Most annoying part of work? Co-workers’ voices, studies say

WASHINGTON — Listening to the sound of co-workers’ conversations is the biggest frustration in many workplaces, but there are some things that can be done to lower the volume and tension.

The sound of a co-worker’s voice is more likely to be distracting than the sound of a machine, according to a Cornell University study.

A University of Sydney study determined sound privacy tops visual privacy, and temperature in offices, as the most annoying aspects of working in proximity with others.

Designer Ernest Miranda says it sounds counterintuitive, but adding noise often helps make workplaces seem quieter.

“Pink noise counters sounds with sounds,” said Miranda. “It would be some sort of audiovisual system that would run some sort of calming music to distract from some of the noises,” in the workplace.

Another option is white noise, “which is a background hissing, or fan noise,” which helps mask more distracting sounds, said Miranda.

Adding lots of plants and upholstered furniture to a work environment helps absorb noise.

“Millennials have it right, with those ear buds and sound-canceling headphones — they are probably one of the best things employees can do,” Miranda said.

Those ear devices aren’t without drawbacks.

“That leads to those times when you’re trying to talk to someone, and they can’t hear you, and they start yelling even louder,” he said.

Ironically, Miranda said the best solution to excess noise in the workplace can be accomplished at no cost.

“It’s just respecting your neighbor, being polite, and keeping your conversations as low as possible,” Miranda said. “There’s something to be said for common courtesy, and respecting your co-workers’ space.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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