‘Sardine rage’ takes hold in Aussie workplaces

by 27 Apr 2012

It seems sprawling open-plan offices and shrinking desk sizes are to blame for the condition which is slowly driving employees to the brink – Australian workers have been struck down by ‘sardine rage’.

According to the most recent statistics, workspaces have shrunk by almost a quarter over the past decade, and exorbitant commercial leases have led a trend to cut desk space and ramp up communal areas.

Commercial realtor Tim Green said many corporate decision-makers moving towards open plan structures were introducing initiatives to increase personal space away from the desk. “[Open offices] are not necessarily larger but they have more breakout space, more communal areas, and outdoor barbecues and balconies,” he said.

The only problem is that employees normally work at their desks, not on the couch in the kitchen-come-‘groove-lounge’.

A new census is currently underway, but figures from the 2006 City of Sydney census showed workspace in open-plan offices had shrunk by 25% over the previous 10 years to reach 11.49 square metres. Workers in hot-desk and call-centre environments were allocated a puny 7.6 square metres on average, and some property experts have said they’ve even heard reports of space being a measly 5-6 square metres.

The key issues born from the cramped conditions are principally noise and smells. According to Richard Kasperczyk from people management firm ResolutionsRTK, staff are negatively impacted by smells, including both body odour and wafting food smells, and being disrupted by nearby conversations.

A 2008 report in the Asia Pacific Journal of Health Management published research which pointed to many problems within open plan environments, including a loss of privacy and identity, various health issues, social overstimulation and low job satisfaction. The research indicated that it wasn’t just cramped call centre workers who were suffering, and Dr Vinesh Oommen from the Queensland University of Technology concluded that almost all highly skilled jobs were more negatively affected by open plan layouts because of the need for more privacy in order to perform at an optimal level. “People who are seated closely together in an open plan work environment may suffer from physiological and psychological reactions such as stress, fatigue, and increased blood pressure levels,” he said.

The biggest cubicle no-no’s

Research firm Harris Interactive recently conducted a survey and from 5,700 respondents identified the following cubicle gripes:

  • Gossip and incessant noise from nearby conversations or phones was consistently the biggest workplace annoyance.
  • In second place was workplace messiness including dirty kitchens and desks.
  • Unpleasant smells from meals and snacks, perfume and body odour.
  • Noise pollution caused by speaker phones, noisy talkers, loud music.
  • Lack of personal space for coats, bags and other possessions.
  • Lack of privacy and a feeling of being watched.


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