If you work in an open office environment, it’s inevitable that you’ll eventually have to deal with the excessive noise factor. One of the most annoying elements of office noise pollution is music being played too loudly by coworkers.
Sometimes it plays via desktop radio or mobile phone speakers, or it might even seep through earbuds that don’t contain enough sound. That can sometimes be worse because all you hear is tinny percussion or the music’s bass line.
A recent study by Oxford Economics showed that noisy open offices negatively affect employee retention. It also determined that only one percent of employees are successfully able to block out noise and other distractions on their own, without taking additional measures.
Here are some solutions, ranging from the simple to the more complex. Hopefully one will work for you, so you can focus appropriately on your work and keep your productivity up.
Problem Solve With Your Noisy Coworker
The first step is to talk to your fellow employee. They might not even realize their music is as loud as it is. Maybe you can ask them to turn it down or to limit playing music to morning coffee times and the end of the day. If you both like some musical artists in common, perhaps you can agree on a playlist.
Pick a relaxed time to chat up your office neighbor, not when they’re on a deadline or stressed about their work. If other workers are also bothered by the music (not uncommon), don’t gang up on the one loud employee. Instead, each person can pick a time to approach the employee about the noise, so the impact of several conversations over a day or two registers gradually with them.
Tell Your Boss or Human Resources Rep
Some employees just don’t care about others or may take your request for peace and quiet the wrong way. If talking to your annoying coworker doesn’t work, or if you feel unsafe doing so, you may have to approach your manager or human resources department.
Explain that the loud music is affecting your productivity. If you frame the issue in terms of company goals, management is much more likely to be sympathetic.
Leave it to management to talk to your coworker. Know, however, that the other person may figure out it was you who complained. It’s possible your boss may be able to move your coworker or relocate you to another area that’s quieter.
If your boss isn’t willing to intervene, or if the noise continues (or worsens), you may have to file an EAP complaint, usually only a last resort.
Ask About Noise-Canceling Headphones
Your coworker should probably not be listening to music without some type of headphones or earbuds, although some workplaces do allow small radios, CD players, and speakers. If their apparatus isn’t blocking the sound, perhaps a pair of noise-canceling headphones are in order.
Some companies may even be willing to pay for them if they help keep employees happier, which can boost productivity over the long term.
If you are particularly sensitive to sound, maybe the noise-canceling headphones shouldn’t go to your coworker but to you instead. Boom, problem solved for a couple hundred dollars--far less money than training a new employee or dealing with a significant drop in work productivity.
Create Workspaces Zoned for Noise
If your open office has lots of noise, including your coworker’s music, it might not be enough to simply ask them to turn it down or use better quality headphones. In this case, better zoning within the office environment may be the best solution.
Just like many families have places within the home that are zoned for quiet (a reading nook, perhaps) and others zoned for noise (the family room where the television and video games reside), you can divide your office much the same way. The entire concept of office neighborhoods focuses entirely on this sectionalization.
Consider rearranging desks & putting talkers or music lovers together. It may feel like fourth grade all over again, but it’s better than listening to pop all day long when classical music is your thing.
When creating noise zones in an open office, look at all kinds of noise, not just music playing:
- Work-related talk
- Non-work chatter
- Noise from machinery and phones
- Elevator and door noise
- Restroom and kitchen sounds
Don’t forget to take traffic patterns into account. People walking by workstations can generate a lot of noise too. Try to avoid putting people who like quiet or need concentration next to the conference room or break room.
A similar option may be to designate certain hours of the day as “music,” “meeting,” or “quiet” times. Again, this is a bit like grade school, but open offices are really like being in a classroom in many ways. An all-employee meeting to discuss office etiquette and noise expectations may not be out of line either.
Try Structural Approaches
Your office may need more structure to block noise in general, not just one worker’s loud music. If the music is coming from speakers, cubicle walls or sound dampening panels may do the trick.
Another option is to try a product like Zenbooth, which is akin to a soundproof phone booth for your office. This can be the ideal solution for offices that are committed to open planning but have employees that frequently need quiet to concentrate or call clients. This type of booth is also perfect for manager-employee conferences, where confidential conversation is desired.
Zenbooth comes in individual and two-person units.They’re ventilated, with USB and electrical outlets, but more flexible and less expensive than building in conventional offices.
Numerous recent studies have shown that noise is one of the worst aspects of open office environments. Not only does it lower productivity, but it also increases sickness and chronic conditions, like ulcers and immune system problems.
Don’t let your office fall prey to losing valuable work time or even losing the employees themselves. If trying the other suggestions above doesn’t work, contact Zenbooth to see if we might be a solution for your office space.