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I was sitting on the floor playing with my son after coming home from work when my wife said: “it’s great to have you back".

I was puzzled, what did she mean by that? Back from work? I hadn’t been away or anything so it had to be that, right? After putting our son to sleep I asked her what she meant. She said it was nice to see me  present and participating when returning from work.
The past two years I have had a few work related issues which has caused problems for my family life. This post is about just that.

The air you breath

I am for some reason very sensible when it comes to bad air quality. It could be my asthma or it could be something else, I don’t know. Bad air quality gives me long lasting headaches. My energy levels drop noticeably and I have a very hard time focusing on anything. The location I worked in was suffering from bad air quality. It was an open space which had a blocked entrance preventing air from circulating. In open spaces it is very often the case that getting the air to circulate properly is difficult. You tend to never get a stable temperature and it’s cold in winter and warm in summer.

Very few days went by without me leaving the office with a severe head ache. Some days it would be gone if I got off a stop earlier than usual to go for a little stroll to get some more fresh air. Most of the time it wouldn’t stop until I either exercised, fell asleep or had a beer. The headaches made me irritable and I also had no energy to really engage when playing with my kid. This feeling of not being able to be there for your family is the worst and you feel like your failing them. Both the physical aspects and the psychological aspects of bad air quality makes this into something that will make people perform below their ability at work and at home.

Stigma

Addressing things like this is never easy. Air quality costs money and responsibilities are split among building owners and the company renting. You will most likely see requests for better air quality do “the rounds” between these two. Addressing these things is also something that many will hesitate to get involved. Being labeled as “difficult” or as someone who complaints and isn’t a “team player” can be damaging to one’s carreer. Many choose to stay silent and disregard health issues over risk damages to a career. This is totally understandable and I don’t blame those who keep silent.

In my situation I felt I had no choice but to address the issue. I was the only one really complaining and I was told that it wasn’t a problem. It could be that I was alone in having these issues, but to me this was a problem. It became a matter which made me look for other places to work. As this couldn’t go on, family and my health is always my first priorities.

A bit of luck will get you far

Luckily my team got moved up one floor where the air quality was notably better. I was really happy as I didn’t want to leave my job. The first week my wife notched a change and she was very happy I wasn’t feeling the way I used to and I was more present on work days too, not only on weekends.

After a while I started having the same issues. Long lasting headeaches and very low energy levels when coming home from work. On the new floor the company had decided to make it into one giant open space. With some small desk walls and things to help reduce noise. The measures weren’t enough and sounds easily traveled across the office without little interruption.

Whenever I could I would put on headphones with noise reduction. Sometime with music, but very often just with the noise reduction. If I took them off I sometimes thought it was a party or I’ve been teleported to a bar, as the noise would be ridiculous. Needless to say complaining about this led nowhere. This was really fucking expensive furniture, it staying put. We’ll put down a committee to try figure out some changes.
My personal issue with the noise became worse because of a condition I discovered during this period I discovered I suffered from reduced hearing on one ear. I got an aid for it which is amazing and helps me alot.

Once again luck was on my side as I got an amazing opportunity to go work for a startup, so I am no longer in the open space. On the third day of my new job my wife came with the quote uttered in the beginning of this story. I was so happy and the relief I felt was so great I almost started crying. Not being there for my family is a terrible feeling and it makes me feel real bad.

So what?

Why am I writing this? I want everyone being in positions where they make decisions that influence the working conditions of others to realize they effect the lives of not only the workers but also their families. When people complain, take it seriously. It’s not always of people “always wanting more”. Physical working conditions are very important and the health effects of open space offices are dramatic.

The second reason I write this is to help those pondering if they should do something or not. Be aware there’s risks involved with addressing these issues and it can cause damage to one’s carreer. Before addressing these issues, you should be aware of this and make a conscious decision.
However you should also make sure you make the right priorities. What is most important to you? Are you in a position where you can address something or should you just leave?

In the budgets where open office plans look beneficial take a look at the hidden rise in costs relating to people being ill or requiring medical assistance. Healthy employees that are whole people 24-7 is the best investment for a company. They’ll be more productive and more able to go the extra mile if they are physically and mentally in a good place. Open office plans are hazardous to the health of people working there. Air quality and noise levels affect the physical health of people working there. These problems will also lead to problems in their personal lives which in turn ends up being phayolocgicaly damaging in the long run.

Be a good fellow human being and work towards a work life without open office plans. An environment where your employees and their families don’t suffer because of your reluctance towards addressing work environment issues.

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