What’s the Quickest Way to Irk a Co-Worker?

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Eileen Habelow and Randstad

Nothing can disrupt a productive day at the office like inconsiderate colleagues.  It seems no matter how hard we try, they always find ways – mostly unintentional – to disrupt your workday “mojo.”  While there are extreme cases of workplace irritation (back-stabbing, taking credit for other’s work), it’s the little, irritating habits of co-workers that seem to regularly get under our skin.  According to a recent Randstad Work Watch survey on workplace pet peeves, 43 percent of people are most annoyed with their co-workers’ poor time management skills.

In this current economic climate, we have all taken on more responsibility and have been asked to do more with fewer resources. So, it’s easy to understand why we would expect our colleagues to work efficiently, maximizing the time spent in the office each day.  The last thing anyone wants is to watch – or deal with – a neighbor in the next cubicle wasting valuable time on menial activities or struggling to complete assignments due to wasted or mismanaged time.

So what irks us the most about other’s poor time management skills?  The survey found that 22 percent of respondents listed excessive breaks, including long lunches, smoke breaks and online surfing as their chief aggravation.  Who hasn’t worked through lunch (or late) to meet a deadline only to be put in a holding pattern because the person who is responsible for that one final piece of the puzzle is… on a long coffee break?!

Abuse of breaks may be the biggest peeve regarding time management, but it’s certainly not the only one.  Other frustrations expressed by workers include abuse of sick days, meetings lacking structure/agendas, people who text or check their Blackberry during meetings, people who miss deadlines (see above), and meetings that run into personal time or start late/run over.  No matter the level of annoyance, each of these workplace distractions can ultimately impact a company’s bottom line in addition to personal productivity.

What else bothers us at work?

Gossip, the ever-present office activity, ranked as the second most popular workplace pet peeve followed by messiness in communal spaces.  Interestingly, when Randstad conducted its original pet peeves survey in 2007, gossip topped the list.  Are we becoming numb to office chit-chat or are the economic occurrences of the past two years impacting what annoys us?  It’s something to think about.  Regarding messiness, leaving dirty dishes in the sink, failing to restock supplies or leaving conference rooms unkempt may seem like no big deal to some, but remember that a clean, organized office can go a long way toward creating a pleasant place to work – not to mention create a good first impression to clients who may be visiting your office.

Surprisingly, what doesn’t seem to bother us during work hours is the amount of time spent on social media sites.  Perhaps it’s because social media is such an integral part of our culture that we don’t see it as a problem, or we work for companies that have adopted social media policies that forbid use during work hours. Whatever the case, only 12 percent of survey respondents indicated it as their biggest workplace pet peeve.  Some may see value in jumping on Facebook or Twitter throughout the day as a way to de-stress or refocus, such as when you’ve hit a mental block.   Others may frequent social media sites as a way to become better-rounded in their jobs. Whatever the reason, it’s best to know your company’s social media policy before spending too much time on any site.

Deal with pet peeves, but do it with respect

What is the best way to overcome these daily irritants while retaining your sanity and your positive outlook, not to mention rapport with your colleagues?  There seem to be as many options as peeves themselves.  In most instances, according to the Work Watch survey, workers typically deal with their peeve by saying something directly to the person involved – 29 percent felt it the best course of action.  And the next best solution for dealing with or responding to a pet peeve?  Vent to co-workers…roughly 20 percent of workers take this course of action.  More than a quarter of respondents just ignore the situation completely.  Depending on your personality, ignoring the situation could teach you patience; but if ignoring the problem is causing you to be increasingly unhappy, resolving the problem may be your best course of action.

What don’t seem to be popular methods of defusing a situation are emailing the culprit directly, saying something to a supervisor or leaving an anonymous note.

However you decide to address the problem, approach the matter in a respectful tone.  If the offender is a genuinely open person who can handle a frank discussion about what is bothering you, approach them in a friendly manner. If you are uncertain how a colleague may react to your feedback, one way to address may be to put yourself in their shoes. How would you most favorably receive the news that your daily habits are making others unhappy? More often than not, we tend to be unaware of the little things we do, and would be genuinely sorry for annoying others, if only someone would tell us.

It’s a reality of the working world that we now live in – spending so much time with others is bound to expose what some may view as habits and others as pet peeves.  How you choose to deal (or not deal) with the little things that drive you nuts can make the difference in that workplace “mojo.”

Eileen is currently the senior vice president of Organizational Development with Randstad, the world’s 2nd largest provider of HR solutions and staffing. Eileen is responsible for leading efforts in training and development, performance management, leadership development, HR consulting, and diversity.

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If you enjoyed this post then you will probably like this one too:

> 9 Ways to Overcome Work Annoyances

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3 thoughts on “What’s the Quickest Way to Irk a Co-Worker?”

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention What’s the Quickest Way to Irk a Co-Worker? | Work Happy Now! -- Topsy.com

  2. Hi Eileen

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience in on this topic.

    While there are many things that we can be bothered with, I also think that we have to first and foremost look at ourselves always first – and figure out why we are bothered by the other’s actions.

    And as for us bothering another – all comes down to being conscious and considerate – and as you state doing it all with respect.

    Working together with others can bring out the worst in us, but is can also bring us the best 🙂

  3. I found this article very helpful and amusing…I try not to let things bother me, but sometimes you just can’t hold in your issues any longer! Messiness is definitely a top pet peeve with me, in all aspects of my life…trying to get roommates to clean up after themselves really shoulnd’t be so difficult! Thanks for the advice; I’m sure I’ll find it very useful to reflect back on in the future.

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