How Death by Cubicle Works


Preventing Cubicle Death
Could a different office setup slow the Grim Reaper's advance?
Could a different office setup slow the Grim Reaper's advance?
Toledano/Stone+/Getty Images

It's fair to say that most workers assigned a cubicle would prefer an office, but that's just not financially feasible for most companies. Additionally, it may not create the environment best suited for people to do their jobs. While an office cuts down on distractions, it also isolates workers socially and hampers the ability to share work-related information.

According to a study completed by the Cornell University International Workplace Studies Program, companies should consider tearing down the cubicle walls and doing away with closed-door offices. The office layout that may help workers get the job done is an open bullpen setup, in which several desks are clustered together in a semi-enclosed area.

This may seem counterintuitive; after all, wouldn't the noise factor be even worse? Maybe not. According to a separate study, occupants in open-office environments, without partitioned walls, were more satisfied with the noise levels and their own privacy of speech than cubicle dwellers [source: Jensen et al.]. It may be that removing cubicle walls destroys the illusion of privacy that some must feel they have when they yap away for hours to their dog sitter. When workers can see that those around them are concentrating, they may be less likely to engage in disruptive behaviors.

Workers would also be able to use visual cues to judge the best time to interrupt someone with a question. Instead of popping your head into a cube to see if it's a good time to talk, you'd know when your co-worker might have a minute to chat, so conversations could be better timed. Because tasks often rely upon the talents of an entire team, having this ability to share information quickly and efficiently could improve productivity.

In addition to facilitating work-related collaboration, an open-office environment may also aid in social interaction between workers. A network of social support at work is one key to reducing workplace stress and resulting depression. Simple things such as eating lunch away from your cubicle and with your co-workers can have a big impact both on your mental state and for your career. A study by Harvard and the Stanford Research Institute posits that 85 percent of promoted employees advance because of their people skills, as opposed to technical skills [source: Smith].

Now, adapting a new kind of work environment won't do anything about a germy desk or bad posture. You're on your own for those. But when your time at work is more productive and you're not wasting time dealing with stress, then you might have an extra five minutes to wipe down your desk and adjust your chair. And when you're more satisfied with your environment, you'll be more satisfied with your job. Cubicle death won't be a looming threat.

Just be careful on the commute home. That road rage can be a real killer.

If you're still alive, you might like the stories below.

­­­­

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

Sources

  • Aston, Adam. "Healing Our Sick Offices." Business Week. August 20, 2007. (July 21, 2008) http://images.businessweek.com/ss/07/08/0809_greenoffice/index_01.htm
  • Barrientos, Tanya. "Call your desk 'Germ-in-town': Workspaces are teeming with bacteria." Philadelphia Inquirer. March 15, 2006.
  • Becker, Franklin and William Sims. "Offices that Work: Balancing Communication, Flexibility and Cost." Cornell University International Workplace Studies Program. October 2001. (July 21, 2008) http://iwsp.human.cornell.edu/pubs/pdf/IWS_0002.PDF
  • Belkin, Lisa. "Sickened by the Office (Really)." New York Times. May 1, 2008. (July 21, 2008) http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/01/fashion/01WORK.html?scp=26&sq=workplace,%20ill
  • ness&st=cse
  • Boyles, Salynn. "Sick Workers Shouldn't Blame Workplace." WebMD. March 22, 2006. (July 21, 2008) http://www.webmd.com/news/20060322/sick-workers-shouldnt-blame-workplace
  • Carr, Melissa. "Working well: Deconstructing workplace stress." Alive: Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition. October 2005.
  • De Croon, Einar M., Judith K. Sluiter, P. Paul F.M. Kuijer and Monique H.W. Frings-Dresen. "The effect of office concepts on worker health and performance: a systematic review of the literature." Ergonomics. February 2005.
  • Dewa, Carolyn S. and Elizabeth Lin. "Chronic physical illness, psychiatric disorder and disability in the workplace." Social Science & Medicine. 2000. http://www.uic.edu/spha/glakes/occupational/reading_lists/73102/pdfs/Dewa.pdf
  • Ehrenfeld, Temma. "Five Reasons Your Office is Bad for You." Newsweek. Dec. 14, 2007. (July 21, 2008) http://www.newsweek.com/id/77991
  • "First In-Office Study Dishes the Dirt on Desks." Market Wire. April 15, 2002. (July 21, 2008) http://www.disinfecttoprotect.com/downloads/Office-Study.pdf
  • "Germs Working Overtime -- Especially at Women's Desks." The Clorox Company. Feb. 14, 2007. (July 21, 2008)
  • http://investors.thecloroxcompany.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=230028
  • Jensen, K.L., E. Arens and L. Zagreus. "Acoustical Quality in Office Workstations, as Assessed by Occupant Surveys." Proceedings: Indoor Air. 2005. http://www.cbe.berkeley.edu/RESEARCH/pdf_files/Jensen2005_IndoorAir.pdf
  • "Jobs for life." The Economist. Dec. 19, 2007. (July 30, 2008) http://www.economist.com/world/asia/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10329261
  • Kaplan, Rachel. "The role of nature in the context of the workplace." Landscape and Urban Planning. 1993. http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/2027.42/30542/1/0000175.pdf
  • Kimball, Chad T., ed. "Workplace Health and Safety Sourcebook, First Edition." Omnigraphics. 2000.
  • Lehrer, Jonah. "The Reinvention of the Self." Seed. Feb. 23, 2006. (July 21, 2008) http://www.seedmagazine.com/news/2006/02/the_reinvention_of_the_self.php
  • Lutgen-Sandvik, Pamela, Sarah J. Tracy and Jess K. Alberts. "Burned by bullying in the American workplace: Prevalence, perception, degree, and impact." Journal of Management Studies. 2006. http://www.healthyworkplacebill.org/pdf/Burned.pdf
  • Mannila, Chuck. "How to Avoid Becoming a Workplace Violence Statistic." T+D. July 2008.
  • Mason, Michael. "Sniffling, Sneezing and Turning Cubicles Into Sick Bays." New York Times. Dec. 26, 2006. (July 21, 2008) http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/26/health/26cons.html?scp=1&sq=presenteeism&st=cse
  • Matthews, Virginia. "Ugh! Darling, your desk is filthy." The Times. March 21, 2007.
  • McEwan, Bruce and Elizabeth Norton Lasley. "Allostatic Load: When Protection Gives Way to Damage." Advances in Mind-Body Medicine. Spring 2003.
  • Murray, B. "There's nothing good about working in a cubicle, study finds." Monitor on Psychology. May 2002. (July 21, 2008) http://www.apa.org/monitor/may02/cubicle.html
  • Newsham, Guy. "Making the Cubicle a Better Place to Work." Implications. October 2003. (July 21, 2008)
  • http://www.informedesign.umn.edu/_news/oct_v03r-p.pdf
  • Parker-Pope, Tara. "The Value of a Friend in the Next Cubicle." New York Times. Nov. 12, 2007. (July 21, 2008)
  • http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/11/12/the-value-of-a-friend-in-the-next-cubicle/?scp=3&sq=cubicle,%20illness&st=cse
  • Pentikis, John, Mary S. Lopez and Robert E. Thomas. "Ergonomics evaluation of a government office building." Work. 2002.
  • Power, Carla. "Big Trouble." Newsweek. August 11, 2003.
  • Sanger, David E. "Tokyo Tries to Find Out if 'Salarymen' Are Working Themselves to Death." New York Times. March 19, 1990. (July 21, 2008) http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE3DA173EF93AA25750C0A966958260&sec=&spon=&&scp=31&sq=working%20to%20death&st=cse
  • Schlosser, Julie. "Cubicles: The great mistake." Fortune. March 22, 2006. (July 21, 2008) http://money.cnn.com/2006/03/09/magazines/fortune/cubicle_howiwork_fortune/index.htm?cnn=yes
  • Schwartz, John. "Always on the Job, Employees Pay with Health." New York Times. Sept. 5, 2004. (July 21, 2008) http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/05/health/05stress.html?_r=2&scp=22&sq=workplace,%20illness&st=cse&oref=slogin&oref=slogin
  • "Sharp Increase in Acknowledged Karoshi (Death caused by Overwork)." Japan International Center for Occupational Safety and Health. (July 30, 2008) http://www.jniosh.go.jp/icpro/jicosh-old/english/statistics/death_overwork.html
  • Smith, Sharon. "Eating alone at your desk could be bad for your health and career." York Daily Record. Nov. 8, 2004.
  • ­Tubbs, Walter. "Karoushi: Stress-death and the Meaning of Work." Journal of Business Ethics. 1993.
  • Vischer, Jacqueline C. "The effects of the physical environment on job performance: towards a theoretical model of workspace stress." Stress and Health. 2007. (July 21, 2008)http://www.gret.umontreal.ca/images/article%20002.pdf
  • Vobejda, Barbara. "When Your Job Makes You Sick." Washington Post. March 10, 1992.

­

More to Explore