Why We Shouldn't Ignore Impact of Bad Audio on Employee Well-Being

eWEEK DATA POINTS: As more and more employees move to work-from-home environments, daily micro-frustrations are becoming part of a more concerning overall picture.

Headset.EPOS

Events in 2020 have catalyzed the global workforce, and remote working has quickly become the norm, blurring the lines between home and work. Research from IT peripherals maker 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; 35% report feelings of frustration, irritation and annoyance due to bad audio. 

More concerning, EPOS also found that 25% of end-users experience stress and 15% of respondents even feel embarrassed or less confident when they experience bad audio in a conference or other online interaction.  

Bad audio experiences cause harm not just to an individual’s well-being but to organizations, other research has reported. In all, the American Institute of Stress estimates that job stress costs U.S. industries more than $300 billion a year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity and medical, legal and insurance costs. 

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 of daily micro-frustrations being experienced. These are a direct result of individuals responding to instances of background noise (42%), having to repeat themselves (34%) or asking for information to be repeated (34%).  

Buildup of incremental frustrations can have have profound effect on everybody

According to Dr. Cary Cooper, Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Manchester Business School, the incremental buildup of these frustrations is having a profound effect on employees’ emotional well-being. This is a cause for concern, because emotional stressors can lead to issues that reach far beyond simple 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,” Cooper said in a media advisory. “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 optimize work productivity and efficiency.”

Be aware that industry information for this eWEEK Data Points edition was supplied by EPOS, an international maker of IT audio devices, including headsets and microphones. While this may be seen as a self-serving article for that company, eWEEK nonetheless deems the topic worthy of consideration by its readers because: a) the company is expert in this sector of IT, and b) because the current coronavirus pandemic is causing further-reaching issues than had been expected--including those involving the impact of inefficient audio and collaboration tools.

Data Point No. 1: Record number of workers using remote audio collaboration tools

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” behaviors can contribute to higher levels of stress.  

Data Point No. 2: Playing down presenteeism

Where remote working is in place, Cooper believes that organizations also need to consider combating presenteeism, which is the practice of coming to work despite illness, injury, anxiety, etc. that often results in reduced productivity. 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?” 

Data Point No. 3: Effects that sounds have on us  

While the open office was once the modus operandi for most organizations–and a format of working that still 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 well-being of workers and consequently start to unleash the potential of our workforce.  

Data Point No. 4: Buildup of fatigue and stress over time

If a person is exposed to interruptive and intrusive sounds–“bad audio”–this can lead to a buildup 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 behaviors 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. 

Data Point No. 5: Brain wastes unnecessary energy on stress

“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,” Jesper Kock, Vice President of Research and Development at EPOS, said in a media advisory. “When this exertion is constant over a period of days, weeks and months, it can have a surprisingly detrimental impact on your well-being. 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.” 

Data Point No. 6: Conclusion: Organizations need to create a culture of well-being  

Universally, businesses have a duty of care for their employees, particularly while remote working to ensure they are not overextending themselves. There is a need to cascade employee well-being from the top down. 

About 80% 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 well-being, 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.

If you have a suggestion for an eWEEK Data Points article, email cpreimesberger@eweek.com.