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15 of the worst office pet peeves

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How many hours of each day, week, month and year do you spend at work? The workplace is your home away from home, which means that maintaining a happy work family is important for everyone’s sake. 

Here at LifeHealthPro, we strive to make coming to work a fun experience, while also having a chocolate stash nearby in case someone gets cranky come the afternoon energy crash. And so, we have compiled a list of the worst office offenders, both from online sources and our own editorial staff, and would like to offer some tips on how to solve these tricky situations. 

Don’t see some of your work pet peeves? Leave them in the comments below.

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15. The kitchen slob 

“Why do I have clean this when we have a cleaning crew?” I heard someone say once. Well, because there is no such a thing as a cleaning crew, period. There’s nothing worse than smelling and touching other people’s dirty dishes left for days on end in the shared kitchen sink.

How to avoid it: Don’t be a slob. If your mom didn’t tolerate dirty dishes in the sink, what makes you think that your coworkers will? Clean up after yourself. Bonus: This way, you won’t have to know what 3-day-old Hamburger Helper smells like anymore.

No one likes to be the “mom” of the office, but cleaning up after someone else is never fun. If someone else is the dirty sink offender, make sure that the rules are known. Another way that you can “catch” the offender is by having everyone put their name on their mugs, plates, etc. That way if Bernice’s mug is in the sink, we all know who is supposed to clean it.

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14. Dirty keyboards

Look at your keyboard: Is there a strong chance that you might find crumbs from last year’s lunch in there? Now, think about the types of bugs that you might be attracting to your work area. Unless you’re the Snow White of the bug world, most people would really dislike having a roach community on or near their desks. And let’s not even talk about rodents …

How to avoid it: Try to be careful if you’re eating at your desk. Clean up spills and clear out crumbs as soon as they happen. That way, the dirt doesn’t have time to stick to surfaces, which later becomes a pain to remove.

If you’re the unlucky person who has to sit next to sticky-fingers’ keyboard, talk to your boss and make sure that there’s a clean desk/office area rule in place.

hand13.  The no-hand washers / “I’ll just use hand sanitizer”

There’s a reason why many restaurants prominently display signs noting that “employees must wash hands.” Anyone in the medical profession will tell you that many diseases could be avoided by a good hand washing. This is also why preschoolers learn the “hand washing song.”

And no, hand sanitizer is not a substitute for a good ol’ hand washing. If you need more info on when to use hand sanitizer, the CDC has a very interesting article here.

How to avoid it: Since there’s actually no tips on how to avoid this, just think: How would you feel about shaking hands with someone whose hands were in … ahem … other places? Gross, right?

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12. The toxic popcorn cloud

OK, so this one is not an intentional office offense. And now that microwave popcorn has been nixed by every health food blog in the world, it may just naturally disappear sometime in the very near future.

In my last job, someone set the microwave on for too long and burned the bag, almost setting fire to the kitchen and unleashing a cloud of toxic fumes in a crowded office. This person was subjected to public shaming: A mysterious sticky note appeared on the microwave that said “<Name> is banned from making popcorn ever again.” After this incident, the person in question never made popcorn again. When the sticky note disappeared a few weeks later, it reappeared on the offender’s computer monitor.

How to avoid it: If you don’t know the microwave very well or the settings are off, don’t risk it. Just buy bagged kettle popcorn from the store. If that’s not possible, don’t leave the popping bag unattended. 

11. Loud ringtones and personal phone calls

It’s pretty safe to assume that your cubicle or office neighbor does not want to listen in to your private conversation (unless he’s a lurker, for more on that see point 6 here). If there’s no space to converse, you shouldn’t be calling your best friend to talk about personal things. In fact, even if you can shut your office door, you probably should not be doing this. It’s called “work” for a reason.

Now, the problem with loud cellphone ringtones is that they are distracting. While some might love hearing “Let it go” from Frozen everytime someone rings, others might find this annoying. Many others, in fact. Don’t become the next Sen. Pat Roberts at your meetings (see video above). 

How to avoid it: If you have to take a personal call, go outside, find a “phone room” or take the call in your car. And silence your cell phone, or put it on vibrate. It’s as easy as that.

If another coworker is the offender, talk to your boss about instituting a “personal phone call” policy (for more info on that, see more on the SHRM’s website here.)

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10. Fish and other smelly food eaters

“Workers who eat Caesar salads, that are heavy on the anchovies, at their desks,” said one of our editors when asked what their pet peeves at work were. We can name a few other smelly delinquents: fish, broccoli, anything with fresh or cooked onions, strong-smelling cheese, garlic, etc.

Then, there’s the awful tale of a boss who removed the microwave from a kitchenette area because of repeat smelly food offenders. If you don’t follow the rules, all microwave privileges might be taken away. Say hello to cold sandwiches for lunch!

How to avoid it: This one is a no-brainer: just don’t bring fish or anything with strong odors to work to reheat in the microwave. Or, at the very least, if you are reheating a smelly food, open a window, light a candle and warn the office of what you’re about to do.

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9. Loud people in general

OK, so we covered this one as a bad habit in an article published a few weeks ago (which you can read here.) But we wanted to make a note of loud talkers, whistlers and people who laugh very loudly. Not all people come equipped with a “whisper” setting and not all loud people realize that they’re being loud.

How to avoid it: If you suspect that your “volume control” is broken, ask your neighbors if you’re being loud or laughing loudly and if it bothers anyone. Being mindful of when people are on the phone or having a meeting is another way to create a peaceful working space.

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8. A “disaster zone” microwave

Would you like to reheat your food inside something that looks like hasn’t been cleaned since 1996? There might be radioactive waste lurking on the microwave’s walls, for all we know, and that could get into your food. 

Don’t be that person who brings in lasagna and lets it splatter all over the place.

How to avoid it: Cover your food with a microwave cover or a napkin. If you don’t have these things handy, make sure that you clean up any spills.

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7. Music with or without headphones; singers / hummers

Some people might say that for those who want to listen to music, headphones is the way to go. Others might find that headphones alienate coworkers and make it difficult to catch their attention or talk to them.

However, because tastes in music are so varied, it is sometimes better to have headphones, or if the whole office agrees, play music that everyone likes in a volume that helps everyone concentrate and is not distracting.

For the American Idol hopefuls and the chronic hummers, know that the workplace is not a karaoke bar. If you can’t help yourself and have to belt out “Sweet Home Alabama,” don’t play that song at work and save it for your commute (or the shower, if you take the train).

How to avoid it: Ask if your music is welcome or annoying to your coworkers. Is it better if you put your headphones on? Is it better if you turn it off or just lower the volume? Reach a compromise; maybe have rock Tuesdays and pop Wednesdays. One thing is for sure: Leave the religious music or meditating monk chant at home.

6. Roamers and lurkers, aka eavesdroppers

You know the guy, let’s call him “Bob,” who is always roaming the hallway looking for anyone who is deeply concentrated on their work to interrupt them with small talk. Or that person who is always lurking outside the conference room, hearing devices deployed, ready for eavesdropping.

In addition to creating an awkward and tense atmosphere (as in “Shhh! Bob is near…”), roamers and lurkers don’t help anyone at the office. They’re wasting everyone’s time, their own included.

If the roamer/lurker is also a chronic complainer, well, then you have a trifecta.

How to avoid it: According to the The Muse, a website dedicated to career advice, confronting the lurker should deter him or her from further lurking. If you feel like the lurker is watching what you type over your shoulder or standing near your office space, stop what you’re doing and ask how you can help them or if they’re looking for something or someone. 

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5. The empty coffee carafe / the empty water tank in the Keurig

Some people need their coffee in the morning like cars need fuel in order to work properly. Want to push a sleepy coworker to their limit? Then leave the office coffee carafe empty or don’t refill the Keurig machine’s water tank. That will definitely bring out the hidden Shrek in coffee drinkers.

How to avoid it: If you drank the last drop of coffee, start another pot. If you used the last cup of water in the Keurig, refill it and throw out that used K-cup while you’re at it. It will take you a few seconds to do all this and you will avoid a lifetime of unhappiness, evil-eye and angry stares from your officemates.

Another alternative might be to connect the Keurig directly to a water source. That way, you eliminate having to refill the tanks (this might depend on the Keurig model, though).

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4. Overall desk and office cleanliness

There shouldn’t be any reason to have to call the camera crew from the TV show Hoarders on your coworker’s desk, but should you find yourself pondering the idea, it might be time for an intervention. No one likes a messy desk with tons of papers everywhere, especially in this digitized era, where printing is now essentially a crime against trees.

How to avoid it: There is a thing called “spring cleaning” that should happen more than just once a year. Put it to practice in all areas of life: the home, the office, the car or any place where garbage and stuff that you don’t use could accumulate.

Dedicate a time block either at the end of the week or at the beginning to organize, throw away and clean your desk or office area. This is one of the many tasks that the cleaning staff won’t do for you.

If you’re the owner of the agency, have an office cleaning day, or a rule that all employees must have a clean workspace.

Need some tips on how to reduce your office clutter? Here’s an article.

See also: 5 steps to productivity

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3. It’s too cold/hot

Being unable to control the temperature in each office is exasperating to some. With just one thermostat and many different temperature preferences … let the Hunger Games begin (and may the odds be ever in your favor!)

Everybody runs at a different temperature and there are other factors that influence how people perceive temperature as well, such as clothing, being close to other people or vents, how much they move around, etc. There have been studies that also show the temperatures where workers are at their most productive (you can read more on that here).

How to avoid it: Even if someone has the ability to control the thermostat in the office, odds are that some people will feel either too cold or too hot. If you fall in one of these camps, consider buying a small and silent space heater or fan and place it by your desk or office. Also, dress appropriately for work: If it’s a cold office, wear many layers.

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2. Frequent smoking breaks 

Imagine that more than half of your team arrives at work at 8am sharp, but by 9:15am, they’ve all gone downstairs to take a smoking break. This happens at least three to five times a day. Now, if a non-smoker did this — just stood and loitered around in an area — we’re pretty sure that either their boss or security would be called to ask why they were wasting their time staring at a wall.

While this is a touchy subject on both sides of the fence, the fact remains that people who take more than two smoking breaks a day are actually throwing away paid hours of work. According to an article published in Bloomberg, people who are taking more than five smoking breaks in a day can lose at least an hour of work, which would be equal to three full workdays every month.

That same Bloomberg article says that being part of the “smokers’ club” does have its advantages, such as getting to know your coworkers better. There is always a silver lining, even on tobacco clouds.

But non-smokers might feel resentment towards their smoker coworkers because of the breaks they are taking and the cigarette smell they bring back on their clothes.

How to avoid it: This will vary depending on your company’s smoking policy, but make sure that you know the rules: Can you smoke within 20 feet of the building? Is there a smoking-only designated area? How many times can you go out to smoke, and for how long?

If you need ideas on how to write a policy or rule for smokers, the American Cancer Society has some good tips.

See also: 6 lies you’re telling yourself

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1. Office jargon or buzzwords

Do any of these words or phrases irk you?

Synergy, reach out, align, 10-4, “cool beans,” “let’s touch base,” “going/moving forward,” “next steps,” S.W.A.T. team, empower, cutting-edge, “moving parts,” “ducks in a row,” vertical, “full service,” “drill down,” “take offline or put in the backburner,” “take it to the next level,” ”giving 110 percent” … this list could go on forever.

The way you communicate impacts the way you are perceived. A simple Google search of “why buzzwords are important” will reveal that there two camps about this buzzword consensus: the haters and the lovers. While we don’t want to get into that debate, we want to point out that if your message is clear and direct, there’s a lower chance that it might be misunderstood. Why is this important? In our industry, trust is essential to retaining both clients and talent.

How to avoid it: If you’re preparing a presentation or speech, or crafting an important email, run it by a coworker and ask them to read it and report back on what they understood from it. Ask if they can help you improve it. And leave all jargon and buzzwords out of it.

The problem with buzzwords is that while the person saying or writing them might think that they sound intelligent, often those on the receiving end of the message think that the messenger is throwing around empty buzzwords simply to impress. 

Another problem with using buzzwords is that they leave significant room for interpretation, and they aren’t specific. Be consistent, clear, brief and to the point. Explain what “taking it to the next level” really means and how you’re going to achieve that “next level.”   

See also:

Is bigger actually better for your practice?

5 tips for an ideal website

3 ways to retain clients and grow your base

Sources: Boston.com, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, Bloomberg, Forbes