my coworker uses a yoga ball as a chair

A reader writes:

I recently started a new position and share an office with a few people who are also in my unit. My coworkers are pretty cool people. However, one coworker uses a huge yoga ball as a chair because she has back issues. While I am sympathetic to this, the yoga ball squeaks and squeals all day long. It sounds like a balloon being manipulated, and it’s driving me batty. I don’t know of any office that would think this is professional and it’s very distracting to the point where I can’t concentrate.

I write a lot at my job, so I can’t wear headphones as a distraction either. Any suggestions on what to do? As I am new, I don’t really feel comfortable asking her to use her normal office chair.

Yeah, you can’t really ask her to use a normal chair. This one just isn’t within the range of stuff it’s reasonable to ask a coworker to change, especially as someone new; she’s doing it for health reasons, and her chair isn’t really your business.

And there are indeed perfectly professional offices where people use exercise balls as chairs. She’s not doing something wildly outside the range of acceptable professional behavior, and your company is clearly okay with it.

I suppose it’s possible that draping something over the ball (like a blanket) might minimize the squeaking, but beyond suggesting that, there’s not really anything you can do.

I think your best bet here is noise-canceling headphones or learning to block out the sound.

{ 160 comments… read them below }

  1. newb*

    top tip – you don’t have to be listening to music to find noise-cancelling headphones useful. i use them on the bus all the time to help me read.

      1. Jennifer*

        HAHAHAHAHAHAH, no, not at my job!

        At any rate, I attempt to use headphones to drown out my coworkers, but it doesn’t really work THAT well. I would bet the OP can hear every squeak anyway.

        Disclaimer: I can’t use noise-canceling headphones at my job (see: constantly being bothered every 5 minutes), so I don’t know if that would work, but not every job is cool with those either.

      2. Windchime*

        In my office, headphones seem to serve as a signal to bother me. I can go for an hour with nobody wanting to talk to me, and as soon as I put on the headphones and settle in with some music or white noise, people start wanting my input or to talk or just stop by to say hello.

    1. JJ*

      I was just going to recommend this, too. They work very well, but unfortunately can also be expensive. Seems like a worthwhile investment for someone who writes for a living, though.

      1. WorkingMom*

        Yes- we have a pair of Bose headphones at home and they WORK. I can’t hear my kid throwing a tantrum when they are on. (Clearly my husband and I fight over who gets to wear them, LOL.)

      2. newb*

        i dunno, i think you just have to try a few out. a lot of expensive headphones are actually terrible. i got some that aren’t specifically noise-cancelling but do work very well to block out noise for £30.

      3. periwinkle*

        If you don’t want to spend the money for noise-cancelling headphones, try out noise-cancelling noise. There are apps and websites that generate white noise and similar sounds.

        My office is noisy – huge open floorplans, manufacturing noises, clicking keyboards, people playing ping pong all freakin’ afternoon, and lots of conversational noises. If I need to focus, my trusty solution is $20 Sony headphones and a pink noise app on my iPhone. Bliss.

          1. Windchime*

            Yeah, I code much of the day and if I’m doing something mindless, I can do music but most of the time I use a white-noise app. That, in combination with noise-cancelling headphones, usually blocks out distractions pretty well.

            1. Iro*

              My husband and I sleep with brown noise. There’s a free website that plays white, brown, and pink noise so we turn up the laptop, shut the lid and sleep soundly in our shady neighborhood.

        1. charisma*

          This is exactly what I was going to suggest. I do very analytical work, and while sometimes music or listening to a podcast is fine, sometimes I really need to concentrate, in an open-area cubicle office set-up with recruiters around me, who are pretty loud and talk on the phone a lot. The white noise app is my BFF in those situations. There is one that I particularly like called Brain Wave, and it uses different sound waves in addition to the white noise, some of which are for concentration or energy or something. I have NO idea if this works, or if it is a placebo affect, but it works for me! (They also have sleep programs, too, which also seem to work.) :)

      4. RobbyJ*

        If you don’t want to spend the money for really nice noise canceling headphones, look in to ear protection used while operating power tools, or target shooting, etc. They completely cover your ears and block a remarkable amount of noise; you can typically fit ear buds underneath if you want music or other white noise.

      5. JAL*

        I found a great pair of noise canceling earbuds that work super well at Walgreens for $11. They’re by iHome and I definitely recommend them.

    2. Koko*

      Ah, is that what the objection was? I couldn’t figure out how headphone were incompatible with writing and was thinking of the logistics of the cord or something somehow getting in the way. How interesting to hear, my job involves heavy creative writing and I write everything while listening to music!

    3. EB*

      When I worked in a lab, I used some headphones designed for use on a shooting range – they’re cheaper. They’re pretty good at blocking out noise. I spent a little more for a lighter weight pair than for the huge ones that you see people wear. Some of my co-workers actually liked my idea because they needed a quiet environment to write, but labs are not quiet.

    4. Vicki*

      Get sound isolators instead of noise canceling. Big difference.
      You can listen to sounds of the ocean, or rain, or choral music, or ambient instrumentals, or nothing at all.

      (Spouse and I are also writers and we can listen to music and write, so it’s not an automatic “can’t work”)

    5. PizzaSquared*

      I have a co-worker who uses earmuffs like you’d use at a shooting range or if you were operating a jackhammer. It looks kind of silly, but it does the job!

      1. just laura*

        That’s genius! I bought a pair of Philips noise canceling headphones for $40. They’re not as good as Bose but are much more reasonable.

  2. Diet Coke Addict*

    Is it squeaking because it’s the ball on the floor? Or on one of those plastic protector mats? Because removing that (or substituting a piece of carpet, or a blanket) or whatever might do the trick.

    But yeah, noise-cancelling headphones don’t have to be used with music. Even by themselves they may cut out the higher-register noises that are the distraction.

    1. Neeta*

      Good point. I’m thinking that it’s probably squeaking due to the floor. I also have a colleague who occasionally uses an exercise ball as a chair, and it’s perfectly silent on the carpet. OK, so he does bob up and down slightly.

      1. ChristinaW*

        Agreed, it must be the floor or something… my cube mate uses an exercise ball and it doesn’t make a sound.

    2. Vicki*

      Good question. I’ve used a ball in the past. They’re great for your lower back. Mine has never sqeaked. I ‘d have noticed.

    3. AnonyMouse*

      I had a coworker once who used a yoga ball as a chair for heath reasons and it never squeaked (as in, I actually never once heard it squeak) so I’m assuming it’s either the material of this coworker’s particular ball or (more likely) the floor underneath. Getting a small mat would probably solve the problem.

  3. Bend & Snap*

    Everyone had yoga balls in my old office and none of them squeaked. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to explore the source of the squeak and see if it can be corrected.

    1. ElinR*

      Yes, I’ve never seen a yoga ball squeek before. Maybe try to figure out the root cause, like the yoga ball being really old or something.

    2. Totes Anotes*

      This is exactly what I was thinking. Either this person needs some sort of rug under their “chair” or a different brand of yoga ball made of a quieter material. I’m sure this will do just as much for the sanity of the person sitting on the ball as it will for those around them.

    3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      A lot of people use yoga balls in our place and nobody squeaks. People right next to me use them.

      Of course, if I used one, the sound you would hear would be me falling flat on my face.

      1. Molly*


        I would love to, I just don’t have the coordination for sitting on a round thing. Walking on two little flat things is taxing some days, before coffee!

        But I’m happy because the other day in our corporate office I saw someone whose cube had been turned into a standing desk (just by raising the whole desktop surface, zero cost) and I’m going to be ALL over that.

        1. Other Molly*

          0 cost? how!? i’ve been resting my keyboard and monitor on a ream of paper for weeks. It’s a winning combination of inefficient and ugly.

    4. Purple Jello*

      Now I’m imaging someone wearing bright yellow rubber clown pants, sitting on the red yoga ball, on one of those plastic carpet protector mats.

      That would be distracting…

    5. Rita*

      Excellent point. Regular office chairs can get squeaky too, and it’s not out of line to try and find the cause of that to prevent the distracting noises. Similar situation, I think.

  4. Liz*

    Can you get a white noise machine to help? I’m not sure if that would make a difference but another option to try.

  5. ThursdaysGeek*

    I don’t think mine makes noise (except when I’m adding air, and I do that at the end of the day). I was surprised at how stable it is.

    It sounds like she might be a fidgety sitter, so a regular chair would probably make noise too.

  6. Another English Major*

    You might still be able to use headphones. Instrumental music its less distracting and may even help you concentrate better. I listen to light classical or global chill on Pandora. I also like nature sounds like the rain, or new age sounds. You could also try a white noise machine on your desk. I wouldn’t ask the coworker to change her chair.

    1. EmilyG*

      A while back I tried out the website focus@will that plays either music or white noise sounds that are supposedly calibrated to help you concentrate. I ended up not using it a lot because the tracks can get repetitive, but since we’re talking about white noise and online music, it’s sort of both.

    2. Abhorsen327*

      This is far from universally true – I can listen to vocal tracks or electronica while I write code, but classical/instrumental drives me up the wall – the complexity draws far more of my focus. I can’t listen to any music at all while I write text.

  7. Lizabeth*

    If the yoga noises are sharp, not soft, sounds, the noise canceling headphones won’t be much help. I have a pair and they don’t block sharp sounds. Certainly not my coworker’s voice (nails on a chalkboard) which why I got them to begin with… (But I do pretend I don’t hear things with them listening to podcasts)

    You might have better luck with the type of ear protection used with jackhammers and such – used to use a pair of those with a very noisy vacuum frame and it really did muffle the sound.

    1. Nancie*

      This. Now that my noise-cancelling head-phones are blocking the sound of the AC vent over my desk, my cube neighbor’s conversations are kind of distracting. It’s not a loud noise at all, but the constant changes in pitch do get through.

      But I’d rather have a bit more distraction and fewer noise-induced headaches.

    2. AnonyMouse*

      I have a bunch of earplugs intended for use at shooting ranges that are generally pretty effective against sharp noises (for obvious reasons). I don’t use them at work but you probably could, if you explained that people would need to wave rather than shout to get your attention. They have the added bonus of being pretty cheap at lots of sporting goods stores…at least in the U.S., never seen this specific type where I live now.

  8. Anonie Musy*

    My cube-mate uses a yoga ball sometimes and it will occasionally make noises, usually more the skin on leather type noises when she’s wearing a dress/skirt. One day we were feeling particularly juvenile and suggested that the most disturbing noise ever might be someone farting while sitting on the ball. We definitely laughed for a long time and got many sideways looks because of the laughter-fit.

  9. BOMA*

    I love using my yoga ball as a chair. They’re super popular in my office for whatever reason. The squeaking is unusual though, so I’d suggest noise cancelling headphones or maybe bringing in a cheap blanket for her to rest the ball on.

    1. KarenT*

      Do you find it gets you at the right height? I’ve been thinking about trying it but am not sure I’d be high enough.

        1. Persephone Mulberry*

          You don’t want to get the wrong size yoga ball for your height (leg length, really), because it can be much harder to balance (like getting on and off a bike that’s too tall). Not to mention embarrassing when you don’t get your center of gravity centered on the ball correctly and it goes shooting out from under you.

          1. BOMA*

            Hahaha that happened to me when I tried sitting on a friend’s yoga ball. I’m pretty petite (barely over 5 feet tall), but it’s all because of my legs – my torso is fairly normal in length, but my legs are absurdly short. I accidentally sat too far back and toppled right over.

            1. Editor*

              The dental practice I go to has enthusiastically adopted Gaiam ball chairs — people sit on balls but they can scoot around on the wheeled chair. There’s a very low back brace on the chair. They’re all very enthusiastic about the chairs, and the balls are up off the floor and it doesn’t take a huge-diameter ball to get someone sitting at the optimal height.

  10. CheeryO*

    You might get used to it, believe it or not. I have a wall clock in my cube that ticks pretty loudly, and I thought it was going to drive me insane when I first started. The noise stopped registering in my brain somewhere in the first few weeks.

    Another option would be to listen to white noise sounds on headphones. YouTube has quite a few 8+ hour long videos that are just rain/thunder sounds, waves, etc.

    1. Diet Coke Addict*

      The Songza app, which is free, also has a bunch of white noise channels–rain, ocean waves, “coffee shop” noise, plain white noise, outdoor woods noise, etc. It’s great.

    2. Ethyl*

      I was once over at my BFF’s parent’s home where he grew up and commented about how loud the clock was and he was so confused because he literally did not hear a clock at all. Brains! So useful! So weird!

      1. Diet Coke Addict*

        My parents have a big wall clock that chimes every hour and ticks loudly, and I never noticed it at all until I moved out and came home for a visit. I like the sound of it, but it totally threw me off when I visited home and went “What was THAT?”

      2. bridget*

        When I was a kid all of our overnight visitors would complain about not being able to sleep for the train whistles (train yard was a couple of miles away, but somehow really audible in my neighborhood). I was never bothered. After living away for a few years, now when I visit my parents I can’t believe they can’t hear it. It’s like when the refrigerator turns off and you hadn’t realized it was on before but now it feels graveyard silent (and vice versa).

        1. Mike C.*

          I had a friend growing up that lived right next to some tracks. We were playing some video games when one passed and I asked him, “How do you deal with all the train noise?”

          He looked at me confused as said, “What train noise?”

  11. Episkey*

    Hmmm, I use a yoga ball occasionally at my desk for brief-ish periods throughout the day and it doesn’t make any noise. I’m wondering if maybe your co-worker’s needs to have some air put in it?

    1. Episkey*

      PS, does your office floor have carpeting? Because if not, that may be the problem. If it’s a tile or other hard flooring, maybe you can see if she would be OK with adding a piece of carpeting underneath the ball or a blanket like someone else suggested.

    1. Hlyssande*

      My supervisor used something similar for awhile (ball on a heavy duty plastic ring with castors, basically).

      My problem with using a yoga ball is that twisting and rolling back are difficult on them, and to get out of my desk, I have to roll back and twist generally speaking. Clothing doesn’t slide very well over a yoga ball in my experience, so twisting is difficult.

    2. Sydney*

      We have two chairs like that in our building (not that brand though), and some regular yoga balls acting as chairs, and the ball-in-chair versions are the ones that squeak. Rubber on plastic, yech.

    3. Kethryvis*

      These were quite the rage at my office for a while, and they do seem to be a great bridge; gives people the yoga ball benefits, but still functions like an actual chair. I was about to post the same thing here!

  12. hermit crab*

    I’ve been in your position, except my office-mate made a lot of noise with her traditional chair. There has also been a super-intense typer and one cube neighbor who tossed a and caught beanbag with one hand all day long (ugh!). Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done about this type of office noise, and I think it’s at mostly up to us sensitive people to find solutions on our end.

    One thing that has actually really helped me is to try hard to make friends with the noisy person. Seeing them as a person that you like — instead of a source of irritation that is driving you up the wall — can go a long way! Some white noise in your headphones might also help (I really like Simply Noise, which is a free website). Of course, the best solution is to move your workspace, if you can swing that.

    1. LBK*

      One thing that has actually really helped me is to try hard to make friends with the noisy person. Seeing them as a person that you like — instead of a source of irritation that is driving you up the wall — can go a long way!

      I can totally vouch for this! I was ready to strangle my cube neighbor when I started here, but once I started to become friends with him somehow his incessant sounds became more endearing instead of irritating. And if they got particularly annoying on a given day, I was more comfortable jokingly saying “Geez, Percival, keep down the racket over there!” once we were friends.

      1. Mouse of Evil*

        That has worked for me in the past too. Things that drove me crazy in the first few weeks quit being problems after I made friends with my officemates. It can work the other way, though–some things that didn’t bother me at all started bothering me after I got to know someone I didn’t like. The longer I knew her, the less I liked her, and the more weird little things that shouldn’t have annoyed me REALLY did.

        Huh. Maybe I just figured out why my college roommate got so annoyed when I didn’t dispose of my half-deflated balloons promptly.

    2. K-Anon-Y*

      +1 I had to do a lot of writing involving highly technical subjects, in a work place that has grown increasing casual (read: noisy as well as unprofessional) over the years. WhiteNoiseLight is my white noise app of choice.

  13. LBK*

    Do you have to frequently stop to answer questions while you’re writing? If not, maybe you could try those foam earplugs. They work wonders for me as a light sleeper but they don’t hold up well over multiple removals/insertions so if you’d have to be taking them out frequently every day that may not work.

    I sit next to a call center, so when the noise of that starts to drive me batty I just grab an open conference room for an hour or two to bang out the work that requires concentration. Is that a viable option? Again, YMMV depending on your office culture and how required you are to be chained to your desk while you work, but I’ve seriously saved my sanity over the last few months by doing this.

  14. kristinyc*

    Noise canceling headphones + the Belle and Sebatian Pandora station.
    Or, classical/instrumental music. Or talk radio that you can tune out. Or just put the headphones on and don’t have anything playing at all. I’ve had open-floor office settings in very loud startups for the last few years, and headphones are the only way I get any work done ever.

    Yoga ball chairs aren’t THAT uncommon – I’ve had co-workers use them at my last two jobs.

    1. Sue Donem*

      There’s a Belle and Sebastian station on Pandora? MUST. GO. LISTEN.

      But, yes, headphones are the only way I get anything done at work, whether it’s because of the graveyard silence in my office or the racket-causing printing machines next door. Both drive me batty without any way to block them out.

  15. BRR*

    I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask her to use a chair but I think it’s acceptable to point out the squeaking is making it difficult for you to concentrate and together try to figure out what is causing it. Instead of saying “you need to make it not squeak” I would try something along the lines of “I know you’re not doing this on purpose but sometimes your ball makes some noise and it’s difficult for me to concentrate on my writing. Can we try to figure out what’s causing it?”

    1. Dmented Kitty*

      ^^ My thoughts exactly. While I think that yes, noise-cancelling headphones/earphones might be a solution, I think it would be better to find the source of the problem. I had a coworker who used a yoga ball and no sounds at all — we have carpet flooring. So I assume the flooring in OP’s area isn’t carpet? Or maybe OP’s coworker sits in a way where her shoes rest against the ball and it squeaks as it rubs against it? Or maybe skin keeps rubbing on it?

      But maybe asking nicely would help? If the root cause isn’t really feasible to fix directly then just use the noise-canceling devices route.

  16. nep*

    Good move by your coworker to sit on a stability ball at work. Odd that it’s making noise like that. Same question another commenter posed: is it the ball against the floor or her body against the ball causing noise? I can’t imagine that can’t be remedied in some way.

  17. AdminAnon*

    I’m sitting on a yoga ball right now and I just actively attempted to recreate the noises you’re experiencing, but I came up empty. There are four of us in my office who use yoga balls and I’ve never heard anything like that. However, as others have suggested above, it could be something to do with the type of flooring you have. Hmm, now I feel the need to experiment…

    *picks up yoga ball and moves to tiled kitchen area*

    Yep. That did it! I also noticed that my boots made a similar noise when I first sat down, which is something that I haven’t previously registered. OP, if your coworker wears dresses or boots and shifts a lot, that could be part of the problem.

    I wonder if something like this would be helpful:

    That way she could have the yoga ball for her back, but the chair frame could potentially minimize the noises.

    1. Adam*

      I’ve never seen one of those before but now I’m curious: would having it on wheels make it more active to sit on or would it make it easier and thus defeat the purpose?

      1. Judy*

        I was wondering that also. If the ball is held relatively stable, it seems like you wouldn’t get the active benefit of stabilizing yourself.

        1. AdminAnon*

          The benefits–as I understand it–are still pretty similar. I don’t have that chair, but one of my coworkers does and she loves it. I just asked her and she says that between the wheels on the chair and the curve of the ball, she still feels her core being actively engaged. Also, the ball can be detached from the chair frame to be used as an actual exercise ball.

    2. Hlyssande*

      That’s exactly what my supervisor tried out for awhile! It didn’t help her back much, but I’m sure it’s much easier to move around on.

  18. KTM*

    A number of people have mentioned this already but I’ll also chime in… we have a lot of people at our office that sit on yoga balls at their desk and I’ve never heard them make squeaky or distracting noises. I think you could address the noise issue with your coworker without implying they can’t use a ball at all. Could they put an area rug down if you’re on tile/plastic? Is there a different type of ball they could use?

  19. alma*

    I wouldn’t make it about the yoga ball. Indeed, I’ve known many people with back issues who found yoga balls to be a godsend compared to regular chairs. I had one coworker whose yoga ball was banned because the company thought it was a safety liability. She was SO upset, absolutely begged and pleaded to keep it — and she was normally one of the most easygoing people I’d ever worked with.

    I would stick to approaching it the same way you would approach any other noise issue (excessively loud eating, sniffling/noseblowing, foot-tapping, whatever) . You don’t necessarily want to try to micromanage if they can or cannot do a certain thing at their desk, but the noise is fair game for a polite “hey, what can we do about this?” conversation.

  20. Alien vs Predator*

    This is completely normal. I’ve seen quite a few people do this at every office I’ve worked in.

    OP, are you sure this is the root problem? Is it possible that this just comes with the territory in sitting in an open office environment? Isn’t it likely that if it wasn’t the yoga ball distracting you it would just be something else?

    Not trying to be smart here. Open office environments absolutely suck. I have to accommodate for this by heavy use of earphones, working while facing a wall, and a lot of mental practice at tuning people out. I find that it is far and away the sound of other peoples’ conversations that are the most distracting.

  21. Lamington*

    At my workplace they are banned. However when we had them, someone used a stabilize base and that might eliminate the squeakiness.

      1. alma*

        As mentioned above, I worked somewhere that banned them. The rationale was that it was a safety issue, and they didn’t want to be held liable if the worker fell off the ball and hurt themselves. That particular company was huge and extremely bureaucratic, exactly the type of place where nobody was remotely surprised that there turned out to be chair regulations.

        1. Alien vs Predator*

          Hahahahaha I believe you, but thanks for the laugh. I’m sure an epidemic of falling off yoga balls would have broken out had your company not so bravely stepped in to intervene on their employees’ behalf.

          1. fposte*

            The imagined soundtrack for this tragedy is making my day. [dull rubbery squelch] “Aaaah!” [dull rubbery squelch] “Aaaah!”

        2. KJR*

          We actually had a lady trip over her regular office chair and break her foot! People can and do get hurt on just about anything.

          1. Andy*

            We had a lady break her leg with a regular rolling office chair…by standing on it, in four inch heels, to hang a thing on the wall. There’s no cure, she’ll always be that way.

            1. Tinker*

              Every time I get tempted to stand on a chair with wheels to do something, the spectre of the safety director at my first job appears before me, looking disapproving. Then I find something more sensible to stand on.

              This, I think, is the sign of a truly good safety program.

          2. MaryMary*

            A friend of mine managed an individual who sat down one day and his chair didn’t just break, it practically exploded. Bits and pieces all over, a wheel flew through the air and narrowly missed someone’s head. The individual was overweight, but even so no one could figure out why the chair had broken so violently. He just sat down normally. We felt so bad for the guy. Incidentally, the entire office got new chairs about a month later.

        3. Sue Donem*

          I once worked at a similarly bureaucratic place that banned sandals…not because they thought they looked unprofessional, but because “people would run over their toes with the rolling chairs”. (At the time, I had a second job at a department store where I rolled Z-bars full of clothes while in dress sandals and never injured myself.) To this day I swear it was because my boss personally did not like sandals. I also wanted to wear spike heels to that job to prove a point, but I decided falling down and breaking my neck wasn’t worth it.

          1. BostonKate*

            My company banned flip flops “for safety reasons”, but the 5 inch heels some of the ladies wear are a non-issue haha

          2. Mouse of Evil*

            We had to wear closed-toed shoes at the taco place where I worked in college. I thought it was stupid until the day I had to empty the previous day’s trash into the dumpster and spilled day-old taco sauce all over my shoes. If it had gotten on my bare toes I would have been too grossed out to ever go back to work there. (The official reason was that the hot oil from the fryer could splatter and burn someone on the foot… but our uniforms had short sleeves, and we didn’t have to wear face masks, so I always thought that was illogical.)

        4. ThursdaysGeek*

          I’ve worked places that banned them for this reason too. I got mine as a health initiative prize at my current work, so they can’t ban it. :) And, when I first sat on it, I was surprised at how very stable it was. I’m more likely to just tip over than to fall off the yoga ball.

        5. Mike C.*

          So what happens when you have employees who complain about chronic back pain due to the types of chairs they provide? They’re setting themselves up for some nasty lawsuits that way.

          1. Jessa*

            Then you go in and make it a request for reasonable accommodation. In the US they’re probably going to have to let you use it as long as you can get your doctor to sign off on need. It’s pretty cheap even if the company has to provide one and if the employee owns one, they’re really going to have to stretch to call it unreasonable to use it. But sometimes you have to play cya on behalf of the company before getting annoyed at them. “Yes you’re worried about ‘safety,’ reasonable accommodation covers you about me using this.” In at least two companies I worked for they were perfectly okay with my doing x, but wanted paperwork in case someone complained about it.

        1. fposte*

          That’s hilarious. On those grounds, they should ban our office chairs–people tip over in those all the time.

          1. louise*

            All the time? I snorted at that. I haven’t seen it happen, but would love to! I don’t lean back in mine, but enough other people here do that perhaps it’s just a matter of time.

            1. cereal killer*

              We have small light rolling chairs around some of our conference tables. The front legs are angled back, so if you lean forward they tip over and shoot out from under you. Every single person in our office has done it at least once. It’s kind of an initiation. As someone who has the tendency to sit on the edge of my seat, I hate those chairs.

              1. Kyrielle*

                We had a broken chair in one of our meeting rooms for a while before it was removed. It was fine if you perched carefully, but if you put too much weight forward on it, the thing that holds it in place would release and the front of the chair would drop, dumping you off and forward.

                There was another chair, identical in appearance but not broken.

                Very few people sat in either, because they were not sure which one would abruptly drop them on the floor if they leaned forward.

          2. Cat*

            Someone in my office recently got an actual concussion because he leaned too far back in his desk chair while facing away from his desk; he hit the corner of his desk on the way down.

            1. Jamie*

              Minus the concussion I’ve done this more times than I can count – fortunately the way I’m situated I only hit the floor.

              It’s always when working without a break for countless hours and I lean back to crack my back. There is only about an inch difference between a satisfying crack and hitting the floor head first and backwards.

              And I must be president of the lazy club because the thought of being forced to sit up straight all day is a nightmare for me – I know my back and headaches would be better if I didn’t slouch but it’s so uncomfortable to sit up properly I save it for when people can see me.

              1. Monika*

                That just means that your core strength is weak. ;-) No seriously, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. And sitting up straight doesn’t mean to swallow a stick, it’s dynamic, leaning a bit more forward, a bit more backward, changing position constantly. Of course that means to have a good = expensive fully adjustable office chair and to adjust that chair properly! For me adding my ballance cushion to the mix made the difference.

                Er… yeah… I’m off my soapbox now…

        2. Elysian*

          I wish that these offices knew how many times a day I jam my finger in between the arm of my chair-shaped chair and my desk. I bet it hurts a lot more than falling off a yoga ball and way more often.

            1. Youth Services Librarian*

              Someone at my library (before my time) decided it would be a brilliant idea to have all the chairs at the public computers be rocker chairs – Every day I hear a constant “wha!!” as people sit down, lean back and the chair tips! I’ve had several kids tip completely over in them as well.

              1. Mouse of Evil*

                My kid’s school has those. The PTA meets in the library, and the first meeting every year is like, “Whaaa?” “OW!” “Huh?” “Whoa!”

  22. GOG11*

    I have ADHD and, for this reason, I can be easily distracted. In one of my offices, I sit close enough to a group of classrooms that I can hear lectures going on. In my other office, I sit in the lobby and there are students coming and going all the time. These used to distract me to no end, but after a while, I don’t even notice them anymore. Perhaps if you give yourself more time to acclimate, the noises will stop registering.

  23. Ann O'Nemity*

    The problem isn’t that your co-worker is using an exercise ball. The problem is that her particular ball sucks.

    It’d be the same as if a co-worker were using an old and squeaky chair. The good news is that buying a nice, non-sucky exercise ball costs way less than buying a nice, non-sucky office chair does. (And way less than decent noise-cancelling headphones.)

  24. BadPlanning*

    Is it similar to the sound of sleeping on an air mattress? I know whenever I travel with my air mattress and won’t be sleeping on carpet, I also try to bring an extra blanket to put underneath or the air mattress always makes unpleasant squeaking/squelching noises.

    So echoing the others that if it’s on non-carpet, maybe a small rug or mat would be handy. Maybe you could assume she knows its noisy and give the air mattress tip, “Hey Sansa, when I use my air mattress on a hard surface, it makes that same squeaky noise that the ball makes — it totally helps if you put it on a bit of blanket, or maybe a little mat or rug or something. ” Although maybe that’s passive aggressive? Sometimes I can’t decide if you’re trying to help a person save face by making something indirect or being a jerk and you should just say “Hey, you’re chair is really squeaky, can you try adding a rug?”

  25. JournalistWife*

    I’m sitting on mine right now in my carpeted office. While the carpet keeps it from squeaking incessantly, there’s usually a small squeak sound if I mount/dismount (i know that’s a funny way to describe sitting down and getting up, but it makes sense for a ball where there is a modicum of strategy involved in how you get up without falling). I’d imagine bare legs would increase this — although I’ve always swapped in my crappy desk chair on days when I wore a skirt to work anyway because I felt it was more ladylike. The reason I use one isn’t even for my back; my monitor is at an odd distance from my body due to it being in the corner area of my desk, and I had to keep switching back and forth between my bifocals and computer glasses and was still coming home with headaches. I eventually realized it was because over the course of a work session, I tend to lean in or slouch back when I’m in a chair, changing the distance between my eyes and the computer monitor. Having to balance on the ball completely eliminated that problem; when I’m on my ball, my eyes are always the same distance from the screen and I can wear corrective glasses accordingly. So there are multiple reasons why a yoga ball can be helpful in the workplace, though I can sympathize with the distraction noise if it exists. That said, I’ve never worked in an office where there wasn’t something random causing sound distraction and I tend to agree with the commenters above regarding that issue.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I was just talking to my chiro about computer monitors. He said they should be straight across from your eyes, so you are not looking up or down at it. I put books under mine at home and I have to find something for work. It seems to help a lot.

  26. HR Manager*

    I started seeing yoga balls pop up in the late 90s and have seen them in every office since (financial services office included) so I don’t find yoga balls unusual at all. Never heard them squeak though.

    The newer balls I see even have legs underneath them, or there is a stand for you to keep your ball in place. I’m not sure you can do anything now, but as you get to know her, maybe you can casually bring it up that her chair squeaks. Or play dumb and ask the team…”what’s that squeaking sound I keep hearing?”

    1. OhNo*

      It may, but in much the same way that sitting on a giant rubber ball in the first place is a safety hazard.

      If nothing else, there are usually patches of carpet or some kind of soft mat that stick to the floor well enough to reduce any potential safety risks. And I think they’re pretty cheap, too.

  27. Observer*

    Others have made most of the points I would have made. I just want to pick on one issue. If you do bring up the noise issue -stick to the NOISE. That is the only legitimate issue. The kind of chair someone sits in is really none of your concern. And, even in your own head, it might be a good idea to drop the “unprofessional” train of thought. The idea that there is a “professional” standard for chairs won’t serve you well. (Of course that assumes you don’t do something juvenile or offensive by way of decoration.)

    1. Persephone Mulberry*

      I think (hope) it’s not the seating choice itself that the OP is calling unprofessional, but the distracting squeaky noise. Agreed that the word “unprofessional” shouldn’t enter into the conversation at all, though – “distracting” should be sufficient.

  28. L McD*

    I gotta throw in with the “Squeaking isn’t normal” crowd. I’m sure it can be rectified somehow. My actual office chair squeaks way more than my yoga ball, which actually doesn’t squeak at all (but I don’t use it nearly as often as I should). And seconding “stick to the noise” issue. It’s not about whether it’s professional or weird or acceptable or unacceptable for her to sit on a yoga ball, it’s about the fact that the noise is distracting. If she had a squeaky chair like mine, it’d be the same issue (thankfully I work alone).

    1. HR Manager*

      I used to have one of those squeaky chairs and felt so bad every time I sat down or every time I moved because it would creak. Given how outrageously priced office chairs are, we didn’t request a new one, but I secretly traded with a chair I “found”…. it was making me self-conscious and driving me batty.

      1. Dmented Kitty*

        If I find my chair is squeaky but otherwise all right, I’d probably just bring a can of WD-40 from home and try lubricating the problem areas. I’m DIY that way — I even bring my Swiffer duster from home if my work area needs some throrough dusting.

  29. sally*

    I know 2 offices that forbid using yoga balls for seats. They both claim there is no valid study that supports the claim it helps with back pain. They also say its a safety issue…people fall off or over them all the time. I agree with these two companies and the OP. Yoga balls do not belong in the office.

      1. Observer*

        If that’s the kind of “research” your company uses to make decisions, you are on extremely shaky ground. They don’t actually present ANY evidence or reason to believe the claim that people fall off these things, and the little evidence they present that these things are not useful to MOST people isn’t especially compelling. Sure, it’s enough to keep someone from MANDATING them, but to FORBID them? Puleez!

        In general, the idea of using a study that finds that most people find something uncomfortable are nonsense in the context of the use if a particular person. (The reverse is often true as well, of course.) The same thing is true here. I can imagine that for most people the use of a yoga ball would be uncomfortable. But, that has nothing to do with particular individuals with specific needs.

        1. sally*

          Chill, I never said that was what they used. Besides, any company can refuse to allow outside items onto their property. They don’t NEED “valid” research.

          1. Observer*

            Sure, any company can do anything stupid. How many times a week does Alison say something that more or less boils down to “This is an absolutely stupid / bad / crazy / counterproductive idea, but your boss can do it anyway.”

            It’s still stupid. Faux “research” of this sort doesn’t change that. And phony claims just show that their excuses are either dishonest or also stupid.

    1. HR Manager*

      They’re designed to strengthen your core, and stronger core = stronger tummy muscles. Stronger tummy muscles help with back problems. This has been quoted to me by my chiropractor as well as trainers, pilates teachers and exercise coaches. For the record, after nearly 15 years, I’ve never had an employee fall off or over a yoga ball in my offices.

    2. Episkey*

      Well, my physical therapist would disagree would you! They help back issues because they help strengthen your core.

      Also, I have never fallen off of mine! I can’t imagine people falling off them “all the time!”

      1. Bea W*

        I’m a clutz and found them to be pretty steady if you keep your feet on the floor. It looks like people would fall off sitting on a ball but you really have to make a bit of an effort.

    3. Observer*

      If they are claiming that people actually fall over them, that is a proof that they are just making stuff up. These things are way too big for anyone to fall over them more than any other item in a normal office. Or have these office ALSO banned printer stands and two drawer file cabinets (about the same height as these balls), all boxes (generally lower that these balls) and ALL stools and chairs without arms (which are the same height as yoga balls)?

    4. EA*

      The company I work for prohibits yoga balls, due to them being “unable to be adjusted for ergonomics”

  30. MaryMary*

    This letter reminded me of The Office episode where Dwight sits on a yoga ball at his desk and causes it to make obnoxious noises, so Jim stabs the yoga ball with a pair of scissors while Dwight is sitting on it. Don’t take this approach, OP, unless you are actually a sitcom character.

    Like the others have mentioned, white noise or instrumental music might help. I use a app called Simply Noise (the lite version is free) It also has “brown noise” and “pink noise,” which operate at slightly different frequencies and block out different sounds. For example, pink noise is better at blocking out the adorable noises young neighbor children make early on weekend mornings. I also listen to classical or jazz when I write, or one of my friends suggested listening to music from other countries, since non-English lyrics shouldn’t be too distracting while you’re writing.

  31. OP Squeaky*

    Hello everyone! OP here. All the comments are very helpful. I’m looking up pink noise apps to download as I type! Our office does have carpeting so I’m not entirely sure what the issue was. I just took my own yoga ball around the condo and tried it on different flooring types — I could not replicate the results. I appreciate everyone else’s tests, which inspired my own. : )

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I’m not familiar enough with yoga balls. but is it under-inflated? Is that a possibility?

      1. Bea W*

        Maybe it’s the texture or material? I haven’t found yoga balls to be squeaky so I’m puzzled this one is so noisy.

  32. Bea W*

    I’ve seen this in offices. It’s not exactly the most comfortable seat in the world. People do not voluntarily sit on a yoga ball all day without having some compelling health reason to do so. I’m not sure what causes the noise but maybe you can work together to find out and come up with a solution to make it less noisy, like if rubbing on a hard floor causes squeaking, she can put a mat under it.

    I’ve had chronic back and neck issues for 20 years that make me sympathize with the ball sitter here. The noise may be annoying, but her choice of seating is not “unprofessional”, especially if it’s what it is due to a health condition.

  33. QK*

    First hipster glasses, now yoga balls… is “is this professional” going to succeed “is this legal” as our favorite AMA trope? :/

    I think both of these things reflect broader, cultural shifts, that are simply showing up in the workplace as well. To be fair though, ball chairs aren’t new–in every place I’ve worked thus far (so, that’s since 2008 and three offices for me), there’s been at least one person with a ball chair. I’ve actually been considering getting one lately myself.

    1. JAL*

      Someone actually recommended one for my bad back but unfortunately I have zero sense of balance due to brain damage and I would be constantly falling off. I will stick with the support I bought on the back of my chair.

  34. Monika*

    I’m using a balance cushion instead of a full sized yoga ball. Works like a charm for my tension headache issues. It transforms your avarage office chair almost into a yoga ball on wheels, it’s not as instable as a real ball, but that might be a plus for some.

    1. Fish Microwaver*

      Can you provide a link for this please? It sounds like a reasonable compromise for those offices that wont allow a full sized ball.

        1. Cath in Canada*

          After looking at this link, I finally know what the weird thing on my colleague’s desk is! I’d been wondering what on earth that was :D

          I walked over today to ask her how she likes it, and she let me try it out. Placing my order today! Thanks for this! (She said her chiropractor recommended it but her physio said not to use it for more than an hour at a time, and to ramp up gradually, so I’m going to go with that).

      1. Monika*

        It prevents me from bunching up my shoulders all the time, I have to sit up straight. It really makes a difference. I even take the cushion with me into longer meetings. At first I got raised eyebrows, but Lo! and Behold! other people got their own.
        I hope it brings you relieve too, these headaches really s*ck!

  35. New here*

    We have yoga ball in one of our meeting rooms… It doesn’t make any noise unless you jump on it real hard…. I mean, you could give your colleague a nice Christmas present of a new qualitative yoga ball ))))

  36. Susan*

    How does it help your back? I’m new to yoga balls. Does it just force you to sit up straight?

    I was at my doctor’s last week and she was actually sitting on a yoga ball, and I commented on it (not rudely; we have a friendly relationship) and she said it helps her back. She’s the doctor! I guess she would know.

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