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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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More Sick Days in Offices With Open Floor Plans?

Swedish researchers say risk of infection, privacy issues may contribute

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Mary Elizabeth Dallas

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, March 17, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Offices with open floor plans and no individual workstations may take a toll on employee health, a new study from Sweden suggests.

Comparing data from nearly 2,000 people in seven different office designs, researchers found that those who worked in offices with one of three open floor plans took more time off for sickness. Women in these settings were especially likely to take short sick-leave spells.

In flex-offices -- open-plan layouts without individual workstations but with some meeting rooms -- men had higher rates of short sick-leave spells and individual sick days, according to the study recently published in the journal Ergonomics.

Researcher Christina Bodin Danielsson and colleagues at Stockholm University said that the link between open-plan offices and worse health has long been suspected by the employees who work there, but the reasons aren't entirely clear.

It may that in addition to the risk of infection, the types of jobs performed in open workspaces, as well as the lack of privacy and control over personal space, could all play a role in this higher rate of sick leave, according to a journal news release.

The risk for "presenteeism" -- workers coming to the office when they're actually ill -- may also be a factor, the study suggested, because of the group dynamics involved.

The findings lay the groundwork for more research into how people's work environment affects their health, the study authors said.

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