New Research Finds Generational Divide on Workplace Noise and Distractions

Preventing workplace distractions has been a challenge for employers throughout history. The problem has grown exponentially in recent years. Advancements in communication technology mean there are more potential distractions in the workplace. Even tools that designed to make the team more productive can become distractions when they lead to communication overload. However, a recent study from Poly suggests that the different demographics have divergent views about what constitutes a noisy or distracting work.

Poly, which was previously known as Plantronics and Polycom, commissioned an international survey of more than 5,500 workers to learn more about their attitudes about workplace distraction and the ideal office space. The study, which was conducted by Future Workplace, showed that there was a generational divide on how workers feel about noise and distraction in the workplace.

Younger generations are more accepting of potential workplace distractions. Among the survey respondents, more than half of Gen Z (55 percent) and Millennials (56 percent) participants said they want open offices, despite the associated distractions. In contrast, the majority of older generations seemed to prefer more traditional office arrangements. Only 47 percent of Gen X and 38 percent of Baby Boomers respondents said they wanted open office spaces.

It seems that distractions are a universal constant in the modern workplace. The lion’s share of employees surveyed (99 percent) reported they get distracted while working at their personal workspace. These distractions have a tangible effect on employee productivity. Survey respondents said that excessive noise made it tough to listen or be heard on calls (51 percent) and impacted their ability to focus (48 percent). Worse still, 93 percent reported being frustrated, at least occasionally, by interruptions during a phone or video call.

“When you consider how many different work styles and different generations are thrown together in one place, it’s no wonder that almost everyone reports being distracted at work,” said Amy Barzdukas, CMO and Executive Vice President of Poly in a press statement. “It’s equally clear that the right mix of technology and environment can reduce distraction and improve productivity – and that is what employees are asking for.”

While the internet has created a myriad of new digital distractions, the most significant cause of workplace disruption is people talking loudly. According to the Poly survey, three out of four (76 percent) employees surveyed said their biggest distraction is a co-worker talking loudly on the phone, while nearly two out of three (65 percent) also mentioned a co-worker talking nearby.

Ambient chatter can become a problem in open offices for some workers. Again, the survey results suggest that demographics decides how people feel about the noise. More than half of Gen Z (52 percent) said they are most productive when they were working around noise or talking with others, whereas 60 percent of Baby Boomers say they’re most productive when it’s quiet.

It’s possible to handle some of these noise issues with technological fixes. More than one in three (35 percent) Gen Z respondents said they use headphones to deal with distraction, while only 16 percent of Baby Boomers did the same.

According to Poly, the “majority of employees who rely on phone and video conferencing during the day say that distractions could be minimized with better technology (56 percent) and the elimination of background noise (56 percent).”

You can get more information about the study, plus a free ebook on the Perils of the Open Office and employee management from the Poly website.

For more research related to workplace distractions, read this article on the effects of communication overload.

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