noise.jpgThe phone rings and you grit your teeth because you know that for the next 5 or 10 minutes, or however long the call lasts, you will be listening to every word the loud talker in the next cubicle says.


You open up the spreadsheet you need to work on and settle in to making corrections when the sound of your super cheerful, and super annoying, coworker whistling comes over your cubicle wall. Grrrr.

Call it office noise pollution. It’s the number one complaint people make about their coworkers. We make too much noise at work and we are driving each other crazy!

So how do you avoid it? How can you be sure you’re not noisy and annoying? And what do you do if you have a noisy coworker making your work life miserable? Well, here’s our suggestions.

Don’t be that person

  1. Talking too loudly on the phone. One of the most common complaints is having to listen to other’s phone calls. People tend to complain the most about overhearing personal calls but any call can be a distraction. Remember that there are others near you. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of privacy by cubicle walls that don’t provide anything approaching privacy. Whether you’re talking to your roommate or the guy from accounting, be aware of the volume of your voice and remember that voices carry. If it’s going to be a lengthy call, make it from a conference room or any other more private place where you won’t be overheard. And stop making loud personal calls. Just stop!
  2. Talking at your cubicle. It’s not just phone conversations that are annoying. When people stop at your cubicle to chat, others can hear. It doesn’t make it any less distracting that it is work related. When a third coworker joins the conversation there is suddenly the equivalent of a meeting taking place in the middle of everyone’s desks. Be aware of this and keep conversations at your desk short and quiet and, again. move it to a conference room or other more private place if it’s going to be a longer discussion or involves multiple people.
  3. Personal noise. Gum chewing, whistling, eating loudly, cracking your knuckles, humming, tapping your pencil, etc., etc., etc. There are so many ways to make noise without speaking it’s kind of amazing. Things that you think of as pleasant can be annoying to others and things that you don’t even notice can be annoying. Pay attention to what you do and how it might be affecting others. Do your best to avoid these types of behaviors. It may not seem fair or make sense to you, but in a shared workspace it’s not about you think individually it’s about getting along collectively.
  4. Sickness noise. Sick people at work is a problem for many reasons and noise is just another good reason to stay home. The noise from a hacking cough or constant sneezing is mentioned often as a big distraction in surveys. Please, if you are sick, stay home.

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How to deal with noisy coworkers

  1. Drown out the noise. Listening to music has become a staple of the open space workplace, and headphones and earbuds a necessary accessory. What would once have been considered unacceptable is now encouraged, because it works. Whether you invest in noise cancelling headphones or simply listen to music, it can really help to minimize, and sometimes totally cover the noises going on around you, leaving you free to concentrate on your work. Try it, it just might work.
  2. Go someplace quiet. If the ones making the noise won’t move, then those seeking peace and quiet can do it! It may not seem fair but the point is to avoid the noise and get your work done. If you’ve got a project that requires solitude so you can concentrate, and you don’t want to or can’t listen to music while working, then go to the aforementioned conference room, shut the door and enjoy the peace.
  3. Have office designs that help to minimize or avoid noise. Carpeting, draperies, sound absorbing ceiling panels – all of these can help to muffle and reduce noise. When it comes to cubicle design, some find that lower walls where people can see each other remind them they are not alone and discourage some of the bad behavior. Management should keep all of this in mind as they make decisions about the design and setup of the office. Make sure that conference rooms and/or open offices are available for people to use. It’s worth spending a little extra time and money to have happier, less stressed, and more productive workers.

Sometimes though, you need to be prepared for situations that require intervention. It’s best not to suffer a really bad coworker in silence. It will make you resentful and the problem won’t go away. You can try politely and respectfully speaking to the coworker yourself or ask a manager to intervene. And managers, please, when an employee comes to you with a complaint, take it seriously and be ready to have a conversation with the egregious offender. Don’t let one bad apple spoil things for everyone. Problems like these make people unhappy, less productive, and eventually can contribute to turnover.

Problems like these make people unhappy, less productive, and eventually can contribute to turnover. If we all are more aware of our surroundings and respectful of our coworkers we can make a difference. We can be happier and better able to do our job. We have the power to reduce office noise pollution!

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