Cubicle Etiquette: Your Biggest Complaints ... Solved

Robert Half International

officeIncessant phone-ringing, constant keyboard clacking, neighbors chatting: these are but a few of the annoyances cubicle dwellers must deal with on a daily basis. While working in an open-plan environment has its perks -- easy interaction with teammates and increased camaraderie, to name just two -- it can be challenging when colleagues don't heed proper workplace etiquette.

The tricky thing about cubicle etiquette is that those who offend their co-workers may not even realize it. And it can be awkward to voice your grievances, especially if a longtime colleague is the one driving you mad. Following are some common cubicle complaints you may have and tips for tackling them:


1: "Things keep disappearing off my desk."

What NOT to do: If you see your stapler is missing, quickly swipe someone else's to replace it.

Cubicle Etiquette: It's hard to monitor your belongings when you're away from your workspace, but you can help crack the problem when you are there. The next time someone reaches over your cubicle wall to "borrow" a sticky note or stapler, politely direct the person to the supply room. If the issue persists or goes beyond company-supplied items, you may want to talk to your manager. In the meantime, reduce the temptation for others to swipe your stuff by placing anything of value, like a favorite book or MP3 player, in a bag or purse that you take home with you each evening.


2: "I can't concentrate with the constant buzz around me."

What NOT to do: Stand up and shout "Zip it!" at the top of your lungs.

Cubicle Etiquette: If you're situated in a high-traffic locale, consider bringing headphones to eliminate the sound. When you really cannot tolerate the noise, retreat to a quieter place, like an empty conference room. You may also consider speaking to your supervisor about relocating to a quieter area of the building if your productivity continues to suffer.


3: "I respect my co-worker's obsession with Il Divo ... unfortunately, I'm not a fan."

What NOT to do: Borrow your sister's Britney Spears CD, blast 'You Drive Me Crazy' on repeat and hope your neighbor will get the message.

Cubicle Etiquette: If you and your neighbor don't share the same taste in music, even the slightest notes can strike an unpleasant chord. And competing in a sound war will only fuel the fire. The situation may be resolved with a simple request to your co-worker to use headphones. If he or she doesn't capitulate, perhaps you can agree upon certain times -- such as the late afternoon, when things have slowed down -- when the person can play his or her favorite music, at a reasonable volume, of course.


4: "My workspace has become the office water cooler."

What NOT to do: Join every conversation or feed the office rumor mill by relaying confidential information your co-workers disclose to you.

Cubicle Etiquette: Make it clear that you're not interested in participating in the conversation. For example, don headphones or let colleagues know you're on deadline for a project and would appreciate it if they would take their conversation elsewhere.


5: "My cubicle-mate has brought 'tuna surprise' for lunch -- again!"

What NOT to do: Wear strong cologne or perfume to the office hoping your "good scents" will counteract the unfortunate odors emanating from your colleague's workspace.

Cubicle Etiquette: While you can't tell others what they can and cannot eat or what fragrances to wear, you can try to promote a more scent-friendly atmosphere by setting a good example yourself. Have consideration for co-workers when you choose your lunchtime meal and try to pick less-odiferous foods. If you must heat up a pungent meal, consider eating it outside. Also, don't wear cologne, perfume or lotion that is especially strong.


6: "Those 'Baywatch' posters and troll dolls have to go!"

What NOT to do: Deface office decorations with a marker (think moustaches and eyeglasses).

Cubicle Etiquette: While it's OK -- and even recommended by some employers -- to personalize one's cubicle with artwork and photographs to enliven the workspace, it's not OK to go overboard. If a co-worker displays an item that you find distracting, let the person know -- he or she may take it down after hearing of the distress it's causing you. If images are offensive, approach your manager or a human resources representative with the problem.

While bringing co-workers' bad habits to their attention can be awkward, it's often better to speak up rather than let the disturbance persist. A friendly and direct request may be all it takes to resolve the issue. Likewise, if someone comes to you with a complaint, be respectful and do your best to accommodate their requests. While some minor annoyances are par for the course when working in a cubicle, if you respect others' time and space, they'll hopefully do the same for you.


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Robert Half International Inc. is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 350 offices throughout North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. For more information about our professional services, please visit www.rhi.com.

Copyright 2007 Robert Half International.

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