Have you ever wished for a private office at work instead of a communal table next to all your co-workers?

Turns out, that open seating arrangement is better for your health and well-being.

In a study published this week in the British journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, researchers at the University of Arizona found that employees who use bench seating workstations experienced less daytime stress and were more active than their counterparts who spent their day in a private office or huddled behind a high-walled cubicle. They also experienced lower psychological stress during after-work hours, according to the researchers at UA's Institute on Place, Wellbeing and Performance.

Esther Sternberg
University of Arizona
Esther Sternberg

The study examined 231 federal workers in four different buildings in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern regions of the country. Their workstations fell into three categories: private office, cubicle with high-walled partitions that you can't see over when seated, and open bench seating that had no partitions or partitions that were low enough to see over when seated.

The volunteer participants wore heart rate and physical activity monitors for three consecutive workdays and two nights. While at work, they answered hourly surveys on their smartphones that included questions on their current mood.

Employees with the open bench seating were 32 percent more physically active than their counterparts in private offices and 20 percent more active than those walled off in cubicles. They also reported significantly lower perceived stress outside of the office, the study found.

"This research highlights how office design, driven by office workstation type, could be an important health promoting factor," said Esther M. Sternberg, research director of the UA Center for Integrative Medicine and senior author of the study.

Workplace-related illnesses cost more than $225 billion a year, or about $1,600 per employee. Job-related stress is the leading workplace health problem and a major occupational health risk — more so than inactivity and obesity, according to a 2016 report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Office workers who spend the day glued to a computer, also do not tend to spend their time off in active pursuits. They report more fatigue, irritability, and suffer from more cardiovascular disease and other chronic health problems. However, physically active employees have lower healthcare costs, require less sick leave, and are more productive at work compared to their less active co-workers.