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Want your own office? Here's one talking point

Is an open-floor plan at your work making you sick?
Pidjoe | E+ | Getty Images
Is an open-floor plan at your work making you sick?

Is your office one of those places with a wide, open floor plan broken up by cubicle walls that reach up to your navel, giving everyone the illusion of privacy where none exists?

That's why you're sick all the time.

A new study gives strong evidence to what most of us already know: We need our own offices. Close the door, leave me in peace, and you'll be amazed at how productive I am.

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I know it costs more. I admit I'll be a tad irresponsible at first and stream an episode of "House of Cards" because, finally, no one can see what's on my computer screen.

But at least I'll be here.

The study appears in the latest issue of Ergonomics, a journal you're not likely to find tucked between People and The Star at Rite Aid.

It summarizes the self-reported information from nearly 2,000 workers, finding that the more open the floor plan, the more likely people called in sick for short periods of time.

The problem was especially acute among women. For men, there was a higher rate of both short and long sick leaves among workers in offices that combine open floor plans with conference rooms.

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The study was conducted by scientists from the University of Stockholm. It was published by Taylor & Francis and the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors—where I bet they have an open floor plan.

Obviously, fewer walls mean fewer ways to block free-floating germs from co-workers sneezing and coughing. Think of an open office as one big day-care center for adults. It's a corporate petri dish.

However, there may be other factors. Scientists found that open floor plans create a "group dynamic," which can actually make people feel more pressured to show up for work even though they are sick. That is especially the case in smaller offices, where it could be that "people are more missed when absent ... due to a better visual overlook and a greater concern for team members."

In addition, people may be calling in sick more frequently if they work in an open office because they're stressed out by "irrelevant sound" and "the lack of visual privacy." Good walls make good neighbors, and the irrelevant sound of you talking to your girlfriend 10 times a day by phone is making me ill. So is the lack of visual privacy when you clip your toenails at your desk.

The scientists admit that more work needs to be done in order to draw a direct cause-and-effect relationship between office setups and absenteeism, but I don't need any more convincing.

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I know it's not popular these days to put us all in separate offices like we're ad executives from "Mad Men." Coexisting as one, big, happy family on one, big floor allows for the "accidental collaborations" that Silicon Valley makes a big deal about. But I have friends who work there.

They're sick all the time.

—By CNBC's Jane Wells; Follow her on Twitter @janewells.

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  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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