However, we found that for every one-point increase (on the seven-point scale) in anger, frustration or anxiety suffered by our survey participants, the likelihood of them going on to display territorial behaviours at their workspace increased more than threefold.
To put it simply, we found that noisier workplaces are more likely to put workers in a bad mood, and over time these negative emotions are associated with increased territoriality.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, we also found these effects are strongest in low-privacy spaces such as open-plan offices, and less noticeable in smaller and more private settings such as a single-person office.
A PSYCHOLOGICAL COPING MECHANISM
People personalise their work spaces by adding photos (a form of territoriality) not only to claim their workspace or because they are just nice, but they deliberately decorate or modify their work spaces with these photos to reflect their identities.
The opportunity to reflect their identities (that is, bringing their “whole self” to work) is thought to increase workers’ satisfaction and well-being and, ultimately, organisational well-being.
Personalisation is more important for women than men, and they personalise their space with different items. Women are more likely to display items such as photos and letters from friends and family, while men tend to personalise with things to do with sports and entertainment.
We are emotional creatures with a need for distinctiveness, self-identity, control and belonging. This doesn’t disappear when we go to work. A sense of psychological ownership over one’s workplace and work is associated with increased job satisfaction and organisational commitment.
This helps to explain why in a “hot-desk” office, most people tend to return to the same workspace daily.
Workplaces with hard rules against personal items in open-plan offices, or hot-desking offices where workers are required to leave the space clear at the end of the day, may well be negating a simple way for their workers to cope. In the process, they may even be harming their organisational well-being and productivity.
The other cheap and obvious way to reduce office noise is through hybrid working, reducing the number of people in the office at a given time.
Employers pushing to have workers return to the office should balance the perceived productivity gains against the evidence that noisy offices mean employees might be grumpier, more frustrated and more likely to put up walls – both literal and metaphorical.
Oluremi Ayoko is Associate Professor of Management at University of Queensland. This commentary first appeared on The Conversation.