Simply put, speech privacy is the inability of an unintentional listener to understand another person’s conversation. So, people with a lack of speech privacy are overhearing lots of conversations that they shouldn’t be, which is, understandably, quite annoying to employees.
When we look at acoustical related complaints of office workers, we find that most complaints center around the idea that others can hear our conversations, or that we can hear others’ conversations (a lack of speech privacy). Rarely is the problem that there is simply too much noise in the environment.
As an example, many people have no problem working in a coffee shop or other public place, but once they are in an office, the expectation of speech privacy is very different, and indeed the reality of speech privacy is very different as well. In the office, we are able to understand every word that our neighbors are yelling into their speakerphone, but in the coffee shop it didn’t seem to matter.
So when we define speech privacy, there must be an element of intelligibility. It is not practical to eliminate all conversational sounds in a workplace, but it is certainly not impossible to significantly reduce intelligible speech throughout a workplace.
Did you know?
Lack of speech privacy is the number one complaint among office workers. As illustrated by the graphic below, The Center for the Build Environment in San Francisco surveyed more than 25,000 workers in more than 2,000 buildings to determine what the key environmental issues were for workers. Their results mirrored those determined over the last 20 years in similar surveys – specifically that of the architect designed features surveyed, acoustics (i.e. the lack of of speech privacy) was considered to be the most objectionable.
Sound masking, often misunderstood as white noise or pink noise, is a much more sophisticated acoustical solution to protect speech privacy. Sound masking helps protect speech privacy by being tuned to the same frequency as human speech. Learn about sound masking and how it helps protect speech privacy.