Reactions to Work Stress: Are Windows a Distraction or a Relief

Slowik, Linda Haynes, and Julia Helene Delekta

Windows are a prominent feature of work spaces, yet have received surprisingly little systematic examination regarding their psychological effects on employees. The current study explores the relationship between number of windows and job-related affective reactions (job satisfaction, burnout, depression, and helplessness). These factors are examined in the context of role ambiguity, which refers to uncertainty regarding priorities, reporting relationships, standards, etc. Role ambiguity is a work stressor related to many negative affective reactions. Two competing predictions are made regarding the effects of windows in the context of role ambiguity. The alleviation hypothesis suggests windows have a palliative effect on stress reactions, perhaps by providing a relaxing view. In contrast, the cognitive overload hypothesis suggests windows are a distraction that aggravates the effects of stressful work, perhaps by reducing the amount of attention devoted to the stressful task. These hypotheses were examined in a sample of 94 full time white-collar employees who provided self reports on their depression, helplessness, burnout, and job satisfaction, as well as role ambiguity. Researchers assessed the office space, including a count of the number of windows viewable from the participants‟ primary work space. Notably, the potential confound of hierarchical status was controlled for since it tends to be related to number of windows and ambiguity. The results showed a main effect of ambiguity on affective reactions, such that high ambiguity was associated with significantly lower job satisfaction, and higher levels of depression and burnout. A main effect of windows was also found, in this case relating to reactions as a set, but not to any one specific reaction. Follow-up analyses showed employees working under high ambiguity with more windows stood out as experiencing the most negative affective reactions. Support for the cognitive overload model and the role of attention is discussed.