SURVEY SAYS: Office Noise

We covered a survey in which more than two-thirds of employees said noise negatively impacts their concentration levels, productivity and creativity.

Last week, I asked NewsDash readers, “Does office noise affect your concentration and productivity, and what kind of noise is most distracting?”


More than three-quarters (76.1%) of responding readers indicated office noise affects their concentration and productivity in a negative way, while 3% reported it affects their concentration and productivity in a positive way. Nearly 12% said noise does not affect their work, and 9% reported not having a noisy office environment.


Asked which kind of office noise is the MOST distracting, nearly half (48.5%) selected, “Employee conversations with each other,” one-quarter (25.8%) chose “Employee phone conversations,” 3% selected “Ringing phones,” and 9.1% chose “Co-workers playing music.”


Among those who chose “other” was an employee who works from home who listed “barking dogs and passing trucks.” Additional “other” responses included, “silence, loud laughter, loud sneezes, TV, service door elevator left open and construction noise.”


Those who chose to leave comments expanded on the disruption caused by phone conversations by calling out those who use the speaker phone and talk loudly because of it. Some said headphones help with office noise while others said people play music on their headphones so loudly that it is distracting. A couple of respondents said their office uses white noise machines to help with distractions. It seems quite a few people actually need noise to work. So many people disparaged the open work environment, and I agree. Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who said: “Open office is the worst cost saving idea that management has ever clung to under the guise of improving employee collaboration.”


Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey!



We have an open work environment now. It’s difficult. You can feel isolated in a crowd, if everybody is quiet. That happens a lot as people attempt to not make noise. Or, people are talking and forget just how close to others they are, and it’s awfully distracting. If your organization is considering this, if it’s not too late, don’t do it!

While you would think headphones would be more quiet, that’s not necessarily so, and standing desks…people just get louder as they walk around.

Open office is the worst cost saving idea that management has ever clung to under the guise of improving employee collaboration

Especially distracting when our office hosts Employee Appreciation Day filled with several hours of live band music right outside my window!

I typically wear headphones and listen to music when I need it to be quiet or just have less interference.

My hyper-quiet work space of separate offices makes me long for my days in the cube farm. We got a white space noise maker for the hall and it was “too loud” for my co-workers. I need at least a base level of noise so I always have a fan and the radio on within my own office. I had never thought silence could be so distracting.

I turn on a radio at my desk to distract me from the distraction of loud voices. Hmmm. Still distracted!

Somehow it seems to be worse on Fridays.

I work in an “open office” environment and there are times when productivity for the entire floor seems to grind to a halt, due to various distractions. This is one of the most poorly designed concepts ever, in my opinion.

Not only does my co-worker play music loudly, she also (loudly) sings along with it! What we have here is a failure to recognize distinctions between one’s home/car and the office.

Discussions about non-business topics such as sports seems to be the biggest distraction in my office.

I once quit my job because the person in the next office spoke loudly and used the speaker phone for every conversation without ever closing the door. Even after repeated requests for action, management did nothing about it. (They closed the office within a year after I left.)

It’s not business calls I mind – it’s the coworker that must talk to every member of his family at least once each day. I’ve no idea what they talk about off-work hours because it seems to be all covered during the day.

I selected employee conversations, but construction noise is also a huge deterrent.

Unless you lock yourself in a hermetically closed room, noise is a fact of life. Some people deal with it well, others don’t.

Office noise can mean many things, perhaps that is another question on its own. We have a person who initiates conversations with nearby peers in a whisper, just loud enough for others to know they are excluded from the conversation. That sort of office noise is rude. A few rows over from our group is another group where team members talk over the “white noise” all day long. In open floor plan work configurations, neither of these situations can be avoided. It will be interesting to see if in another 10 years open floor plans are replaced with working remotely using technology to connect with others, which leaves out the unproductive office noise.

If you’re going to use your speakerphone, you should close your door. Big pet peeve of mine!

Some office noise is good- if it’s too quiet I’ll play music just for background noise. Although I’m sure the music I listen to annoys others. Maybe they’ll respond to this survey too.

I tend to focus when I work and don’t pay attention to the noise around me but music and any type of constant ringing noise can be distracting.

Silence is golden

If office noise is distracting you, can you change where you’re working? Can you go to a quieter spot in the office to work for a while? Headsets are a great way to lessen the noise factor, too. Open environments are the new norm but it’s not your co-workers responsibility to make you comfortable.

Often I tune it out and liken it to Saturday morning cartoons when the kids were little. You just don’t notice it much of the time. But then there are the times when you just can’t shut it out. I have a coworker who uses noise canceling headphones to deal with it.

Open concept office space is the worst thing to happen to corporate America.

Over the ear headphones with music loud enough for everyone else to hear can be very distracting – especially if your job entails drafting procedures or writing of any kind.

The advent of cubicles has been the most annoying thing about office noise. People tend to talk as if they were in an enclosed office, when in fact they can be heard all over the area. I don’t really want to hear one half of a conversation, be it personal or business.

The use of headsets has compounded the problem, especially by people who speak loudly to begin with. Does no one anymore know the difference between an “inside voice” and an “outside voice”? Or here’s an idea — instead of sitting in your cubicle, projecting through your headset (while everyone around you does the same), get up off your butt and have a meeting in a closed conference room!!

We’re undergoing a lot of construction. I’ve been startled several times by sledge hammers, drilling and various other construction noises

I always need music playing in the background or some noise in order to concentrate

Those who use the speakerphone on their personal phone in public and those who use the speakerphone at the office (up all the way, let the dial tone hang before dialing, and yelling back into the phone)…should be slapped or forced to listen to that dial tone buzz on high as torture….

I do my best work with no noise at all.

Some noise is white noise and actually helps mask other noises. I sit below an air intake duct, and it can be nice (or almost put me to sleep). While I noted Employee conversations as distracting, I am as guilty as anyone. I try to keep it down, I swear.

Co-workers having personal conversations is the most distracting. Perhaps I am just too curious of others business but I can’t block it out.

Our office has a background white noise generator, however it’s not really masking hearing other conversations much, it just adds to the overall noise level in the office and I just crave quiet time by the end of the day.

There is a break room on the other side of my office (I work in a manufacturing environment) with a TV that the volume gets turned up a bit sometimes. There’s nothing like hearing the ching-ching of back to back episodes of Law & Order all day!

I went from working in a private office to an open office environment. I find both the noise and lack of privacy as an HR manager detrimental to my work productivity. There is a general lack of self-awareness and respect amongst some of my coworkers whose loud conversations are disruptive to those who are trying to work.

It’s going to get worse. Our office is moving from individual desks to a “cafeteria” type setting where everyone is sitting right next to and across from each other, and no one has his own desk. GREAT.

Take others into consideration when talking, laughing and eating in open space

I basically have learned over the years to use selective hearing. (I got that from my husband.) 🙂 I typically tune out negative noise.

The more open the office gets, the less productive we become. Who thinks up this silliness, anyway??



NOTE: Responses reflect the opinions of individual readers and not necessarily the stance of Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) or its affiliates.