Culture | Sounds like Christmas - six pointers to creating harmony in the workplace

Sounds like Christmas - six pointers to creating harmony in the workplace

You know the Christmas countdown has begun when you hear the strains of Noddy Holder and Slade drifting from every shop, radio station and workplace and although a little festive merriment can be great for lifting spirits, when is it appropriate to turn down the volume?

An office working environment can be a delicate balance at the best of times. People work differently, some find musical accompaniment provides a soothing or upbeat aural ‘wallpaper’ to their day. In some work places it is an accepted part of the workplace: from providing atmosphere within vacuous warehouses to the rhythmic orchestration of traditional typing pools.

However, some individuals prefer the sound of silence. Those who need to apply high-levels of concentration in their work may not find a random wall of sound conducive to activity and it is not just music that proves an irritant.

A recent report* found that 60% of workers believed that noise ruined their productivity and a third of those polled claimed that they’ve snapped at their boss because of incessant noise pollution.
Legally, employers have a duty to ensure that noise levels in the workplace meet certain requirements. The Control of Noise at Work Regulations came into force for Great Britain on April 6 2006, with the aim of ensuring that workers' hearing is protected from excessive noise, but it isn’t just loud noise that affects workers.

So how can bosses create the ideal working environment?

  • Try and achieve a status quo – no, not the rock band but a consensus – simply ask your staff about their preferences, particularly if they are working together in closed environments.

  • Provide alternatives – making a quiet room available is good practice, particularly if someone is working on a project and needs to get away from general office noise and distraction – chatter and phones – in order to clear their mind and think.

  • Be courteous – consider how noise pollution may affect others. Do you really need to have that conference call at your desk on speakerphone? Could these sorts of activities be undertaken elsewhere?

  • Keep the volume down – if one of your teams agree to work with a musical accompaniment and it works, let them but be conscious of the volume to prevent the noise filtering to other parts of the building.

  • Be flexible – sometimes it’s better to allow staff to work away from the office if it provides them with the peace and quiet that they need. Moving desks or altering work hours may be another possibility.

  • Be timely - one of the greatest noise impacts to an office environment can be building work. Can planned work be scheduled outside office hours to reduce the impact on staff productivity? Minimising disruption will also probably make the office environment less hazardous and more pleasant than working in a building site.

Put in place agreed policies for a consistent approach and document them in your HR systems, ensuring that new measures are properly communicated.

More and more often, people are finding their own solution to the problem and attempt to baffle it out by wearing headphones. More than 40 per cent of those polled revealed that this is how they have attempted to counteract the issue – yet this isn’t practical long-term solution, as it effectively shuts down communication amongst teams. A definite ‘no, no’ in developing high-performing teams.

The most important thing is not to allow complaints to fall on deaf years. If you want your staff to produce sweet music in their work then the answer is to hit the right note!

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*  2019 report by workplace sound specialists Oscar Acoustics

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