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Cubicle crimes


Performance Matters

Andrew May is a performance coach who has spent the past 15 years working with elite sportspeople.

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As average desk space gets smaller, more and more of us are being bothered by our co workers' behaviour.

As average desk space gets smaller, more and more of us are being bothered by our co workers' behaviour. Photo: Belinda Pratten

Last August, mining giant BHP Billiton issued a workplace etiquette guide to its employees outlining new rules such as "No food that emits strong odours is allowed" and "Mobile phone ringtones kept at low volume and forwarded to voicemail when out of office".

The first time I read this I thought "Are you kidding me?" Surely it wasn't necessary to put those kinds of restrictions in place. We're all grown-ups and I thought minding your manners at work was self-explanatory, right?

Wrong. Some studies have shown that as average desk space gets smaller, more and more of us are being bothered by our co workers' behaviour.

US researcher Harris Interactive found that 60 per cent of 5,700 respondents listed gossip as the biggest workplace annoyance. In second place at 54 per cent sat poor time management, which included people making personal phones calls at work or surfing the internet during work time. Others included:

Gossiping – 60 per cent, poor time management – 54 per cent, workplace messiness (dirty kitchens and desks) – 45 per cent, potent smells (perfume, food, bodily functions) – 42 per cent, noise pollution (speaker phones, noisy talkers, loud music) – 41 per cent, muddled meetings – 28 per cent, email exploitation – 22 per cent.

Other (dis)honourable mentions included falling asleep at your desk, smooching a colleague (when not invited), drinking alcohol at work, snooping, and taking credit for other people's work.

Now, I'm not going to waste your time by telling you not to gossip, to clean up after yourself, to avoid sleeping on the job (unless that's your job) or to avoid loading up on pungent cologne at work. You already know that stuff and to be honest, it's just plain rude if you're still doing it.

What I am going to do is help you out with the more complicated workplace etiquette. Just like the time I did a keynote presentation in front of 800 people with my fly undone, there are moments when you just don't realise that anything is wrong.

Poor time management
Firstly, let's look at how you manage your time at work. If your meeting is scheduled to start at 9am why don't you try being there at, amazingly, 9am! Be punctual to meetings and respect your colleague's valuable time. Also, don't waste hours on the internet and then complain that your deadlines are too tight. Tracking and managing your time is a valuable skill at work and if you're not sure how to do it, ask for help from your manager or enrol in a course.

Noise pollution
I'm sure most people have worked with someone like Clive the Slightly-Too-Loud (and by which I mean ridiculously loud) Commuter who has personal conversations about his health, relationships and even his (exaggerated) sex life in a loud, booming look-at-me voice in the workplace. Here's a tip, Clive, personal conversations should remain just that - personal. When the accounts department down the hallway can hear your phone conversation, you're doing something wrong. Likewise, turn down your ringtones, speakerphones and use your 'inside voices'. Let's be considerate of the people that we spend eight-hours + a day with.

Muddled meetings
Okay, I'm going to put something out there. Everyone, and I mean everyone, should be turning up to their meetings prepared. Whether you need some a summary sheet, a video, the last meeting minutes, whatever it may be to get your meeting going, get it done beforehand. It's rude to show up to a meeting and waste everyone's time by faffing about with papers. Read the agenda, prepare and where possible put your meetings on a diet and trim them right back. Learn to say no to sporadic Outlook invites and give 45-minute meetings a shot.

Email sins
Thou shalt not continuously forward YouTube clips of singing, dancing and bow tie wearing cats. Let's get something straight. It's not technology that's the problem - it's the way it's used. My advice is to think before you click. Is the email appropriate? Necessary? Polite? ARE YOU INAPPROPRIATELY USING CAPITALS? Does it have too many exclamation marks!!! Think. Then send.

This list is by no means exhaustive and I understand that every workplace is different. You could have Cologne Fridays rather than Casual Fridays. So it's up to you to fit into a culture rather than the other way around. Invest time when you first start working in a new organisation to find out about the culture and what is acceptable and what's not. And if you're not 100 per cent sure, stick your hand up and ask.

What's your pet peeve in the office?

56 comments so far

  • People.

    Date and time
    April 25, 2012, 11:22AM
    • You can now close the comments section as DC has accurately summed up the problems in the office (if not the world)


      I like the above
      Date and time
      April 25, 2012, 1:05PM
    • Jean-Paul Sartre: "Hell is other people".

      Date and time
      April 26, 2012, 4:45PM
    • When I worked in a nursery (plants):"this must be a lovely place to work" "yes it would be, if we didn't have to talk to customers."

      Professor Bollocks
      Date and time
      April 27, 2012, 1:30PM
  • One of our colleagues smokes. As soon as they enter into our work space the entire atmosphere smells polluted.
    The stench of smoke is in their clothes and when they leave their coat/cardigan in the change room, the smell stays there all day. This is very annoying!!!!

    Date and time
    April 25, 2012, 12:10PM
    • I hear that one. I don't care if someone smokes, but don't arrive back at your desk reeking like a dead ashtray. It's just bad manners and it doesn't take a genius level IQ to know that you stink and those of who don't smoke can smell you a mile away.

      After you finish your durrie, walk around in the fresh for ten minutes airing yourself out, come back, brush your teeth, pop a breath mint and you're good to go.

      I recently worked with a woman who smoked. That was bad enough but she thought she'd be "clever" by dousing herself in a hideous musk perfume EVERY TIME she had a cigarette. The combination of that and the cigarettes made me feel like I was choking. And the worst thing was a colleague complimented her on the perfume which flattered her to the point where she doubled the dose each time!

      I had the flu at the time and I could barely breathe from that let alone her personal funk. She went on holidays for 2 weeks and I was over the flu by the time she came back so her perfume had lost some of its sting. But it still choked me to the point where it made my eyes water.

      I complained to the team leader to no avail. I was told to deal with it as we all have to work harmoniously together!

      Audra Blue
      Date and time
      April 26, 2012, 12:52PM
    • I am not defending the smokers but if they walk around for another 10 minutes, and then brush their teeth, most people are going to complain more about them wasting time because non smokers don't get the same consideration. Lots of things are very annoying, I'd rather the smoker smell (which goes away after a while) than the lingering stench of someone's reheated Thai food. Don't get me wrong, I love Thai food.

      Date and time
      April 26, 2012, 2:54PM
  • I now understand why suits are so determined to make their presence felt on a Friday night, it must suck to be a slave for 5 days a week.

    I understand
    Date and time
    April 25, 2012, 12:19PM
    • Time wasters.

      Ms B
      Date and time
      April 25, 2012, 12:23PM
      • What about the towels drying out on cubicle walls or chairs? Also the lycra bicycle gear drying out.

        What about pyramids of used take away coffee cups?

        What about the colleague whose husband is a fire fighter and we all had to hear the events of the night before (grisly details and all)?
        What about the one who threw large plastic stress balls at people not in their group who were on customer conference calls and knocked over their coffee, and at the end of the call when the plastic stress ball was returned with a request that they do not do this again, was met with laughs in your face and what a 'square' you are.

        A lot of this activity done under the manager's nose - nothing is done.
        Things did not change when the company moved to a new - state-of-the-art building at Docklands.
        Within a week despite management request for a 'clean desk policy' the place had turned into a pigsty.

        At my previous place of employment BHPB was one of our major clients - I am sure if their management walked through our floors and heard the conversations going on and seeing the state of the place would have recoiled in horror.

        There was never any respect for those who quietly wanted to get and just get down and do their work. They had to listen to inappropriate conversations/gossip.

        New Chapter
        Date and time
        April 25, 2012, 12:39PM

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