Employees are back – and they’re annoying each other already.
So where will they take their petty annoyances and uncomfortable complaints? The line outside your HR door is probably already forming!
The office occupancy rate recently hit nearly 50%, according to an analysis by Kastle Systems. While it’s significantly lower than pre-pandemic rates (as high as 80%), the smaller number of people onsite is likely causing more raucus.
Most annoying: They forgot what’s acceptable
Why? Many employees have forgotten what’s acceptable in the office. For those who’ve worked remotely, they’re used to house rules. For those who’ve been in sparsely crowded offices, they aren’t used to others scrutinizing how they act at work.
Essentially, now employees want HR to help stop weird, loud and toxic behaviors in the workplace. (Even when it annoys you, too.) Whether it’s a manager reporting team conflict or an employee whining about the dirty microwave, you likely have to step in.
“Employees are placing more emphasis on cultivating a healthy work/life balance and calling out toxic workplace cultures,” says Sathya Smith, CEO and Founder at Piper. “HR leaders need to address employee dissatisfaction directly rather than behind the scenes. By openly promoting a sense of openness and encouragement, HR can empower employees to feel more comfortable and grow within the business.”
The worst of the worst
Here’s what’s annoying employees.
1. The fridge
Hearalded as the keeper of tasty Thanksgiving leftovers and hated as the crime scene for Monica’s famous Moist Maker leftover turkey sandwich robbery, the fridge stirs interest and disdain. And if it’s not the food itself, it’s the smell – say, fish, hardboiled eggs, raw onions, etc. – that sparks controversy.
“Just take the simple example of eating contents from a shared fridge. In some workplaces the fridge is for shared food; in others definitely not,” says Tessa West, author of Jerks at Work: Toxic Coworkers and What to Do About Them. “And you won’t know which is which until you eat the boss’s sandwich!”
2. The attire
Cozy slippers. No shoes. Yoga pants. Last decade’s concert shirt.
We’ve had an etiquette slide in the workplace that’s likely annoying some employees, bosses and customers. While we might not be back to three-piece suits, there can be a happy medium.
3. The noise
Nail clipping. Personal conversations held loudly. Change jingling. Belching and beyond.
Many of the things that were appropriate at home – and some behaviors that are outright weird – have made their way back into the workplace.
4. The Movement
Some people fidget. Others pace. Some tap – All. The. Time. Others walk like they’re in no hurry to get anywhere.
And because people move at different paces, and have limited patience for others’ movements, they get annoyed – and complain to HR.
People who love gossip have a lot to catch up on. And now that more people are back in the office, there’s more to witness, theorize about and spread. For those who hate gossip, it’s like nails on the chalkboard.
6. The smell
Almost everyone has had to deal with a colleague who smells in a way you don’t like – perhaps too much perfume or too little showering. And that leads to the dreaded “You stink” conversation that HR so often has to initiate.
The more people are together, the more you’ll be having these conversations in 2023.
While almost all annoying behaviors seem rude, actual rudeness is annoying enough by itself. And it’s exactly what employees will complain about to HR (or their direct manager).
When employess blow off, speak sharply to, interrupt and/or ignore colleagues, you’ll hear about it.
8. TMI (and TLS)
Employees who give up too much information (TMI) are back at it. In the office, they have a new audience. Problem is, a portion of that audience is irritated by hearing more than they bargained for.
And let’s consider the physical cousin of TMI – too little space (TLS) – when colleagues get up in your space, too close to your face in conversation, over your shoulder at the desk, sidling up to you at the lunch table, etc.
Ease the complaining
HR pros know you can’t ignore employee complaints because they’re 1) a reality to the employee, and 2) a possible bias or harassment claim that you’ll need to investigate immediately.
But you can also take proactive steps to get employees to stop some annoying workplace behaviors and help others better manage what they find annoying.
“Ensuring a space for two-way conversation allows for alignment of responsibilities and will ensure healthy boundaries are in place,” says Smith.
Here are several strategies
- Set standards. While behavior and habit etiquette is difficult to dictate, you can direct people toward workplace friendly choices. Post signs and send reminders about things you can control. For instance, in the break room, ask people to put their names on everything, microwave their food with a lid on it and remove any food after five days. Then designate a day for a weekly clean-out. West says, “Be explicit to avoid these little mistakes.”
- Start small. Invite teams to have a conversation about “pandemic vices” – helping them uncover and talk about habits they’ve picked up and how they might not fit in the physical workplace. And, you can turn back to any standards you’ve already established. One caveat: Don’t let these team conversations turn into rant sessions that often lead to further conflict.
- Call it out (and give employees tools to do the same). Harvard Business School expert Amy Gallo suggests using these kinds of statements when addressing rude behavior:
- Use “I” statements. I felt dismissed by your comment; I’m hurt by what you just said; I imagine it wasn’t your intent, but that made me uncomfortable.
- Use “It/That” statements. It’s disrespectful to tell people their ideas don’t have merit; That comment isn’t helpful to either of us.
- Ask strategic questions. Did I hear you correctly? I think you said … Can we take a step back for a moment?