No really, what did you say? I didn’t hear you. Sound. If you aren’t talking about it in your home regarding earbuds/volume, you’re bound to be talking about it at work. From exterior noise pollution (that construction going on next door, traffic, etc…) to the coworker that is far too loud on the phone in your open office workspace. There are some serious conversations going on in the world about sound and noise pollution; along with those conversations, some staggering statistics are being dropped regarding youth with hearing damage and how our threshold of, “what is loud?” has changed.
Have you heard of the “Lombard Effect?” It’s the phenomena similar to that of speaking to a foreign language speaker, in your native tongue, only LOUDER (and typically s l o w e r, for that matter), “H I, W H A T I S Y O U R
N A M E?” The “Lombard Effect” is how we raise our voice to be heard in a noisy environment. Noise distractions account for a multitude of issues and aliments related to our concentration, state of mind, stress level, and physical auditory health.
Julian Treasure with, The Sound Agency, talks about noise pollution and ways to combat it frequently in his TED talks. One way to combat noise pollution is one of the perpetrators of hearing damage itself, earphones. But covering up noise with more or louder, “noise” isn’t the fix. Sound is a pretty complex topic; one must consider frequency and decibels, as well as content when exploring non-polluting noise. For instance, listening to music at an appropriate decibel and via quality earphones, can help reduce stress levels, measurable reductions in blood pressure, etc… In fact, if you really want to de-stress and do your ears and concentration a favor, listen to bird calls, or so the data says.
What if you don’t work in a role or place that you can don earbuds most of your day for heads-down concentration? If you are in an office space, and certainly an OPEN office concept, there is a solution to noise pollution, both exterior and internally produced – it’s sound masking. Sound masking in one study was found to increase employee concentration up to 46% more and increase short term accuracy by 10% to their non-sound masked counterparts. Sound masking isn’t the same as, “white noise” – there is a science behind it, a vocal range and calibrating that is adjusted based on the space, the users preference, and the type of business establishment. Sound masking can be as progressive / tech forward or as fundamental as the end user deems appropriate. In an age of competitive recruitment and “selling” company culture as part of the package, as well as HIPAA and other mandated standards/practices, conversations about sound masking and the benefits it brings with it, is something every company should be listening to.