There are full of distractions, from chatty colleagues to incessantly ringing phones. But it seems open-plan offices also hold another source of stress for women – their appearance.
Modern open workspaces put women under pressure to dress up, buy elegant clothes and wear make-up, a study has found.
Rubbing shoulders with bosses in one shared office may encourage women to dress for the job they want. This means looking ‘conventionally business-like and feminine’, the researchers said.
But standards of dress may also rise because there are so many people to impress. Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University and the University of Bedfordshire spent three years studying the behavior of around 1,000 employees.
Interviews with female local authority staff, who moved from small, separate offices into a large shared space, found they felt ‘there isn’t anywhere that you don’t feel watched’.
Alison Hirst, of Anglia Ruskin’s Lord Ashcroft International Business School, said: ‘When changing from a more closed, compartmentalized office space to a new open-plan [office] … workers were more conscious of their visibility and often found this unsettling rather than liberating.
‘Women in particular felt anxious about the idea of being constantly watched, and felt they had to dress in a certain way.’
In the study, published in the journal?Gender, Work and Organisation, Dr Hirst described women dressing more smartly and spending more on clothes after moving to an open-plan office in an organization where senior female managers were known for their smart attire.
A learning and development manager in the office said: ‘People’s level of dress just went up … people seemed to have more respect for themselves.’ Another staff member said she swapped her cardigan for a jacket and spent a lot of money on clothes.