There is an invisible danger lurking in workplaces across the country that can harm the health of employees and hamper their productivity as it attacks the brain. Believe it or not, this is sound. Not even a loud sound, like a jackhammer, but just the ordinary background noise that most busy offices tend to generate.

Noise at work is something few in management think about, but Dr. Nina Kraus, professor of neurobiology and communication sciences at Northwestern University, certainly has. His book, Of Sound Mind – How Our Brain Builds A Meaningful Sound World, explains how this can have a negative impact on your staff.

The “sure noise” is not sure at all

I spoke with Professor Kraus recently. His enthusiasm for the magic of ring, how our brain makes sense of the auditory world, its joy at what it all brings to us simply permeates the book, complemented by its YouTube videos. She began our interview with this observation:

“All employers want to reduce the incidence of health problems, absenteeism, burnout, health insurance, workers’ compensation claims and insurance rates. They are looking at ways to reduce risk, but usually don’t know how safe noise is related to all of these things.

I bet you are wondering, “Safe noise? What is that?”

“Most of us are aware of the risk of listening to loud music – in fact, cell phones display a warning when we approach a level where we can actually damage our hearing,” she observes. .

“Dangerous noise levels are all around us. Just think of the poor gardener with a leaf blower or a lawn mower and not wearing any kind of hearing protection. Over time, true hearing loss is likely to develop.

Injury to your healthy mind

“But there is another type of noise – harmless noise – which is not loud enough to physically damage your ears, will not cause you hearing loss per se, but will damage your hearing brain, or, as we call it, “your sane mind”.

“It’s called ‘safe’ because it’s lower than noise levels which, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, require hearing protection. These are quieter sounds, like truck beeping outside, refrigerator, sounds generated in a typical office environment.

And this is one of the concepts healthy mind develops through examples taken from everyday life. “Our auditory brain determines how we think, feel, move and interact with all of our senses. Harmless noise can significantly damage the auditory brain – not the ear, the brain.” Kraus points out.

I had never heard this term before, aware of the hearing damage caused by dangerously loud sounds, but not what it does to the brain. It reminded me of Rod Serling’s opening remarks in The twilight zone: “There is a fifth dimension, beyond what is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity.”

For Kraus, this fifth dimension is the auditory brain, “As our world has become filled with persistent levels of safe and sound, our ability to think, focus and feel has been compromised as our brain – the auditory brain – suffers real and provable injuries.

She cited a study of children in a school, where half of the students were in a room facing the subway trains. The test results showed that their situation was much worse than that of children in a quiet room.

“In a typical office, ambient office noise includes the irritating sound of computer fans, scratching chairs on the floor, the background noise of people talking who are not part of the conversation you are involved in. , music, radio or television. Phones are ringing, people are getting text messages on their phones and it just goes on.

“Our hearing – the auditory brain – is connected to cognition, to the way we think, feel, move and engage other senses, our motor and reward sensory systems.

“These ambient noises are harmful to workers in a typical office because they cause significant physiological stress, which interferes with the ability to concentrate, to think, to pay attention, to remember. And, all of this on an unconscious level, costing billions of dollars worldwide due to declining productivity and increased absenteeism.

What to do about noise at work?

When I built my own office years ago, I had ambient noise in mind. It’s quieter than a library, and you face a noisy street. We have carpet, sound deadening baffles, fabric panels on the walls, acoustic ceiling tiles. All of these solutions are also available for business offices.

“When an employer is aware of the problem,” says Kraus, “so much can be done to provide employees with an acoustically healthier work environment. We must value silence and noise reduction. Here are some ideas on how to identify and resolve annoying noise issues in the workplace:

  • Avoid fluorescent lights and other buzzing lights.
  • No background music or TV.
  • Good insulation from neighboring rooms and from the outside if on a busy street.
  • Fabric wall hangings.
  • Anyone can silence their phone and notifications.
  • Listen to the sounds of your workspace, giving yourself time to be aware of irritating sounds. When you identify an annoying sound, ask yourself, “Is this necessary? »Come and honor the sounds you want to hear.
  • Zoom calls can be quite loud at times – use headphones or turn down the volume when possible.

Also, I’ll add my own tip: I bought a pair of 3M Peltor X4A earmuffs, which can be worn on an airplane, in the office, or at home when trying to sleep. They virtually eliminate ambient noise.

healthy mind will change your understanding of our acoustic world and provide a rationale for business owners to develop a noise reduction strategy. I encourage you to visit the Auditory Neuroscience Lab website to learn more: https://brainvolts.northwestern.edu/.

Lawyer, author of “You and the Law”

After attending Loyola University School of Law, H. Dennis Beaver joined the Kern County Attorney’s Office in California, where he established a section on consumer fraud. He is in the general practice of law and writes a syndicated newspaper column, “You and the Law”. Through his column, he offers free help to readers who need concrete advice. “I know it sounds cheesy, but I love that I can use my education and experience to help, just to help. When a reader contacts me, it’s a gift.”