We cannot ignore the impact bad audio is having on our emotional wellbeing

Events in 2020 have catalyzed the global workforce and remote working has fast become the norm, blurring the lines between home and work.

Research from EPOS has found that 95% of today’s workforce admit that their concentration and efficiency at work has suffered due to audio setbacks, resulting in an emotional impact for with 35% reporting feelings of frustration, irritation and annoyance due to bad audio. More concerningly, EPOS also found that 25% of end-users experience stress and 15% of respondents even feel embarrassed or less confident. 

Bad audio experiences cause harm not just to organizations but to an individual’s wellbeing. Stress-related illness is a leading cause of sickness absence for workers in the UK, directly costing the economy roughly £26 billion per annum . The proliferation of technology to accommodate new ways of working today has resulted in a significant increase in the number of telephone calls and virtual meetings. This switch to virtual has led to an increase in the number daily micro-frustrations being experienced. These are a direct of result of individuals responding to instances of background noise (42%), having to repeat themselves (34%) or asking for information to be repeated (34%) . 

According to Sir Cary Cooper, Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Manchester Business School, the incremental build-up of these frustrations is having a profound effect on employees’ emotional wellbeing. This is a cause for concern as emotional stressors can lead to issues that reach far beyond just lost productivity. 

“The last couple of months have proven that noisy environments not designed for work will create more stressful situations, particularly when combined with higher expectations. With remote workers being connected with colleagues through multiple devices (mobile phones, emails, and communication and collaboration platforms) the demand for employees to deliver results almost instantaneously has increased. However, this approach to work is not sustainable and there is a clear onus for employers to collaborate with their employees to find the right solutions for them. By working together, businesses can create best practice solutions that boost team morale, create harmony and optimise work productivity and efficiency.”

Millions of people around the world are meeting virtually and the numbers are only expected to rise. Microsoft Teams recently reported a new daily record of 2.7 billion meeting minutes in one day . With much of the global workforce continuing to work from home, the culture of always being ‘online’ and ‘available’ sets a potentially dangerous precedent for employees. Knowing how to create a work/life balance has never been so important because ‘always on’ behaviours can contribute to higher levels of stress. 

Where remote working is in place, Dr Cary Cooper believes that organizations also need to consider combating presenteeism. The ‘out of sight, out of mind’ adage is commonplace with remote workers and to combat this there is an increase in the number of virtual meetings being created. However, these added meetings often do not result in increased output. Cooper recommends ensuring that both employers and workers are being mindful when it comes to the number of meetings being arranged, noting that everyone should be asking themselves; “could this be in an email instead?”

How does sound affect us? 

While the open office was once the modus operandi for most organizations, and a format of working that might return - for most workers today a new set of challenges has arisen. With much of the global workforce continuing to work remotely, noise continues to be a major threat, not only to our productivity but to our health. While up until now we have been largely unaware of the negative impact bad audio is having on our emotional wellbeing, remote working has put this issue into the spotlight and accelerated the need to take action before it has a detrimental effect on employee health. Only by addressing the noise concerns individuals are facing can we improve the productivity and wellbeing of workers and consequently, start to unleash the potential of our workforce. 

If a person is exposed to interruptive and intrusive sounds – ‘bad audio’ - this can lead to a build-up of fatigue and stress over time. This is because audio sensory overloads hit the brain and release the stress hormone cortisol as a response. In excess, cortisol can inhibit the functions of the brain’s prefrontal cortex – the very hub of emotional learning and processing that enables us to regulate thoughtful behaviours such as reasoning and planning. Chronic brain fatigue and increased levels of cortisol can lead to long term issues. Exposure to noises that activate a stress response will inevitably wear an individual down, causing both mental and physical problems.

“If you’ve ever experienced a day filled with interrupted and inefficient calls it can feel exhausting. This is because the brain is wasting unnecessary energy and cognitive capacity to focus on the relevant and desired sound” says Jesper Kock, Vice President of Research and Development at EPOS. 

“When this exertion is constant over a period of days, weeks, and months it can have a surprisingly detrimental impact on your wellbeing. It’s for these reasons that leveraging a device that has a quality speaker and microphone designed to manage and cancel interruptive sounds has become so important.”

Organisations need to create a culture of wellbeing

Universally, businesses have a duty of care to their employees, particularly while remote working to ensure they are not overextending themselves. There is a need to cascade employee wellbeing from the top down. 79% of decision makers agree that good audio equipment such as headsets, headphones and speaker phones can alleviate auditory pain points both on and off calls. To further enhance wellbeing – avoid workplace stress and buildup of micro frustrations - business leaders must act as champions for workplace policies and investments that dismantle daily stressors – whether this is audio pain points, lack of work-life balance or concerns about job security. 

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