Why Stress Levels Get So High During Office Moves


Anyone who has moved offices knows that it can be a stressful time. In today's world of constant change, employees in all job roles are constantly being asked to adapt. That means a never ending stream of new processes to implement, new systems to learn, new technology to adopt, new employees to integrate into the team, new skills and competencies they have to master, and the list goes on. The one constant that employees typically have in a traditional office setting is their actual office. The desk where they sit, the chair they lean back on, their commute in the morning, the coffee shop they typically visit at 10am, and their view (or no view). During an office move, that one constant gets ripped away as well and employees lose that anchor that often allows them to cope with the never-ending requests to "pivot," "disrupt the industry," and increase "agility."

And that's not the only reason moves are stressful for employees. Office relocations are the perfect storm of stress. Sonia Lupien at the Centre for Studies on Human Stress identified four main sources of stress and office relocations are in all four categories.  Lupien uses the N.U.T.S. acronym to describe these stress creators:

Novelty: Something you haven't experienced before.

Many employees have not had the experience of moving before. They don't know what to expect and that can be scary. "What will I be responsible for? How will the new office compare to the last? Will my commute be longer? What if the coffee shop isn't as good as my current one?" The list of questions is endless and that adds unnecessary anxiety to an employee's already stressful day.

Unpredictability: Something you weren't expecting

Past the executive leadership level, employees often lack visibility into operations. The typical employee doesn't know when the company's lease will expire or whether growth projections indicate we'll need to move soon. And often times leaders keep conversations about an office move hush hush until they are certain it is time to go. Many leaders will even delay announcing a move until after a new lease has been signed. That lack of predictability adds another stressor.

Threat to the Ego: Your competence as a person is called into question

Right or wrong, many employees define their worth at their job by space and proximity in the office. They compare office sizes to see who is viewed as the most important executive. They measure distance to the CEO to interpret who is viewed as a more critical to his or her daily operations. This physical manifestation of value in the office can lead to significant toxicity during a workplace move. In my experience, employees first and foremost want to know where they will sit and who will be near them when learning of a move.

Sense of Control: You have no control over the situation

Finally, employees lose a sense of control during office moves. Most decisions are made at the leadership level and employees are only informed after the fact. Extensive research has been done on the power of a sense of control and its effects on stress, most notably in Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers by Robert Sapolsky. The lack of control during an office move is the fourth and final nail in the coffin for the perfect storm of stress for employees during office relocations.

All of that stress can result in lower employee engagement and lower productivity overall.  In fact, talent attrition can spike significantly during office relocations if leaders don't manage the transition carefully. Want to know what you can do about it? Download your free guide to moving your office like a pro and take the stress out of your move.


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Jessica Lederer