If you know your coworker is having lunch with a second cousin in two weeks after a doctor’s appointment because you heard them arrange all this over the phone, then you have a problem. You have a loud colleague.
We all know these people. You can hear their voices walk into the office before their feet do. Having a loud colleague only adds to the noise you already have to deal with at work, and that can affect your performance, motivation, and productivity.
How noise affects us at work
Noise increases stress
Research has shown that exposure to loud sounds and noise in general increases our blood pressure, heart rate, and the level of stress hormones in our bodies. This issue is even bigger if you’re an introvert or a highly sensitive person, who is not comfortable with even the slightest of noise or movement around you, or if you’re working in an open-plan office.
While the debate of open-plan offices versus closed ones or cubicles has been hot for a long time now, everyone agrees on the fact that open offices are definitely noisier, which is not good news because they’re the norm nowadays.
Trying to block the noise takes away from your energy
Recognizing all the noises around you and actively seeking to deal with them require effort and energy. This means you’re not 100% focused on the work task at hand; instead, there’s a part of your brain that’s exerting effort and using up your energy to help you stay focused. That’s just one more task added to your to-do list, isn’t it?
Noise affects productivity
This is a big one. Being constantly surrounded by noise affects your productivity. A task that normally takes an hour could take you double that because you’re trying to ignore everything happening around you and to muster the focus to complete your work.
This effect is compounded when you’re working on a creative task or one that requires dealing with numbers. Research suggests that prolonged exposure to noise impairs proofreading, mental arithmetic, reading comprehension, and serial recall, among other things. And if we can’t be productive at the office, why do we go there in the first place?If we can’t be productive at the office, why do we go there in the first place? #DealWithOfficeNoiseClick To Tweet
Noise affects both our motivation and ergonomics
A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found out that stress affects both motivation and ergonomics, which is the study of people’s efficiency in their working environments.
Employees who worked in noisy environments were “less likely to make ergonomic, postural adjustments.” This indicates inevitable physical damage. The same study also found decreased motivation in employees in noisy environments and fewer attempts to tackle difficult puzzles. This means you would be physically and mentally exhausted at work, and that can only negatively affect your productivity and job satisfaction.
So now that you know all the effects of noise in the workplace, you’re probably ready to deal with at least one of its contributing factors.
How to deal with your loud colleague
Let’s agree right from the start that no one can change an office environment on their own. That’s why we’ve split these solutions into things you can do on your own and things in which you’ll need to involve management.
What you can do
Talk to your colleague directly but politely
The most obvious and straightforward way is to directly talk to your colleague. Make sure you pull them aside and discuss the issue clearly but politely. Bear in mind that they might not even realize they’re causing trouble to anyone, and you don’t want this issue to strain your work relationship with that colleague going forward.
Ask your manager to speak to your colleague
If you find the previous solution too confrontational, you can always ask your manager to speak to your colleague about the issue. Point out to your manager the negative effect this has on your productivity, and your manager will surely rush to your help. After all, your manager wouldn’t want your output to suffer. But be very careful not to speak ill of your colleague to your manager. That would only make you look unprofessional.
Use noise-canceling headphones
You can also try to block out the noise by using a pair of noise-canceling headphones. Listening to music while you work might actually increase your productivity. But not all kinds of tasks can benefit from this. Also take into consideration that this is only a stopgap. Prolonged use of headphones can cause hearing problems.
Find somewhere else to work
If all else fails, try to find some other place in the office to work, maybe a quiet meeting room or an unused office.
Make sure you’re not overreacting
A good point to keep in mind through all of this is to be certain you’re not overreacting. You could be stressed by other things at work and this loud colleague just had the misfortune of being the last straw. You might be too sensitive to noise or too tired that particular day. The important thing is that you shouldn’t project any of this when dealing with the issue and you should keep matters separate.Make sure you’re not overreacting. #DealWithOfficeNoiseClick To Tweet
What management can do
Discuss the matter with the whole office
You can always ask for someone from management (e.g., an HR member) to speak to the whole company about the issue. This way, you don’t point out the specific loud colleague who’s bothering you. And a bonus benefit is increasing the awareness of the whole office because some people are not even aware this is an issue, let alone that they’re part of it.
Designate a quiet area
Your company can get inspiration from us here at WUZZUF where we have a quiet room designated for focus. This area is complete with a door sign that outlines the Quiet Room rules. This way everyone can have a suitable place to either escape the noise or just have some alone time to complete a certain task.
Likewise, there should be designated meeting rooms or spaces for work that requires collaboration. This way the team handling such work doesn’t feel limited or restrained either.
Match the workspace with the work needs
A room full of journalists working on their latest articles for the next issue of a magazine or a newspaper should be different than a place where a team of HR people is discussing the best ways to improve learning and development inside the company.
Your company should ensure that every team member is working in a space that suits the nature of their job. So, in the previous example, the journalists should be working in a quiet, closed room, where what’s outside the room has no leverage on their work. And, likewise, the HR team should work in an open-plan office where collaboration and back-and-forth communication are easy.
Implement policies that prohibit noise
Depending on your company’s culture, there can be policies set in place that dictate the rules of the office. Whether it’s having to put your phone in silent mode or being required to take calls outside the office or not take personal calls at work at all (unless it’s an emergency), company policy can help in putting a limit to the noise around the office.
Just remember: You have to take action and not just accept this as reality. Considering we spend a great portion of our lives at work, we all have the right to be comfortable there.
Have you had any experiences with a loud colleague at work? How did you handle the situation? Let us know in the comments below.
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