Women hate open-plan offices. And it all started in childhood.

Who the hell ever thought open-plan offices were a good idea?

They’re great if you want to know who chose to have tuna for lunch today, or you’re interested in efficiently catching an airborne illness.

They’re also lots of fun if you enjoy saying “Bless you!” 45 times on a Tuesday, or listening in on phone calls for which you have no context.

For anyone who’s never had the pleasure, working in an open place office is like trying to have a very important conversation while a toddler pulls at your ankle and says the word ‘juice’ on repeat. It’s like trying to fall asleep with a mosquito buzzing above your left ear. It’s like trying to read a book with the goddamn lights off.

We can blame Frank Lloyd Wright, the 20th-century modernist architect who liked the idea of large, spacious and open work areas. Something tells me Wright had very little experience inside an actual office. He probably worked from home.

He mustn’t have known the often-cited statistic that it takes more than 23 minutes to recover from an interruption. Or that the noise impairs our ability to recall information. Or that workers in open-plan offices have 62 per cent more sick days than people in private offices, leading to a higher turnover rate.

But there’s new research to suggest that it’s women in particular who struggle with an open setting.

Dr Rachel Morrison, a Senior Lecturer at Auckland University of Technology Business School, was studying the consequences of open-plan offices when she accidentally discovered a significant gender difference.


“Once I collected all of the data,” Dr Morrison told Claire Murphy on Wednesday’s episode of The Quicky, “I realised that all of the respondents who were talking about feeling overexposed or accountable or observed were women.”

Morrison found that women were often hyper-aware of how they looked and what they were wearing. Some reported changing the way they dressed or how they walked because they felt “image-conscious”.

Interestingly, men did not report “feeling exposed” at all. It would seem that had not even crossed their mind. Morrison found the difference between men and women to be “quite striking”.

Morrison thinks this phenomenon probably reflects how women are “socialised to know that we are being looked at from birth. Girl babies are commented on in terms of being cute far more than boy babies…”

As well as being aware of the omnipresent male gaze, women also know all too well the social ‘value’ placed on their appearance. It matters, we’re taught, whether we look good or not. And in an open-plan office, we feel far more on show.

POST CONTINUES BELOW: The rules for an open-plan office, on the latest episode of Mamamia Out Loud. 



It’s also worth noting, that open-plan offices were designed when it was overwhelmingly men who occupied the workforce. And as a result, women are goddamn freezing.

A recent study by Tom Chang of USC’s Marshall School of Business and Agne Kajackaite at Germany’s WZB Berlin Social Science Center found that the office temperature, which sits at around 21 degrees celsius, has been historically based on the “metabolic rates of men”.

Not only are women cold, but the temperature also has another effect: lower productivity and cognitive performance.

Women need the temperature to rise about two degrees in order to perform at their best.

On top of that, open-plan offices are just universally annoying.

Corporate psychologist Stephanie Thompson says that the central complaint about open-planned space is an “inability to focus”. The brain automatically hones in on the sound of speech, meaning that, “if someone is hovering near your desk in conversation, it’s very distracting and hard to ignore,” she said.

So, the research would suggest that open-plan offices are not ideal, especially for women.

Excuse me. I’ll be in the cupboard.

You can listen to the full episode of Mamamia Out Loud, here.