Skip to main content

Another day at the office. istockphoto

The guy in the next work space just loves to whistle while he works. The one on the other side has a ring tone on his cellphone that would wake the dead. Then there's the gabby group of women who lean over your desk chattering endlessly about their kids - when one of them isn't dashing off with your stapler or leaving stained coffee cups in the communal kitchen sink. And from across the aisle, there's a lingering pungent aroma of ripe gym bag.

If annoying habits of your workmates are getting on your nerves and making it impossible for you to concentrate, you're not alone. Even minor irritants from office mates seem to be magnified these days as a stressful workload keeps employees chained to their desks, the experts say.


Story continues below advertisement

Canadian workplaces are plagued by workers with annoying habits, and the problem has been getting worse in the past year, says Linda Allan, president of management consultancy Linda Allan Inc. in Toronto.

"In the downturn, workloads went up and everyone is under more pressure. The result is there's less attention paid to how people behave, and a lot of cubicle conduct has really slipped," she says.

Visiting clients in their offices, Ms. Allan has witnessed people talking loudly on phones or watching video clips on their computer, with the sound blasting loudly, even though there were others around them.

"I'm seeing more cubicles with leftover food that's been sitting for days than I ever did before," she says. "And I've even seen stinky hockey bags under desks."


One in five U.S. employees say that co-workers have at least one habit that drives them crazy, according to an MSN Zogby poll.

In another study, a whopping 96 per cent of 900 U.S. and Canadian workers said that they regularly get annoyed with a co-worker's rude or obnoxious behaviour, with 48 per cent saying the annoyances were a drag on their productivity. Because of this, 12 per cent said that at some point in their career the offensive behaviour of co-workers was a factor in their decision to quit a job, according to the study's author, Christine Pearson, professor of management at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Ariz., and co-author of The Cost of Bad Behavior .

Story continues below advertisement

So annoying are some of the habits of colleagues that nearly two in five of workers - 39 per cent - feel they don't fit in where they work, according to a new survey of 5,231 U.S. workers by job site

What kind of behaviour bugs them? Seventeen per cent said they are irked by "know-it-alls;" 15 per cent by people who "kiss up" to managers; 12 per cent by co-workers who are always late or who leave early; 10 per cent by chatterboxes who share every detail of their lives; and 7 per cent by office gossips.


While you're busy complaining about the people around you, have you ever thought you might be the problem? If you want to look inside, consider these ways you might be grating on those around you:

The irritant: Your sounds and smells

Why it's annoying: You may think your whistling is musical or that your sweat smells natural, but both may be overpowering to others.

Story continues below advertisement

Advice: Do a reality check with trusted colleagues about your talking, whistling and the aromas of your favourite cubicle snacks and cologne.


The irritant: Constantly offering unsolicited advice.

Why it's annoying: Others will perceive that they're not living up to your expectations.

Advice: Give opinions only if asked.


The irritant: You're X-rated.

Why it's annoying: Controversial topics and suggestive, colourful language aren't appropriate in any office.

Advice: Tone it down or save it for happy hour with friends.


The irritant: You play the "top this" game

Why it's annoying: People feel demeaned when, every time they tell a story or idea, you're ready to pounce with something that one-ups them.

Advice: Listen and appreciate others.


The irritant: You can't wait until the day's over. Every day.

Why it's annoying: Clock-watching is panic-making for those on a deadline and contagious for those who aren't.

Advice: Don't announce your anxiousness to get out or the boss will start questioning your work ethic.





Here's what to do:

  • Show patience: Everyone is under pressure, so a one-time offence may just be an oversight. Raise it as an issue only if a problem persists.
  • Keep it private: Discuss your concern in person, out of earshot of others.
  • Show respect: Raise the issue with the words "you may not be aware of this but… .
  • Ask for input: Your prescription may just increase the conflict rather than coming up with a remedy.
  • Ask for a move: Consider seeking a desk relocation.
  • Take it upstairs: It should only be a final measure, but if the problem persists, ask if the boss or HR department to act as mediator.

Here's what not to do:

  • Hold grudges: Seeking revenge or playing a prank on the person who stole your lunch will invite retaliation and the annoyance of others.
  • Pick a bad time: When you're angry or facing a crunch, a confrontation can escalate. People tend to be most receptive at the end of the day or workweek.
  • Make it a debate: If tempers flare, walk away and suggest later that you get mediation from a co-worker, or supervisor.
  • Assume it was deliberate: Often the offender hasn't realized there was a problem.
  • Put up with it: If the behaviour is persistent, you have to deal with it.

Sources: Linda Allan and Jacqueline Whitmore, president of The Etiquette Expert Inc. in Palm Beach, Fla.


"It has to start at the top, the senior team and the mid managers have to set standards for behaviour and enforce them. Employees will take business casual as far as they can until it becomes casual sloppy. They will stretch the borders as much as they can until someone points it out." Etiquette coach Linda Allan



  • Gossip: 60 per cent
  • Others' poor time-management skills (personal phone calls, surfing the Internet): 54 per cent
  • Messiness in communal spaces: 45 per cent
  • Potent scents (perfume, food): 42 per cent
  • Loud noises (speaker phones, loud voices): 41 per cent
  • Overuse of personal electronic devices in meetings: 28 per cent
  • Misuse of e-mail: 22 per cent.

Source: Randstad USA, 2,429 U.S. workers, 2007


  • Loud conversations: 27 per cent
  • Loud/annoying cellphone ring tone: 11 per cent
  • Leaving the kitchen a mess: 6.9 per cent
  • Eating smelly food: 6.4 per cent
  • Shouting across the room: 5.9 per cent
  • Taking my supplies without asking: 4 per cent
  • Playing music too loud: 2.6 per cent

Source: MSNBC live online poll, 6,857 responses

Report an error Editorial code of conduct Licensing Options
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to