my new coworker wants to forbid music in the office

A reader writes:

I work for a small business and we recently hired a new worker at my office. One of my usual coworkers just began maternity leave and won’t be back for 6-8 weeks, so we hired this new person as a temporary worker to pick up the slack in the meantime. If business were to pick up in the next couple of months, we might ask her to stay on indefinitely.

Three of us (me, a regular coworker, and this new coworker) work in a big panopticon-style room, and sound travels really well. I usually listen to music as quietly as possible at my desk, and my other colleague does the same. However, this new worker claims to have extremely sensitive hearing and has asked us not to listen to music anymore in the office, even at exceptionally low volumes. Not being able to listen to music really makes the day drag for me.

They say a good compromise leaves everyone unhappy, and I already listen to music so quietly I have to strain to hear it. She, on the other hand, isn’t compromising at all. Our boss doesn’t like us using headphones, and they’d be uncomfortable to wear all day anyway. Am I out of luck here? I want to be considerate, and there’s a chance this will be a long-term coworker of mine so I’d like to keep things amicable. But I’ve been listening to music at this job for 7 years without a single complaint until now, and I’d rather not give up this daily pleasure if I don’t have to.

Generally, I think that your right to make noise is trumped by someone else’s ability to concentrate. But this situation is a little different, because your new coworker is coming into an existing culture that everyone else is happy with and trying to change it – and she’s also proved not to be open to compromise on the issue. I’d be annoyed too. (And it takes a special sort of gumption to come in as a temp and ask the existing staff to alter their habits.)

You could try nicely pointing this out, by saying something like, “I’m sorry, you’ve come into an office that likes music and it’s a part of our work habits here. But I’ll try to keep it down!” And then, really do try to keep it down. Which doesn’t mean off, but does mean low.

You might also make a point of being warm and welcoming to this new coworker in other ways, both in order to minimize the changes of this coming across as flat-out dismissive and because people often end up less annoyed by the habits of people they genuinely like.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 403 comments… read them below }

  1. Amy B.*

    As someone that has to listen to my officemate’s sports radio or neo-con talk shows all day, I can sympathies with the new employee. I solve it by wearing head phones (earbuds) myself. Too bad this is not an option for either of you.

    1. Jennifer*

      Seconded (see my previous posts about how vomitously sick I am of listening to the same country music station playing the same songs every day for 9 hours a day). I got outvoted on that before I got moved into this office. I really don’t need to be hearing the “FRIDAY NIGHT!” song blaring behind me while they make me answer the phones and everyone else around me won’t stop talking…on a Monday morning. But I don’t get to say no about it.

      I think it’s ridiculous that you can’t use headphones, though. But in the end, I think the guy who can’t work with the racket going on has to win. Sorry.

    2. Kelly O*

      I think the OP has made it clear they’re not blasting anything loudly enough to be a bother.

      Just being fair to the OP – the current environment does not appear to be overly chaotic.

      1. Melissa*

        The loudness doesn’t really matter. I personally don’t like listening to other people’s music while I’m working no matter the volume, although as a new temp I probably wouldn’t say anything unless it was really disturbing me.

        1. Iro*

          That and “loud” is incredibly subjective. My mother in law can not hear the TV very well at a volume of 50, I personally think a volume of 10 is already quite loud. My hearing is better than hers, thus “painfully low” might be heard clearly even across the room by someone with sensitive hearing. I guess I just don’t understand why headphones aren’t an option.

  2. Bryan*

    When you say headphones do you mean all types or just the traditional over the head? I’m not sure what type of job you have, but would it work to use ear buds and only put one in your ear? Then if somebody needs to speak with you, you know they are there and can quickly take the other one out.

    If that doesn’t work could you have portions of the day with music and portions of the day without?

    1. Chinook*

      If someone has hearing so sensitive that they can hear music when the person next to it can barely hear it, then they will also hear it coming out of the earbud that isn’t in the ear.

      I do agree with AAM – that temp has a special type of gumption to come into a workplace and try to change the culture, especially when there is the potential for it to turn permanent. Does she not relaize that the temp positions are a lot like extended job interviews?

      1. No. 24601*

        I see your point, but they hired the temp to do a job. If the noise is preventing her from doing it effectively, what choice does she have but to speak up?

        1. The Other Katie*

          The problem is, if the OP is actually listening to music with the volume as low as she claims, I think this temp is being overly sensitive. There are 100 things in an office that are making noise at any one time, you have to be able to concentrate despite those things. What if she is annoyed by the hum of the copier? Or the air conditioning running? My air conditioning vent in my office is extremely noisy when it is running, but I can’t use that as an excuse not to get my work done. And my job involves pretty intense focus at times. It could be legitimately annoying to her, but I don’t think she gets to ask everyone else to change their behaviors to placate her. This job might just not be the right cultural fit for this temp.

          1. Anon 1*

            I agree that the temp has some gumption and it seems like something that the temp should just get used to. However, my view is pick your battles. If the OP says something nicely and the temp still asks them to turn off the music, just turn off the music. I say this because the temp will be there for a very short time period and I’d rather turn my music off than have daily tension over something so small. This may not be a popular opinion, but not everything is worth fighting over. Particularly when its for such a short amount of time.

            1. Elikit*

              But the temp might be asked to stay on indefinitely, so I’d want to hash it out, just in case.

          2. short'n'stout*

            I’m one of those pesky music-in-the-workplace haters. And for me, the distraction comes from the fact that music has words, and structure, and meaning. My stupid brain is focusing on the meaning of the music, instead of doing the harder work of concentrating on the task at hand.

            White noise (like the air-conditioning) is perfectly fine, because it is content-free – in fact, if music is playing, it’s a relief when the air-con kicks in, because it drowns the music out for a little while.

            In addition, very quiet music (just on my hearing threshold) is actually more distracting to me than music that is just loud enough to be heard clearly – because my stupid brain can still tell that there is music, and is focusing on it harder to try and figure out what it is.

            Fortunately for me, all my coworkers use headphones. And I have the mynoise app on my phone for the times they stand outside my office and chat.

            1. Windchime*

              I’ve got ultra-sensitive hearing and I’m the same way with music. The worst part is that maybe I can just hear part of it, like the highest-pitched parts so it sounds like super high beeping or something. My brain will also be distracted by the words.

              White noise is fine. And when the two guys a couple cubes over start speaking in their native language to each other, it doesn’t bother me because somehow my brain knows that I can disregard it since I don’t know that language.

              1. Windchime*

                I meant to say that maybe the temp could make some white noise of her own. If your music is turned down very quietly, then it seems like a desk fan or perhaps a white-noise app on her computer should provide enough of a “mask” that she won’t be able to hear your music.

              2. short'n'stout*

                Yes! Two of my colleagues often speak to each other in a language I don’t speak, and I can tune that out just fine, even if they are standing right behind me :)

                And I hear you (heh!) on only hearing part of the music. So-oo distracting, because my stupid brain tries to fill in the gaps.

                1. Cath in Canada*

                  My former boss would often conduct very loud* phone calls in his native language, but with the occasional English word or phrase inserted if he was talking about science. So from my perspective it would go “garble garble garble garble whole genome sequencing garble garble garble garble pathology garble garble garble garble epigenetic modification garble garble”. It was way more distracting than when he spoke just in English because my brain would be anticipating the next familiar word!

                  *he’s quite softly spoken when he speaks English, but speaks his native language with at least double the volume!

                2. short'n'stout*

                  Cath: Haha, I’m in science as well, and I’ve encountered quite a few people who do that sort of thing! My personal theory is that they didn’t encounter the technical terms very much until they moved to English-speaking workplaces, so they are only accustomed to using the English phrases. I agree that it is distracting :)

                3. Mander*

                  I worked on the Navajo Nation for a while, and I found it very entertaining to listen to the radio announcers on the local station when they inserted English words for things that don’t exist in Navajo. There are a lot of “nah” sounds in the language, so to me it sounded like “nah nah nah nah nah Kentucky Fried Chicken nah nah nah nah nah Dale Earnhart Jr. nah nah nah nah nah nah…”.

            2. Anonymous*

              People have used terms like ‘too sensitive.’ Some of us do have very sensitive hearing and the ‘i can barely hear it music’ makes it impossible for me to concentrate. My brain does the same thing that the above poster’s does. Don’t think its fair that I would have to stick something in or over my ears (yuck, I hate headphones and earbuds of any type; people would be shocked to find out how much nastier they make your ears and how they can deafen you) because someone wants to be entertained at work. I have always worked in offices where the listeners have to wear headphones or earbuds, because the default philosophy is quiet is necessary for concentration and getting work done, and if they work somewhere where they have to listen out for clients, no music. If the whole office wants it, fine. If one person doesn’t like it, then no music.

      2. lachevious*

        I don’t think it should matter that the new person is a temp. Temp or not, is is rather odd to come in asking people to change the culture to suit your own personal tastes, but that would be odd coming from a permanent employee, too.

        I don’t think the onus is on the OP or the other music-loving coworker to change – I think the coworker that has the problem with the music should seek a solution, which she attempted to by asking the OP and the other coworker to turn it off. That option didn’t work, so it’s on her to find another option – going to the manager, etc.

        1. EngineerGirl*

          But it isn’t her “tastes” as people keep inferring. It isn’t a “want” as people keep inferring. It is a need for quiet so she can concentrate on work. The wants is listening to the music. That isn’t a need.

          1. Jamie*

            Not all needs are reasonable for an employer to accommodate, though.

            And I temped for years and I am sad that it’s not the opportunity it once was to get experience and job shop before settling down – but temps are not employees. They are there to fill a role for a prescribed period of time – and even if it’s open ended it’s still not the same as a “permanent” employee there for the long haul.

            Temps who aren’t working out can be swapped out without any discussion. It’s a pita because if you have someone reliable and trained you don’t want to start over, but a workplace doesn’t have any obligation to conform to their specific preferences coming in the door.

            If the company were blasting Ozzy all day long then yes, they should disclose that to let temps self select out…but soft music at the levels described is so commonplace that if this is truly a need and not a preference she should be confirming that it’s a silent workplace before taking an assignment.

            It comes down to what is reasonable. If the workplace has an out of the ordinary environment then they should screen for people who will do okay there. If an individual has a sensitivity to something that can be found in a reasonable environment then it’s their responsibility to vet it first to make sure they can work there.

          2. Kelly O*

            Just to be clear, some people have a very difficult time functioning when it’s very quiet. (I admit to being one of those people.)

            I need some sort of noise going to be able to focus. It’s not necessarily a pure “want” for me either – it’s a preference in the workplace based on how I work best.

            Compromises happen – but I can honestly say in any of my time spent working temporarily, I have not once had the nerve to ask the people in the office to change based solely on my own preferences. Part of being a temp is adapting to the environment in which you find yourself. (Or at least I’ve always thought.)

            1. Nina*

              Same here. I can’t even sleep in silence, thanks to my older sister constantly playing the radio before bed when I was a kid. Silence is louder than anything else. I usually have a white noise like an oscillating fan or the AC. I tried whale and dolphin sounds, but those just kept me awake.

              People function differently. The temp may not be able to work with noise, but others can’t work without it. A white noise may be the best compromise for both.

              1. AAA*

                Yep. I sleep in headphones every night. Across the bed my partner wears ear plugs because she has to have silence to sleep.

              1. Jamie*

                Oddly enough this part of temping had a huge collateral benefit for me.

                By nature I am fairly rigid and mechanized with a lot of things and temping for a couple of years steadily really made me much more flexible. Not to say I still don’t like things the way I like them when it’s under my control, but I’m so much better out of my comfort zone than I used to be.

                I also had some pretty significant anxiety when it came to new people and initially temping was a nightmare for me – I was fine with the work but the thought of introducing myself to new people would stress me out for days before. Knocked that right out of me. I think it’s the exposure to what you fear thing fposte has mentioned before.

                I still don’t love it and would starve if I went into sales, but it’s not a big deal for me anymore and that’s 100% due to temping giving me some kind of weird immunity to it.

                I guess what I’m saying is most people would love to stay firmly entrenched in their comfort zones, but sometimes forcing yourself to adjust to other environments and cultures rather than having them accommodate you can really be beneficial.

                I worked in so many kinds of cultures due to temping and it was great, because I was able to get a pretty wide swath of data on how I work best, what my deal breakers are, etc.

                I’m not talking about disabilities where you cannot function in certain environments – you need to screen for those – but for things that are preferences and even where your work style is compromised and would be untenable long term working through them for a short temp hitch can teach you a lot about working around your own preferences.

                I really wish temping would make a comeback as a viable entry for masses of people again because it’s such a great way to get experience and try different things – and it’s nothing but new network opportunities with every assignment.

            2. Anonymous*

              But do you think you should wear headphones, or should the quiet ones wear them to block out your noise?
              Some of this thread seems to be about whose right trumps whose, and I just can’t help thinking that quiet always trumps noise, in a generally ‘social’ way.
              When you realize everyone else on the bus is returning home tired after a long day, have their eyes closed, and aren’t talking, their right for quiet trumps your right to whip out your phone and have a long talk with your sister, even if you aren’t talking loudly. Does that make sense?

              I’m temping right now and there is a lot of talking loudly over the cube walls instead of getting up and walking to the other person’s cube. But I’m a temp so I ignore it. I’m actually loving temping, because I don’t have to get involved with any of the long-term issues!

            3. Melissa*

              I’m one of those people, too, but I wear headphones and if I don’t have access to or can’t wear headphones, I just deal with it. I don’t think it’s nice or professional to expect other people to deal with listening to my music in the workplace.

      3. TL*

        You can also buy a pair of cheap earphones and break one side so that one earbud doesn’t work. It’s fairly easy to do (I do it accidentally about once every three months.)

        1. Bryan*

          That’s a great solution! Just give them to me for a week and I can return them with one not working. Although probably the one time I have to it won’t happen.

        2. stellanor*

          Heck, buy a cheap pair, cut one earbud off, and cover the wire stub with electrical tape — should be fine, and if it’s like a $12 pair of earbuds it’s no huge loss. (Just make sure to set your sound to mono.)

          1. TL*

            Oooh… I forgot you could do that. It drives me crazy when I’m stuck with a broken pair of earbuds and a stereo song comes on.

      4. Bryan*

        I completely agree that the temp should rethink their actions and that they might have cost themselves the permanent position even. But in choosing your battles, if wearing one ear bud in might solve the problem sometimes it’s just easier. I think it depends on the headphones whether or not this person could hear it.

        1. Vicki*

          My guess is that, if the music situation doesn’t change, the temp doesn’t care if this has “cost her” the permanent position.

          I’m one of those people with very sensitive hearing. I’m the person who contacted Facilities to come and fix the vibrating air conditioning duct that hummed every afternoon at 2:30. I’m the person who will come move the cell phone you left on your desk three rows away and it’s ringing on vibrate and the cube is buzzing.

          When you tell the temp that your music is more important than her work comfort, you’ve pretty much told the temp that her time in this office is limited.

          I also suggest earbuds. There are some nice -in-ear buds that wouldn’t be visible to controlling managers.

          1. EngineerGirl*

            Thank you for stating so well what the problem is. People are treating this as a want Vs a legitimate need. It’s kind of like extroverts not understanding an introverts **need** for quiet to recharge.

            1. fposte*

              It’s not whether it’s a want vs. a need, it’s whether the need is one that the office can grant and whether the temp’s need outweighs the need of the majority. Same is true of introversion/extroversion: as an introvert, I don’t get to take a job at Zappo’s and require them to pipe down and leave me alone, because that’s not the culture there, and it doesn’t matter if that’s what I need to do work.

              That’s why fit matters, and why, I suspect, temps may have a harder time with fit, since they’re not screened for it.

          2. Ethyl*

            My hearing isn’t, like, super sensitive, but I do seem to get annoyed by things that others can tune out. I worked at an insurance agent’s office once as a temp and the agent insisted on playing the “easy listening at work” station all day every day. The agent and her assistant seemed unable to even hear the music, much less get annoyed that it was the same five songs all day (and some of them are super inappropriate if you actually, you know, LISTEN to them — Only the Good Die Young, e.g.). Christmas was the worst because there really are only so many carols in the world, even if sometimes it’s one guy and sometimes another singing them.

            So I guess I can understand where the temp is coming from, although I think speaking up about this seems to indicate a lack of understanding of workplace politics and I think the temp should suck it up.

            And yes, the phone buzzing from afar is SO annoying. Hate.

            1. Windchime*

              One of my cube neighbors has a ring tone of a barking dog. She leaves her ringer turned on in her cube and then goes off to other parts of the building. So, double-annoyance! Barking dog on a cell phone!

          3. KrisL*

            I think part of the problem is that this can be a need both ways. Some people need noise or music. Some people need quiet. If you need noise, it is unnerving to try to work in a silent room.

            Maybe the temp could sit somewhere else?

      5. Lily in NYC*

        That’s only if the person uses the crappy earbuds that came with their phone/mp3 player. A decent pair won’t leak sound (you can’t hear mine even when it’s very loud).

      6. Ellie H.*

        Not with all headphones – really. I have the Bose earbuds with the little spur that keeps them in your ear and they’re perfect.

      7. Accessibility Advocate*

        There is a disability that causes sensory challenges. Loud noises, bright lights, wearing jewelry/being touched and certain smells can cause severe pain to some people with Asperger’s syndrome. Asperger’s syndrome is a disability covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the employee has rights in the workplace.

        Now, I’m not saying that this person has Asperger’s. But for more information about this disability, please read The Employer’s Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome by Barbara Bissonnette (

        1. fposte*

          However, in this situation it would probably lead to the temp’s just being reassigned, since her employer is the temp agency.

          1. Accessibility Advocate*

            That depends on the employee’s contribution to the company. If her skills are important to the company, the company will be willing to make accommodations (e.g., ask employees to stop playing music at their desks without earphones).

            1. fposte*

              Sure–just pointing out that this isn’t a situation where the law puts the burden on them.

      8. Bea W*

        Not necessarily. You have to have the volume up pretty loud to hear much from an unworn earbud, and you can tuck it into your clothing where any sound would be muffled anyway.

    2. Sascha*

      We were allowed to do one ear at my last job and it worked well. I would suggest that alternative.

    3. Anna*

      I’m going to say that for a temp coming in to a well-established culture, it’s not up to the people working there to bend to her will, it’s up to her to figure out how it can work for her.

    4. Jessa*

      There are single earbuds and single headsets. Which I have a metric tonne of, the problem is I have them because I only have a single partially working ear. The other one really doesn’t hear anything useful. And if need be, earbuds are SO cheap you can just cut the wire on one of them if you can’t find one or a single is too expensive. They can’t hear out of an earbud that isn’t transmitting. Personally I’d see if I could find out why (in a room with normally hearing people (I am presuming none of you are HH or Deaf, that would change things,)) management is objecting to single ear headphones. You may be able to countre their objections. If you can’t wear them all day, well some music an a happy coworker are better than NO music and you being unhappy AT the coworker. Also if you do have normal hearing, you can always switch ears occasionally which will make the time you can wear the earbud longer.

  3. AMG*

    Or perhaps she can listen to white noise at her desk and/or use headphones for the white noise. Interesting variation on an old favorite.

    1. Julie*

      I bought a friend a white noise machine a while back because her apartment faces the street in the East Village, and it’s very noisy. She said it has worked wonders!

    2. Windchime*

      I have noise-cancelling headphones that I use at work, and most of the time I play a white-noise app through them. Right now I think it’s ocean waves and rain. Because music is distracting to me unless I’m doing a really routine task, white noise works the best and really allows me to concentrate.

  4. the gold digger*

    I am on the opposite side of this drama (or was). I came into a new office where there was a radio playing loudly enough that everyone could hear it. I went into a conference room my first day to work. My boss asked what I was doing- I told him the radio bothered me. He suggested I turn it off. I told him I was not going to be the new person who comes in and tries to change things.

    So he went out and turned the radio off. When questioned, he said, “Goldie doesn’t like it.”

    My jaw dropped. “Do you know what you have just done to me?” I asked him.

    The next five weeks went about as well as you can imagine. It ended with drama with HR, a 5 a.m. phone call to the CEO, and the killing of the radio, although not at my behest. (I was happy about it, though!)

    (Not to be all “Read my blog!” but I have written about it here and here

    1. Audiophile*

      Wow. The fact that he turned it off and then threw you to the wolves, shocks me. Why not just say ‘the radio is too loud’?

      1. the gold digger*

        She totally blames me, even though I had nothing to do with it! I had moved into an office by the time she blew up. If you have a door, a radio doesn’t matter.

    2. Lisa*

      I am so amused by this story. Please write an update. How did Tanya react to the radio being taken away? Does she blame you? why is everyone tattling?

      1. the gold digger*

        Lisa, I work in a dysfunctional environment. :) There is horrible turnover, including people just walking out after lunch with no notice. I had no idea what I was getting into and am trying to get out!

        I am in an office now, but we just found out that the CEO, who doesn’t even work in this country and is here a few times a year, plans to convert the entire office to open plan. There will be one office – his. For when he comes. Which is rarely. My boss and I and all the other people in offices will lose our space.

        This is not making people happy.

        1. Mallory*

          Open plan — aaagh!! But I read in your blog awhile back that the CEO was the one who gave you that office (by taking it away from someone more junior) when he was in the country. Now he’s suddenly all “open-office”??!!

          1. the gold digger*

            Yep. And I was just skyping with a manager in the home office in another country. She had no idea the CEO was going to take away all the manager offices. She is not happy, because they will be next to lose their offices.

            1. Mallory*

              I wonder if you’ll ever find out what got into him to inspire the sudden open-office affinity? I can’t tell if it’s money, because he’s actually renovating existing space to create the open office. Maybe he read something that people here were reading five years ago? And he hasn’t read the subsequent net-wide bitch-fest that ensued immediately upon implementation of that plan here?

              1. the gold digger*

                Mallory, he says it will improve communication or something like that. Several people have voiced their unhappiness with the plan, but he has dismissed their concerns, saying that he will “take input” but that “this is what we are going to do.”

                That is his style – he decides things his way, no matter what anyone else has to say.

            2. Melissa*

              I don’t understand this new love for “open office plans.” I have yet to find anyone who actually likes it, and I’ve read several articles that indicate that it just stresses people out.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      Tanya is a twit. Karma kicked her good!

      I have headphones. I sit in the middle of phone support people and I can’t edit when people are talking, so I have noise reduction headphones and listen to music all day. But no one else has to listen to my music. There is a radio at the front desk, but I turn it off when I’m covering (I dislike most of the stations around here). They are free to turn it right back on as soon as I go back upstairs.

    4. KimmieSue*

      I’ve been a fan of your comments here for years!!! I had no idea you had a blog. Just spent a few minutes perusing and now it’s bookmarked!

    5. Melissa*

      OMG, this is the most entertaining story :) I am glad Tanya got her comeuppance and I hope she fumed before reflecting upon how this was her fault and making some changes (LOL!). Also, glad that you got an office and that Bridget is not mad at you about it.

      I am now about to start reading about your husband’s parents and the drama around that.

  5. Cat*

    Changing existing office culture for a temp is not really a thing, so in this situation, I wouldn’t do anything. But, more generally, it sounds like the person at that desk can hear both you and your co-worker’s music simultaneously which must be incredibly annoying. Can you agree on a single radio station and play it a little louder?

    1. JMegan*

      This is probably exactly it. You and your regular coworker are each only listening to one radio, and tuning out the other one. But your new coworker has the job of tuning out both of them – with different music, and talking and commercials and so on at different times. All while she’s trying to focus on a new job! That’s a lot for any brain to handle.

      I like the idea of playing a single radio station a notch or two louder. All you need to do then is find the volume that strikes the balance between listen-able and ignore-able for all three of you.

        1. Natalie*

          Could be Spotify or what have you. If you use the free version they have commercials.

          1. Chinook*

            I know the radio thing was a joke, but I have never been in an office where they allowed you to stream radio through the computer. Maybe it is just the way internet bandwidth works in Canada, but nothing will get you or your boss a call from IT faster than streaming music. Most people either bring in a small radio, rip cd’s onto their computers or bring in an MP3 player.

            1. Jamie*

              I blocked it when I was at the upper limit on bandwidth…but when I changed the service for other reasons and could allow it without compromising speed or performance I don’t care.

              Do not back up your music to your document drive or I will chase you through the parking lot, but stream away. :)

            2. Laufey*

              My office lets us. The less experienced workers are in 4-ft cubes, and being able to pop in headphones is what keeps us sane when others do conference calls or have conversations with Loquacious Lou. It’s a really nice little perk that I didn’t know I wanted until I had and I will be sad to loose if/when I leave this office.

              The point of which is to say it’s not impossible for it to be Pandora/Spotify/Rhapsody/something similar.

        2. fposte*

          Yes. A fair number, from what I can see, especially people who don’t work in offices.

        3. The Real Ash*

          I find these types of posts annoying. “OMG people still use faxes / landlines / AOL / etc.?! THOSE THINGS ARE OLD AND THEREFORE BAD!” Yes, we get that you’re hi-larious and that some technology has been replaced by other things but good lord, the joke has been done so many times it’s not funny.

          If people didn’t listen to the radio, there wouldn’t be any radio stations. Come on.

          1. Jamie*

            That was unnecessary and harsh.

            Policing each others posts for mean spiritedness or going against what Alison wants regarding certain topics is one thing, but jumping on someone because you don’t like a joke is just mean.

            Not every post will resonate with everyone – there are thousands of readers – if we all took the time to comment about things we find irrelevant this whole place would turn very ugly very quickly.

          1. KrisL*

            Ooops. Didn’t realize that was a joke. I thought it was someone trying to insinuate that radio was part of the dark ages and subtly insulting those of us who still listen.

    1. Sunflower*

      Same. Even if it’s one ear bud in and the other out. Unless you’re customer facing, in which case there should probably be music on in the office anyway.

    2. Jillociraptor*

      Yes! If the boss is cool with music playing out loud, I can’t fathom why it wouldn’t be okay to have headphones on?

      1. Jamie*

        I think they should be able to wear them, but some people have a real bias against them because they are uncomfortable “bothering” someone with headphones – so somehow lack of them is a sign of approachability.

        I don’t agree with this – but I’ve seen it often enough to know it’s a thing.

          1. Elikit*

            Word. Co-workers try to talk to me when my back is turned, with headphones (that are necessary for work purposes on), just after they’ve been talking to themselves/ the air in the exact same tone of voice and sound level, when I’m clearly in the middle of work, so they can say something that’s not about work.

            I long for people to feel uncomfortable bothering me.

        1. Windchime*

          Serious? Because when I’m wearing headphones, suddenly everyone in the office needs my immediate attention. It’s like I’m waving a big red flag that says, “Come and bug me!”

      2. Jennifer*

        It makes you look like you’re not paying attention to anyone who wants to talk to you. It’s lookism. It looks bad for business.

        I haven’t been busted for my headphones yet, but if I ever do, it will be because of that reason.

        1. Laura*

          “Lookism” – I LOVE IT. You have put your finger right upon this phenomenon I struggle with constantly.

          My favourite example: You’re not typing = you’re not busy.

          1. Mallory*

            “You’re not typing = you’re not busy”

            Some bosses are so susceptible to “lookism”, too. I had a boss’s boss once who was like that: he really, really liked the employees who fluttered around chattering animatedly because he thought that high energy level meant something about their work. It did: it meant that they were fluttering around and chattering while everyone else quietly worked.

  6. Celeste*

    If everyone is listening to different music, then it seems like it would be a kind of noise pollution. I find it stressful and fatiguing to have multiple sounds bidding for my attention, such as a television, a fan, and music all playing in earshot.

    Are you able to play just one kind of music in the space itself? Maybe there is a Pandora station you can all agree on as a compromise? Or work out a schedule so there is only one thing a person is playing at a time? I feel like it’s related more to sound layering than sound. I think about how Macy’s has different music playing in different parts of the store, and how you can be straddling two departments and have to listen to two clashing songs at once. I could never work there.

    I suppose there is no way to give the new person her own quieter area, right?

    1. Katie the Fed*

      ” I find it stressful and fatiguing to have multiple sounds bidding for my attention, such as a television, a fan, and music all playing in earshot.”

      Me too! I get really overwhelmed by noise chaos. People talking over each other and talking over a TV or music is the worst.

      1. TL*

        Oh, I find that really easy to tune out. But I think that’s because that’s how my family functions and it was either hate it or love it and I fell on the love it camp.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          I get visibly stressed when people are talking over each other in a meeting. It’s so awful – I want to listen to Zeus, but Bob’s talking, and then Helmut is interrupting, and Polonius is talking now too and OMG just one person at a time please!

          1. KellyK*

            Yeah, same here. People talking over each other drives me nuts. Outside of work, I’ve found that knitting during meetings (medieval reenactment group) keeps me from wanting to jump out a window. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t fly at work.

            1. ser4ph1m*

              I know, same. Why is it that you can’t do something somewhat mindless with your hands at business meeting? People doodle, knitting isn’t much more mentally intensive than that.

              1. Katie the Fed*

                I do sudokus all the damn time. Watching TV, riding the metro, etc. Always doing a sudoku.

            2. Sasha Fierce*

              I once had a trainee who knitted during part of the class. I was the vendor; her manager was in class and OK with it. So strange! (My class was very hands-on, so she stopped once she realized she was getting behind).

          2. TL*

            With my family there’s often 3 or more conversations going around the same dinner table, everyone’s talking as loud as possible to be heard, and people are jumping in and out of conversations to their heart’s content. That has led to some of the best dinner table conversations I’ve ever had.

            It’s not for everyone but it works for me.

        2. Vicki*

          That’s how my family functions as well and I can participate in al three conversations at once. But if I have to concentrate?

          I don’t have a “normal” noise filter. Every sound has equal priority. Co-worker 1’s radio, co-worker 2’s radio, the fan, the microwave in the break room, the cell phone in the hallway.

          Oh, and I heard every word of that telephone conversation you just had as well as if you were sitting next to me. Think about that…

        3. Bea W*

          I can manage this while socializing but only with a lot of effort. It’s too difficult for me to actually work in that kind if layered noise.

      2. Nicole*

        I’m easily overwhelmed by too many sounds when I’m trying to concentrate too, and it’s getting worse the older I get. When the TV is on my husband has no problem having a conversation but I either have to pause the program if we’re actively watching or mute the TV so I can concentrate.

        Also, I noticed that at night the later it gets the louder the TV seems, so I keep turning it lower and lower.

      3. EngineerGirl*

        I have extremely sensitive hearing. And it is stressful. I go home and have to be quiet for hours to recover. Sometimes I go home with a headache. There are two things I think the OP is dead out wrong:
        1) Treating this co-workers need for quiet as a “preference” Vs a need. That makes her request for silence seem unbending and unreasonable. Her need is the same as a need for darkness by someone that suffers migraines.

        They say a good compromise leaves everyone unhappy

        This is utter bull. A good compromise meets everyone’s needs. The correct question is “Is there a way we can we get everyone’s needs/wants met?”
        I’d approach the boss and ask to wear ear buds with the focus on meeting the new employees needs. Ear buds are less distracting than headphones. They also let in more noise. If the music is kept down to reasonable levels people can still hear anything going on around them. Coworker may also want to wear some ear plugs that allow some noises in but not others. There are ear buds made for rock concerts designed for this purpose.

        1. fposte*

          To be fair, it’s not the same thing as migraines, in that we have no indication that it’s health related, and the ADA doesn’t care if the temp can work with music or not. And, as we’ve discussed previously, even a migraine doesn’t mean that other people have to work in the dark.

          1. Jessa*

            The ADA would if the worker has hearing issues. All the worker has to do is show they’re HH or Deaf but can hear some with assistance. Extra noise could make their job impossible. And since “turn off music” is free there it is absolutely a reasonable accommodation unless the work place sells music as part of the job (a bar, a theatre, a school with music classes, a bookstore that sells CDs etc.)

            Also if they get migraines or some other physical problem from trying to listen to too much unnecessary background noise.

            There are plenty of ADA cases I could make for “turn off music,” in a general office setting (not for instance a gaming company.) IANAL but I’m disabled a number of ways and have had to go through all kinds of garbage to get accommodations for myself or my friends/students (former special ed teacher also.)

            The odds however are that the coworker is NOT disabled in a way that music makes it worse. If they were they’d probably have already mentioned it to someone. And even though that stuff is private, in most cases (sometimes there are some problems people do not want to talk about because there are stigmas attached,) but in most cases, saying to a coworker – “I only have half a working ear the extra noise is just too much,” makes for a far better relationship than “turn that bloody music off I’m going to management to whinge for what looks like no good reason.”

            Mind if there is such a reason it’s not on management nor the employee to have to tell you that. But honestly in the choice between business necessary, ie work, and business unnecessary, ie music, business necessary wins every time. So I would try to broker a compromise with management about single sided earbuds or something.

            1. fposte*

              Sure, if somebody is diagnosed with a disability they could make a case for it.

              But we have no reason to think that’s relevant here, and even if it is, removing the temp from this posting would achieve accommodation right there.

              1. Vicki*

                Oh wow.

                I’m envisioning this conversation: “Hey boss, the new temp isn’t working out. No, she’s getting her work done. but she says she can’t concentrate when Marigold and I play our radios. So we’d like you to remove her from this position to achieve an accommodation. We’re sorry about the fee you’ll need to pay the contracting company.

                I was told that I could listen to the radio at a reasonable volume from nine to eleven, I told Bill that if Sandra is going to listen to her headphones while she’s filing then I should be able to listen to the radio while I’m collating so I don’t see why I should have to turn down the radio because I enjoy listening at a reasonable volume from nine to eleven.

                1. fposte*

                  I’m not following what’s happening there, but it sounds like you’re theorizing the OP would bring up ADA accommodation for the temp with her own boss before the temp mentions anything. Bad idea and possibly illegal.

                  It also doesn’t sound like this office is big enough to be covered by the ADA, but given that there’s no indication that this is disability-related, it may not matter.

        2. Katie the Fed*

          “This is utter bull. A good compromise meets everyone’s needs.”

          I was talking to a Middle Eastern official once who told me “if anyone leaves the negotiating table happy, then someone got screwed.” and basically said that a good compromise means everyone got what they needed, but almost nobody got what they wanted :)

          1. fposte*

            That reminds me of the Israeli writer Amos Oz talking about successful outcome between Israel and Palestine as a Chekhovian comedy, where everybody smiles through gritted teeth.

          2. Joey*

            True. I just wish more people understood the difference between a want and a need.

      4. Mallory*

        Me too! Even at home, I feel like I might actually flip the hell out when I can hear — all at the same time — one child watching TV, one child playing computer games on the laptop, child’s friend playing games on the DS, and my husband’s TV spilling out of the bedroom. I try to read a book or the newspaper, and I can’t even absorb two sentences in a row!

        1. Mallory*

          This was in response to, ” I find it stressful and fatiguing to have multiple sounds bidding for my attention, such as a television, a fan, and music all playing in earshot.”

    2. squid*

      Absolutely. I can listen to one thing at once. Any more, and I will not be able to concentrate at all.

      I’ve been having issues with coping with unwanted sound at my workplace, and I know I’m much more sensitive than most others, but that also doesn’t mean that I’m not genuinely disrupted. Different people have different thresholds for this sort of thing.

    3. Falalal*

      How do you function in the real world then if you find it stressful to deal with simultaneous sounds from a TV, fan and music? This is a serious questions and not meant to be trolling. We live in a noisy world so I find it interesting that people feel this way. Do you live in a rural area?

      1. fposte*

        I don’t live in a particularly rural area, but there’s no situation where I have to concentrate to do my work and a TV, music, and fan are all on; there’s not even one where a TV or music is on except by my choice.

      2. Kerry*

        I also find it stressful to have simultaneous automated sounds going (TV and music or radio, etc – although fans don’t bother me so much) and I don’t find this happens very often in the real world. I can’t think of the last time I’ve had to deal with someone playing a TV and radio, or two different kinds of music, or anything like that, in public.

      3. Shell*

        I’m not the OP, but I’m a person with sensitive hearing in a small office where there is frequently 2-3 sources of noise. I’m also in a metro city.

        It’s a very different ball game when the noise happens at work. At work I’m trying to concentrate and do my work, but outside in the real world, I don’t care if there’s multiple sources of noise because I’m not scrutinizing the ingredients on my bottle of salad dressing. If I miss something or make a mistake, nothing is affected except for maybe I don’t have mushrooms with my dinner that night. The stakes are a lot lower.

        Not to mention, in the real world, there’s a much bigger space to dissipate noise. I don’t know what a panopticon-style room does in terms of noise, but at work I’m in a small suite (around 1000-odd sq. ft. total); my space is surrounded by offices and I can hear everything that goes in them. It’s a lot more distracting than outside in the real world.

        1. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)*

          It also depends on what kind of work you do: I am in a waiting room most of the week, so I have various conversations and a tv to tune out. But research requests don’t take all my brain the way in-depth analysis and detail- oriented writing do, and I could never do that in this environment.

      4. EngineerGirl*

        I have extremely sensitive hearing. I spend lots of time in quiet when I’m out of the office. Solitary walks, quiet time at home reading (no noise). Noise is physically demanding so I need no-noise to counteract and recharge.

        1. Windchime*

          This is how I feel, too. Noise is physically demanding to me. Right now I am sitting in the quiet house with the sound of ticking clocks. I can also hear my water fountain on the patio. I can’t imagine turning on the TV *and* a radio at the same time; I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on either.

          When I do watch TV, I keep the volume really low. If other people on over, I usually have to turn it up because it’s too quiet for them to comfortably hear.

          1. Lynn*

            I often watch TV shows on my iPad on mute. I put on subtitles and enjoy the silence I watch.

      5. Headachey*

        Good question. My SO thinks I have exceptional hearing – and maybe I do – but for me it’s complicated by increased sound sensitivity (phonophobia) from chronic migraines. It can be pretty limiting & intrusive (for me), but I try not to let my preferences trump those of others.

        At work, there’s always music playing in my shared office, which I may sometimes ask to turn down if I need to concentrate or am having a bad headache day. At home, I generally don’t play music or watch TV, and my SO uses headphones if he’s listening/watching something louder. I’ll often close doors & windows if neighbors are weed whacking/mowing/using an air compressor to clean the sidewalk.

        Layered sounds are pretty problematic, so while the radio at work is generally fine, radio + conversation + train horns + construction noises = discomfort/difficulty concentrating/a strong desire to flee the room/pain. On a recent vacation trip, I left the main group for a quieter space on more than one occasion because the TV + multiple conversations + music in a big echoey room were too much to tolerate – missing out was not fun, but also not worth increased pain.

      6. AnotherAlison*

        Well, since you asked, I do live in a rural area, but it’s definitely not quiet. I have a teenager, an elementary age kid, and a husband who are all extroverts and are loud. It’s actually an everyday thing when two TVs will be on, along with a radio or xBox, and talking. Plus a dog, plus the ding dong of our alarm system everytime someone goes in or out, the washer spinning, etc.

        How do I deal with it, as a sound-sensitive person? I fully expect it is taking 10 years off my life!

        If I need to work, I shut the door to my home office. Otherwise, I go around turning things off and shutting other doors, and just dealing with it. I can tune stuff out most of the time that it doesn’t *consciously* bother me, but it bothers me.

      7. Trillian*

        Outside work, I get to exercise choice about my environment. Apartments with good design and sound-proofing, for one. Earplugs when I get distracted. Earplugs plus industrial headphones when I get desperate. Escaping to the silent study area of the library (the central air conditioning helps, too). Working at funny times in the day or night. I’m usually able to tune out human voices (but not TV, because the emotional overtones are pitched to demand attention) and steady noise, but never anything repetitious (if there’s a purgatory, I will be in the pit with 4/4 pop music playing), and no music mixes with writing. So I vote with the Temp.

      8. Vicki*

        Sometimes, we leave the place. Sometimes, we never go back.
        Sometimes, we ask to have the television turned down.

        I carry foam earbuds with me _everywhere_. At LastJob, I wore them most of the time. If things got really bad, I put noise-isolating (not canceling) headphones over top, but I can’t wear something on my head for 8 hours; I get a headache.

        In stores like Radio Shack or Best Buy where multiple televisions are blaring, Spouse and I are both willing to just walk over and change the volume.

        While waiting in a company lobby (for an interviewer to arrive) last week, I went outside and waited there to escape the television in the lobby.

        I have my window closed on this lovely spring day because we live near a school and the kids are on the playground, shrieking, 100 yards away.

        We don’t go to venues that are expected to be noisy.

        We complain to the people running the sound system.

        We self-advocate for a quieter world.

    4. Sunflower*

      I listen to music, so does the woman in the office next to me and the man across from her. I can hear both of their music, I keep mine so low that my boss who is 8 feet away from me can’t hear it and I work fine. OP said they both listen to the music very quietly so I doubt they can hear each other’s music. I guess it just depends on the person but it doesn’t sound like their music is competing with each other

      1. Vicki*

        That “panopticon” layout plus what Sunflower just said makes me wonder if you could adjust the desks somewhat. It may be that the OP can’t hear her co-worker’s radio and “I already listen to music so quietly I have to strain to hear it” but the acoustics may be such that the temp gets both and louder than you think but the temp really can hear both.

        I was at a class held in a large hotel a few months ago. During the lunch break, I went out and sat in a large open lobby. There weren’t a lot of people in the lobby, but there was one man with a cell phone, pacing around, having what I’m sure he thought was a very quiet conversation. There was also a semicircular wooden wall in the middle of the lobby, between two sets of chairs and couches.

        When the man with the phone approached that wall, I could hear his conversation perfectly, even though he was 20+ feet away talking very softly. Then he’d walk away from the wall and I could only hear a murmur.

        OP, you already know that sound travels really well in this room. This may be a technical problem. Get a sound meter and check what the sound levels actually are at various points in this room.

        1. Us, Too*

          I think this is worth considering. The sound level at OP’s desk may, in fact, be quite low, but due to acoustics, that sound may be fairly distinct at the temp’s desk. If so, moving the location/direction of the speakers or introducing some minor changes to the temp’s workstation may solve the problem.

    5. Felicia*

      I worked somewhere like that – several people would play different music at the same time, and it was fairly quiet, and just one wouldn’t bother me that much. But all of them at once made it impossible for me to concentrate. I would to work without music at all, and find it distracting, but I’ve always worked in a fairly open office, and with people who couldn’t/wouldn’t wear headphones, so I’ve tried to live with it. I tink it’s probably not so much sound, as 2 different songs at once.

    6. Celeste*

      I have problems with sound layering at home because I have a family. I can put up with it for a while, but I find myself wandering off to take care of a task elsewhere in the house when it’s all too much. It wouldn’t be as bad if I liked the tv show, for example, or nobody was talking during it.

      Work is terribly noisy because they remodeled and took away a lot of the acoustical dampening. Voices, printers, scanners, copiers, music, nearby break area with microwave, everything just reverberates. I try to get things that take more concentration done at quieter times early or late, but if I have to go to headphones and listen to something very familiar that I can tune out, I will. I just don’t like the feeling of headphones all the time. It is more difficult at work because there are so many more people than at home, but if I get busy on something that takes my full attention it usually isn’t too bad. It’s not ideal, but I can deal. New hires are always kind of appalled at the racket. I feel for the new girl in the OP’s letter, that’s all.

    7. Meg Murry*

      Yes, I was coming here to say the same thing. I’ve been in the temp’s shoes, only it was a 3 person dorm room. Roommate A and Roommate B would each listen to music quietly at their desks. But what that meant for me was that as each person’s music volume went up and down within a song, I’d hear some of one, then some of the other, then a blend of the two, and it drove me NUTS. Especially if it was music with lyrics and I was trying to concentrate on words – like writing or reading.
      Our compromise was that any roommate could declare “quiet – headphone only time”, or we would listen to classical music (no lyrics) or we would each pick a CD and put them all in a multi-disc player on shuffle.
      I think the compromise should be ONE type of music in the office – either you each pick a day, or a mutually agreed upon mix or Pandora station.

      Alternately, could the temp get a white noise machine to drown our the music from the other coworkers? I’ve downloaded white noise mp3s on to play on repeat from my desk speakers when I need to drown out office noise so I can concentrate.

  7. Mike C.*

    I always find it nuts when a boss says “you can’t wear headphones” in situations where they would clearly solve several problems and help people be more productive. It screams petty micromanagement.

    1. Chinook*

      There are certain jobs where wearing headphones is just not an option. Even when I was working as a production assistant at a newspaper, where it was an open space and my boss was right next to me, I never could have worn headphones unless I needed to concentrate on something because we would call out requests to each other. It woudl also have been seen as anti-social and not in keeping with the culture of the business.

    2. Apollo Warbucks*

      My boss has always said its a safety issue in my office which is a joke, if the fire alarm goes off my headphones wont be so loud that I don’t hear it!

      When I worked the nightshift at a DIY super store (like home depot) we could have one earphone in but if we ever missed a tannoy call he put out for us or didn’t answer when he called us then we were banned from using headphones for a week.

      1. Lora*

        For ADA reasons, fire alarms are supposed to have flashing lights as well as a siren.

        I’ve encountered the “no music anymore ever” rule only when a new person complains about the genre or not getting a turn to choose the radio station or what have you, and management sees no alternative to policing the radio station selection other than to say, “no radio for anyone anymore.” Which, I don’t know, there is another option that goes, “bless your heart, here are some earplugs.”

        It’s nice that the boss has an open door policy and all, but there are some things that…look, the first thing I wish employees would ask themselves, prior to bringing it to me, is “can I resolve the problem myself somehow?” And “what will the boss think of me if I say this to her?” Because if the answer is, “I could try,” and “she might think she’s a grade school teacher,” probably you should try to resolve it yourself or just not bug her.

        I’m polite and understanding to people who bring me this stuff, but privately, between me and my dog and the beer bottle, I’m thinking, “are you freakin’ SERIOUS?” This is not how you want to be remembered during your annual review, as the precious snowflake who couldn’t stand to listen to Johnny Cash on Mondays.

        1. Jennifer*

          We had big dramaz at my volunteer job (a craft center) over this. The flameworking instructor was insistent that he get to listen to music for his own sanity while working because that is a heavy-duty, sweaty, intense process. There was an obsidian knapping class (I can tell you from experience that that sounds like breaking glass over and over again) going on nearby, as well as a welding class. The welding class HAS to have giant noisy fans going on at all times and it’s horrible to have to hear over. Between the fans and the music, the obsidian knapping class complained they couldn’t hear the instructor. The fans couldn’t be turned off, so they went to the instructor and he threw a giant hissy fit. They ended up forbidding music and the instructor quit. Then they gave up on the music rule once the instructor left. What a pain that all was.

    3. LAI*

      I personally prefer not to wear headphones at work because part of my job is to be ready to talk to anyone who walks in my door. I think having headphones on makes you look at least a little bit less accessible. I have a coworker who wears headphones (who has a different job and doesn’t need to be ready to talk to anyone who walks in his door), but I always feel bad interrupting him – especially when he doesn’t hear me come in or notice me until I’m basically waving in his face. But then, I have my own office so I can always just play music without headphones if I want to.

    4. LBK*

      I agree completely. My manager tried to nix headphones in our department because it “doesn’t look professional” (To whom? We’re not client-facing so no one is ever in our office except us.) We killed that idea off pretty fast.

      If you work in a position where you have to be frequently responsive to in-person inquiries, it makes sense. Otherwise it’s just annoying and seems like a roundabout solution to other issues.

  8. BCW*

    This kind of goes with my response in the last post. The new person shouldn’t come in trying to make others change their behavior. Not to start a whole argument, but I always wonder how people who claim to be sensitive or need total silence to concentrate can even function. The only time in a work environment that I had total silence was when I gave tests as a teacher. Its just not realistic. People get phone calls or have conversations. Assuming its not death metal being blasted very loud, I think temp needs to get over it.

    1. JB*

      It could be just a certain type of noise. I can handle regular white noise/office background noise just fine. But other people’s music is something I have a hard time tuning out, and I can hear it even when it’s barely perceptible to others. If I had to listen to two people’s different music at the same time, I’d have a hard time concentrating. I wouldn’t feel comfortable as a temp asking the regular workers to turn it off, but I sure wouldn’t be as good of an employee as I otherwise could be.

        1. JB*

          Headphones! I am fortunate that I work somewhere that it’s ok for me to wear them. I don’t know that I could be effective someplace where I couldn’t wear headphones if others are allowed to play their music like that. Oddly enough, I can handle music playing, depending on the type, because that is something I can tune out if it’s at a certain volume level. But two different kinds playing at the same time, that I couldn’t function well with.

          1. lachevious*

            The consensus seems to be headphones for everyone! When I had to answer phones I couldn’t wear headphones – but I am not generally sensitive to noise, it’s silence that bugs me :)

            1. Mallory*

              When I had a phone-intensive job (telephone order-taker for a wholesale distributor) we had headphones (with speakers) that replaced the telephone handset. They were expensive (around $600/pair back in 1999), but they were great at canceling surrounding noise. The noise cancellation wasn’t that you couldn’t hear someone talking to you; it was more like it diminished the surrounding noise clutter.

              I wish I still had a pair of those things — at that job, I would often leave them on even when not on the phone because it made people less likely to stop and chat. If I had the headphones on, they tended to only approach me with work-related things, since it appeared that I might be on the phone.

      1. Apostrophina*

        My own thing is whispering: actual whispering, that is, not just murmuring at low volume. Drives me mad, and the worst part is that the more considerate people are trying to be, the worse it gets!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          OMG yes. Just speak if you must, but whispering or other obvious “I’m very deliberately trying to be quiet” noises drive me mad. Just make the noise and be done with it. (I explained to my husband recently that tip-toeing around the kitchen and moving everything in slow motion is far more distracting to me when I’m working than just going in there and doing what he needs to do.)

          1. Joey*

            Doe that hold true when he’s awake and you’re sleeping?

            My wife tells me the same thing, but she’s also been known to say “do you have to make so much noise” when I’m not trying to be quiet. Can’t win really.

            1. Rev.*

              No, son. You can’t.

              Didn’t they teach you that in Hubby 101?

              Rule 21B explicitly states, quote, “Any attempts to satisfy the female that co-exists in your space will be met with instant rebuff/rejection. She cannot, and never be able to be content with the existing conditions in said living space, but will be on a continual and perpetual mission to change the existing conditions, including you, your thoughts, your dreams, and any desires, both imagined and real. She, on the other hand, will expect instant gratification of any whims, both spoken and unspoken, but especially unspoken. Failure to meet these expectations will result in you being banished to the Crypt of the Unspoken for an unspecified length of time.”

              Now, think about THAT the next time you look @ ESPN….


              1. iseeshiny*

                Wow. You can’t see my eyebrows but they are fully Dwayne Johnson right now.

              2. Chinook*

                “Rule 21B explicitly states,”

                I knew there was a book! Now, where can I get a copy because DH missed the day when they were handing out copies.

              3. CTO*

                Whoa. What’s humorous about painting all women with this broad, unflattering brush? That’s not funny, not okay, and not welcome here.

              4. Tinker*

                You know, this is definitely a cultural thing that a lot of people like to break out and have fun with in certain environments… but making those sorts of generalizations about women, particularly in front of a lot of women who probably vary widely in how they manage their relationships, is… well, let’s say it’s an awfully bold move.

              5. Sarah*

                Not funny. I’d save stuff like this for in person chatting or email among friends. Among strangers, this comes off as really not amusing.

          2. Cath in Canada*

            YES! Or people who unwrap crinkly-wrapper sweets sloooooowly at the cinema. If you must eat crinkly-wrapper sweets at the cinema, just open them quickly and get it over with!

            1. Elysian*

              This always happened to me in college/grad school when people brought food to class. They’d be slowly trying to open something under the table, and it would take 10 minutes and make a ton of noise. Just rip it open! It’s like a bandaid – must be pulled off quickly.

            2. Aunt Vixen*

              At the Stratford Festival, their front-of-house announcement now includes – after blah blah no recordings and turn off your phones and alarm watches – this advice: “If you are planning to enjoy a hard candy or a soothing lozenge during the performance, now would be an excellent time to unwrap it.” Always gets a laugh, and wouldn’t you know, there’s a lot less cellophane-crinkling during the show since they added that remark.

              1. Al Lo*

                I see a lot of theatre, and many companies that skew to the grey-hair audiences have added that. It seems to be an age thing — I notice this kind of disruption (in live theatre, at least) most in shows with small kids or older people. Not so much if it’s in between.

                Then again, the shows that skew in between, at least in my theatre community, also tend to be the shows put on by smaller, more experimental companies, which attract audiences who are supporting ingenious theatre across the board, and are more likely to be industry professionals themselves, so have a better sense of etitquette than those who only go see one show a year at whatever LORT is putting on a well-known title.

                Also-also, they tend to be in much smaller venues, so audiences feel more on-the-spot when there are only 75 people in the room, instead of in a space that seats 1000. They realize that everyone — including the actors — can hear them.

          3. Rin*

            But if they’re sharing secrets/gossiping, they can’t just speak at normal volume. That defeats the whole purpose!

          4. Mallory*

            When our children were small, my husband worked the overnight shift and I stayed home with the kids. I would have to try to keep them quiet while he slept, and he always said that my attempts to be quiet were way worse than the kids’ just going about their business.

            He said it was never the kids’ noise that woke him up during the day; it was my attempts to quiet them that he could hear above anything else. Probably because I was stage-whispering (in an attempt to be quiet, but loud enough for the kids to know I was serious).

        2. H. Rawr*

          Yes! We have an open office environment, and I work on the quiet side of the building with very little noise, so people who don’t normally work in the area feel like they have to be quiet when the come over to talk about something. Quiet is one thing. Whispering at people over the cubicle wall while talking about something totally non-confidential is just weird and way more noticeable than regular conversations in the same space makes me strangely uncomfortable. I always respond extra loud to those people when they come talk to me.

        3. Jamie*

          Yes – thank you! Or the people who try to be quiet when reaching into a crinkly bag of chips or whatever so it takes 15 minutes. JUST REACH IN THERE!!

          But totally, people speaking at a normal level I can totally tune out but whispering is one of the most distracting sounds ever.

          I have worked near someone who would read aloud, very softly to herself, and I mean everything. Every email, invoice, memo…all of it whispered all but silently to herself…somtimes you couldn’t even make out the words just the moistness of her mouth moving.

          Nice woman, but if they hadn’t moved my desk one of us wouldn’t have survived that assignment.

          1. TL*

            Jamie, I think you’ll appreciate this!

            One of my clubs at college had a member who was really, really quiet. Amazingly quiet.
            And one day, as we were listening to a drag king give a lecture, I watched her eat an entire package of crackers without making a single sound.

            I was so freaked out by this that I actually find it more memorable than the drag king’s presentation.

            1. Jamie*

              I can do that. Grow up the youngest in an entire family afflicted with misophonia and you learn to eat silently as a life preserving maneuver.

              My husband still doesn’t understand the silent Frito. He doesn’t have the gift.

        4. JB*

          I totally agree! It’s very distracting and not something I can tune out, even though I can tune out low volume talking.

        5. Katie the Fed*

          Even worse is someone SLOWLY unwrapping a cellophane wrapper or package. JUST OPEN IT ALREADY!

          1. Mallory*

            Now I am cringing from when I was trying to quietly open my chips during a meeting over a year ago, so I was opening it very slowly, and I saw at least two people glaring at me. :-(

        6. KrisL*

          Yes, whispering is annoying! Always feels like people are talking about me, even though they’re probably not.

        7. Windchime*

          Yeah, whispering is annoying. I’ve mentioned it before, but we have a guy and a girl who spend a lot of time flirting at work. He whispers everything in this urgent, loud whisper and then she responds by giggling loudly and gasping “Oh my gosh!”. Then he responds with the urgent stage whisper. This goes on all. Day. Long.

      2. manybellsdown*

        I think you’re right about it being the type of noise. It’s white noise that bothers me; my brain reads it as a conversation happening just below my threshold of comprehension and strains to make sense of it. Although, I think two competing radio stations at low volume would likely give me the same issue.

        1. Mallory*

          ” . . . my brain reads it as a conversation happening just below my threshold of comprehension and strains to make sense of it.”

          I think this is why the multiple competing electronic sounds in my house drive me crazy — when the kids and my husband are each listening to or watching their device of choice. It seems like my mind should be figuring something out from that unintelligible mix of sounds, and then I can’t even focus on the written words on the page in front of me.

      3. Del*

        I’m the opposite; I can filter out music just fine unless it’s particularly grating/whining/etc. But conversation tends to be very distracting for me — even if I can’t understand it due to distortion/language/volume, the rhythm and cadence of speech always grabs my attention and I have to really struggle to let that focus go.

        And yes, it’s a pain at work. I’ve got earbuds and use ’em a lot.

        It’s interesting how different people’s brains work differently and grab onto different things.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      Part of my job includes reading things like EPA regulations, major court decisions, annual reports, etc. When I started, I was in a cube next to chatty Chuck and his across the row neighbor barking Bob. I really couldn’t concentrate on that kind of material while listening to them carry on about their Harleys. I couldn’t wear music headphones and concentrate, either. Didn’t try white noise, but I would occassionally sit with my hands over my ears to do my reading. We moved buildings shortly after & I ended up with a private office, the best solution!

      1. the gold digger*

        I can tune out people talking and the copier, but I cannot tune out yet another rendition of “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” I have to concentrate to do my job. I am often on the phone in Spanish, which requires extra concentration. I tried wearing earplugs with a headset while playing the sound of a B52 bomber or rain or waves crashing, but you can’t do that when you are on the phone and wearing earplugs and/or a headset for eight hours is quite uncomfortable.

        So yes, I need the kind of silence you get when the office radio is not on.

        1. Laura*

          I think it’s especially true – but not only true – when you have to talk in another language. Stuff in language A when you’re talking in language B, especially if A is your native language, can really make it harder to keep your translations coherent, in my (very limited, non-job-related) experience.

          I actually use light music (in headphones!!) to keep me from being distracted by conversations around me, because conversation is my bigger issue, especially if it has meaning to me. (Conversation in a foreign language I don’t speak can be easily tuned out, usually. Conversation in English about topics I don’t at all care about like sports can sort of be tuned out. One-sided conversation with someone about technical issues of a product I work on can, sadly, NOT easily be tuned out, even if I don’t need to know.)

          Then again, back before I had an iPhone and headphones, I used to listen to music on my radio at my desk (in an office at the time, not a cubicle!!) and when people came in I’d switch the radio off. More than once, someone standing less than 10 feet from it said “Wait, you had the radio on?” (Sensitive hearing: helping us keep the radio volume ridiculously low. Of course, the radio was also about 18 inches from me, so.)

          1. JB*

            I’m kind of like that in that I often listen to music (at a light volume) in a language I don’t understand because that’s something that will tune out noise around me while not distracting me.

      2. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)*

        God, yes. my solution was earplugs, which are uncomfortable and often just blunt the noise (like the damn murmuring, it’s still there just not loud enough to hear!)

        1. Jennifer*

          Earplugs are just there to muffle sound a bit. You can’t really make yourself deaf enough to block sounds. Ditto headphone use unless you have the giant ear-coverers, I suppose, but I can’t use those at work due to the interrupters.

      3. Tasha*

        Most of what I do each day involves programming and annoyingly complex calculus. I share an office with a couple people who like to slam metal cabinets, throw soda bottles and paper past me into the wastebasket, and hold loud conversations. When I’m doing particularly thought-intensive tasks, I either put my headphones on (I have sound-canceling puffy ones that also play music) or go to one of the quieter libraries on campus. It would definitely be tough if I couldn’t do either of those.

        1. ser4ph1m*

          How well do the sound-cancelling ones work? Do you have the ones with active sound-cancelling? I’m trying to decide if I want to save up enough to get a pair for when I travel.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            I have the Bose Quiet Comfort 2 over-ear noise cancelling and the newer in-ear noise cancelling ones.

            I love them both, but the big bose ones are a bit of a pain because they take up a ton of room when I’m traveling (space is a premium, especially for my under-seat carry-on bag). They also use batteries which you have to plan for, and occasionally you’ll forget to turn them off and have dead batteries.

            The in-ear ones I find are much more convenient. They work really well, and when I want to turn off the noise-cancelling feature I can just flip a button. Plus they have volume control on the cord, and the battery is smaller than an iPod nano and charges easily. They’re really convenient. And if the battery dies, you can use them as regular headphones.

            So for my money, I’d get the in-ear noise-cancelling ones. They do work well. Frankly they’re a godsend for traveling.

            1. Windchime*

              I have the Bose Quiet Comfort 2 also. They’re the big puffy ones. I really like them, but they don’t cut out conversation–they just cancel out steady background noise. So when I travel, they cut out the sound of the airplane really well, but then I can clearly hear conversations. So I still have to use them with either white noise or music.

    3. lachevious*

      “I always wonder how people who claim to be sensitive or need total silence to concentrate can even function” I guess they can’t – not without changing their environment.

      I can understand this reaction to a certain degree. If I really need to concentrate, semi-quiet does help me focus. Laughter, conversations and music don’t bother me – constant silence is awful when I am bored enough to notice.

      1. TL*

        I can’t work at all in constant silence. It is somehow more distracting than not overly loud background noise!

        1. lachevious*

          I know! At my old job I used to love when my attorney would keep his door open while on conference calls, just for the noise. When he would travel I used to joke that I should record one of those calls to play while he was gone. Hmm. That came out creepy-sounding.

          My new job is as quiet as a tomb. I miss noise :(

          1. Laura*

            I loved the same thing at my old job – but only when he was dressing down a difficult client or taking opposing counsel to school. Those were fun.

      2. Jamie*

        Everyone has their sweet spot – I need some noise. White noise doesn’t bother me, normal voices and background noise is fine, but breakthrough noises (loud raucous laughter, certain pitches yelling suddenly, people saying my name so I have to look up…that’s the worst. :)) are bad.

        I cannot function is dead silence though. When I’m alone in the office I will put on something I’ve heard a thousand times before – so it’s not taking my attention but it’s familiar and soothing. Golden Girls reruns, Ricky Gervais podcasts, as Time Goes By, etc. running in the background are just perfect.

        Otherwise I am acutely aware that I am alone in an empty factory and every sound is the result of the cabal of murderers about to break through the office doors.

        1. JB*

          I could not have As Time Goes By on in the background because I’d just end up watching it. :)

          1. Kelly O*

            I love you people, seriously.

            I DVR As Time Goes By, Keeping Up Appearances, and basically half the PBS weekend lineup.

            I also get disappointed when I see “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” on our Tivo guide, because it just says “Keeping Up” and I get all excited thinking it’s my show.

          1. Jamie*

            I listen to weird stuff to go to sleep, some youtube videos knock me out in minutes, perfect cure for insomnia. Anyway, headphones have been an issue because I fall asleep with them on and wake up when they bother me…so I found these awesome headphones which are soft – and you wear them like a headband.

            Good for runners, too. Mother’s Day is coming up and they are bookmarked on every electronic device (including phones) of every member of my family. My husband thinks they look fabulous and I’ve already warned him, if I get pair he keeps his mitts off mine. I don’t want them stretched out by his giant head.

            Anyway, yes, mashed potatoes for the brain is exactly it. There are certain voices which really affect me like a sleeping pill.

            1. lachevious*

              Those headphones sound awesome – are they the ones you mentioned before? I have been looking for a pair for me and my mother – we both are “TV to sleep” people – and both pretty freaking deaf. Ever since she moved in with me it’s been non-stop volume wars.

            2. AnotherAlison*

              Know what else is mashed potatoes for the brain? Online software training videos. This is a problem when I actually have to, you know, learn software.

              1. Jamie*

                My comment is in moderation below – but just google sleephones. They also make runphones.

              1. Jamie*


                They have a version called runphones – which seem the same except a jazzy blue.

                I like to think of myself as too cagey to fall for marketing lingo, but their tag line “pajamas for your ears” got me immediately.

                My ears want pajamas.

                I’m bummed they don’t have pink though. Just black, gray, and purple.

    4. TeaBQ*

      Speaking as someone who has this problem due to health issues, for me it depends on the noise and what kind of work I’m doing. I don’t need the same level of concentration for, say, file organizing that I do for coding.

      It also depends on how much noise there is. If I’m talking to my boss and he’s got his radio playing, it’s hard for my brain to pick which one to listen to.

      I’m lucky enough to be in a job now where I can put headphones on to drown out everything else. But that’s just me. Others process noise differently and so might need different accommodations.

    5. BCW*

      So reading all of this kind of highlights the problem with this temp. Some people need noise to function well. Some need silence to function well. Some need some types of noise, but are driven crazy by others. A compromise has to be reached, but the temp doesn’t even sound like she is willing to compromise, which is a problem.

      1. fposte*

        It doesn’t sound like any boss-approved compromise has been offered, though, so I was confused by the “She, on the other hand, isn’t compromising at all.” It doesn’t sound like anybody’s compromising if the OP’s music was always set extremely low anyway.

        Not that there necessarily has to be a compromise, just that I’m not sure it’s fair to paint the temp as unyielding from the OP’s account.

        1. Joey*

          Yeah, lots of people’s interpretation of compromise is “they’re not open to letting me get my way.”

    6. Sharm*

      I’m right there with you. We all have less than ideal situations at work, and we just have to deal with it. To complain when you’re a temp? Come on.

      When I first started at my current job, I was in a huge open office where most of our client-facing staff sat. I am NOT client-facing, thank GOD. My job requires a lot of focus and concentration. I hated, hated, HATED being in that room. But I wasn’t going to say anything about it, because I didn’t want to be That Guy. I also knew it was a temporary situation, and thankfully, was moved to a much quieter location. If it were to be a permanent thing, maybe I would have said something. But most likely, I wouldn’t have. I am a peon and don’t have much power. I certainly wasn’t going to any kind of negative impression on my manager when I first started. Since everyone else on my team rolled with it, I did too.

      You don’t always get what you want.

    7. Vicki*

      We don’t “claim”. We _are_.

      And we function suboptimally. At LastJob, I worked from home 3 days a week and in the office (mostly in my cube, 20 feet from the breakroom, on a connecting aisle between two major corridors) 2 days a week. I finally just decided that those two days would be not very productive. If the job wanted productivity, they could let me work from home more.

      Instead of asking how people “claim” to be sensitive to sound function, turn that question 90 degrees and ask how people who “claim” to be hard of hearing function? Or people with less than perfect vision. People who get migraines. People who have allergies. People who have a bad knee and can’t take the stairs.

      We manage. But we’re not 100%.

      1. BCW*

        I don’t know, unless it is a true medical condition, it still seems to be more of a preference than a need. There are many things in my current job that i would prefer happen, but I don’t need that in order to work. This woman is essentially calling it a NEED that no one listen to music. Thats a bit much to me.

      2. lachevious*

        Vicki, it wasn’t wrong for BCW to ask the question about how people who claim sensitivities to noise function – it’s a valid question, as was your flip-side question. It was a question to gain insight, not to attack.

        Some people really are sensitive to noise, some people just say that to get their way. Some people really are hard of hearing, some people say they are when they aren’t.

        Asking questions is a good step towards gaining empathy. Obviously no one can truly understand what it is like from the outside, but we can certainly empathize – because, as you pointed out, lots of people suffer from lots of things.

  9. lachevious*

    If the music is actually kept at a low volume as the OP says it is, the onus is on the person who is bothered by it to find a solution, either by going to the manager – or by dealing with it some other way. Certainly this cannot be the first time this noise-sensitive person has been employed in a place where noise exists – she must have found solutions for the problem before.

    If I were the OP, I would not change my behavior if I am being reasonable and I would be polite to the coworker, but unbending.

      1. lachevious*

        If I was being reasonable with the volume of the music, and if I had the support of my boss, yes – I would be polite to the noise-bothered coworker but I’d still play my music.

        Obviously if my boss changed the culture to say “no more music” then I would comply.

  10. CNM*

    Perhaps the new person can wear ear plugs as they are practically invisible, pretty smooshy and comfortable, and unlikely to violate the no headphones rule at the office.

    1. Laura*

      I did exactly this at Oldjob when I was placed beside an obnoxiously noisy coworker and management wouldn’t relocate me. Kept my stress levels down, my concentration up, and she could be as loud as she liked.

      Anyone who does this: I recommend earplugs made for construction workers, the soft smooshy kind that have a cord joining them.

      Further: Don’t worry about approachability. People will appreciate that you’ve plugged your own ears up rather than changing your environment, and will get used to you wearing them. If they approach you in your field of view, you can just pop them out while you speak!

    2. Editor*

      The earplugs sound like a reasonable solution. However, I am a person who has yet to find comfortable earplugs, even the foam kind that come in various sizes. For whatever reason, my ear tubes are either hypersensitive or really small. It’s a problem.

      Since I dislike big poofy headphones, don’t like getting my hair caught in adjustable headphone thingys, and get aching ears after wearing headphones that go over my ears, I have problems combating noise. Fortunately, I am capable of shutting a lot of it out and just concentrating through a lot of ordinary workplace noise.

  11. VictoriaHR*

    When I worked at the staffing agency, we had a saying. “Sometimes, there’s a reason why they’re a temp.” Some people just have so many of their own issues that they can’t find permanent employment elsewhere. This gal sounds like she might be one of them. Going into a temp assignment and making silly demands = ridiculous.

    Her overly sensitive hearing is her issue. If I were the manager, I’d ask her to wear earplugs or headphones.

    1. lachevious*

      That’s a pretty harsh view of temps. Being a temp doesn’t mean you are a bad employee and can’t get a full-time, permanent position – all it means is you need a job and temping is all you can find.

      I agree that coming into a workplace and making demands right off the bat is odd, but I don’t think it is any odder just because the person is a temp.

      1. Chinook*

        “Being a temp doesn’t mean you are a bad employee and can’t get a full-time, permanent position – all it means is you need a job and temping is all you can find.”

        But Victoria HR isn’t saying that all temps are bad employess, just that SOMETIMES they are. Having worked as a temp, I have to agree – I have worked with other temps that couldn’t understand why I always got called or offered F/T positions and they never did. Maybe it was because I approached every position as an extended job interview and they didn’t? I know that, when we found one who did, we were quick to try and snap her up (but she didn’t want to be snapped up – she liked the flexibility to do other stuff and had a good enough reputation at the agency that, when she wanted work, the agency could always find something for her).

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Some permanent employees are bad employees too.

          And this ONE piece of evidence – that she asked coworkers to turn down the music, isn’t really enough to draw such a conclusion.

          1. lachevious*

            Agree with Kate the Fed!

            And temp or not, no one is really in a better position to say their own job is secure. I just don’t think the status of this particular person is relevant – the request would be odd for anyone to make at a new job.

          2. Jennifer*

            Especially if the noise is interfering with her ability to do the job. Much as it’s annoying for the noob/temp to object to “the way we like things here,” that’s enough of a problem to justify the objection.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      Whoa – that’s kind of rude/presumptive. I was a temp in summers in college – I got lots of office experience and made decent money. A lot of people have trouble finding permanent employment in this market – let’s not malign those who are trying.

      I don’t think asking people to turn down music is silly, either. She’s being paid to do a job. If the environment is disruptive to the extent that she can’t do that job, then I’m not sure what you want her to do. To me, the thought of two people listening to different music in the vicinity sounds god-awful.

      Sounds like the manager needs to manage. Earphones for some, earplugs for some – something.

      1. BCW*

        It doesn’t sound like the manager isn’t managing, it sounds like the temp wants to come in and change the existing culture. Big difference.

        1. lachevious*

          But it isn’t really a crazy request – odd, but not totally unreasonable. She asked her coworkers to turn off the music, they didn’t, so the next step for her would be to go to the manager. If the manager doesn’t manage – then what? There will be at least one employee that is not in a good (for her) working environment because of the actions of the other employees. That is an excellent breeding ground for all kinds of nonsense.

          1. BCW*

            I think it is a crazy request if that is the existing culture. If I came into my office (an open space) and told people to keep their side conversations to a minimum so I could work, it would be me that is being the odd one out, not the existing majority. This is especially true based on how my office is. Now I get that everyone couldn’t work here, and thats fine. But its not up to everyone else to accomodate this new person. Its not like this is a hostile work environment being created, its her preference as a temporary employee vs. the preference of the people who have been there and are permanent.

            1. lachevious*

              Maybe we have different definitions for crazy :) I think its odd, but if she really is sensitive to noise it isn’t crazy to ask, seeing as though she probably knows headphones are not currently allowed.

              Crazy to me would be a new person demanding change because of personal preference – like can’t use the standard issue stapler, has to have a red Swingline, etc.

            2. Katie the Fed*

              I feel like we see so much crazy on this blog that this one barely even registers. I mean, speedos on doorknobs and witchcraft and managers showing up at your house. Volume of music doesn’t seem like that big of a deal in comparison.

              Also, all of the above examples? Not temps.

            3. Vicki*

              So… how did she know this was the “existing culture” before what accepted the position. And what makes something “culture” in a room with only two other people.

              At what point do we stop? Aren’t the co-workers who walk in with food all the time “the culture”? What about Speedo guy? Co-workers who ask for money for birthday parties or charities? The co-worker who clips his nails at his desk? The one who takes your pens. The co-workers who don’t clean up after themselves in the breakroom or the bathroom.

              Stretch this enough and every letter to AAM from someone new to a company (or talking about a new co-worker) can be answered with “It’s the culture”.

              And one more thing – no one is “permanenent”.

    3. Kerry*

      I don’t having trouble concentrating when two separate sources of music are playing is silly or ridiculous. Especially since she did what Alison usually suggests, politely speaking directly to the people involved. If she’d gone straight to HR and immediately started talking about disability discrimination relating to hearing, or something, maybe, but I don’t think going “hey, I’m having trouble working while this is going on, is it a possibility to turn it off?” is an unreasonable opinion or request to make.

    4. guest*

      If you are in HR you should know about Misophonia. It’s terrible to live with. It will educate you about what we go through. I have an office at my company because of it.

      1. Jamie*

        As someone who has misophonia in spades, I don’t think that’s something every HR person should be expected to know about.

        You can’t create policy based on every possible disorder out there that someone could possibly have. If people have it enough to impact their lives to where they need accommodations, they need to speak with their workplaces about this issue.

        Personally I’ve never had to do that, because I am pretty good at micromanaging my environment – helped because mine is mostly triggered by sounds related to eating and drinking so easier to avoid for most of the day. But I certainly wouldn’t expect HR to have accommodations in their pocket or even know about this unless they’ve been asked to.

        And even then, while I’m a firm believer in a workplace accommodating things to make it easier for each employee to work when possible (not just disorders, but work styles, etc.) if they can’t or won’t then it would be a matter of whether it is life limiting enough to get a formal diagnosis and try to get ADA accommodations. Which again, they only have to accommodate if there is no undue hardship to the business…if this even qualifies.

  12. Liz*

    Wait, I’m sorry… so you and another coworker, working in the same room, BOTH listen to (different) music all day without headphones on?

    That sounds excruciating for anyone else in the vicinity. I would probably go postal on day one!

      1. Muriel Heslop*

        This is the case at my office with my two colleagues – except one of them sings along to her radio. And she does it only in short bursts. Thankfully, I can wear earbuds but I would rather not.

    1. AAA*

      Yes. This would drive me crazy. It makes sense that you each can only generally hear your own music–but that the poor temp is dealing with two conflicting music streams, plus trying to figure out a new job. I think the no headphones rule is really silly if there isn’t a real reason for it.

    2. Jamie*

      I had the same thought. I can’t work to music, but both the low levels and competing songs would kill me.

      However, I’ve temped and I wouldn’t have said one word about it. If I loved the job and kicked all kinds of ass and they asked me to stay permanently I’d mention that it was an issue for me and could I wear head phones – but on temp assignments I took the cultures as they came and wouldn’t have said a word about anything barring illegal activity.

    3. Randomosity*

      Yup, I wouldn’t have lasted a day there. One source of music is bad enough, two different ones would make my head explode.

    4. anon~*

      At my last job at a small insurance company there was a tv and a radio on at all times plus one woman played the same spanish cd on a loop all day long. There was an ‘open floor plan’ and customers were allowed to wander around the office rather than stay at the front waiting area. There were 5 desks in close proximity and each had almost constant customers. Many times we would have to call outside departments (billing, underwriting) for additional information or assistance. You might be on hold for 20-30 minutes or more each time you called. Of 5 people, I was the only one NOT to use ‘speaker’ when I was on hold. 4 co-workers and all have the music turned up while they were on hold. The level of noise and chaos was unbelievable – to recap: TV, Radio, CD player on a loop, waiting area filled with customers, each desk had customers, customers allowed to ‘wander around’ (and sometimes on their cell phones/talking to whoever they came in with), and the icing on the cake, all the phones on speaker with loud music. I think I forgot to mention that the ‘on hold’ music was the same 30-45 second loop o hell that you’d have to endure for 20-30 minutes or more at a time… and each desk was at a different point in that loop.. and they had it on speaker.. loud speaker. And yet, I was seen as the one with the problem! And yes, I did talk to my agency owner and he seemed surprised but was only in the office here and there. Whatever he did say to them seemed to make things worse.. they’d lower the volume for a few hours or a few days (and didn’t do it when he was in the office).

      And that was the just tip of the iceberg with the dysfunctionality of that office. I lasted 4 months.

      1. Vicki*

        The temp won’t be a “problem” forever. She’ll leave. The only question is how soon.

        When you’re interviewing the next temp, tell them you play two different music streams all day.

        1. lachevious*

          How can you be sure the temp will leave? There was nothing in the OPs post that indicated the temp is even considering that. I seriously doubt the temp agency would pull her off this assignment for just asking the coworkers if they could turn the music off because she is sensitive to noise. i don’t think she was wrong to ask – I think the OP may have been a little self-righteous in her response, though.

          She said the temp wasn’t willing to compromise (but didn’t elaborate on what was said that indicated the temp wouldn’t compromise), but the OP doesn’t sound like she was willing to compromise, either. Headphones are banned, but they bother the OP anyway. She and her coworker think the music is at a reasonable volume, yet she admits sound travels very well in their shared space. Where is the OPs compromise? All she has done is come up with excuses why she won’t compromise.

  13. No. 24601*

    I would have zero productivity if I had to listen to not one but two sources of music every workday. I have a hearing loss which means I have to work twice as hard to hear and understand every sound I encounter. It’s physically and emotionally exhausting. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have acute hearing and be constantly bombarded with sound. I agree that some type of headphones/earbuds arrangement would solve this problem pretty easily. I’d talk to the two other people and make a joint decision on what would work best, then talk to the manager as a group in a problem/solution context.

    1. Jamie*

      One of my son’s has severe CAPD – one of the issues is the inability to filter background noise. Every sound competes for equal importance.

      When he was younger he had an FM Trainer for school – the teacher wore a mic and it piped directly into his headset for lectures.

      In this kind of situation headphones would make it a non-issue for him, but with that not being an option he wouldn’t be productive in this environment either.

  14. TotesMaGoats*

    A) I love the word gumption. It’s fun to say.

    B) A nice smile while saying “Sorry, music is motivation in this office” should let the temp know that change isn’t going to happen.

    I can see the argument that if it’s two different stations it might be annoying, so for the sake of relationships, I’d try to find a single station to listen to. Then I’d promptly turn the volume up.

    My husband likes to say that he has super sensitive hearing ala superman. Evidently, it only works when he out hunting in the woods. Baby crying and water running in the sink? Deaf to everything.

    1. Who are you?*

      Your husband and my husband should talk. The only time my husband has super hearing is when we’re in bed and he “hears” a noise and then jumps out of bed to investigate and wakes me up out of a sound sleep. Always turns out to be nothing and he goes right back to sleep while I lie there in the dark trying to calm my poor nerves!

  15. AndersonDarling*

    Can the temp find her own music to listen too? If she doesn’t like any one else’s quiet music, I’d think playing her own would drown the other sounds out.

    1. CanadianWriter*

      Three different stations playing at the same time? Just the thought of that gives me a headache.

    2. Silver Surfer*

      If I was her, and quitting wasn’t an option (it would be my first choice), I’d be really tempted to find some truly awful radio station to add to the mix.

      1. Mallory*

        . . . followed immediately by an arms race of ever-increasing volume of the three competing stations.

  16. Mena*

    Perhaps BOSS will reconsider the headphone ban. There are some really comfortable, high quality headphones available today and this might be a compromise on everyones’ parts.

  17. Who are you?*

    I am sensitive to noise and have a very hard time tuning them out, but I wouldn’t ask others to make adjustments to accomodate me (unless of course, the music or noise was excessive and out of the norm for where I was) and I would NEVER ask to have adjustments made at a workplace where I was temp. If headphones weren’t an option for me, I’d grit my teeth and bear it.
    For the LW, I’d keep my radio low and/or talk to my manager about the one bud in and one bud out option to the headphones. Or perhaps the classical station on both radios?

  18. Apollo Warbucks*

    I dislike the temps attitude in expecting to change something they don’t like after such a short time in the office. If the temp doesn’t like the noise maybe suggest some ear plugs to her or her own music.

    1. Student*

      The temp identified something that a co-worker was doing that disrupts her productivity and has no business-related purpose. She made a straightforward request that would allow her to be more productive. I really don’t see how that’s a problem. That’s what AAM advises people to do All. The. Time.

      Sounds to me more like you are objecting to her wanting to be productive because she’s “just a temp” and you think she ought to be treated as 100% inferior to the other staff.

      That’s ridiculous if she’s doing the same kind of work as the others, which is sure what it sounds like. If she was doing lower-priority work, then it might be reasonable from a business standpoint for her to put up with more disruption than others no matter whether she was a temp or not, but that isn’t what the letter indicates.

      1. Joey*

        Well the problem is she’s seeking a solution that only solves her problem, but creates a problem for everyone else. She should be looking for a solution that has the least impact on everyone like moving farther away from the music or something.

        1. Joey*

          Maybe combined with aiming the radio away from her with something obstructing the path.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The thing is, you have to bring some judgment to it. If you come into an existing culture that others are happy with, and especially if you’re only going to be there short-term, you don’t really have the ideal amount of standing to ask for changes.

      3. Apollo Warbucks*

        I would never treat anyone differently because of their type of job.

        My objection is they haven’t been in the office long and want to change the existing arrangements. I think when someone is new to an environment they should make an effort to fit it and accept the current set up, I would say the same if the person was a new permanent employee.

        1. Vicki*

          But what if this was a “permanent” employee?
          How long do they wait?

          And then, at the 3 month? 6 month? mark, they say “I should tell you that the radio really affects my productivity”, and the co-workers say “You waited 6 months to say this? Why did you wait 6 months to say something?” And the manager says “If you could wait 6 months, it can’t be that bad”.

          And then that person writes to AAM who responds “Well, it would have been easier if you had said something at the beginning…”

          Because now they’ve bought into a culture.

          Where does it end? What is the magic point at which you’ve been in the environment long enough to try to change things and yet not so long that everyone says “too late!”

          1. Apollo Warbucks*

            It depends on the situation if the music was loud enough to be mistaken for a rave then speak up straight away because that’s unreasonable but otherwise I think that a combination of majority and seniority get to make the decision to keep the music and the new comer needs to suck it up.

            Maybe I’m a bit skeptical of the music being a real problem to the employe complaining about it. My office is completely open plan I sit in a bank of 10 desks all manner of distractions happen we just have to get on with it. Also I had the noisiest housemate known to man, who had no concept of an volume control so I’ve developed a high tolerance for noise.

          2. fposte*

            I think real conversations generally go better than the hypothetical conversations you’ve been proposing in this thread. People really aren’t that likely to get told to turn off a small fan that allows their coworkers to continue with a work pleasure; people who bring concerns to their management really don’t get a default answer of “there was a brief shining window for this and you’ve missed it.”

            Sure, these responses could happen, but imagining the situation as one where only the bad response is possible seems likelier to make the situation more tense and adversarial. This isn’t a legal situation where imagining all the negative responses allows you to prepare against them, because this isn’t about who’s got the best argument–it’s about how people can negotiate a shared space, and having them want to is half the battle.

  19. Lizabeth*

    I wear over the ear headphones on a regular basis – I CAN HEAR EVERYTHING SAID IN THE OFFICE WITH THEM ON. I got them hoping to block out the coworker in the next office who’s voice is fingernails on a chalk board – no such luck. But it does give me an excuse to ignore her :) I found that I don’t play the podcasts, music etc. loud enough to drown out everybody simply to keep my hearing intact. (Huh? What?)

    1. Katie the Fed*

      You should check out the new Bose noise-cancelling in-ear headphones. I didn’t think they’d work that well, but they’re amazing. And there’s a little button you can hit to switch to non-noise cancelling.

    2. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

      I actually found that earbuds block noise more effectively than over-the-ear headphones, mostly because you’re actually blocking your ear canal. I have some by Etymotic Research (who also make earplugs that work fantastically) that are awesome. They’re also really comfortable, because they fit my ear canal so well.

      1. Lizabeth*

        If I got the in-ear headphones, I’d probably drive my boss, who I like, batty not knowing whether I’m plugged in or not. Doesn’t matter with my next door neighbor (g). I will look into them because my iPod ones are really bad.

        1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

          Oh, the headphones still have a cord (and it’s white). It’s pretty obvious when I have them in. :)

    3. Vicki*

      Do you have sound isolating headphone or sound canceling. If the latter, get isolators.
      Also, try a pair of Howard Leight (hot pink) foam ear plugs _under_ the headphones.

      Then you’ll only hear the people within 2 or 3 cubicles in any direction.

    4. Jennifer*

      Yup, me too. But I need to not have total noise blockage at my job, so…just gotta live with it, and be grateful that nobody’s blocked my using headphones at all yet!

  20. BadPlanning*

    I agree with the comments that it might not be the music exactly, but the combination of radio from two sources. It would grate on me too if I had to listen to both at the same time. If the sound travels well, it may be that even though it’s quiet to the OP, both radios are hitting the Temp at enough volume to be annoying.

    Could the OP suggest 1 ear bud as the compromise? The the OP can switch ears and always have “1 ear open.” Or is it the appearance of any ear phones at all the the boss objects to?

  21. Anon1309*

    I was in a similar situation (in the role of the temp) as well.

    I find it very hard to ignore music played in my surroundings. It makes me feel like someone is constantly talking to me while I’m trying to think. Music played in low volume makes me feel like someone is whispering to me, and music from several sources makes me feel like there are many people talking to me at the same time.
    This is very distracting.

    A few years ago I joined an office of 5 people where the culture was to have the radio on *all the time*. It was horrible.
    I tried working with ear plugs and headphones but it didn’t work. I could still hear the music no matter what I did. Some of my coworkers refused to turn off the radio, and others called me anti social for asking that they will wear headphones when they want to listen to music.
    Eventually I had to move to another room.

    These days one of these guys is my boss and we sit in the same room. When he complains that he can’t play music at the office, I tell him that it’s his office and he can do whatever he wants, but if he chooses to undermine my productivity, this time it is his problem.
    The office is completely silent :)

    It’s like what they say about the air conditioning at the office – people who are cold can always wear an extra layer, but people who are hot cannot wear less. People who want to listen to music can always wear headphones, but people who are sensitive to noise can’t turn their ears off.

    My suggestion – talk to year manager about headphones again.

    1. Alano*

      Your analogy with air conditioning is dead on. It’s way easier for one person to get ear phones than it is for the other person to turn their ears off. I think that’s what annoyed me about OP’s statement about the temp’s refusal to “compromise.” They’re not on equal footing to begin with, so a “compromise” effectively means that the temp loses.

  22. The Real Ash*

    Why not suggest she listen to some white noise? SimplyNoise and SimplyRain are great free websites, and there are tons of phone apps out there that do the same thing too. There’s always the old fan technique too.

    1. Nicole*

      Thanks for mentioning those sites. Sometimes I get tired of listening to music at work but dead quiet gets to me as well so this is a perfect compromise!

      1. Vicki*

        And then my co-worker says “Can you turn off the fan”? And I do… because the noise from the fan is driving me nuts too!

    2. Parfait*

      My new favorite is Noisli. It allows you to combine various sounds for your perfect mix.

      Try crackling fire + coffeeshop and imagine all the people fleeing in flames! Suits my mood very well some days.

  23. Lily in NYC*

    Ugh, music in the office drives me insane so I sympathize with new coworker. However, I can’t imagine complaining about it at a temp job where I am hoping to be hired.

    But I do think that music has no place in a traditional office environment unless everyone agrees on not only having the music, but the type of music that is played. It’s so difficult for me to concentrate if there’s music – and low-volume is just as bad.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I agree, and if the radio were unbearable at a job and no headphones were allowed, I might finish the temp assignment, but I would cross them off my list for permanent places to work.

      AwfulJob I worked at before Exjob played the easy listening station all day, every day. Loudly. I can never listen to “Maggie May” again in life. Ever.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I know what you mean. A job I had before my professional jobs. . .decades ago. . .alternated playing a pop station and a country station over the speakers. Both had a version of “I Swear” (All4One, John Michael Montgomery) played regularly and it still grates on me.

        Dental hygenists must be the least sound-sensitive people on the planet. Piped in easy listening and dental tool noises all day. Ack!

        1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

          One of my jobs piped an easy-listening station into the lobby all day, and as the receptionist I had no choice but to listen. It was actually kind of sad, because some of the music they played I liked, but they played the same. songs. over. and. over. again. It got so bad that during a 5-day period (the job was one with a lot of down time, so it didn’t take away from work) I tracked every single song played on the station from when I arrived at 8:00 to when I left at 5:00, using the station’s website to fill in any songs that would play while I was at lunch (or that I didn’t know the title or artist of). I still have the Google Doc spreadsheet I made. One particular song (“Counting Cars” by the Fray) was played not only every day, but sometimes twice a day. Neil Diamond and Phil Collins were played at least 4 times a day. It was maddening.

          The last straw came when the station started playing Christmas music on Halloween. I convinced my bosses to change over to the oldies station (which played some of the same music but had a much bigger variety, and as I like oldies it was a better choice) and they never changed back. Hooray! And then the station changed its format a year or so ago, so I never have to listen to it again! Double hooray!

          1. Aunt Vixen*

            I once worked at an Italian restaurant with five CDs in a changer – four Franks and a Dean Martin. Every day when the place opened it started on Disc 1, Track 1, which meant “Love and Marriage” meant it was time to lock the door and I was usually vacuuming to “My Kind of Town”.

            1. Lily in NYC*

              Oh my god, I would have strangled myself with spaghetti if I worked there.

    2. Joey*

      I got used to it a long time ago working at a hotel. I was especially grateful for it at 3 am when it would have otherwise been dead silent.

  24. ExceptionToTheRule*

    I listen to music via speakers at my desk. If you stand on the opposite side of my desk, away from the direction the speakers point, you cannot hear it.

    Perhaps it’s possible to point the speakers in a slightly different direction?

  25. Rebecca*

    As someone who sat in a cube farm next to the office loud person who sang along with show tune CD’s, I sympathize with the person with sound issues. That was awful. They also broadcasted an oldies station over the intercom system, so I heard both things at the same time. I hated it! The same awful songs, over and over (to this day, when I hear Crimson and Clover I want to hit someone), and no way to block it out. Trying to change the station resulted in certain women in the office tossing a fit and running to change it back. I don’t miss that at all.

    Now, I share an office, and my office mate and I like the same country radio station. We keep it at a low volume, and enjoy the different DJ’s and the songs during the day. It really makes the time go faster. If one of us has a conference call, we just turn it off.

  26. Student*

    A possibility to consider:

    Letter-writer, is it possible that you and/or your co-workers who like music also have some degree of hearing damage? The sentence “However, this new worker claims to have extremely sensitive hearing and has asked us not to listen to music anymore in the office, even at exceptionally low volumes, ” is a red flag that you are playing music louder than you think you are.

    Mild to moderate hearing damage is surprisingly common, especially among hard-core music lovers. It’s also very, very hard to self-diagnose because it tends to creep up on you slowly over a long period of time. Everything’s normal to you, and you only find out there’s a problem when someone else finally complains that your TV/ radio is turned up too high when you think it’s just right.

    Maybe a better solution overall would be to chat with your boss about the headphone prohibition. She might be willing to reconsider it if she understands that your music is important to you but disruptive to your co-worker.

    1. Jamie*

      Easy test for that – OP, what bar is the volume control set on? If it’s the first couple I’d say it’s ridiculously low (I can’t hear it at that level, myself) – so at least there is an empirical answer for ‘how loud’ unlike speaking voices which are a lot harder to measure.

        1. Jamie*

          How weird is it that radios never occurred to me? So yeah, depending on how far up the dial he has the volume turned – but no way to get a consensus from us if it’s loud or barely audible.

          1. fposte*

            I was laughing because I was thinking of radios and couldn’t figure out the bars thing at first.

        2. A Bug!*

          Also, the combination of source, software, and hardware can all make a difference in the actual volume output.

          On my laptop at home, I find that I’m able to hear most sound clearly through the built-in speakers at 2%, and I rarely go above 10% except for fairly specific purposes. With my headphones, I’d actually like to be able to go lower than 2%, because it drowns out ambient noise even at that level.

          But then, I’m a person who’d probably have trouble in the temp’s position: between the fact that there are two different musics playing, and they’re being played at very quiet volumes, I’d likely have difficulty focusing on my work through it. (If I were the temp, my problem would be solved by cutting down to one music, and boosting its volume.)

  27. Fabulously Anonymous*

    Maybe I missed something in the OP, but it doesn’t sound like the temp did anything other than make a request. Isn’t that the advice we give all the time? Someone’s Speedo hanging on the doorknob bothering you? Ask him to move it.

    Unless the manager already told the temp no or the temp is otherwise making a fuss, I don’t see how a simple request is wrong. I’m not saying OP must honor the request, but quite a few posters are saying it’s wrong for the temp to even ask, that doing so is trying to “change the culture.” I don’t see it that way.

  28. A Cita*

    I haven’t read through the comments, and I’m sure this has already been mentioned, but just in case….

    Big ups on using “panopticon” :)

    1. KerryOwl*

      I had to look it up! I had never heard the term before. I am still a little confused as how it can be used to describe a workplace . . . everybody’s station is at the perimeter of the large room? Is there a conference table in the center or something?

      1. Jen RO*

        I don’t know if that’s what OP meant, but my office looks like what you described: desks alongside the walls (with everyone facing the middle of the room). There isn’t a table in the center or anything, that center is used as a “corridor” to get to the desks.

      2. A Cita*

        The idea in general, when used casually like this, means that you can see/hear everything from a single point of view…so basically there’s no privacy. The OP may have also meant that literally too in that her office is actually set up like Jen RO describes.

        Specifically, Foucault (who was a French sociologist) was talking about a prison set up where prisoners could constantly be watched at all times from a guard tower in the center; but what he was really discussing was the idea of how people begin to internalize the surveillance over time, so that you no longer need to watch them because they begin to police themselves…how a totalitarian state could get control people by making them, over time, internalize that control and begin to control themselves.

    2. Vicki*

      What’s really amusing here is that, by definition, a panopticon refers to the ability to _see_ everything from one point.

      This post is about hearing sounds.


  29. Alano*

    It’s very seldom that I disagree with AAM, but I think the temp is being reasonable here.

    I absolutely can’t stand when people play music at work in a common area. I think it’s rude and unprofessional (and takes a lot of gumption) to assume your coworkers want to hear your music. In fact, I would go so far as to say OP lacks manners: On the temp’s first day, OP should have asked her if the music bothered her and turned it off if the temp said yes.

    Also, I don’t think that the temp’s status as a “temp” should impact the outcome here. I agree complaining might not be the smartest move for the temp to make, but just because it was a poor strategy for making new coworkers like her doesn’t mean that the temp was somehow in the wrong. She’s there trying to earn a living like everyone else, so I would leave her temp status out of the equation.

    I agree with the other commentors who’ve noted that the boss may be unaware that the prohibition on ear phones is causing strife. I think the best next step here is for OP to go to the boss, explain the situation, and ask if earbuds would be okay. You can easily hear a phone ringing or someone talking to you with ear buds on (as long as the music is not too loud). And as for the discomfort – ear buds are only uncomfortable if you’re not used to them. After a few days with them in your ears, you’ll be fine.

    1. Joey*

      I think you’re only seeing the temp as reasonable because you agree with her point of view. But wouldn’t it have been more reasonable to propose a solution that improved her environment and minimized the impact to the existing employees.

      1. fposte*

        It would be reasonable for either side to do that, and neither side has. Asking if it’s possible to turn stuff off is a fine first query, too.

        I actually don’t side with the temp here, in that though I dislike noise I agree with Alison that office culture rules over individual wishes. But I think the OP is characterizing her as more demanding than her actual report of the woman’s behavior suggests is the case.

        1. Joey*

          Depends. I think it could very well could come off as unreasonable for a brand new person to come in and essentially say “Your culture doesn’t work for me. Can we change it?”

          1. fposte*

            I could certainly see somebody doing this very wrongly indeed, and it’s possible that that’s what happened here.

        2. University admin*

          It might not be “office culture” though, if office culture means the general norms within the business/location. I’m reading this as the OP sits in a room with 2 other people, a shared office type of thing, and that’s the issue. Doesn’t seem to rise to ”office culture” level, unless the entire office listens to msuic (I know it’s a small business, but I’m assuming here that it isn’t literally 3 people). I think it’s reasonable to make small adjustments to things within this room to make everyone comfortable. I think it’s silly that they aren’t allowed headphones, but I also would have a problem with this arrangement.

      2. Alano*

        Actually, Joey, we don’t know what the temp’s position is, right? She may think that there is nothing rude or aggressive or unprofessional about playing music out loud in common areas at work. It could be she thinks it’s totally fine from a manners perspective, but it nevertheless impacts her ability to do her work so she requested that her coworker not play the music.

        My position is that – objectively speaking – it’s rude, aggressive, and unprofessional to force people near you to listen to your music. Whether it’s at work, in the gym, on the subway, or in an apartment building, playing your music in a way that invades other people’s space and effectively forces them to listen to your music is inappropratie behavior. It’s behavior that young and immature people often engage in to try to feel powerful and show dominance over people around them.

        Do you disagree? Do you think it’s okay to force other people to listen to your music? I will note that nobody on this comment thread has taken that position. The only defense they can come up with is saying that the temp has no right to complain becuase she’s a mere “temp” or because she’s new or because it’s a bad strategy for making friends. So I think even the pro-music people are tacitly admitting that OP is engaging in inappropriate behavior.

        1. fposte*

          I disagree. This isn’t a public area, this is an office, with its own culture. Not everybody’s going to fit into that culture, and there’s no right to assume that the culture will be to your taste or to be adapted to your taste. I fully support the rule of the non-intrusive having rights over the intrusive–it’s just that it’s trumped by existing culture having rights over change.

          You get to politely ask for a change and to see if something can be arranged, but when we’re talking grey areas like gum-chewing, popcorn-popping, music-listening, an office has a right to have an existing culture.

          1. Jamie*

            Exactly – it’s a private workplace where they can determine what is acceptable there.

            Just like my car – I turn down my music at lights or when stopped in traffic because I consider it rude to blast my music to a captive audience. But I’m not obligated to turn it all the way off just because a pedestrian might here it for a second or two in passing.

            1. fposte*

              I’m also thinking of the dog-allowing offices, which we discuss here occasionally. It’s not rude to have your dog in a dog-allowing office, and a dog-phobic isn’t entitled to expect that the dogs will stop appearing there once she starts.

              I’m not hearing anything that suggests the temp is out of line for simply asking, but it’s not an entitlement.

              1. Jamie*

                I agree she wasn’t out of line to ask, if she asked politely. I personally wouldn’t – as a political move I’d want to avoid any fallout – but assuming she asked nicely there is nothing rude about it.

                Although I’d have advised her to couch it in terms of what can she do (i.e. headphones for her) rather than asking others to change since that was the less intrusive, reasonable option.

              2. Vicki*

                But a dog-friendly office usually tells people upfront before they’re hired.

                A music-playing culture, a fish-microwaving culture, a popcorn-burning culture, a hitting-people-up-for-a-charity culture doesn’t tell people before they come in… and those “cultures” make up a large percentage of letters here.

                A company isn’t “private”. It’s not your home. You can be asked (or told) not to cook certain items in the microwave, not to eat at your desk, not to turn off the lights, not to change the thermostat, not to play music. You can be told what to wear (or not wear), to cover a tattoo or remove a piercing.

                The employees’ personal happiness is not generally important to the bottom line (as we have seen far too often.) The OP would “rather not give up this daily pleasure” if she doesn’t have to, but we see letters all the time from people who need to give up the daily pleasure of having fish for lunch or popcorn for a snack or eating crinkly-wrapper candy bars in their cubes or wearing their favorite cologne or decorating their cube walls with photos of swimsuit models… or using yellow Post-it notes because their manager has a “thing” about the yellow ones (a true store a friend told me once).

                Here’s a question to think of: the temp is being paid $X/hour. She is not as productive as she could be because of the music. Thus, the music (the “culture”) is _costing the company money_.

                The temp may decide that the stress and lack of productivity (and unbending co-workers) isn’t worth the drama and may look for another job. She’ll need to be replaced. The culture will then cost the company more in terms of stress, lower productivity, needing to find another temp, and, again, money.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Come on, there are lots of assumptions in here that we don’t have any grounds for. The temp’s work may be far less important than the OP’s and other people’s. She may be easily replaceable and they’re not. The owner of the company may love working with music on.

                  You’re never going to have a culture that will please every type of person, so an organization makes decisions about what type of culture it wants. People fit in, or don’t, accordingly. If it hurts more than helps, the organization adjusts. But a bunch of strangers on a blog (and I’m including myself in that) really aren’t positioned to say whether it’s a problem for this company or not.

                2. fposte*

                  Actually, most offices *do* try to convey their culture to people they’re hiring. They didn’t hire the temp, though; they contracted for her labor. It costs them little to nothing to replace her–that’s part of the point of temps.

                  And you can’t consider the temp’s value and dismiss the existing employees’ value. They’re comfortable and happy in their current workplace, which maximizes their productivity. Mess with that and they’re worth less, maybe to the point of leaving. That’ll be more expensive than just getting in another temp.

          2. Lily in NYC*

            Good point – to me, it’s kind of like starting a job in a dog-friendly office and then telling everyone that they should leave their dogs home because you don’t like them.

            While I do feel that music should not be played in a traditional office environment, my opinion changes if everyone agrees on it. It’s up to us to adapt to our office culture, not vice versa.

        2. Joey*

          Are they really forcing her to stay there and listen to it? She could leave, no? If she doesn’t like the environment that everyone else likes and wants she should adapt, leave or work to find solutions that work best for everyone, no?

          Her preferences don’t deserve any more consideration than everyone else’s, no?

          1. Alano*

            fposte – I think our tradeoffs are just going to be different here. First, I think workplace culture is important, but I wouldn’t let it trump the rights of new workers to be able to do their work without distractions. Productivity has to be a priority.

            Second, if a company is growing and hiring new people (as it sounds like this one is), we can expect that the old cultural consensus may have to change. The norms that two people create for themselves in a small space may not work if you’ve got four or five or more people sharing the same space. (In fact, a cultural norm which works well with a very small group of people may become disastrous when applied to a large group.)

            1. fposte*

              There is no right of workers to do their jobs without being distracted.

              There’s a right to ask about particular distractions, but there’s no right to have them removed. There’s certainly no right to have them removed when they’re a positive aspect of the workplace for the majority.

            2. Anon...for right now*

              So the new workers come in, say “I can’t work with these distractions.” and the music goes off.
              Okay… my co-workers and I like to listen to music. We’ve been here for years, our productivity is high, the music keeps me motivated. I can’t wear headphones because we need to be able to hear our phones, be available for questions, have ears that don’t fit earbuds, don’t have money for good over the ear headphones…our productivity suffers. We can’t concentrate. What now? Productivity has got to be the priority!

              My issue with your answer is you’re refusing to compromise too. You see that listening to other people’s music as rude and aggressive. In my opinion, it’s neither. Personal music players with headphones have really only been popular for the last 25 years or so. Before that people actually listened to their music without the aid of those devices. I don’t think the OP is unreasonable, unprofessional or being rude by wanting to listen to her radio at a low volume at her desk. What I do think is unreasonable, aggressive, and rude is to come into a temporary situation and after being told that headphones aren’t an alternative for the other employees to continue to listen to music, insist that the radios be turned off anyway. To me, it reeks of selfishness.

            3. Jamie*

              Productivity does have to be a high priority, but being able to do work without distractions is a luxury very few people ever experience.

              For some background noise increases productivity.

              It seems to me in this instance headphones or earplugs would solve the problem entirely, so they don’t need to split the baby – but in some environments that’s not possible. That’s why fit is so important – not just for the duties but the culture and environment.

              Not everyone will work well in every environment.

          2. Alano*

            Joey – Of course she could leave. That’s the bottom line at every job. But you can say that about any person in any job, so I think it’s sidestepping the issue.

            And it’s not a simple “preference” to have a workspace free from unnecessary noise and distractions. That’s like saying I have a preference for breaking into houses, but you have a preference for your house to be left alone. Who’s to say whose “preference” is right?

      3. Who are you?*

        Agreed! What if the office had a plethera of plants and because of plant allergies the temp was asking for them all to be removed? Would that be a reasonable request? It’s the same here. This employee is here for a short term period and is asking others to change their behaviors because of her issue. She’s shown an unwillingness to compromise and I think it speaks to her as an employee. If she’s not willing to adapt or compromise on this small issue, what happens when it’s something big?

        1. fposte*

          The OP mentioned compromise, true, but there doesn’t actually seem to have been any offered, so I’m not sure the temp really isn’t willing to compromise.

        2. Gilby*

          Agree with….. Who are you?

          I get the need to compromise and all that and every effort should be made to accomodate all.

          I have worked as a temp and I knew my place. It is not for me to ask for the ” culture” to change for me. As I see it I am a guest of this company. And yes I need to get my work done and should have a culture/enviroment that fits that but bottom line, I am there as a temp. I don’t get the tell the company what to do. It is MY job to adapt to the company. Not the other way around. Especially if it is short term.

          The temp can bring the noise issue and see what can come of it. She also can call her temp place and say the enviroment is not for her. OK yes, she needs a job. But just like any other employment, it needs to be the right fit. If she feels this isn’t the right fit for her, she needs to get a different assigment that fits her needs and wants in an office. Not have the company change for her.

          If I was the OP I would be a little leary of her becoming perm as I would question what else she might not like and demand to change.

          And again… yes yes yes… the company should find a compromise. But I know I would do something to deal with it on my own instead of asking them to change for me.

          Cotton in my ears to buff it a little ?

        3. University admin*

          If the office, as in the room she sits in, has plants and she is allergic to them, then you bet it’s a reasonable request to have them removed. I posted this downthread, but i *really* am not getting where this is an “entire office culture” and not just “2 people in a room who prefer to make noise”. Would it be a reasonable request for her to ask that they be removed from the entire facility? maybe not – but that’s different.

  30. Nerdling*

    I think that the temp has sort of shot herself in the foot here by handling this in an adversarial fashion rather than going to her new coworkers to say, “I have this issue. How can we work this out?”

    I will say, though, that if she’s sitting in the middle and sound truly carries well in that space, the dueling radios may have legitimately been driving her slowly bonkers. There are spots like that in my gym, where the acoustics of the room cause the sound from two TVs, playing the same music, to strike at different times. It’s maddening and a sure way to get me to use that equipment rarely.

    1. Nerdling*

      Forgot: Perhaps a good compromise would be one station played so that everyone can hear it, but at a low volume.

    2. fposte*

      Where are you seeing that the temp’s been adversarial, though? She’s said her hearing is sensitive, which is actually a nice way of broaching it rather than saying “Your music is too damn loud,” and asked if it could be turned off. I’m not saying they have to turn it off, but that seems like a perfectly reasonable way to raise the question, and it doesn’t sound like anybody’s offered her any accommodation at all.

      1. Joey*

        I think adversarial is intended to mean without considering that turning the radio off isn’t going to go over well.

        1. fposte*

          Maybe (though that’s a stretch to its meaning), but I think people are taking the OP’s emotional level as an indication of how out of line the temp was. And maybe the temp was, but the actual report of her behavior doesn’t have her as adversarial or uncompromising.

          1. Joey*

            Agreed. Maybe naive, maybe a little to quick to make a request that affected others, but Id give her the benefit of the doubt.

          2. LBK*

            Agreed. All OP says the temp has done is say she has sensitive hearing and asked to have the music shut off. That doesn’t sound adversarial, aggressive, etc. to me at all. It sounds like a perfectly reasonable request (that clearly a lot of other commenters here would’ve also made). If anything, OP’s reaction strikes me as the more dramatic of the two in this situation. “She won’t even compromise” – how has the OP compromised? She asked if it could be shut off and you said no. Where is the compromise in that?

          3. Nerdling*

            That’s a good point and probably poor wording on my part. I just think that when you go into an established work place and would like to see a change made, you’re going to make more headway if you say, “I see this as an issue for these reasons. What can we do to handle it?” instead of saying, “I have a problem with this. Can you do something else instead?” It takes the onus off everyone else changing to suit you and makes it a collaborative effort that everyone is working together to fix, if that makes sense. The approach the temp took isn’t necessarily adversarial by nature, but because it’s asking other people to make all the changes, it’s going to be more likely to *feel* as though it is.

  31. Kathryn*

    I completely agree with Alano on every count!

    The temp is in no way wrong to ask to be able to concentrate and asking directly to turn it off was the right move and shouldn’t be called unprofessional or having ‘gumption’. I work in an open office plan and I can hear sports commentary from a coworker who uses earbuds and sits 3 seats away. He only does it at lunch because he knows that even on low I can hear it and its bothersome to the extreme.

    OP needs to go to the boss and get an ear ban lifted or go without music. Its only courteous.

  32. E.R*

    I have to chime in to support the temp here. I’m also sensitive to music-noise (versus talking noise which doesn’t bother me), and I have a hard time listening to music while I work, even though I understand other people like it.
    This is especially tricky because the temp may also just not like your music, and can’t avoid it in the office if she can hear if wherever she goes.
    I’ve never asked someone to turn off the radio though. But I wanted to!

  33. Lynn*

    Someone might have suggested this, but what about finding out if you have musical tastes in common? It could be this person doesn’t like the particular music you’ve been listening to, but might welcome something else. That could be a way to find a compromise that at least gives you something to listen to!

  34. EvilQueenRegina*

    At my old job we used to have the radio on – that started when the office was a satellite office but carried on when everyone else moved in. Most people were happy with it but there was one coworker who didn’t like it, did some research and found out that here in England, if you’re playing music in a workplace where members of the public come in, as was the case in that office, you need to pay for a license. Our manager hadn’t known, but once she did, it was bye bye radio.

    Over time I got used to not having it but when I moved jobs there was a radio there and I got used to it again, I did get fed up of the same songs over again but that just ended up as a running joke in the end.

    Maybe the suggestion of only one source of music could work, worth a try anyway.

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        Yes, this is from Once Upon A Time! It sucks that they cancelled it in my country just to show more reality rubbish.

  35. Jen RO*

    To the people who argue that the temp’s “right” to silence trumps the existing employees’ “right” to music: how would you feel if someone joined a team and asked for music to be played, because she can’t focus properly in silence? I personally like to have background noise when I am working.

    OP, I would try to convince the boss to accept headphones. That seems like the perfect solution.

    1. LBK*

      I would say no, because that would be distracting, but they’re welcome to use headphones.

      I agree that that seems like the right solution in this case. It’s so weird to me that music would just be played openly in an office setting.

  36. Ruffingit*

    Maybe the temp can get some noise cancelling headphones or whatever and be done with it.

  37. samaD*

    I’m wondering if the problem is partly the dueling music and partly that it’s so quiet she can almost hear it, but not quite? I know that music I can’t quite hear (and I can hear it when it’s pretty quiet) drives me batty like nothing else does – I would actually rather have it blaring, and I _really_ don’t like loud noises :) (heck, given a choice I would hear nothing but the wind through the trees and the occasional quiet bird all day every day)

    if so, a single station up a bit would probably solve the issue, or if the headphone ban can be lifted then she could wear headphones to block it (if the music is truly that quiet). If white noise doesn’t bug her then she could try the white noise generator others have talked about, even without the headphones.

    someone else mentioned checking the speakers, if you use them – I know that mine are a little bit weird and the sound out the back is louder than out the front (the front sound is more focused and even). If that’s the case a bit of sound blocking against the back could even do the trick.

    I do think it’s fantastic that the temp came out and asked when something was bothering her rather than sitting and stewing about it, but asking for something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be resolved in the way you prefer. Sometimes it will be, but usually a win is a compromise everyone can live with.

  38. Meow*

    Others may already have suggested this, but perhaps you could wear a headset that only covers one ear. There are a lot of them at my office, and people use them on telephone calls. That way you can have music in one ear and the other ear free to hear whoever maybe talking to you, such as your boss.

  39. Jazzy Red*

    It’s WORK, not play, social hour, or home. When one person does something that adversely affects someone’s ability to concentrate and do their job well, that person needs to stop doing it.

    If someone insists they NEED to listen to music, then use headphones.

    I personally hear music in my head all day long. It’s music that I love, and it keeps me happy.

  40. Nina*

    Although I agree that the temp shouldn’t be trying to make changes this soon in the game, she may not be able to work because of the conflicting music. Perhaps you and your coworker can agree on one station, or just have some white noise in the background?

    But if the volume is really as low as you say, then I wonder if the temp would contest any background noise, which would not work for me.

    If music itself is the issue, then I would talk to your boss about lifting the headphone ban. If he says no, then the temp may just have to deal with it, or reconsider her position there. At that point, you’ve done what you can. Personally, I’m less productive when I work in silence.

  41. Kerr*

    Honestly, two competing music sources in the same room, even really low? I have sensitive hearing, and that sounds like a nightmare. Beyond the noise, if I have to concentrate, it can be difficult to filter out music, especially with words. Sometimes a single, louder, music source is better than multiple low murmurs. Radio is even worse than a stream of music, because you have interruptions in the music, ads, maybe the announcer cracks an offensive joke, etc.

    It sounds like the OP and her coworker need to go to the boss and ask her to rethink the headphones issue. (Protip: earbuds are much more comfortable than headphones.)

    In the future, if the boss isn’t willing to budge, this info needs to be given to candidates or the temp company before anyone is sent out. A couple of times, I was informed that a workplace played music all day, and asked if I okay with that. I wasn’t, so I turned them down. No harm, no foul.

  42. Milton Waddams*

    I was told that I could listen to the radio at a reasonable volume from nine to eleven, I told Bill that if Sandra is going to listen to her headphones while she’s filing then I should be able to listen to the radio while I’m collating so I don’t see why I should have to turn down the radio because I enjoy listening at a reasonable volume from nine to eleven.

  43. Mimco*

    Ok, so it seems that this isn’t just a case of noise, or no noise but that the lowest common denominator wins. It seems like just about everything in society is becoming just that. Does it annoy or offend anyone? Just one person? Then no one can do it. What has happened to compromise and tolerance? Why not split up the day? Both sides win, at least part of the day.

  44. University admin*

    I get the logic behind the “don’t come in and try to change the culture” argument, but can I ask where we are told that this is the culture of the entire office and not just the specific room where these people sit? Or perhaps by “office culture” people are referring to the room and not the business? If it’s the latter, I think it’s a bit much to refer to whether or not 2 people in a room have a habit of listening to music, as office culture. 2 people wanting music vs. 1 person not wanting music, to me, is not trying to change a culture. It’s just music. I know the OP mentioned that it’s a small business, but I’m assuming it doesn’t just consist of this room. Are there other shared spaces? How many employees?

    It actually seems to me like common courtesy to default to no-music because that’s the norm for an office environment (just like the lighting war). I certainly agree the best option is to advocate for headphones – seems everyone would be happy. But the OP also seems to have concerns about earbuds being uncomfortable – which is a moot point now since they aren’t allowed, but if they were, this seems kind of unreasonable. I would hope the OP would use them, if they were allowed.

    I think the temp’s request was reasonable, the boss is unreasonable for not allowing headphones, but this seems more like the preferences of people who share an office than a temp trying to change office culture.

    Also, wouldn’t the changes just be temporary anyway? :)

  45. Not So NewReader*

    Okay, so I am picturing this. A large room with three people working. OP, you say sound travels quite well in the room.

    Acoustics are a really funny/odd thing. I am in a room that is probably 30′ x 40′. Maybe a little larger but not a lot larger. The boss had the room redone. We took everything out except the bare essentials.

    The echo was terrible. Additionally, the softest sounds were suddenly way louder. Well, the remodel went along. Soon we had furniture. That was a tiny bit better. Then carpeting, okay that helped reduce noise. But it is still amazingly loud in this room. We are just waiting on the drapes- cloth on the walls to aid in sound dampening.

    My suggestion to OP is that you and your coworker take turns shutting off your radio. Work half a day each without it. What do you hear? How much do you hear?
    Oddly, the way my room is now, we can hear in detail WHISPERED conversations in the hall way OUTSIDE the room.

    OP,I am guessing that this room either has not much furniture or no carpet or no drapes. If a person is not use to a room with lacking most of this, yeah the noise is going to bother them.

    I think I am average when it comes to noise discomfort. If I am tired/stressed then noises will irritate me. But usually, I just tell myself to work with it. My little echo chamber that I work in has me just waiting/hoping for the drapes to be put up.

    Dampening the sound in a room can be very expensive. Much cheaper to let the employees buy something for their ears. Just a thought that might help you talk to your boss about this work area.

    And btw, Alison is very clever. People who feel included, feel like they are part of the group are less apt to be thinking about their various discomforts. Hence, less likely to complain.

    I would try working two ends against the middle. Talk to the boss about the acoustics in the room, if that seems to be a legit idea. Headphones/ear buds are a cheap fix. And find ways to help the new employee to feel included.

  46. Pete*

    I will be a half-hour late for work today because of this most excellent thread. Reading all the comments has been so much fun this morning. Someone named “Windchime,” the bane of suburbia, wrote about how sounds annoy them! Hilarious!!

    Learning about the number of vocal people who hate having any type of noise has been ear-opening. I am one who plays all genres of music including, “inappropriate” Billy Joel tunes, at a low level such that it is white noise for me. I work in a room with 2 desks, and we’re looking to hire someone for that 2nd desk. I have to add another question to the interview.

    The liberal part of me will learn to sympathize with those who have misophonia, but for now the immature and subversive side of me wants to set my phone, which I have always kept on silent, to vibrate and chime for every notification to see who comes out of the woodwork. I want to, but I won’t.

    Music has no place in the traditional office environment? I think what that person meant was “Music has no place in my office environment.” We will not be working together. “Productivity is the priority.” I will use this excuse to get out of the next annoying, productivity-killing, birthday party.

    I’m glad gold-digger pointed out the obvious: the temp will be hated if the music is shut off. If a new employee required the music be turned off as productivity is the priority I would make sure they did nothing that would deviate from being productive. I’d close all the window blinds. No personal items would be allowed on the desk. I’d block every website and require the employee to complete paperwork to have business-related sites white-listed. There would be no conversations about non-work-related topics. They better be on time every day. I’d expect them to be the most productive employee of all.

    This really was fun.

  47. mel*

    As silly as it sounds for a brand new and temporary person to suggest banning anything, it is one thing to be forced to listen to someone’s music at low volume, but quite another to hear one music in one ear and a different music in the other ear!

    At the very least choose one station and stick with it!

  48. Vancouver Reader*

    I’ve been the permanent staff member before whose dealt with temps coming in and wanting to mark their territory, so to speak. I’m not saying that’s what the OP’s co-worker is trying to do, but that’s what some of them do to, I guess, try and get noticed.

    As a temp myself now, I try and fit into the office as much as possible, and because I know it’s not likely to be a permanent thing, I will put up with things that might annoy me otherwise.

  49. Middle Name Jane*

    No sympathy here. If everyone starts listening to music or whatever at a low volume, then pretty soon you have a cacophony. It’s distracting, even at a low volume. I get that your manager doesn’t like headphones, but I don’t think it’s fair to subject everyone to music. Maybe the group can talk to the manager and make a case for headphones so that those who want music can have it and those who want quiet can have it.

  50. $WEtg3e54y3548*

    I work in an environment where there are multiple radios playing all day long. It’s incredibly annoying to come into work and hear the exact same songs over and over, especially when it’s music I loathe, but at least I have the good sense to know that if I don’t like it, I can always wear earplugs. It’s not polite and it’s not good for morale/camaraderie to be “that one person” who spoils something for everyone else.

    One compromise I might suggest that’s a bit late: ear buds. Not headphones, but in-ear earbuds are good for listening without blocking external sound too much. You could even go with a single ear headphone, so music in one ear while still being able to hear (and shut off the music) if someone speaks to you.

  51. yup*

    The right solution here is obvious to me: do whatever the hell it is that makes you work best so long as it does not invade the workspace of others. In this case, if want to listen to music at work, get a pair of headphones like the other grown-ups. It shouldn’t be someone else’s problem to block out your music. And noise cancelling headphones…those are EXPENSIVE! Bottom line, you are the douche in this situation if you are playing music w/ no headphones. A workplace is for working, not for your entertainment. Grow up and get back to work!

  52. John*

    As a sufferer I hate mindless noise in the office. I have poor hearing and yet I get from this so called “quiet” music a continuous “bump-bump-bump – bump bump de dump de dump de dump de dump…..”.
    It distracts me intensely, it slows him down and it stops me totally and drags the day on so much I want to cause damage to the “considerate” coworker or just go home and die myself.

    Meeting in the middle just does not exist.
    If you want to listen to music and are allowed by a weak management set up, then use headphones. Don’t inflict your stuff on others and call them uncompromising.
    If the day is dragging it is almost certainly because you are not working hard enough and so fill your vacant mind with noise to will away the hours till home time.
    Here is a compromise – you are not working so much – so take a pay cut

  53. Bob*

    I have very sensitive hearing as well and cannot stand when people are inconsiderate and play music in the office. I absolutely hate country music and our new secretary listens to it on low all day outside my office and it absolutely ruins my focus. Myself and the VP across the hall from me has asked her multiple times to “turn it off” and all she does is turn it down so I can only hear the high notes which is even more annoying. I don’t like conflict so I always ask nicely but it seems like she would get the hint by now!! It is a constant battle. Would you listen to music on low in a library? I think not. Put some headphones on people!!! I deal with a lot of other distractions such as people on conference calls, convos in the hall outside my office, etc.. The last thing I need is another distraction added to the mix. Please have some respect for your coworkers and turn off the music or use headphones.

  54. Richard Evans*

    I have been all the way thru this blog with all the comments and there is one thing I have not seen mentioned yet — how big is the office??? I see it described as a large opticon office but that leaves a lot to the imagination.

    Is this room 10×10, 25×25, 100×50 or what? Large is subjective, so these people may only be sitting a few feet apart or 30 or 50 feet apart. If they re 10 feet apart, the temp might well be reasonable in her request. If they are 75 feet apart, probably not so much.

    The next question is what type of music. Is it soft music, is it just instrumental, country or, horrors, heavy metal music which irritate me regardless of the volume level. For me, heavy metal is described like my having one nerve left and the person is using it for a guitar string.

    The point is, we aren’t there so it is difficult to make a good call on this one. We just know there needs to be some compromise. The first step I see is to ask the OP to come and sit where the temp is for a few/many minutes to get an idea of what the temp is going thru. {Perhaps, half way thru that, turn the OP’s radio to a station she doesn’t care so much for to simulate what it is like for the temp to sit there for 8 hours to listen to.)

    My background was the trucking industry at night so I didn’t have the luxury of working by myself. Usually, we each had our small radio with headphones or earbuds. I tended to use the cheap headphones and kept the earpiece over the spot just before my ears which let me hear what was on the radio but also hear what was being said around me. They cost a dollar at the dollar store so they were easy to replace when they broke.

  55. Ralph*

    Our modern office environment is a shared environment, plain and simple, and understand that not everyone has an appreciation of your personal choices. Keep your personal tastes to yourself which includes: your choice of music, perfumes/colognes, wearing inappropriate clothes on “casual Friday”, shouting conversations over three rows of cubicles rather than walking over, and reheated halibut leftovers eaten at your desk while the waft of stench pollutes the air.

    Your first reaction might be that this sounds harsh but keep in mind that, unless you own that place of business, it is NOT your home. It is a workplace. Use your common sense and restrain your feelings of entitlement.

    It doesn’t matter of out of 5 people, if four of the people want the music and the one does not. Consideration is the key here.

    If you are not allowed to wear earbuds in the workplace – for whatever reason – then maybe it’s not the appropriate venue to be “rockin’ out”. Not to mention that your passion and need for personal expression of classic 80’s hits might be fingernails on the chalkboard for others.

    This is also a failure of management to step in and state whether music is appropriate in the workplace. The exceptions are if the music is present in the office culture like, say, background music or news radio playing at the receptionist’s area for customers. If that is the case then the temp should either accept it, get some earplugs, or leave.

    But blaring your personal choice of music through an iPhone, or a desktop radio, and assuming others want to hear it is just plain selfish.

    It comes down to who has control in their actions that impact others. The person who has control should be more accommodating. The person who chooses to blast that music in the office has choices: to blast or not to blast, keep the audio level low, use personal earbuds, etc. But that person who has to hear your music, or smell your microwaved leftover fish dinner while you scarf it at your desk rather than using the lunchroom, doesn’t have a choice. They are being imposed upon by the other person’s self-serving behavior.

    It’s that “Me, me, me” mentality that killed things like “casual Fridays” because people started feeling a need for personal expression in the workplace started showing up to work in their PJ’s and slippers.

    Besides, isn’t there enough static and noise in our cubicle farms, why add more unnecessarily? Save it for your drive home.

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