Leave the Tuna Casserole at Home: Tackling the 5 Biggest Office Pet Peeves

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From breakfast at your desk to break room blunders, some obvious and not-so-obvious behaviors are causing unrest in America’s workplaces, according to a survey  from National Business Furniture and Kelton Global. The good news is these problems can easily be solved by encouraging just a bit of office decorum.

Here are five common office misbehaviors and tips on addressing them:

1. Foul Foods

Sometimes you want to ask your coworker for the recipe of the divine-smelling dish they just heated in the microwave. Other times, you find yourself stuck sniffing yesterday’s attempt at a casserole.

According to the National Business Furniture survey, 52 percent of American workers find cooking fragrant foods at the office to be an offensive behavior, although younger workers are less bothered by smelly foods than their baby boomer counterparts. Note that unpleasant odors go beyond the classic can of tuna; be considerate of sensitivities to garlic, spicy food, burnt popcorn, pungent vegetables, and raw onions.

Luckily, there’ a long list of foods that don’t have much of a scent at all to choose from when you’re snacking at work. To preempt this issue, stock the office kitchen with inexpensive and non-offensive snacks like fruit and granola bars. Designate a break area that is far away from open cubicles to discourage eating at desks.

If the behavior continues, it’s perfectly acceptable to politely address the problem. Some coworkers will take the hint. If that doesn’t work, it’s time to bring the matter to a supervisor’s attention.

2. Loud Music

The survey found that 74 percent of employees say it is unacceptable to play loud music during the workday. Before you pump up the jams, think about the captive audience in your area. With open concept offices on the rise, it’s easier than ever to hear your neighbor’s every move. Cubicle walls are notoriously thin, leaving little to the imagination. While a quick chat may be understandable, it’s considered rude to make consistent, elevated noise throughout the day.

It doesn’t take much to keep your favorite podcasts and energizing albums out of earshot. Nearly three in ten employees (29 percent) have turned to headphones to get their grooves on without disturbing their workplace neighbors. Another solution is to look at soundproofing or noise-absorbing options such as art panels or movable privacy walls.

3. Chronic Lateness

You saw the Outlook meeting reminder, wrapped up your task, grabbed your laptop, and booked it to the conference room — but it turns our none of your colleagues did the same.

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We all fall behind once in a while, but 77 percent of employees are peeved by perpetually late arrivals. If you are the one who tends to be chronically late, consider setting extra phone alarms ahead of any upcoming meetings. You could also use the Procrastinator’s Clock, which randomly speeds up and slows down, the idea being the time fluctuations will keep you on your toes since you’ll never know exactly what time it really is. And try to avoid checking emails or voicemails right before heading into a meeting, as they’re an easy way to get sidetracked.

For those dealing with procrastinators, once you see a pattern of behavior, respond proactively by having a polite and private conversation about the matter.

4. Distracting Ringtones

You may be Adele’s No. 1 superfan, but you shouldn’t assume everyone wants to hear your “Hello” ringtone when they’re just trying to work. Fifty-seven percent of survey respondents said keeping smartphone notification sounds on in the workplace is a no-go.

To keep the peace, simply put your phone on vibrate. If you really need to know what notifications are coming in, pick up a smartphone stand so you can keep your device in front of you at all times.

And when that important call does come in, be sure to find a quiet, out-of-the-way space that’s conducive to a quick chat. Half of employees say they don’t want to overhear coworkers’ personal conversations, even if they’re pleasant.

5. Taboo Topics

Somewhere between the latest football power rankings and this season of The Bachelor lies a sea of great conversations between colleagues. While meaningful connections are important in the workplace, it’s still necessary to ensure that personal boundaries are respected.

The adage “Don’t talk about politics or religion at the dinner table” holds up in the office, too, as 59 percent of workers surveyed think taboo topics are off-limits in the workplace. Though these are important and engaging topics, they can also be deeply alienating in certain contexts. Keep conversation both PG and PC to keep your coworkers — and yourself — comfortable.

HR pros, make sure you set firm policies around workplace conversations and behaviors. Employees, make sure you clearly understand what is and isn’t considered appropriate in your office. If an employee does break the rules, management should follow up quickly with a private conversation letting them know exactly what was unacceptable. Be sure to treat all employees equally in order to avoid biased decisions.

Desiree Carpenter is an HR professional at National Business Furniture.

By Desiree Carpenter