I can’t get no satisfaction

Via reader David Moore, this article:

Open-plan offices could be making women feel stressed and isolated, research shows.

Over the course of two years, Rachel Morrison, a senior research lecturer at Auckland University of Technology, looked at whether or not open office plans were promoting productivity.

She found an interesting difference between the answers men and women gave.

Let me guess: men couldn’t give a rat’s arse either way and wondered what half the questions even meant, whereas the women bitched at length about every minor annoyance?

“I followed and surveyed 99 employees from a law firm as they were transitioning into an open-plan office space and I started noticing a trend in the answers I was receiving from women in the company,” Morrison said.

While the male employees of the company saw the open-plan office as a positive change, many of the women said they felt “stressed”, “watched” and “judged” in the new layout.

Now there’s a surprise. What’s interesting is this article is from New Zealand which, as William of Ockham can confirm, is about 50 years behind everywhere else when it comes to work practices. Open plan offices are pretty much standard now, and I know of very few companies that still give offices to all but the most senior people (and HR, of course.)

“Those feelings of being watched were only on women’s radar, so many of the women reported feeling watched, viewed or monitored but not a single man did.”

It’s almost as if men and women are fundamentally different, isn’t it?

Overall, she found there were a few negative outcomes in an open-plan office.

“I found relationships between co-workers were negatively affected as well as increased stress for women, which resulted in more sick days and less productivity,” she said.

Alternative headline: Women cannot cope in modern workplace, study finds.

Business psychologist Jasbindar Singh agreed open-plan offices could cause stress.

“Many women feel a certain amount of social pressure from being in an open-plan office to dress and act a certain way because they feel as though they are on display the whole time,” she said.

No doubt this is the fault of company management or, failing that, the patriarchy.

Whether women truly were being watched and monitored in the work place more than men remains to be ascertained, and Morrison said it was beyond the scope of her project.

Oh, I have no doubt they are: by other women. Unless any women are under 27 and hot, the men won’t be watching at all.

Of course, this doesn’t mean all women are uncomfortable in open-plan offices; I’ve been working in them since 2000 and I’m reasonably sure the women didn’t feel undue pressure because they didn’t have their own office. But it’s part of an interesting pattern or women, having demanded equal access to the workplace, finding it’s not to their liking and – inevitably – things must be changed to accommodate them. Here’s another example:

Here we have a woman joining an industry and then complaining how things are done when she gets there. Note she’s not complaining of sexual harassment, which would be unacceptable, merely about what people choose to do at tech events. If she doesn’t like what she herself says is normal about an industry, why did she join it? To cause trouble?

The thing is, I know a lot of female engineers and many actually like the male dominated environments in which they work. A competent woman in among a bunch of men can have an enjoyable experience indeed, because (according to them) men are simple and easy to understand and there’s no silly competitiveness. They actually prefer to work with other men than women, or so several have told me. Similarly, they entered into engineering and the oil industry because both provided an environment they liked working in. They didn’t join the oil business and then set about complaining how things are done when they got there, they embraced it because that’s what attracted them in the first place.

If women want to engender hostility from men in the workplace, the best way to go about it is to demand access to male-leaning industries and then campaign to get them changed for their benefit as soon as they arrive. I have no doubt they’ll be successful, but whether they’ll be happy with the final result is another matter entirely.

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20 thoughts on “I can’t get no satisfaction

  1. To be honest, open plan offices often suck for guys too.

    Having your own office is nice, but I’ve just finished 5 years in a skyscraper with no open plan, just individual offices. It was like walking down the corridors in the service decks of a cruise ship. It didn’t make for a good working environment, everyone very isolated from one another.

  2. It depends a lot on what the office is doing and whether people disturb others. I’ve found that the best choice for what I do (s/w development and similar) is to have 2-3 people per office doing a similar task. You get to talk if needed but you don’t have to share the details of the loud person from two rows over who won’t STFU.

    The place that worked best was a Regus (ironically) where people tended to keep the office doors open. So you saw people and interacted but could close the door when you needed to make that critical GoToMeeting call or just concentrate on fixing something.

  3. It didn’t make for a good working environment, everyone very isolated from one another.

    On the plus side, it did mean that you could spend more time with your blog.
    🙂

  4. Individual-offices with a doors-open culture seems to be the best. For me at least. You can get privacy if you need it, but you can interact with others too.

    Open plan bites spicy monkey chunks. And individual offices with a closed-door culture is like working in a prison.

  5. There’s a thing that Anomaly UK has talked about (I think it was him) and you’ve hinted at which is that large companies aren’t where the action is now.

    He refers to the “internal exit”. Companies outsource functions. And a great deal of this is about productivity which is driven by people working better when outside corporate because of the lack of people that are basically Hall Monitors. Moral police that do everything to make the place comfortable for women.

    So, your IT team can fix their own PCs because they aren’t in the company. They can have beers on Friday if they want. They don’t have a gazillion pointless diversity seminars.

    Software conferences are mostly just busy work for lazy people and for women to waste their days away (see also diversity seminars). It looks like work, but it isn’t. It makes them feel important as seminars and conferences are like a management thing. But a lot of dudes quit then years ago. I can learn the same stuff in an hour on Google. So why waste a day?

  6. Could anyone name something that doesn’t stress women out?

    Anyone?

    Anything?

  7. …women, having demanded equal access to the workplace, finding it’s not to their liking and – inevitably – things must be changed to accommodate them.

    “Why is it so cold in here?!”

  8. On the plus side, it did mean that you could spend more time with your blog.

    Heh.

  9. The place that worked best was a Regus (ironically) where people tended to keep the office doors open.

    Oh yes, you should always keep the doors open. People who permanently keep their office doors closed are most likely sleeping.

  10. There’s a thing that Anomaly UK has talked about (I think it was him) and you’ve hinted at which is that large companies aren’t where the action is now.

    Ooh, I’ll need to look at that.

    So, your IT team can fix their own PCs because they aren’t in the company. They can have beers on Friday if they want. They don’t have a gazillion pointless diversity seminars.

    Yes.

  11. “Why is it so cold in here?!”

    Indeed. If men are not permitted to wear singlets to work, I don’t know why strappy dresses and bare shoulders are permitted for women.

  12. A separate study released last week claims that moving from private offices to open-plan results in people spending less time in face-to-face conversations and more time in IM (instant messaging) or email exchange. Productivity fell too.

    This seems plausible: in a private office you could have a quiet conversation with someone, whereas in an open-plan office you’ll likely disturb the people sitting nearby, so you communicate electronically instead.

    It’s proper research, with participants wearing electronic tags, not just reported behaviour. Abstract and full paper here: http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/373/1753/20170239

  13. This seems plausible:

    It does. But then I’ve yet to see an office which could even remotely be described as productive.

  14. A competent woman in among a bunch of men can have an enjoyable experience indeed, because (according to them) men are simple and easy to understand and there’s no silly competitiveness. They actually prefer to work with other men than women, or so several have told me.

    That’s been my experience in my profession (law). Over the years, I’ve discovered that the women who are unhappy and constantly criticize the legal environment are the ones who were enamored with the idea of being lawyers, not the actual practice of law. Thus, the spend most of their time trying to conform reality to their preconceived notions about what the legal profession should be, instead of wading in and doing the work. This leads to a magnification in their minds of the significance of all the little vicissitudes of getting a project done. Competent women don’t have that problem.

  15. We moved from standard cubes to basically sitting at a table together. I can’t get a damn thing done. Too many interruptions. I need to have things out of eyesight or I can’t focus. I agree with the comment about using IM more with your immediate neighbors. Everyone has headphones on now because they can’t stand the constant interruptions, essentially making them unapproachable. Based on other design decisions around the office, it’s my estimation that the facilities gods have no clue what they are doing.

    Lastly, I’m a bit surprised to hear that women complain more than men about this. Where I work, many men are completely pissed about the new setup. I haven’t heard women complain at all.

  16. Where I work, many men are completely pissed about the new setup. I haven’t heard women complain at all.

    Oh, that’s easy: men know that these kinds of idiot decisions come from the top, and criticizing the alpha dog is a career-limiting move.

    Remember, the study didn’t measure how people felt; it measured what they said about how they felt to someone who was taking their names.

    Also, there’s mountains of evidence that open plan offices are absolute productivity killers for all but a few specific types of businesses (like creative/collaboration business, marketing, advertising, graphic design, etc)

  17. I work in an open- plan office; we all hate it because of the noise. The men don’t complain because, well, men don’t complain, but if you ask them, they’ll tell you.

    Re dress codes: hair dyed six different colors, sprayed-on skintight clothes, and fuck-me shoes are all fine and dandy, but NO SHORTS!

  18. I’ve worked in open-plan offices for all of my career and it’s safe to say that my experience of them has been variable. My current employer is cheap (which is one reason why I won’t be there too much longer) and crams everyone in like sardines – which doesn’t translate to a great working environment – but previous employers were less parsimonious regarding space (one gave everyone a desk almost as large as my kitchen – I exaggerate but not by much) and things were, as a result, a lot better. A decent pair of headphones helps me shut out my louder colleagues though and allows me to get on with my work.

  19. ““Many women feel a certain amount of social pressure from being in an open-plan office to dress and act a certain way because they feel as though they are on display the whole time,” she said. “

    People reading this will assume they mean ‘by men’. They don’t. Pound to a penny they mean ‘by other women’…

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