As you've probably heard, the evidence against open office plans is mounting. Researchers are finding that they actually decrease face-to-face collaboration, the exact opposite of what employers hoped would happen. What's worse, they can make it hard for workers to focus, tank productivity, and even bump up illness rates.
But if you're still not convinced that this type of office layout is about as crummy as it gets, a new study conducted by research firm YouGov, summarized in the Open Office Woes report from Room, might convince you.
Among the more interesting points from the study, researchers found that
- 62 percent of U.S. employees would prefer that their next employer use a closed layout.
- 31 percent have had to go to a closet or hall to make a call.
- 31 percent have held back thoughts and opinions for fear of co-workers hearing and judging.
- 29 percent feel the distractions and noise in the open office hinder their productivity.
- 24 percent of workers feel stressed out through the day because of the environment.
- 20 percent have found it difficult to complete the work employers expect them to do.
- 16 percent say they feel that their health is dipping because of the environment.
- 13 percent feel resentful of senior staff with private offices.
All of these stats support the idea that open offices are the absolute worst way to encourage better work and help employees feel amazing. They lead up to the big picture, which is whether workers are so fed up with the layout that they'd actually pack up and take a job elsewhere. According to the report, 13 percent of workers say that an open office layout has pushed them to consider leaving their job.
That number might not jump out at you at first. But could you survive and get everything done without an eighth of your workforce? I'm going to assume a big fat no on that one.
But let's assume for argument's sake that you could weather the decrease in manpower. After all, a downsizing isn't always horrible for the bottom line. The employees you still have probably would have to pick up some of the slack, which wouldn't bode well for their stress levels, productivity, or happiness. Overworked employees are more likely to ditch you too.
Now let's assume that, realistically, 13 percent of your employees trickled out instead of escaping in a flood, and that instead of just staying lean, you want to replace them. A study by the Center for American Progress estimates that the average cost to replace a midrange worker is 20 percent of their annual salary (yearly salary is usually $30,000 to $50,000). For a highly educated executive, that figure rises to a whopping 213 percent.
So let's assume you've got 100 employees and a typical salary is around $40,000. Even if none of them are executives, you'll be shelling out $104,000 to fix the problem ($40,000*0.20 = $8,000 to replace each employee; $8,000*13=$104,000).
And that's just the initial turnover. If the open office layout stays, workers are going to continue to leak out. You'll keep losing money, month after month, year after year.
Remember, too, that workers might not cite the open office layout as their main gripe. They even might try to paint the exit positively, such as saying that they have an opportunity to use their skills more effectively at another company. That means you might try to throw funds at other areas that aren't even the real issue.
So get feedback from your workers and plug the hole. There really isn't any reason to use this type of layout if you actually care about your workers and business success. Even the argument that the open office is beneficial because of decreased rent costs doesn't hold water, as my colleague Geoffrey James points out. Whether you go back to the traditional cubicle or try out nifty alternatives like screens or portable boxes, put the open office to bed.
Note: An earlier version of this article miscalculated the initial cost to replace employees. The figure has been corrected.