In one research project, they made a guy work in an open plan office while wearing a helmet that measured his brain activity throughout the day. They found that, despite the guy getting to spend the day pretending he was Professor X and that his desk was Cerebro, his brain was nervously working on overdrive all the damn time. It was processing all of the disturbances in the office, and we do mean all of them -- the subject wasn't just flipping out at the horsey laugh of the dude at the water cooler. Instead, his subconscious took in every little thing around him and rolled it into one giant ball of "I've had enough of this shit."
"WHY THE FUCK DOES THIS THING KEEP RINGING?!"
Yes, even when he didn't consciously feel that he was being annoyed by those around him, his brain was secretly banging its head on the table.
It may be as simple as the conflict between your brain knowing it needs to concentrate in order to not get fired and the environment not allowing it to. There's always a ringing phone, and the only thing between you and that asshole who won't pick it up is empty space. There's always an office clown practicing pantomime on your right side so that you can just see him from the corner of your eye. And worst of all, there's always that nagging feeling that someone is watching you. You can try to tune all of this out, but that's the point -- it requires you to try. As in exert effort, continuously, all the time. That's stressful. You don't feel it as being all that severe from moment to moment, just as you wouldn't think of it as physically strenuous to give somebody the finger. But try to give somebody the finger for nine straight hours.
"These papers are levitating through the power of my hatred for you."
So it's hardly a surprise that research has found that open plan offices can lead to high blood pressure, stress, high employee turnover and conflict. So why do companies keep making open plan offices? Surely there is some huge, hidden advantage in enclosing their employees in a glorified pen that feeds on their productivity. Why, of course there is: Open plan offices cost 20 percent less than cubicles.