Are You Annoying Your Coworkers?

We once had a new boss who, on his second day, loudly told a very inappropriate joke. We couldn’t even repeat it here it was so bad. He was new in town and new to the office at the time, but if he was trying to break the ice, he failed terribly. His breach of office etiquette earned him the cold shoulder for quite some time.

What you might say and do at home or out with your friends is not always appropriate for the workplace. You spend a lot of time at the office, but it’s not your private space. You may like your coworkers, but they shouldn’t be subjected to off-color stories and jokes. What’s worse, like our former boss, a bad misstep could tarnish your reputation for a long time.

Like passengers on public transit, we’re all in this space together for a while. We need to be considerate of others’ space. Don’t be the person clipping their nails on the train. No one wants to see that.

There are many office etiquette faux pas you can make. Are you guilty of any of these?

Being the office DJ?

We’ve worked with people who keep a radio on all day. Some even have a TV at their desk. They aren’t really listening or watching but the background noise helps them work. Chances are though, it’s having the opposite effect on everyone around them. Unless your office door shuts, music and television should be listened to only through headphones at a volume no one else can hear.

 We have broken into song in the office before. We admit it. It was brief and at the end of the day. But we completely understand if it bothered someone. Constant singing or loud humming is annoying. Don’t do it. And don’t whistle either. No one wants to hear anyone whistle for any longer than it would take to pass them on the street. If you must whistle, go outside. People can get away from you there.

 Broadcasting a conference call?

Take a conference call on the speakerphone only if everyone hearing it is supposed to be listening. If it’s a one-on-one call, pick up the handset. No one, really no one, wants to hear your conversation. If you absolutely must have both hands free to take notes or something, go to a private area for your speakerphone call.

 Constant chatterbox?

It’s natural to chitchat with your coworkers, even to gossip. But there’s a time and place. Keep idle chatter quiet so you aren’t disturbing others. Don’t interrupt someone’s work to talk about something unrelated. And when you do gossip, be sure it’s not cruel or invasive. Everyone deserves respect and privacy.

Burning candles?

Likewise, if you enjoy a particularly smelly food, enjoy it outside the office. Don’t cook fish in the microwave or eat anything particularly pungent at your desk.

It’s hard to believe we have to say this, but Do not burn scented candles at work. Do not burn incense at work. In fact, unless you work in a very well ventilated area, you shouldn’t be burning anything at work. If you are concerned about a smell you’ve left behind somewhere, don’t light a match to mask it. This is not your grandfather’s workshop. There are plenty of scent masking sprays out there.

Also, if you are a smoker, maybe you don’t notice how much tobacco smells can cling to your clothes and hair. Do an honest assessment, do you smell like an ashtray? Consider some ways to mitigate cigarette odors; your officemates will appreciate it.

Always whining about pay?

That new boss we mentioned earlier who told the inappropriate joke made another fatal error. Later, in our first private meeting, he said he couldn’t stand employees who complained about not making enough money. He then tried guessing how much we made and said that was more than enough. But he guessed wrong, very wrong. We actually made about half of what he guessed. To say this left a bad taste in our mouths is an understatement. Unless you have a very good reason to do so, discussing how much you make is not appropriate. Asking what others make is also never appropriate. Unless you are unionizing, it’s also not a good idea to complain about how little you make. That’s between you and your employer.

On that note, don’t complain to your employer about how much you make unless you can back it up with good reasons why you should be making more. No one wants to hear you moan.


Are you a hugger? That’s nice. But please don’t hug us at work. Also, don’t rest your friendly hand on our shoulder. And don’t ever massage us. And please, we beg you, keep your hands out of our hair. In general, anything more than a handshake is too much touching in the office. We had a coworker once tussle our hair, saying, “Oh, your hair is so touchable.” She could not have been more wrong. Later she thought it OK to run her hands down the length of our spine—neck to belt. But it was definitely not OK. We asked her never to do it again and when she didn’t seem to get the message, we alerted Human Resources. Sound extreme? Maybe. But even in a crowded office, we are entitled to our personal space.

Are there office-place missteps you’ve noticed in your place of work not mentioned her? What do you wish your coworkers would stop doing? And how do you go about alerting them without having to go to Human Resources? Networking with professional women like you is a great way to share all sorts of skills and ideas.

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