An underestimated polluter: the impact of noise on your brain, body, and business

  • #wellness
  • #pollution
  • #noise
  • #noisepollution

Alongside air, water, soil, and light, noise is considered one of the main forms of pollution that is troubling our planet today. Despite this, measures to control it are still lacking, making it a not-so-silent killer.

In the UK, employers are obligated to support workers who are exposed to sounds over 85db. This type of noise is easy to identify, whether it’s a pneumatic drill or a passing train, and industries have adapted accordingly to ensure workers are protected from their impacts. But what about less obvious noises, like ambient noise? Yes, even background office chatter could have subconscious effects such as increasing the production of stress hormones, which in turn increase anxiety and hypertension levels.

This is particularly notable in professional settings like call centres, where employees are on the phone all day. Any noise that isn’t necessary to their business — such as other agents talking next to them or background noise on the other end of the call — quickly takes a toll mentally, physically, and professionally. 

That doesn’t mean all noise is bad noise. From sound healing techniques that can boost energy flow and circulation to music that gets us on our feet, sound can have a range of benefits in our lives, too. As such, employers need to prioritise audio tools that will help their employees. 

Noise affects every aspect of our wellbeing 

From the alarm starting our day to the sound of a car horn honking, some everyday sounds have a negative impact on our wellbeing. Not to mention volumes of 70db or louder can actually cause hearing loss. That’s a lower threshold than we think, with this level of noise often found in offices, schools, and call centres. 

In these call centres in particular, the issue of background noise is front-and-centre. Our research highlighted that 69% of customer service agents said background noise has a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing. And recent studies have shown that hypertension and anxiety can often increase when people are exposed to loud noises for a long period of time. 

Whilst our brains have the amazing ability to distinguish between background noise and the sounds that we want to listen to, it doesn’t translate well outside of a live environment — such as a phone call — and requires a tremendous amount of energy. When put to work consistently and repeatedly the way it is in offices and call centres, this results in brain fatigue that bleeds into all aspects of an employee’s health and wellbeing. 

And unfortunately, it’s inescapable. Our office noise survey revealed that over half of office workers avoid noise by wearing headphones, with the majority of workers (63%) above 35 actively seeking out quieter offices. This issue also severely impacts neurodiverse workers, who have greater requirements for singular sound. 

The range of noises in an office can often mean that employees end up missing out on what’s important. When the brain becomes bombarded with noise, the stress hormone, cortisol, is released, leading to increased stress levels. When we become stressed and irritated, our jobs are made more difficult, especially for call centre workers who rely on quality sound.

The benefits of prioritising the right audio

When reaching out for support, customers expect their conversation to be the main focus. Background noise disrupts the conversation and diverts an agent’s attention, which only increases call handling times and customer frustration. As we discovered in our whitepaper, noise around the agent (52%) and around the customer (37%) were the biggest challenges identified by agents in an office. 

With AI-powered technology, these disruptive noises can be removed, leaving nothing but the sound we actually want to hear: the voices on the call. By supporting calls with tools that eliminate background noise and focus on the voice, both sides can experience clear benefits. Not only will calls become easier to understand, but the experience of the conversation will flow without a ‘sorry what was that’ or ‘can you say that again please’. 

The result: better outcomes for both customers and call centres.

Simple changes can make a drastic difference

A simple concept packaged in an easy-to-use application, AI-powered voice isolation can truly transform your business and the people engaging with it. IRIS Clarity’s real-time and bi-directional technology enhances both customer and agent experience, improving mental wellbeing, reducing noise-related physiological risks, and improving primary KPIs such as Average Handling Time and Customer Satisfaction.  

At IRIS, we believe the science of sound dramatically improves the way people experience audio. Whilst the call centre industry is a key market for us — particularly with IRIS Clarity — we strive to revolutionise all aspects of the audio ecosystem, such as online learning, telehealth, podcasts, virtual meetings, and more. All towards the goal of “enabling the world to Listen Well”.