Despite a general move towards more open plan work areas, employees are happier when they have a private office, according to a European research study released Tuesday.
Research agencies l'Observatoire Actineo and CSA surveyed employees in five countries – Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain, and Germany – about their work environments, and what they believe to be the most important elements of their office.
The French were the least satisfied with their work environments, with around 78 percent of respondents expressing satisfaction.
In France, 88 percent of respondents in private offices said they were satisfied, versus 67 percent in open, communal ones. The French survey dated from 2013.
The study of 2,500 people, conducted between June 24 and July 1, analyses the satisfaction of workers based on criteria like office arrangement, temperature, and interest in the work that one is assigned.
Across the board, one of the most important elements was inter-office relations. In all five countries, a majority of respondents (64-81 percent) said that relations with colleagues was the most important factor for quality of life at work.
But according to the survey, not everyone wants to work around their colleagues' chatter. The French care the most about noise, and consider human chatter a nuisance.
"Clearly, for French respondents, the source of office noise that caused the most problems was human noise," said Alain d'Iribarne, senior fellow at a social research centre in France, at a presentation of the study in Paris on Tuesday.
"This could open a discussion about whether or not employees in places like Britain are more social, but for the moment we haven't made that analysis."
The source of French unhappiness however may not just be about noise. A similar survey carried out in 2013 revealed it was smelly colleagues rather than the din of the office that angered French workers.
Number two in the list of colleagues' gripes was having to sit next to someone who complains all the time, and in third place was having to put up with co-workers who speak too loud.
The Netherlands, seen as a sort of "El Dorado" in the European work world, has the most content employees of the five countries included, with around 91 percent responding as satisfied with 27 percent of those saying they were "very satisfied".
Overall, employees are happier when they have their own space. About 97 percent of Dutch respondents said they were satisfied in a private office, and 88 percent when they were in a communal office (of more than four people).
As far as social spaces, most employees in the five countries had access to private conference rooms, cafes and coffee machines, but the importance of such spaces differed.
For example, a majority of Dutch and Swedes surveyed used informal social spaces and break rooms, whereas in France, only 27 percent of respondents had an informal social space they could use.
But d'Iribarne said that quality of work life can be measured differently by different individuals.
"It's important to note that quality of life is subjective in these countries, and could mean different things to different people," said d'Iribarne.