their working environment causes stress, compared to just five per cent of their work-from-home counterparts.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, the body releases adrenaline immediately after recognizing stress, resulting in increased heartbeat and breathing. If the source of stress is not eliminated, the body begins to release stored sugars and fats from its resources. This can lead to exhaustion, anxiety and memory loss as well as make the body more susceptible to infection in the form of colds and the flu.
If the stress remains unresolved, the body can become chronically stressed, which can lead to insomnia, errors in judgment and personality changes. It also puts employees at greater risk of heart disease, ulcers and mental illness.