“She constantly snaps her chewing gum while talking on the phone all day to her friends.”
“He eats yogurt every day, and even when the cup is empty, he continues to scrape the bottom with a plastic spoon.”
“She wipes her nose on her sleeve.”
“He has a bizarre style of laughing, and seems to laugh at everything.”
These are real complaints about real people’s coworkers sent to career coach, author and speaker Ford R. Myers — and boy, do they sound annoying.
“This is definitely a hot-button issue. I get more emails about annoying co-workers than I do about any other topic — people have a lot of pent-up frustration and anger about these behaviors, but they don’t feel they have any outlet. What can they do? They want to vent and be heard, even if it’s not necessarily a firing offense,” Myers says.
You might not be able to fire someone for “digging wax out of [their] ears with the end of a pen” or “[humming] the same tune over and over for days on end,” — two other real-life anecdotes sent to Myers about annoying co-workers — but you shouldn’t just suffer in silence, either.
The fact is that these types of colleagues can actively destroy productivity, engagement and others’ passion for the job. It’s important to understand just how costly and damaging these kinds of behaviors — and the people that exhibit behaviors like these — can be to your company, your workers, and your ability to attract and retain talent, Myers says. Here are three ways these obnoxious habits are impacting your workplace, and what you can do about it.
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“If the annoying behavior doesn’t stop, it will definitely decrease your productivity. You’ll do just about anything to avoid the annoying person, which can keep important work from getting done. You’ll be distracted and frustrated and grow more unhappy on the job, so you’ll probably arrive at work later and leave earlier than usual, just to get away from it, which diminishes productivity,” Myers says.
First, recognize that most complaints of this type are about actions and habits that are subconscious; it’s best to give these co-workers the benefit of the doubt and assume they don’t mean to be annoying. So, your fist step should be approaching them diplomatically and tactfully, Myers says. Focus not on the offending behavior, but on the overall outcome and impact those behaviors are having on productivity and the ways it’s preventing others from getting their jobs done.
“Many of these habits are so personal, and so individual — like the person who wrote to me complaining that their co-worker’s poor hygiene caused her to smell, but no one knew how to tell her — that bringing it up can seem like a direct hit to someone’s self-esteem. They’re very sensitive topics. So, make sure you’re explaining that no one’s in the office for fun, and that you’re all trying to meet the needs and requirements of the job but that behavior is getting in the way of that,” Myers says.
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Morale goes missing
Nobody likes to be in a work environment that’s full of distractions and annoyances, but it’s even worse if the problem’s ignored or left unchecked — that’s when frustrations fester and morale sinks, Myers says. If you haven’t had success after speaking directly with the offending co-worker, then you’ll need to take your complaints to management. Again, emphasize how the behavior is impacting your ability to perform your job and fulfill your duties, Myers says.
You also should emphasize important engagement and productivity are to business outcomes, as well as make sure management understands the cost of losing good employees, says Alexander Maasik, communications specialist at workplace productivity solutions company Weekdone.
“People with these traits may still be the very best in their field, they just lack social skills and maybe some self-awareness. They can usually be taught how to work better as part of a team with just a little coaching, and that will ultimately cost less than it takes to find and retrain new employees,” Maasik says.
Of course, there’s a chance your complaints could go unheeded, and that’s another blow to your productivity and your morale, Myers says.
“Even if you mentioned the problem to the offender or to your manager, it might go unaddressed. If your complaints go unanswered and nothing is done about the problem, you may become very disillusioned and demoralized, and that’s going to effect your willingness to do your job to the best of your ability,” he says.
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Retention rates rising
And if you’ve tried to address the issue, asked to transfer to another department, switched cubicles or moved to another office and the problem persists? That’s when you start thinking about taking drastic action, Myers says.
“After trying to address the issues directly with the annoying co-worker, and taking your comments to management, you’ve pretty much exhausted your options. At that point, it’s really the responsibility of the department supervisor or the senior manager to address these kinds of problems.?If nothing changes, it’s probably time to look for a new job!” Myers says.