Annoying Noise

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about noisy coworker:

I work in a small closed area office and there is constant loud talking, walking in heels hitting on uncarpeted floors and other annoying noises. It won’t do any good to talk to the Supervisor about this matter because the employee is one of the pets. What can I do when this is distracting me from my work and causing stress?

Signed, Annoyed

Dear Annoyed:

You have ruled out the source for stopping distractions, your supervisor. Why? Because you say she/he is “one of the pets”. Pet or not a pet, it is a supervisor’s responsibility to make every reasonable effort to develop and maintain a work environment free from distraction and conducive to production. Offices don’t have the hush-hush of a library or hospital, and incidentally deathly quiet is no longer mandated in either of those places. But you can make the case for toning down the noise level.

What can you do on your own short of donning earmuffs? Any suggestions I might make from a distance may not apply since you haven’t spelled out the kind of work you do, for example if you or others are engaged in phone conversation or if talk with coworkers is necessary for those who work in this office. But here are some thoughts for your consideration, some that are overlapping:

1. What does your policy book say about the kind of working environment and non-task related conversation? Policy on noise levels might be missing and thus serve as a reason for investigation and establishing policy. Or your policy book might address noise with respect to playing of radios or television; if so, that kind of policy might also be applied to loud talking, etc.

2. Request in writing an investigation of and riddance of noise. Describe the noise in terms of distraction and interference with tasks that require concentration, phone conversation, and necessary interaction with coworkers. A log of what you hear for a day or two might help make that point–what you heard, when, and where. Make several copies of your request and make it/take it to your supervisor. Propose that if she/he can’t handle this problem, say that you would like her/him to go with you to a higher level, such as Human Resources. You might request permission to record the noise in your office from different locations. Stress that the noise is more than an occasional friendly greeting or soft conversation. I wouldn’t focus on how stressed you are so much as how noise distracts one from concentrating on what those of you are hired to do.

3. Confer quietly with coworkers to learn if they too want a quieter office. If so, you have support to approach your supervisor.

4. Seek the help of technology; white noise can cover distracting sounds and as can sound-absorbing material such as carpeting and padded partitions.

5. Think and act as if you worked as an office team. In a regular staff meeting or one you request that be called, make a case for a team effort to work in a pleasant atmosphere that is professionally quiet.Engaging all coworkers and supervisor in a noise-solving skull session could generate creative solutions and psychological ownership in it doing something constructive.Such an effort might even be enlarged to brainstorming out of the box such as humorous quiet signs and other ways to make your office more pleasant; plants, paintings, and soft music. Guard against being seen as a complainer and seeing your supervisor as a pet or enemy of quiet. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS; and if you can focus on what will make all concerned about each other, I predict the noise level and your stress level will come down.

William Gorden