When You Feel Like Everyone is Watching You

Open-plan offices have long been lamented for their lack of privacy and productivity, but did you know they can also create a negative working environment for women?

A study from the U.K. conducted by Christina Schwabenland of the University of Bedfordshire and Alison Hirst of Anglia Ruskin University explores the relationship between gender and open-concept design. The researchers followed 1,100 employees as they transitioned from a traditional office to a big open-plan space. To understand how people adjusted to the new office, they interviewed 27 female and 13 male staff and experienced some of the office’s culture (by having lunch with employees and attending meetings) over a three-year period. What they discovered was fascinating: the open design made people more image-conscious. Not only were women far more aware of their appearance and visibility, they were more negatively impacted by it than men. Their research showed how in a no-privacy environment, women feel watched and judged on their appearances, which caused anxiety for female employees.

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Denise Hansen