Drum Noise Is Creating Stress and Headaches!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about drumming close to where you work:

I have worked in a school for 22 years. The music teacher won a grant for many drums and has now incorporated this into her curriculum. The noise bothered teachers in 2 different sections of the school. She was moved to a variety of spaces, and now is drumming close to me.I find it not only distracting, but noticed last week that I had headaches a few days. I never get a headache!In my opinion, this is a change in my working conditions. Do I have a case here to get it to stop? I like my job. Thanks for any help.  RN

Signed, Distracted and Hurting

Dear Distracted and Hurting:

The headaches you experienced could be caused by the noise or just from the tension you feel because of the stressful situation, if you are reacting in that way. I can well imagine it could be stressful and distracting. You would need to talk to an employment attorney about whether this constitutes a change in your working conditions or violates some part of your contract. You may want to do that immediately. Or, you may want to consider another approach, and see if you can avoid the legal issues that will probably cost you some money to deal with anyway.

Let me suggest a few options for your action about this, since you like your job and also probably want to be viewed as someone who will try to solve a problem effectively.Think of this on a larger scale, so the problem is solved for everyone, not just for you. It isn’t effective to just move the teacher all over the place, trying to find a place for her students. They should have thought of that before the grant was written, approved and the items purchased!And, it won’t be effective to only solve your situation, but move the problem to some other teacher’s area. So, hopefully a positive and fair resolution can be found for everyone.

1. First, before and while you do anything else, consider getting a white noise machine for your work area. I know many people who have used those effectively to mask all kinds of sounds–and I use one myself in my office. It just whooshes all day!Try music or other masking noises.If the rhythm is what is the biggest problem (where you can feel it as well as hear it) that is more difficult to deal with. Sometimes carpet on the floor will help.

2. Keep a log of the noise times, so you can show the number of times it occurs during a day or week. On the log, note the date and time, the duration and what you were doing at the time and the effect the noise had on you. This last issue is important for showing that you had work obligations during those times, but were distracted or got a headache or became stressful and nervous.This kind of documentation would be requested by an attorney anyway, so it will be handy no matter what else you do.

3. If the noise level varies, describe the level of distraction: Mild, Moderate, Severe. This would probably vary according to the number of drums, the ways in which they were being played and similar issues.One value of this is that if there are times when you can hear the noise but it is tolerable, maybe there is some aspect of that situation that the teacher could use to figure out how to make things better all the time.

4. If it would help, consider recording a few minutes of the sound. Often the rhythm doesn’t pick up well on a recording, but it might at least provide some evidence to support your concern.

5. If others have commented on the noise in your office or work area, write the comments and their names, as extra support. For example, if a student joked about it or a visitor commented on it, note that.6. When you have a few days of information together, write a letter to the person to whom you report (the administrator or someone outside the school itself.) You have probably already talked to someone about it, but this will be a more formal approach.Provide a summary of what has been happening and ask that either your work area be changed or that something be developed to prevent the noise pollution that is so distracting. This MIGHT be a good time to mention that the situation seems to you to change the conditions of your work. You may not want to bring that up until you talk to an attorney, but it might be a good hint about how seriously you view this.

7. Consider making some suggestions for resolving the situation: *Another grant to purchase a mobile classroom or to insulate the room better. (Although there really is no effective insulation in most school settings.) This would take time, unfortunately, and you need something done NOW.

*Drum practice at limited times of days, during which you would be given another comparable work space or in which you could work from your home on computer work. (I realize that might not be an option for a nurse position, but thought it might be.)

*Suggest the teacher contact other schools with drum programs to see how they handle it. *Suggest that drum companies be contacted to see if they have suggestions for sound control.

8. Ask for an immediate review of the situation and that some resolution be developed that will prevent the unreasonable discomfort you are experiencing. I think the concept of unreasonable is important for this. Everyone understands that orchestras and bands make some noise in a school. But some instruments are more disruptive than others and the numbers being played at one time can be unreasonable.

9. If you feel you aren’t getting a response that is helpful for solving the problem, you may need to escalate it. If you have a teacher’s union, they may be able to help. Or, you may need to ask to have someone higher than your administrator review the situation. At that point you may certainly want to speak to an employment attorney about your contract and how this effects it.10. In the meantime, make sure you are being viewed as someone who wants to be cooperative and wants to find a solution that will work well for everyone.

The teacher was probably thrilled to get the grant and now is frustrated and disappointed at the negative attitudes about the results. The students who wanted to play drums (not a instrument that is offered much in schools) were thrilled too, and the idea that someone is trying to shut them down would certainly upset them. The parents of those students will be involved as well, if the class is moved to someplace that is not good for some reason. The grant may even require x amount of use of the instruments.The administrator probably wishes it would all go away!

Your tenure means that you are probably well known and can have a leadership role. Anything about this should be focused on partnering with everyone involved to find a solution, rather than on having people take sides. The more you can gain that kind of cooperative attitude from everyone, the more likely they are to want to help you and all the other teachers who have had similar complaints about the noise of the drums. You likely are working in that way anyway, I just wanted to mention it. Sometimes in situations like these, irritation and dislike can replace frustration very quickly!Best wishes to you as you develop a plan for dealing with this. Yes, you can see about the violations of your contract, but it would certainly be good if other approaches could be used first. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.