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Should Open Office Environments Come With Free Flu Shots?

A new study finds nearly three-fourths (74%) of employees are highly bothered by frequent noise at work. From humming to finger drumming to cackling laughter to projectile coughing, the noise never really stops, does it?

It's no secret that today's open office environments are making the noise level worse, but the open office environment is also making us sick! Studies show that employees with old-style cubicles fall sick less often than open-office employees who are sitting ducks for any airborne illness. There's nowhere to hide from the sick co-worker sitting two feet away! Consider this NPR article:

The popularity of open offices has exacerbated the [noise] problem. The University of California's Center for the Built Environment has a study showing workers are happier when they are in enclosed offices and less likely to take sick days.

This does not bode well for some workers facing cold and flu season, when hacking coughs make the rounds. But some people, such as Milwaukee Web developer Taj Shahrani, contend with it year-round.

He had a colleague who sat a short cubicle wall away and would, as he says, "shout-cough" at regular intervals.

"He never covered his mouth," he says. The violent episodes, which Shahrani and another colleague kept tallies of, would shake his desk and interrupt conversations and phone calls.

We try to hide behind our computer monitors, to no avail. A week later, we are sick, too. All the hacking, wheezing and shout coughing in our immediate work area begs a trendy workplace question: should employers offer on-site vaccinations to employees who must work in open office environments? Duck, incoming!

This question is nothing to sneeze at, folks! When the cubicle walls -- the only physical barrier protecting employees from each other's projectile sneezing and wheezing -- are taken down, then employees are left more open and vulnerable to airborne germs and viruses. No amount of free hand sanitizer is going to solve that problem.

Many employers would undoubtedly cough up a lung at vaccinating employees to counter the risk of airborne illness in today's open office environments, but the open office environment comes with hidden costs to employee health and productivity. From colds to flu to strep throat, employees can feel like it's suddenly open season on their immune systems. Especially with so many employees coming to work contagious and sick, proclaiming how they've never taken a sick day in five years. Ah-choo!

Ugh. The writing is on the wall. Partitions are good for employee health and productivity! They serve as a physical barrier between us and the colleague with bronchitis. So let's find a better way to offer free, easy vaccines to employees working in open office environments or build that (cubicle) wall again. In the meantime, employers can make sure our co-worker takes their sick days for real this time. It's only fair.


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