there’s a white noise war in my office

A reader writes:

When my company mandated a return to in-office work, I did not expect the biggest problem to be the office noise machine. But hear me out.

During the pandemic, my company installed a Bose speaker system in the ceilings of our large open office to play white noise (actually brown noise, which is supposed to be more soothing). Sounds great, right?

Everyone is bothered to some degree, but I seem to be unusually sensitive to it. It’s triggering a mix of anxiety, irritation and just …hyperarousal? Like it’s going straight to my amygdala. I don’t (didn’t?) have misophonia. The effect builds over time, and volume/proximity matter.

There are control knobs in each section of the office with settings from 1 to 10. At 8, it’s extremely disruptive to everyone in my area. You have to raise your voice to have a conversation. At 6, people 15 feet from the speaker complain. At 4, I don’t notice it if I keep my own headphones on, but it still affects me — the first day on that setting, I didn’t realize what was happening until I went outside and my mood abruptly (eerily) improved. At 3, I’m tense and feel mentally wrung out at the end of the day, but within a more normal scale. (It may be my real reaction to being in the office again.)

When coworkers showed me the controls, they warned me not to turn it down too far, lest the company president insist it be set to 9.

Her office is in a different speaker zone, but it’s her pet project — and an emotional hot button. During the lockdown, one of the remaining in-office staff got into a long conflict with the prez before eventually being fired. The noise volume was the focus. Feelings were hurt, and positions became entrenched.

Every night (and whenever the prez passes by), the volume is turned to 8. Every morning, we turn it down, hoping not to go too far. My neighbor brought it up with our manager and was told we shouldn’t be touching the knob.

The speaker is above my head. I need to stick this out until I find a new job.

Is there any effective way to improve things? Maybe something is wrong with the sound balance or this is some infrasound effect, and an audio-savvy reader knows a way to frame it as a technical glitch and fix it?

Good lord. If the company president wants white noise while she works, she can play white noise in her own office — not inflict it on everyone who’s stuck in an open office, when people have made it clear they hate it.

I can’t speak to the technical parts of this question (readers who can are welcome to!) but I’m going to assume for the sake of this answer that the speaker is functioning the way it’s supposed to.

You’ve got two different options.

The first, and possibly the most effective, is to band together as a group to address this. One person battling it out with the president isn’t the way to go — someone got fired after doing that! — but there’s safety and power in numbers. If a large group of you point out that you can’t easily hear each other and it’s making a lot of you tense and uncomfortable (and affecting your mental health, if that seems true), it’s possible you’ll get some traction. If you have HR, that’s where your group should start. If you don’t, talk to whoever manages the physical space or look for someone who works closely with the president and has the ability to get things done. If that doesn’t work, you’ll at least have protection of having spoken as a group — as opposed to one person trying to fight the battle alone.

The other option is to approach it as a health issue and ask for a medical accommodation. The Americans with Disabilities Act probably isn’t in play here, but you can use the same basic framing for requesting a medical accommodation. In fact, you might even talk to your doctor and see if they’re able to write something official for you, given the effect it’s having on you. (I don’t know the right medical language to use to describe that effect, but your doctor probably will.) Your requested accommodation could be anything from moving you to a quieter space or further away from the speaker, to setting up a speaker-free zone for you and others who need it, to getting rid of the white noise altogether (that would be logical, although who knows how much your president will dig in her heels), to letting you work from home if that’s feasible for your job.

To be clear, employers aren’t required to provide the specific accommodation a doctor says you need — and if the ADA isn’t in play, they’re not required to accommodate you at all — but most employers will try to work with you when they can. It’s at least worth a try.

If none of that works, all you’re really left with is the hope that someone in your office (not you, of course) will eventually be driven to destroy the speakers.

I’m sorry you’re dealing with this.

{ 394 comments… read them below }

  1. V*

    What a… lovely sound system.

    It would be such a… shame if anything were to happen to it. Those knobs are awfully fragile…

      1. Lance*

        As another someone with sensory issues (and who, as a result, finds most white noise intensely grating), I’d only last a few minutes before wanting to tear them down.

        Credit to OP’s patience on this one, but hopefully they don’t have to deal with this nonsense too much longer.

        1. Presea*

          This is the sort of thing that would make me strongly consider quitting on the spot without anything lined up. Good luck, OP.

          1. Gandalf the Nude*

            OP, I can fully relate. I actually had a full on ADHD meltdown the other day due to sensory overload from our open office’s radio. My section of the office is way quieter than the other part, but the volume was set up to be the same throughout the office. So, we’d turn it down because it was dance club loud in our area, and then someone else would turn it back up because they couldn’t hear it over the chatter in their area. It was so bad I bought a pair of earplugs, and I could still hear the damn music (and it was even more distracting because all the other background sounds *were* muffled). I had been planning to give our team leaders one more week to get it fixed before escalating it as a medical accommodation, but after months and months of this, that day ended up being too much, and I finally just… cracked.

            It’s utterly ridiculous that this is what it finally took to get the problem solved (and I especially hate that I had to out my disability so spectacularly to my boss, coworkers, and in the end some senior leaders), but to their credit, they had the speakers fully turned off in our area by the time I returned from crying in the bathroom, and they’ve been silent since then.

            All that to say, it is absolutely WILD how much energy we lose to filtering out background noise and the difference it can make to our demeanor when we can expend that energy elsewhere. Just… immediate and staggering quality of life difference. I feel like a much more pleasant person over the last few weeks, and most of the work-related issues that had had me thinking about quitting seem perfectly manageable now. Hell, I’m even making my coworkers laugh more just by being able to hear well enough to participate in conversations.

            I hope you’re able to get this resolved as a group, OP. If not, I recommend going the accommodation route sooner rather than later because meltdowns are exhausting. And if all that fails, do be extra kind to yourself until you’re out of there.

            1. Inca*

              This is especially ridiculous since headphones exist. They’re wonderful. They make you able to listen to music while at the same time not bothering people who don’t want to listen to that music. You can both put on and cancel out white noise with ease. How and why exactly are we spending any millisecond at all at something that is totally technically solved?

        2. sweet christmas!*

          Yeah, I was going to say that I would be that person who would be eventually driven to destroy the speakers. I have sensory issues too and this would drive me completely bananas.

      2. Sandangel*

        I’m having flashbacks to a time in high school where the weightlifting room for gym’s stereo system had the bass set about five levels too much for me, and I was curled up clutching my head until a coach tall enough to reach turned it down and my brain stopped vibrating. Ughh.

      3. MM*

        Absolutely. My ADHD ass would have turned into a werewolf, bitten a stack of printer paper in half, and climbed the walls by the middle of day 2. If anyone at OP’s workplace has any kind of condition that involves audio processing, it absolutely could be an ADA issue.

          1. Perilous*

            You are my commenter of the day! I would like to buy you a piña colada. You know where to meet me.

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      Yep, sure would be a darn shame if that there speaker had rats gnawing the wires…

      Man, I thought that store I worked in that had ONE Christmas tape that worked in their ancient system was a nightmare…

      1. RatGirl*

        Gosh, I thought bring my pet to work day included my pet rats! So sorry!

        I generally don’t mind white noise. I always have a variety of fans, dehumidifiers, and purifiers purring all around my office room. But I work from home, and don’t have to subject anyone else to the noise. In an office, I wore headphones.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          Came to say the same thing. I have a white noise app. I tune it to brown noise. Having it play all day would be my dream. It was real for a awhile. Post Covid hybrid resulted in fewer people in the office. It was turned down because enough people complained. I was bummed. Still am.
          But if an optional thing makes it better for some people but makes it worse for others, that’s not a hill to die on. That’s a reason to adjust myself. I’ll wear headphones.
          I don’t get people who reach manager/leader status and become the worst versions of themselves.

      2. Dahlia*

        Religious thrift store. One CD. Had a scratch so one of the songs stopped working. 9 songs about Jesus, all day long.

        If I ever meet that man in a dark alley, it’s over for him.

      3. T*

        Omg, you just reminded me of when I was working in a coffee shop. The owner had one and only one CD, and it had like eight songs. So they were repeated extremely frequently. One song on it was “Ring my Bell” by Anita Ward. Sorry to Anita, but when you hear that song probably 15 times a day for 4 years…. It sounds like screeching.

        1. Shakti*

          I worked in a luxury retail store that only had 8 songs on their designated playlist and 15 years later if I hear riri’s shut up and drive or the song you’re my satellite I instantly flinch and am filed with rage lol they also made me clean the floor with dry paper towels in my hands and knees so they were all around terrible people. No one should have to listen to the same 8 songs for 8 hours a day

        2. Mr. Shark*

          Ring My Bell is like screeching in the first place. 15 times a day would cause me to go on a rampage…

        3. Deejay*

          The UK’s National Lottery had an advert with James Blunt. He talked about how he planned to use his lottery winnings to install devices across the country which would play his song “You’re Beautiful” constantly.

          The idea of the advert was “Make sure he doesn’t win”.

        4. Kayem*

          I used to work in the seasonal department of a major retailer. Christmas music in our area started a month earlier and ended a month later than the rest of the store to accommodate pre-and post-Christmas sales. And unlike the rest of the store, it was through a local sound system that wasn’t faint enough to tune out, unlike the regular PA system. Four solid months of Christmas music, nine hours a day, five days a week.

          The only good thing was we had access to the CD player, so we could put our own CDs in. When I was working late shifts by myself, I’d put in Transsiberian Orchestra’s Christmas album because it was tolerable. But that was only once a week. The rest of the week was regular carols and radio hits, plus the regular afternoon Christmas comedy song rotation my coworker loved. There are some specific songs that will send me screaming, I still can’t stand hearing Christmas music in general, and I usually wear headphones while shopping in December.

          Maybe it would have been less grating if I were Christian, but I doubt it.

          1. Anonymous for This*

            This reminded me of the “alternative” version of The Twelve Days of Christmas.

            The gift on the first day being A sunshine yellow tab of LSD.

        5. Flat White*

          Although I (thankfully) don’t remember any of the rest of the songs from the Starbucks fall 1999 in-store CD, I still have a visceral loathing for Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire.

      4. Quill*

        If I had any way to get to the speakers when I worked retail I would have been fired.

        We had a cd that was just under half an hour long. To this day there are a LOT of songs that are an instant radio is turned off for me, and most of them were on that CD.

    2. Lanlan*

      Why… yes. Someone with dyspraxia AND sensory issues could just… snap them right off…

      (thinking of all the times my mother broke knobs on radios)

    3. ferrina*

      Yes, it would truly be a shame….sometimes the knobs will come off if they are fiddled with too much. If anyone has toddlers, now is the time to deploy them.

      1. ferrina*

        Other tragedies:
        – You walk by and trip and happen to spill your coffee all over the controls (make sure the knob is already set to low, in case the coffee sets it to that volume permanently).
        -Eat something very sticky (chocolate donut with extra icing?), then turn the volume down. Let the president get residue on her fingers when she turns the volume down.
        -If your company puts up flyers, a flyer might be put over the speaker accidentally.
        -Turn down the noise, then play music to mask the absence of the noise. Perhaps someone happens to engage the prez in conversation every time she walks by so she doesn’t visually check the knob
        -Every time the prez walks near, the most annoying person in the office intercepts them to talk about [painfully unnecessary details][obnoxiously cheerful personal chatter][pictures of their pet rock in different costumes][recounting details of random episodes of their favorite TV show]. Do this every time. With luck, the prez might find a different route that avoids your part of the office.

        1. CanRelate*

          Bose and sonos speakers are incredibly vulnerable to infiltration, it’d be a shame if a techy person just made that whole speaker system inexplicably controlled from a different source, particularly if its something a boss would have trouble diagnosing…..

          It would also be really petty to get a few of those horrible little random beeping devices that is super small and just plays a beep on completely unpredictable intervals and put them in places near your bosses traffic areas/office and attribute it to the speakers glitching out.

          1. Anonny*

            Get the speakers permanently tuned to a playlist of such hits as the Screaming Goats Christmas Album (includes some sheep, I’m afraid) and “Dubstep Gregorian Chant Nightcore Cotton-Eye Joe.” Or replace it with the Shadow Temple music from Ocarina of Time turned down low if you wanna be subtle about it, I think it has white noise undertones to really jack up the creepy.

            Yes, it will be a nightmare for everyone in the office, but to be fair it sounds like it’s already a nightmare for the majority of people anyway.

            1. Not Totally Subclinical*

              I am in awe that “Dubstep Gregorian Chant Nightcore Cotton-Eye Joe” actually exists. You have made my world a brighter place.

              1. Donkey Hotey*

                wait, this is actually a thing? i figured it was “let’s pull four genres out of a hat.” i have a good friend who’s into weird music and this just might break him.

            2. Kayem*

              Oh my Bob, thank you so much for introducing me to this delightful trinity of songs. I can’t believe I haven’t heard them before. I’m definitely slipping them into the playlist I use for when I need to keep people out of my office.

          2. Quill*

            the petty in me approves, but also, random beeping goes directly to my amygdala so I would personally choose a different strategy… something like having the source be set to mute so that no matter what boss does with the volume knob the speaker does not turn on.

        2. carit*

          – Pull the knob off, turn the level down, and reattach with that set as “high”. Peg the higher levels.
          – Re-label the settings backwards.

          1. Princess Sparklepony*

            For someone out there those costumes are not hypothetical. You just haven’t met them yet.

    4. Old Admin*

      Wasn’t there a story about some irritating equipment that ended in *snip* *snip* ?

    5. RecoveringSWO*

      I dealt with a similar issue in the Navy–the Marines did not like the ship’s speakers blasting them with whistles that didn’t pertain to their duties. My favorite Marines opened up the speaker box and simply disconnected the wires (we wouldn’t tattle about the speakers being messed with and would reconnect them after deployment). My least favorite Marines cut the chord so that we had to buy new parts (they were tattled on).

      1. Donkey Hotey*

        I wonder who took the time to explain it to the former group and how many crayons they used. :-)
        (To the aghast commentariat: Standard Navy-Marine banter. No harm)

      2. dryakumo*

        I just had flashbacks to when the EOOWs were required to turn off the 1MC in forward O-country when we did drills because the pilots complained about being woken up…resulting in the female reactor dept officers being stuck in our offices during drills because we lived up there and wouldn’t hear the casualties being called away. (Love your username btw)

        1. RecoveringSWO*

          That’s terrible! In a (maybe?) more humorous 1MC fail story…I was embarked for my last deployment and for some awful reason, the ship’s BMs all decided that they when called man overboard, they would blow the whistle without keying the mic and only after blowing the whistle they would key the mic and announce man overboard on the 1MC. The Captain was pissed about our muster times for middle of the night calls (luckily, no one actually fell overboard that deployment). The problem was so obvious–people were sleeping through the announcement without the whistles. But I wasn’t ship’s crew and my pleas to the ship’s SWOs fell on deaf ears. We never did muster in a timely manner…

          (And thank you! I’ve been on this site for years and this is the first time someone’s recognized the acronym! )

    6. AA Baby Boomer*

      It would be a shame for it to be turned off or at the lowest setting & it’s stuck (glued)

    7. tw1968*

      I wonder if it’s possible to pull the knob off and put it back on to make it LOOK like it’s on 8 but actually it’s on 1? or 0 for that matter. Or move the d@mn machine as close as possible to idiot prez’s office so she can enjoy it more, since it’s HER pet project!

    8. Ex-prof*

      Like if something sticky were spilled on it. Something liquid and sticky. A large pitcher of sweet tea for example.

    9. Boof*

      I’m uuuuuuusually very anti-vandalism, but in this case it’s practically civil disobedience/public service. What is wrong with that company president that they didn’t back the heck off the moment employees started objecting, and much less punishing people for turning down the volume?????

    10. Erin*

      Even if the manager won’t respond to pleas from employees about how annoying it is, she would probably respond to feedback from employees that people who they have phone/zoom calls with are complaining of a racket of background noise. Especially if each employee has a similar comment in a short timeframe.

      This would make me batty.

    11. cloudy*

      I had to look up what brown noise was and….. that’s awful….. it makes me immediately feel like I’m being trapped in an alien dimension.

      I have sensory issues with sound and am known to disassemble and take the batteries out of clocks and other electronic devices when visiting friends and family…… I think I’d have to either quit on the spot in this office or engage in some sort of heist. There’s no way I’d make it more than 10 minutes under these circumstances.

      1. Lirael*

        I love brown noise, and this would still make me very angry. not being able to control it?! hell no

  2. Liz the Snackbrarian*

    OP, I feel for you. It would be a shame if the speakers were accidentally destroyed. Maybe see if your local zoo could set some hyper monkeys loose overnight.

    Okay, maybe not. But STILL.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        That reminds me of the Instagram / TikTok clip where a man watches his cat get into mischief on his in-home camera and tells the cat to stop. Seconds later, the cat appears up the the corner with the camera and whacks at it until it breaks. The cat was all, “Snitches get stitches!”

  3. STG*

    We’ve got a similar system and there was a lot of pushback in offices when it was installed. That being said, the volume is kept rather low and it definitely cuts down on some cross cube conversations. The offices adjusted and now we get complaints when the system has a failure and isn’t working because it’s ‘too quiet’.

    Getting that volume down to a reasonable level will probably help a lot. It sounds like they really have it cranked up. We are maybe a volume 2 or 3 on a scale of 10. It sounds like that may still not help the OP though since they still feel uncomfortable at a 3.

    1. STG*

      Just to be clear, the level of sound is pretty close to what you’d expect to hear from an AC vent with active air flow. If you aren’t within 5-10 feet of one of the speakers, you probably won’t hear it.

      1. ThatGirl*

        We have a white noise system (though I haven’t seen any volume knobs anywhere) and to me it just sounds like the airflow from AC. In fact, I thought that was what it was for the longest time, until one day it wasn’t on (but the temperature was fine and you could hear the actual HVAC). It doesn’t really drown out much, just keeps a nice steady background noise.

        1. Maggie Simpson*

          Yes same – I worked in an office with this and when it was broken we all noticed how loud everyone’s keyboard was and how nice the white noise usually was. Definitely can be great when used correctly

        2. Shan*

          Yes, this is what we have, and I also thought it was just a loud HVAC system for quite a while. It’s kind of loud, but in a pretty naturally occuring way? It’s pretty effective. And yet, my neighbour, Mumbles McGee, still constantly tries to talk to me in my office… while seated at her desk in her own office.

      2. Everything All The Time*

        that’s what was just installed in mine. Without it I can walk to another area of the open floorplanned office and join a conversation fully informed like they’d been talking to me. at a 2-3 it’s optimal in that the conversations are at a low buzz that I can ignore.

        when they turned it on it was set at 10 and it was like watching a horror movie as people around the speaker grabbed their ears and writhed until it was turned down.
        fortunately the dial is in the ceiling so it can’t get changed to be louder. definitely agree to the group of coworkers though.

      3. My Useless 2 Cents*

        Half the AC in my office is broken and the half that still works runs constantly in the summer months (So half the office is frozen and the other half have heat stroke, what fun!) Anyway, my desk is in the “working” section and the two minutes each afternoon it turns off are absolutely wonderful. There is usually a collective sigh of relief before it turns back on again.

    2. Daisy-dog*

      I apparently had a white noise system when I worked in a call center. I never heard it. My manager just mentioned it in passing one day and I never confirmed if it was true or not.

      1. MsMaryMary*

        White noise is very common in call centers and prevents customers from hearing conversations between other reps and their customers in the background.

        1. Daisy-dog*

          Makes sense! I actually forgot I experienced it until I read the comment above because I was definitely just horrified reading the letter. Still horrified, but also confused why this isn’t being used for it’s intended purpose because it can be fine!!

        2. Elitist Semicolon*

          I wish more call centers had this, then. Because I don’t know how many times I’ve called, say, tech support and been able to hear the solutions for sixteen other problems in the background.

        3. Quill*

          Ah, so THAT’S why call centers always sound like they’re filled with people gargling marbles.

          I can still hear it, companies! You made it worse!

    3. JSPA*

      1. maybe the boss has some hearing loss, And has no clue how loud its being blasted? Not sure how to raise that issue but I suppose one could point to one’s own, “extra sensitive” hearing?

      2. Brown noise (as opposed to white noise) puts me in approximately the state of mind of an animal thats about to chew its paw off to get out of a trap. It can’t possibly be healthy, to be in that state all day.

      1. allathian*

        My coworker has hearing loss that’s severe enough that he needs hearing aids in both ears. We visited a recently renovated branch office with white noise recently and he said that he had even more trouble than usual with his hearing. I found the white noise rather pleasant.

      1. Rainy*

        Same same samesamesame.

        I don’t like white noise and brown noise is HORRIBLE. (If I need something like that, an artificial thunderstorm generator works great. Pink noise is an acceptable substitute.)

        1. Allornone*

          I listen to rain sounds to help me sleep. That’s gonna be it for me. No need for any colored sounds. ..

          1. Sorrischian*

            I listen to a very soft cello piece (background music from a chill video game) – always the same one because the familiarity is why it works. I find myself straining to hear patterns in color noise or rain sounds. To each their own, clearly!

            1. what the nope*

              I can’t count how many sleep apps I have on my phone, looking for just the right rain sound. Can’t be too ploppy or drippy, but can’t be just a wall of noise. Same goes for ‘waves on the beach’ sounds.

              1. Some Bunny Once Told Me*

                Have you tried mynoise dot net? It’s not fully free, but you can pay $5 once and get full access to the site – he’s got a bunch of rain options and there’s an option to set it so it shifts a little over time. You can also layer sounds, adjust different settings on each one, and save your custom mix.

                It’s been a real lifesaver for me, not gonna lie, and I’ve been voluntarily paying $5/mo for years now because of how invaluable I find it.

          2. RedinSC*

            I think, technically the rain and waterfalls, etc is pink noise.

            I prefer it to the other colors, though.

            1. Anonny*

              What colour is cat purring? I know someone who has a podcast – 5 episodes – that is just opening music, a brief blurb explaining that these are genuine cat purrs, and then 30 minutes of purring. It’s called the bilbcast. (The cat, Bilbo, is a very sweet orange kitty from Belfast.)

        2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          This is an interesting discussion to carry to the weekend. I hate pink noise. I sleep with brown noise. Work with gray noise.

          1. Rainy*

            My baby sis had colic and screamed basically nonstop until she was almost 3, so I have some hearing loss in the “baby cry” upper registers, and I have wondered if that is part of my preference for pink noise, which is a bit higher in register than brown noise, and I might not be catching all of it if there are some very high pitched elements to it.

          2. MEH Squared*

            I just checked out all the colored noises (never knew there was any other than white). Gray noise made me want to listen harder to it because it’s barely there (neutral). Brown noise was annoying and made me scrunch up my face. Pink noise made me want to punch the wall.

            I sleep with an eye mask and ear plugs. This is fascinating!

            1. Rainy*

              I have a bit of tinnitus (see above in re hearing damage from colicky sister) and no noise at all just makes me hear the dissonance of the tones in each ear :)

              1. TeaCoziesRUs*

                I have tinnitus and live in an incredibly windy place (50-60mph gusts and 40mph sustained are pretty normal). I have found that both the Brown Noise and Commercial Airliner noise on Calm can counteract and mellow out the shrieking soprano of wind cutting through windows. But that’s my only reason to use either! :) I can’t imagine trying to work around it.

            2. Lisa Simpson*

              I just did the same thing. The white noise made my skin tingle and feel dry, like I could feel an air conditioner blowing on me, just from the sound.

              It is interesting because I sleep next to a HEPA filter, which doesn’t bother me.

          3. MsMaryMary*

            I sometimes sleep with brown noise and when I lived in an apartment I found pink noise was the best at blocking out voices (the person below me would get up very early on Sunday mornings and have skype calls with his young son in Germany. Pink noise was the only thing that muffled that piping little kid voice). I have no strong opinions on the other colors of noise.

        3. Polar Vortex*

          Man I just listened to all the noise types and I had the worst visceral reaction to Brown noise. Nails on chalkboard full anxiety symptoms. Pink and Blue were not great either. Honestly the one I could tolerate the most was white and grey, and white has never been my favorite, it was just a relief after the others.

          Poor LW, I hope your doctor can give you something for it. Or you can get some really great quality headphones.

          1. Molly*

            it’s so interesting how people experience the sounds so differently (or maybe we all listened to examples on different web sites!). I like the brown noise best because it is lower pitched and not as noticeable or loud sounding. I don’t think I could work on the office if any of this stuff was piped in, and I had no control over it.

        4. Ace of Dragons*

          Agreed, this would be a nightmare for me! I’m Neurodivergent (Autistic and ADHD). I find white noise annoying but tolerable up to a point. Brown noise is *awful*! It sends my anxiety through the roof, and I can’t concentrate on anything but my need to scream and/or escape.

          1. littlehope*

            I *like* white noise and listen to it on headphones a lot to manage my autism/ADHD sensory stuff, but this still sounds like a nightmare! Apart from anything else, it has to be exactly the *right* white noise, the wrong kind makes my teeth itch, some of them actually trigger sensory meltdowns, and the same frequencies don’t work for everyone. Having it blasted through the office with no option to turn it off or even down sounds terrible.
            And the fact that they know it’s bothering people but refuse to budge…wtf?!
            Sabotage is probably a bad idea, but it sounds super tempting.

      1. My Useless 2 Cents*

        Actually, I kinda like the sound of that! Love the sound of water…. rain, waterfalls, waves. I’ve listened to the recording of a thunderstorm on my headphones at times (it’s a 7-10 min loop) that is fairly relaxing. But it needs to be real water sounds, not the white/brown/pink/etc. sounds. Those do not work the same for me.

        1. Margaret Cavendish*

          Ugh, and water sounds drive me absolutely around the bend. I can listen to IRL water all day, but any kind of recorded water noise is just torture for me!

          So the obvious takeaway is there’s no type of background noise that will suit everyone. Which…should be obvious! And turning it up to 8 is just ridiculous. Poor OP, I hope you get a satisfying solution to all this.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            Hah! I’m not alone! I like ocasional thunderstorms or rain, and am fine with hotels close to gurgling brooks or the beach (but wouldn’t want that permanently). Recordings are fine for a few minutes, then they annoy me, and I certainly couldn’t fall asleep!

            Worst are white/pink/brown/whatever synthetic noises though. Also airplanes, vacuum cleaners, and air conditioners. Drive me batty. The number of times I’ve preferred to sleep in the heat because I. could. not. with the air conditioner on in a hotel room…

    1. Be Gneiss*

      I was only maybe 3 sentences in and realized I was grinding my teeth because I was so tense!

    2. Not A Girl Boss*

      I have had migraines since puberty (yay me) but reached a point in my Sophomore year where *Literally Every Single Day* in math class, I came down with a migraine so awful I had to leave school. We are talking 3+ months straight of leaving school during math class. And obviously all the adults were like “you’re just pretending to be allergic to math”. But I’m an engineer now! I loved math then!

      Anyway, finally I went on a rigorous problem solving project with the help of my math teacher, trying various variables like teaching a class with the lights off, etc.

      And finally, the very last thing I’d ever expect… the school therapist offices were across the hall from the math classroom, and they had those privacy brown noise makers running outside their doors. I put my ear up to one, instant migraine.

      Point being, I totally believe LW and would pretty much have to quit over this. Even without the migraines, I find all forms of white noise except ‘real’ noise (like from a fan) completely unbearable and nails-on-chalkboard-y and wildly distracting.

    3. Momma Bear*

      Agreed. I would ask to move. If the speaker is right over OP’s head, then they are disproportionately affected. Ask to swap with someone who doesn’t care/isn’t as bothered and try to be as far from the speaker as possible. I also agree that it sounds too high. It should sound like, well, white noise. Like a fan or HVAC. If the speakers are far away from the boss that likes them, then they aren’t getting the “benefit” (annoyance) like everyone else. I’d also look for documentation on settings for that sized space. I wonder, too, does the boss have hearing loss and to them it’s not so loud? I’d be tempted to measure or ask to have measured the ambient noises in the office.

  4. Just Another Zebra*

    You aren’t alone, OP. There’s a number of people who are very sensitive to white noise. When my daughter was a baby, her first noise machine made my teeth ache and my skin would pebble. I thought it was a weird presentation of PPD. Swapped it out for one that plays nature noises instead, and those symptoms went away. There’s also some evidence that people who have supernatural experiences (like feeling ghosts) are actually just hyper sensitive to electrical humming (there’s a word for it that I don’t remember). So, solidarity.

    I’d start with asking to move to a desk far from a white noise speaker. Frame it as “I’m glad this is helping you, but it’s affecting my productivity in a negative way.” Otherwise, yeah, maybe it’s time to think about leaving. Your mental health has to come first.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I agree, from OP’s description about the passion involved, I’m not so optimistic the manager will agree to turn the volume off/down, but it could be more possible for OP to be moved further away. And honestly at a high enough setting I wouldn’t be surprised if OP couldn’t hear her own phone calls/zooms anyway if they’re right by the machine. (I agree with Alison that it’s annoying the person who wants the noise doesn’t keep it in their own office!!).

      1. Good Enough For Government Work*

        Probably the director has heard some guff about how the noise machine improves productivity, and that’s why she doesn’t want it near her. In her mind, HER productivity is perfect — it’s the plebs in the rest of the office who need to pick their work up!

        1. Rainy*

          I had a coworker who insisted that it was “scientifically proven” that dark mode was better for you so he did a whole ass presentation in staff meeting about how to change all our apps to dark mode.

          As it happens, dark mode gives me migraines. When I said these things are individual and that people who are comfortable with light mode shouldn’t feel pressured to change because someone else thinks they should, he became visibly angry, and when I pointed out that dark mode gives me migraines, he implied I was lying just to be contrarian.

            1. Rainy*

              He’s one of those guys who went seamlessly from crypto bro to ChatGPT bro if that tells you anything ;)

                1. SHEILA, the co-host*

                  Yep. Also someone in his family is almost certainly in Amway or another MLM. He’s probably in a cryptoMLM himself.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            Whereas dark mode is the only way I can use screens when I have migraines (since I seem to become very sensitive to blue light). Otherwise I have to wear sunglasses at my desk.

            1. Rainy*

              Yeah, I had a client a year or two ago who wanted me to help him with something (screen-sharing during a virtual appointment) and his display was all dark mode because light mode gives him migraines and mine was all light mode because dark mode gives *me* migraines, and he was like “What do we do?!” (If I’m a little prodromal–which I am almost all the time during certain times of the year, because I get migraine from rapid air pressure shifts and high pollen concentrations–a few minutes of dark mode can pretty much end my day.)

              I said “Send me the file!” Easy-peasy, we just looked at it separately.

              1. Sorrischian*

                Air-pressure migraine solidarity! I don’t have a problem with dark vs light modes, but any kind of flicker or strobe absolutely wrecks me. Luckily the main lab lights are fine and my coworkers are very understanding about me tweaking the conference room lights every time we have a meeting.

              2. Insert Clever Name Here*

                Oooh oooh! I recently found out changes in air pressure are one of my migraine triggers and tried WeatherX ear plugs — they filter the air pressure and have been really helpful! You can get them from Amazon, Walgreens, etc. in the US.

                1. Rainy*

                  The ear plugs are not *super* helpful for me, but the app helps me manage my air pressure response!

            2. Nina*

              I have dark mode on and ‘nightlight’ (max orange screen) cranked all the way up. Fortunately I don’t do anything that depends strongly on colour vision with my computer.

              1. what the nope*

                I have f.lux on my old school desktop computer and haaaaate when I have to turn it back up so I can shop for something color-dependent after dark.

                1. Carlie*

                  Yes! I have mourned its loss for years. such a shame that it didn’t get more popular so it could keep getting updated for different operating systems.

          2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

            I just don’t understand those people because it’s so bleeping obvious that different people are different people. Wanting to share info about it is great; demanding that everyone do it because HE likes it, nonsensical. And people with migraines get enough skepticism, they don’t need more.

            1. Rainy*

              Psh, didn’t you know that if you make a different choice to theirs it’s actually a rejection–worse, a criticism–of them and all their works? ;)

          3. Totally Minnie*

            Oh, I get the worst headaches from dark mode. Somebody set one of the Sharepoint pages I have to use for one of my current projects to white words on a black background, and since Sharepoint doesn’t have light mode/dark mode and only shows what the designer set for it to show, I can’t fix it. It’s the literal worst.

            1. Nocturna*

              If you’re on a Windows system, you can open the Magnifier app and then hit Ctrl+Alt+i. That will invert the colors–so anything with color will look really wonky, but at least it will be light-on-dark. (Ctrl+Alt+i again will put the colors back to normal.)

              I also have issues with dark mode and learning about the ability to invert colors was a gamechanger for me.

            2. Eater of Hotdish*

              Apropos of nothing much, your username delights me! I feel like nobody else on earth knows this cinematic masterpiece exists, but it was on constant replay at my house when my siblings and I were little.

          4. Not even a little dark mode, thanks.*

            I assume it’s because I have a severe astigmatism, but I cannot read dark mode at all. Obviously I can read it, but it’s a slow, frustrating process compared to light mode. My device tried to force me to do dark mode and I was about to chuck it out the window before I figured out how to disable it.

          5. allathian*

            How horrible. I hate dark mode too, mainly because I find white text on a dark background very hard to read. It’s not an instant migraine trigger for me, but if I strain my eyes for long enough, I’ll get a headache.

          6. JSPA*

            That might explain the three in incipient migraine auras I had 10 days ago in uick succession. it’s true that Bright spot lighting has been a trigger before, so maybe “bright app on dark background” does the same (level of contrast rather than overall intensity). Thanks!

          7. Inca*

            Ugh. Haven’t had anyone force it on me, but I’ve witnessed a loooot of discussions (and had a few myself before I gave up on Linux) about how all that fancysmantzy adjusting settings to individual needs and preferences should definitely not extend to people wanting something disgusting as a light mode.

    2. Bridget*

      Infrasound! That was my first thought.

      I don’t know what this noise machine sounds like but I don’t think I would want white noise in my office. I do listen to music on my headphones most of the day so maybe it wouldn’t make a difference, but this sounds like torture.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        The ones I’ve encountered basically sound like TV static (dating myself here). I’m OK with them at very low volume while I’m awake but I’ve had a few times when I was at an event with shared sleeping quarters and one of our bunkmates wanted to use one. Um, no. I get it, but if you’re not used to them then all you hear is Channel 1 roaring in your ears all night.

        1. Rosamond*

          I rely on white noise for sleeping and I DEFINITELY would not want it on while working. At the volumes OP is describing, it would make me very sleepy and unproductive.

          1. NeedRain47*

            same; I use white noise for sleeping so if you play it at me during the day I want to go to sleep. Even the humming of the air filters we brought in during covid took some getting used to, and they’re not loud.

            1. Slow Gin Lizz*

              See, this could be an excuse OP could use as to why they should get rid of the machine. “It makes me sleeeeeeepy….” But I doubt that would go over well either, CEO would probably just think OP was using it as an excuse to be lazy or something like that.

          2. Massive Dynamic*

            This is why I can’t run the dishwasher when I’m working from home out of the kitchen – puts me right to sleep!

            1. Rosamond*

              I’m listening to the dishwasher right now… it’s my favorite relaxing noise!

        2. NoOneWillSeeThisComment*

          My current TV has static as it’s not programmed for over the air channels…so it’s hardly dating oneself…

          Anyway, I have misophonia, which can also trigger my C-PTSD. Not all noises drive me nuts…but TV static would. Hell, as I type this, my coworker has 80s on 8 CRANKED and even with my ear plugs, I’m overwhelmed.

          My noise canceling headset for my phone is already on order…

          1. Starfleet HVAC Engineering*

            For me, I don’t have misophonia, I just watched Poltergeist when I was young, so TV static is just freaky.

        3. Sloanicota*

          To be fair, I’m one who likes white noise and I would vastly prefer that (at a reasonable setting!) to either the sound of all my coworkers chatting / chewing OR the sound that tortured me in my last open office, which was my coworker’s low-but-not-low-enough-so-you’re-always-straining-to-make-out-the-noise gospel music. However, I unlike OP’s boss can realize that these things are individual and not everyone would agree with me.

          1. I have RBF*

            The white noise I use to sleep with is generated rain sounds. I would not think that it would help me to work.

        4. I have RBF*

          The ones I’ve encountered basically sound like TV static (dating myself here).

          I have tinnitus that sounds like this. It’s the sound produced by an old tube TV that has the power on, the volume turned to max, but no input signal. The screen is grey static, and the noise matches it in my view. The louder the sound in my ear, the closer I am to a migraine. If both ears have it, I might as well take my meds and try to sleep, because it’ll hit in the next half hour.

    3. bob*

      On the electrical humming/paranormal thing: some wiring set-ups, especially older and unshielded wiring can give off a higher than normal electromagnetic field. Standing in this can make one feel off, like they are being watched, or generally uncomfortable.
      This is more likely in less-used areas of a house or business – attics, basements, and the like. Thus, why these areas are more likely to be reported as the central points to hauntings.
      I’m a paranormal investigator (if you believe and how so is neither here nor there for this conversation), and when people make said reports, the first thing we do is check those fields. See if there is a constant EMF, check the wires. Most of the people who ask us to check their place out are alright with this explanation. In checking this and other things, we can usually find reasons for majority of reporting happenings. The one’s we can’t… that’s where the interest lies.

      On the subject at hand – this speaker would drive me nuts. I like white noise generally, but if it’s too loud or, more often, too close, it drives me up a wall. We have a white noise machine in my house for my son to sleep and it helps me now as I’m used to it. I like a slight hum as I work elsewhere. But next to me? Not so much. My cat loves to sit and purr loudly right behind my head and it just takes all my hearing.

      1. not a hippo*

        That might explain why I suddenly started getting the creeps in my grandparents’ attic after they moved their old TV up to their bedroom (attic was directly above their room)

        I got the creeps so bad, I refused to go up there alone.

      2. Margaret Cavendish*

        Oh, that sounds fascinating! I’d love to read an interview about what it’s like to work as a paranormal investigator, if you and Alison are both up for it.

        1. bob*

          There are a multitude of much better people to speak for paranormal investigation than myself, within my group and elsewhere. Especially since we’re all amateurs (as any paranormal group should be, but that’s a can of worms I’m only slightly opening). If she’s interested in speaking to someone who does get paid for it my friend Ross Allison is a great person to talk to. He owns the haunted history tour company I used to give tours for, but he also travels the world giving lectures and running events; wrote a dozen or so books, and appears on TV and radio speaking to the profession: generally and to our area.

        2. curly sue*

          Oh, heck yes! I used to get such a kick out of the various Ghost Hunter shows when they were on, but I know that’s not going to be anything like the reality of it.

      3. Martin Blackwood*

        Feel like you might get a kick out of the show Paranormal Home Inspector, it’s on YouTube.

      4. Spicy Tuna*

        Completely unrelated, but unshielded wire is not compliant with most building codes! If it’s not Romex, it needs to be in metal conduit!

    4. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      I’d be tempted to go bananacrackers and insist the brown noise is manifesting ghosts and demons in the office that are biting me and surrounding the president’s office while spitting fire.

      But sadly white or brown noise makes me fall asleep (I sleep with a fan on all year.

  5. Hills to Die on*

    I will never understand why people feel the need to impart their preferences on everyone else when it serves literally no purpose.
    (There are plenty of things that do serve a purpose – going fragrance-free for example) but this is just controlling.
    Are there security cameras in the same area as the speakers? Just asking.
    Seriously though – I hope you get that accommodation from your doctor.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      They are so convinced that their own taste and intelligence are so significant to everybody else (the hoi polloi) that they feel they are doing them a favor by doing so.

      These people are utterly ridiculous and the world needs fewer of them.

      1. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

        That, and/or that other people just don’t know what’s good for them, and so they must show everyone else what they *really* need.

        It’s awful.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Pretty sure the intent is to mitigate some of the noise issues that come up in open offices. I think my office has a system like this – I can’t be sure it’s not just the mechanical systems of the building – set to a low volume. Given how many people are working in a large open cube area, it doesn’t feel noisy and conversations or phone calls a few cubes away are pretty easy to ignore – the background noise dampens things a bit.

        I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to install this kind of system given that some people hate it, and it sounds horrible set to high volume, but there is a reasonable intended purpose.

        1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

          Yeah, I used to work in a coworking center, and we deliberately installed these, because people talking to each other is REALLY annoying without background noise. Either you get the really noisy people you can hear from the whole way down the hall, or it feels like a library and no one feels comfortable talking to each other because they’ll break the silence.

          That said, we always did really careful walkthroughs after a new one was installed, to make sure it was quiet enough that it wasn’t consciously noticeable, and had someone asked that it be turned down, we would have complied.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        As someone who worked in an open office, I actually requested a white noise system of some sort (though not at this level!).

        The lower floor had the HVAC system running most of the time, so it was possible to have quiet conversations or burp at your desk without the entire office hearing. I worked on the upper floor, which was so quiet a coworker sitting next to me once IM’d me to ask if their breathing was too disruptive. (We only used IM, because actually speaking would disrupt the conversation of 20+ coworkers.)

        Ironically, the company gave us noise-canceling headphones, but it turns out those are best at canceling out background noise, so it actually made the conversations on the other side of the room *easier* to hear.

      3. PlainJane*

        We use it in a public setting to help mitigate when private questions are being asked–it’s not perfect and if someone is standing on top of you, they’ll certainly hear, but your personal beeswax is not necessarily audible to someone working across the room.

    2. Meep*

      My BiL bought a party house in February. At least I assume it is a party house, because there are speakers up and down the hallways upstairs that are controlled in the living room downstairs. He set it up on his computer (which he has in a receptionist position in the living room which is by the stairs and front door so you cannot escape his gaming anyway) so his poor roommates can hear him throughout the house at all hours of the day (he is terminally online), not only cursing at his game, but the game in surround sound blasting.

      I know they agreed to live there and pay him money and can leave, but the very thought makes me want to sue him for emotional distress. If OP steals the knob is it really stealing or a public service?

    3. ferrina*

      The thing that gets me is that the prez can’t even hear the noise from the OP’s speaker. She just wants to turn it up every day because….they should hear it the way she wants to? That makes no sense.

  6. RunShaker*

    The commercials on TV for Calm plays a brown & green noise. When I first heard it, it made me a bit anxious & I was surprised. But then the TV is at louder volume. I hope OP is able to resolve in their favor.

  7. Frog&Toad*

    I DO have misophonia – what a nightmare. So sorry you are dealing with this!

  8. DaniCalifornia*

    There are studies shown that evaluate how white, brown, pink noise affect people differently. All of them can have affects on neurotypical and neurodivergent people differently, good and bad. I would be banding together and say “While it’s appreciative, we cannot get work done it needs to go.” I’ve got ADHD + auditory processing issues and the noise in the background has to be SO SO specific and even then on some days it’s more grating than helpful. I think I’d go insane if I were in your position. I’m so sorry that people cannot be reasonable.

    1. ScruffyInternHerder*

      And its specific to the darn day, for me.

      Thankfully my boss is cool with noise canceling headphones so my music (whatever it is that day) doesn’t bug anyone.

      1. ferrina*

        Yes! I’ve got ADHD, and my symptoms will vary by day. Most days I can tune out most noises (yelling children? construction? coworker muttering to themself? no problem) . But the days that I can’t, I really can’t. It sets me on edge.

    2. redflagday701*

      I don’t know if it has anything to do with my ADHD, but it drives me absolutely bonkers if our bathroom fan is left on, or the exhaust fan over our oven. If a fan needs to be on — like if someone just got out of the shower or we’re cooking — I’m fine. But if I know it’s on for no reason, I can’t focus on anything else until I get up and turn it off.

      1. Victoria Everglot*

        Fellow ADHDer and SAME. White noise needs to be something like rain or ocean noises for me. Plain static-y noises make my brain itch and send both my anxiety and ADHD into overdrive.

        1. I have RBF*


          I also have a hard time if the noise repeats on too short of a cycle. I have a rain sounds one in my bedroom to help me sleep through the neighbors’ antics, but it’s almost too short of a cycle, so I can almost tell time by it.

          Plain static makes me wonder what got left on that shouldn’t be.

    3. Eater of Hotdish*

      I have ADHD (diagnosed fairly recently, as an adult), and as a result of this thread, listened to a variety of samples of brown/pink/gray noise. They all made me want to crawl out of my skin. Sometimes I can get away with using music designed for the purpose (e.g. some of Greenred’s videos on YouTube), but there’s always a point at which it flips from intensely soothing to intensely irritating.

      Honestly, the only background noise that I don’t get tired of eventually is my dog snoring. I wish I could record and splice together, like, 8 hours of puggle snores to play when I’m out of town or otherwise away from dog. It’s like magic. Incredibly soothing.

      1. MsMaryMary*

        Just commenting to say I find my dog’s snoring comforting too. Less so when he has dreams and makes little whuffs and yips, but that it’s pretty cute

      2. Random Bystander*

        Dog snores being soothing makes total sense to me. For me (a cat person), it’s my cats’ purrs that have that effect.

      3. DataSci*

        The white noise app I use has “purring cat” as an option! No snoring dog, though.

      4. Quill*

        White noise sounds like my grandparents’ ancient box TV. If you didn’t turn it off exactly right you risked making a basement dwelling screech bomb that would cause all my cousins to smack whoever turned it off wrong.

    4. Hrodvitnir*

      Absolutely. I very often think about this – the commonality of autistic people not being able to “tune out” background noise and becoming overstimulated – whenever a noise that soothes me becomes sensory torture because I’m too tired/too something.

      That and thinking about how eye contact *feels*, because I think allistic people tend to underappreciate how much it’s actually very complex, and we too experience eye contact as aggression dependent on context.

      Experiencing brain things that are potentially pathologic when turned up to 11 is fascinating (and so much sympathy for overstimulation: feels so so bad.)

    1. Phony Genius*

      It can be. There are specific criteria related to noise in the workplace. I once had a health & safety officer measure an A/C vent with a decibel meter because of a high-pitched noise. If it’s over the threshold, it must be fixed.

      1. Purlesque*

        There are free apps to download that will give a pretty good idea of decibel levels.

    2. Random Dice*

      I was thinking this too. A labor department complaint WILL get a response, especially if someone has already been FIRED over a facilities / medical issue.

      1. OSHA enjoyer*

        Thirded! I think this is a strong case for intervention on an OSHA basis. There may even be a way to file the complaint with your identity protected, though I’m less sure about that.

    3. Ace in the Hole*

      OSHA has very detailed, specific standards on noise in the workplace. At 85 dB (averaged across the workday) the regulations kick in and employers must take certain protective measures, like training and annual hearing tests.

      85 dB is pretty loud. But it’s also not as loud as you might expect.

      This isn’t a clear violation based on the info LW provided… but it also is throwing up some red flags. When the employer has reason to suspect noise may be approaching the OSHA action level, they’re supposed to do monitoring/assessment to find out what the actual exposure levels are. Noise loud enough it interferes with communication is specifically mentioned as a warning sign that should prompt a hazard assessment.

  9. Veryanon*

    At OldJob, there were white noise speakers everywhere as we worked in an open environment. I hated them so would keep my ear buds in all day and play music or podcasts on a very low volume. I hope you’re able to resolve this, OP.

    1. emmylouwho*

      I did this in an open office space that I worked in for a while, then I got chronic ear infections from always having my ears covered by AirPods :(

  10. Merci Dee*

    Wait . . . wasn’t this letter posted on the site a day or two ago? I know I read this letter earlier in the week. Bose noise system, brown noise instead of white, level 8 on the speaker . . . . I could’ve sworn this letter was posted on Tuesday.

      1. Phony Genius*

        I actually tried to comment on it, but when I clicked on it, it said the page didn’t exist. When I went back to the front page, there was a completely different letter. I thought I had accidentally accessed an off-limits page.

        1. Sunny days are better*

          The same thing happened to me! And now I don’t remember what I was originally going to comment! :D

    1. Merci Dee*

      Not posted on Tuesday . . . posted yesterday after lunch. I was scrolling through the AAM questions this morning and happened to scroll down to what would’ve been the last letter posted yesterday after lunch, the letter about being bad at the team building activities. I wondered if it had been posted late yesterday afternoon, because I hadn’t seen it before. When I checked the AAM website yesterday after lunch, this noise speaker question was the one that was posted.

      Am I losing my mind?

    2. Jennifer Strange*

      THANK YOU! I was afraid I had dreamed it and that I was now seeing the future!

  11. Juicebox Hero*

    I hadn’t heard of “brown noise” before this (except the “brown note” of course) and I listened to some samples on Youtube. Yeah, that’d drive me 97 kinds of crazy as well, especially at top volume and all day.

    The president sounds like one of those “I don’t have a problem, therefore you don’t have a problem” people. I have no advice, just sympathy.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Same. I think it’s because it’s so even? If it varied more it would be more like wind in trees or something and it would be a lot less unnerving.

      We have air-conditioners at my office, so we’ve got the background noise covered. We’ve all commented, though, on how eerily quiet it is if you’re there alone on a day that’s cool enough to keep the a/c from running. (But not eerie enough for us to want noise machines.)

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        My office is adjacent to the warehouse at our shop, and when I’m here alone it is silent. Like, if I’m not typing or speaking, there is no noise. It’s spooky.

        I prefer the haunted warehouse to the whir of a dentist’s drill, though.

    2. Name (Required)*

      More likely, I think, it’s another case of an entitled…um, clown foisting her instagram-inspired “wellness” BS on everyone. “They don’t yet understand how much they’ll appreciate this in a few months. Until then, let me get back to my influencers.”

    3. My own boss*

      Same here. I tried some of the youtube clips and could only listen to it for a couple of seconds. I’d definitely be calling in sick a lot.

    4. bunniferous*

      I did the same as you and went over to youtube. Most of these would have driven me absolutely bat crap crazy….there was ONE that was soothing. But yeah, I couldn’t have lasted one day in her workplace if it was the typical brown noise sound.

    5. MigraineMonth*

      Oh, wow, I just listened to brown noise on YouTube for less than a minute and I could feel myself becoming anxious, even at a low volume. It seemed like it kept getting louder, too, though I suspect it was my imagination.

      I usually don’t mind white noise, either! I listen to it all the time. Apparently brown noise is my kryptonite.

    6. anon24*

      I looked it up too. I played a clip at very low volume for about 30 seconds and kinda felt like it was fine, but could understand why it would annoy some people. Then I decided to turn it up to be fair and within 5 seconds had to stop it because I felt so anxious. That would be torture to work in.

    7. wordswords*

      Yeah — I use an online noise generator sometimes (I use rain or waves or crackling fire sounds generally), and white noise is a little too even and mechanical-sounding to be my bag, but it’s fine. Brown noise, though, makes me want to rip my headphones off and throw them across the room; it’s viscerally, physically uncomfortable for me, even for a few seconds.

      Obviously, this is a case of mileage varying, because clearly it works well for some! But just the thought of having it imposed loudly through the entire office is making my shoulders go up around my ears.

      In any case, it doesn’t really matter what I feel about it; it matters what OP and her officemates feel. But it’s kind of gratifying to see the number of other people with similar reactions to it!

  12. MrPotPuffer*

    I wonder if earplugs would help? Although they might not be allowed, might be worth trying to get away with them…

    1. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

      Yeah, my thought was something like Loop earplugs, which reduce sound but still allow for normal conversation? They get adverstised to me as ‘for noise sensitivity’. Or you can also get more custom/high fidelity headphones for musicians and big music lovers (but I don’t know much about these).

      Obviously, this is bananas and has to stop, but in the meantime, they might be a helpful coping mechanism.

      1. stop the noisey neighbors*

        I was also going to suggest Loop ear plugs. I use them all the time.

    2. Former Gremlin Herder*

      That was my thought-ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones. I get very easily overstimulated by certain noises (the fan above my stove is my arch nemesis) and my noise cancelling earbuds are a lifesaver. This definitely varies depending on your office culture, but it may be a good short term solution.

    3. nojellybeans*

      I use a brand of earplugs called Earasers for performances (I’m a musician) and I think they could be worn in an office environment and you’d still be able to hear your coworkers and have normal conversations. Obviously this isn’t a real solution but it could be, as one of the other commenters said, a coping mechanism.

    4. atalanta0jess*

      YES! I have had Loop and eargasm earplugs to help me cope with kid-noise, and I much prefer the eargasm….they seem to work better at the “temper sound but still let you converse” thing, and they are also more discrete in your ears. (also they come with three different loudness “settings”, the case is metal instead of plastic, and there is a third ear plug in case you lose one. They’re just better, IMO.)

  13. Lady_Lessa*

    OP, could you try nature noise at home (to make sure that it doesn’t bother you) and if it doesn’t suggest that instead of brown, pink or white noise.

    1. HCW*

      That’s a nice suggestion, but I think nature noise would likely bother a lot of other people, even if it works for OP.

      1. La Revacholiere*

        I’m one of those people. An ex used to have a birdsong alarm clock that he would set for ridiculously early hours. Now all birdsong recordings/loops put my ears up around my shoulders.

  14. Lexa*

    First, I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. Second THANK YOU for writing in and to Alison for picking this question to answer because at my last job we had the same thing and my whole office thought I was crazy. The white noise made me tense and anxious all day, and while that job was not a good fit for other reasons, I have a feeling that aspect contributed to making me more miserable than I would have been otherwise. Being in a room with that all day every day was completely exhausting. So I am so glad that I am not the only person who experiences this, and if anyone tries to tell you you’re imagining it, you’re not.

    In practical considerations, definitely try and get moved away from the speaker, and I found that putting on my own ambient noise (nature sounds, those library or cafe soundscapes on YouTube) helped dampen the white noise better than just music.

  15. higheredadmin*

    OP, time to start a duck club in your office. That should at least help you cope with the third brown/white noise symptom. (JK, this sucks – but I couldn’t resist)

        1. Quill*

          Both Ducking around and purchasing cheap ass rolls are wasteful of member dues.

          – Guacamole Bob

    1. Web Crawler*

      Hyperarousal isn’t a libido thing, it means that your brain is primed for threats and kicks into high alert.

      (I know this is a joke, but I wanted to explain just in case, bc it’s easy to confuse.)

  16. CommanderBanana*

    *Lady Fanny Buttons voice*

    WHAT on EARTH?!?

    If the CEO loves brown noise so much (yes, I had to google wtf it even is) she can pipe it into her own ear holes. Again I ask, what is wrong with ‘leadership’?

  17. AH*

    Have you checked the decibel level? That might also be a good piece of information for your group of coworkers to have when you address the issue.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Definitely a concern since the boss seems to want it on 9 and you can barely hear other people talk at that level. I wonder if the boss is thinking — well the noise is good so more is better? Or that people far away won’t hear it and get the benefit if it is too low.

      But definitely try the ADA route if you are having a physical/mental reaction to the noise. Also talk to facilities management. They have a duty to keep things in OSHA compliance. Which includes decibel levels.

      1. River*

        This is a violation of the ADA. Many disabilities have symptoms related to pain and headache due to noise.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          For clarity: It’s a violation of the ADA if someone there has a condition that’s covered by the ADA and affected by the noise, requests an accommodation, and is declined. Otherwise it’s not an ADA violation.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        This is a good point, although I will also say the OSHA action level is a lot lower than many people think. If it’s loud enough to make conversation difficult, it’s close enough to warrant at least a more thorough investigation to document actual exposure levels.

    2. Betty*

      There’s a free app from NIOSH that you can use on your phone (ironically, that I got to check that the white noise for my baby wasn’t too loud!)

      1. Anna*

        Was going to pop in here to suggest this – there are some OSHA guidelines about loudness of work environments, that might be a third possible route depending on what volumes you’re working with.

        Might also be worth recommending someone check the speakers for damage / unintended low-range noise, though. Sound at or just below the hearing range can do weird things to people’s mental health and perception. (E.g., this stuff: A broken sound system could cause that, and feeling suddenly calm when being outside range of it even though you couldn’t hear it is like a classic symptom of infrasound reactions

  18. Ahdez*

    This is particularly weird because so many people use white noise to fall asleep! I’d probably conk right out after lunch…

    In the short term, would your role allow you to wear noise cancelling headphones?

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      I love the idea of the entire “productive” staff snoring away on their desks…

    2. ferrina*

      I grew up in a house next to a freeway. It was constant brown noise, and it didn’t bug me at all.

      It would bug me if I started hearing the low roar of the freeway at my office. I would go through weird cognitive dissonance- I know there’s no freeway but there must be a freeway because I hear it. That would stress me out all day, too. The noises need to belong to the place, otherwise it puts me in to high alert.

    3. learnedthehardway*

      Seconding the idea of noise cancelling headphones. I got a set for my son, and literally the only way to get his attention when he is wearing them is to turn the lights on and off in his room or walk over and jostle his arm. Good quality noise cancelling headphones are VERY effective.

    4. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I think the difference for me, who does like white, brown or nature noise to fall asleep, is that the noise cuts down on my internal thinking noise — too quiet and my brain wants to THINK ALL THE THOUGHTS.

      But during the day, when I’m trying to actually hear myself think and concentrate on those important work thoughts, all that extra noise is too much — and I’ve tried lo-fi music, nature sounds, brown noise, etc. It’s all too much when I work.

      I’m also one of those people who turns down the car radio when I’m driving in heavy traffic or an unfamiliar place and need to concentrate. My eyes can’t work at the same time as my ears. It’s gotten worse as I’ve gotten older too.

      1. DataSci*

        I thought everyone turned the music in the car down or off when they needed to concentrate on driving! Your brain only has so many processors!

      2. Not Totally Subclinical*

        One of my kids is very talkative, and I can’t play music when driving them somewhere because talking kid + background music + traffic is too much. And sometimes talking kid + traffic is too much; they’ve learned that when I say “quiet until we’re out of this”, they really do need to stop talking until we’re out of the immediate traffic snarl and I say they can talk again.

        My other kid doesn’t talk much in the car, so we’ll listen to music, but the moment I start grumbling at traffic, they’ll turn down the volume. (Their own idea, not something I taught them.)

        If I worked in this office, I would not be a happy camper, let alone a productive worker.

  19. RPOhno*

    If you have an EHS department you may be able to get them involved here. Your employer is required (in the US at least) to provide you with a workplace “free of unreasonable hazards”. There are also noise standards at play, and if you can’t hear each other in close proximity, you are probably being asked to work in a high noise environment without hearing protection.

    1. Anon Again... Naturally*

      Oh, that’s a good idea. And much more practical than my idea of trying to lure squirrels into the office (squirrels are notorious for chewing on cables).

      1. Juicebox Hero*

        “Anon, where are you going with that ladder and the jar of peanut butter?”

      2. Just Another Zebra*

        Any rodent will do, actually! They love the insulation around electrical wires.

        Like mice… from a pet store…

            1. goddessoftransitory*

              “MY CORN!”

              (For anybody who’s confused, google Teddy the Porcupine eating corn, it’s adorable)

  20. Chilipepper Attitude*

    I tried google – there are some articles saying that noise-cancelling headphones, foam earplugs, and your own noise machine (if you can find a pink or white noise that works for you) can all help block the brown noise from the speakers in your office.

    But moving your desk, a doctor’s note, and pushing back as a group all sound like the way to go while you are looking for a job.

  21. PivotPivot*

    It sounds like Prez read some article where the brown noise would up productivity. And everyone will love it! If. They. Just. Give. It. A. Chance.
    And if you object to it? Well, you are not a team player!
    I’ll bet there were hurt feelings because if you have a Prez that has this vision and wont listen to reason, well… it’s not going to end well.

    1. Tofurkey*

      I’m chuckling a little at this because my uncle was a CIA interrogator for many years. He told us that one of the ways they would pressure someone to talk is to put them in a room with fairly loud white noise (or whatever color) until they were crawling out of their skin and ready to talk. I don’t agree with the methods; but it’s telling that they use this as a form of torture and the OP’s president thinks it helps productivity.

  22. Quality Girl*

    I’m sure I’d be in your exact same position. I definitely have misophonia and so-called soothing white noise sounds can push me immediately into anxiety. Sending you all the noiseless vibes that you can get this resolved.

  23. Wispity*

    Headphones with actual noise cancelling functionality (like the also-by-Bose QuietComforts) may help on an individual level. But this occupational therapist is angry on your behalf.

    1. zen ocelot*

      Agreed, and what a ‘good’ business model for Bose: people pay us to make the noise, then other people have to pay us to cancel it out. Ah, capitalism.

  24. soontoberetired*

    These machines have been an issue in my office – lots of people are very sensitive to it. I think it’s gone now. but I know of other places where they also have had issues with it. there’s got to be something out there explaining how it can be a detriment to people, right?

  25. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

    I had an ambient sound app a few years ago that I started using with headphones to drown out a loud coworker because music pumped directly into my ears distracted me from the tasks I was doing. I was all good when listening to the nature noises, but the white/brown/pink noise settings were no bueno, they made me feel like I was going to crawl right out of my skin. Especially brown noise, it sounds like those creepy sound recordings from space you see on youtube.

    I’ve heard good things about Loop earplugs, maybe you could try those? But your company President is an AH and I feel all the sympathy in the world for you.

    1. Be Gneiss*

      The ones that block noise or the ones that are supposed to “take the edge off” noises? I’ve been super curious about these because I like my coworkers but I also really struggle sometimes with listening to other humans chew or sniffle or whisper or click pens and stuff. I’m learning that earplugs are sort of frowned-upon and viewed as standoffish but maybe those would be perceived as less “rude” or whatever.

      1. Laika*

        This thread sent me down a rabbit hole (as a coworker loudly takes a call in the cubicle behind me) and I actually just ended up ordering a pair to try for myself! The Loop ones specifically look quite discreet in their marketing pictures, definitely not the same vibe as what I’d normally think of when someone says “earplugs”

        1. Lyra*

          I’ve worn my Loops at work! Specifically, the “engage” ones in a room that seems to amplify background noise – I can usually hear people speak at normal volumes still. They are slightly transparent and no one has asked about them unless they see me take them out.

      2. Lily C*

        I’ve got two sets. One of the Quiet, for when I’m on the commuter train, and one of the Engage for when I’m in the office and the AC is on too high or I just cannot listen to my over-the-cube-wall neighbor chat on the phone anymore. They are more comfortable for long term wear than any other earplugs or earbuds that I’ve ever had. And they’re super low-profile. It’s definitely possible to be wearing them and not have people notice.

        The Quiets really do block out most of the general train noise (wheels on tracks, air whooshing by in tunnels), but still allow me to hear announcements over the PA in the stations and on the trains. I really like them. I’m less enthusiastic about the Engages, though. They do work, but everything is definitely muffled, and I can’t quite get used to holding a conversation with them in. Also, it makes it harder to hear when people are coming down the hall behind my desk, so I’ve gotten comically startled a few times.

  26. FroggerMan*

    I’m personally a huge fan of brown noise for productivity, and even I can’t imagine inflicting it on anyone else against their will, let alone a whole office!

    It’s hard to imagine what would be effective if your manager is on the prez’s side, and people have been fired for pushing back. The best you can do is band together as many people as possible to push back on this and hope they can’t fire all of you. Good luck, OP; hope you get out of there soon!

  27. higheredadmin*

    When I was in college there was a person who would work in the quietist part of the library (the one where librarians shush you for loud page turning), and would wear those huge headphones that you see workers wearing on the tarmac at airports. It always puzzled me, but as an adult I now know that there is a large range of sensitivity to noise. If OP is feeling passive-aggressive, I suggest getting a pair and nonchalantly sitting at her desk with them on all day.

    1. Bob-White of the Glen*

      Ohh, those sound wonderful. May have to look into a pair for myself!

    2. Zarniwoop*

      McMaster- Carr catalog, P/N 9206T2. 30dB noise reduction. $42. I wear them for hours at a time in a loud test lab.

      Ask the company to pay as an accommodation.

      1. Angry socialist*

        Thanks for the recommendation! I’m currently rocking Peltor (?) brand ear cans, which are made for a shooting range. They’re great too, but I don’t think they’re quite 30dB.

  28. TeenieBopper*

    It amazes me the hills people will die on.

    To be clear, the president is dumb.

  29. Ouch*

    Isn’t excessive noise covered under OSHA? If the noise level in your workplace is loud enough you need to shout, it is going to cause long-term hearing damage.

    1. Pescadero*

      OSHA allows up to 90 dBA for 8 hours.

      That is about the volume of a lawnmower from 3′ away.
      A freight train at 100′ is only about 80 dBA.

      1. Viette*

        Yes, OSHA is focused on hearing damage, not things like being loud and annoying and preventing employees from talking to each other easily.

      2. Ace in the Hole*

        OSHA requires employers to take a bunch of active preventative measures if the sound is at 85dB or higher on average. That’s about equivalent to a crowded restaurant or standing next to a busy street.

        If employees have to raise their voice to hold a conversation, it’s a red flag that should prompt more thorough noise monitoring. From the OSHA hearing conservation standard appendix on noise monitoring:

        “Factors which suggest that noise exposures in the workplace may be at this level include employee complaints about the loudness of noise, indications that employees are losing their hearing, or noisy conditions which make normal conversation difficult.”

  30. Rainbow*

    I love brown noise and it helps me focus immensely (I’m a fairly recent convert, and tbf I’m also neuroatypical). Through my personal headphones when in the office, it allows me to work in situations I was previously (to a first approximation) unable to.

    But this – THIS – is ridiculous.

    1. Ama*

      Yes when I was still working in an office where I sat right next to the staff kitchen, I actually used noise cancelling headphones and a website that would allow you to layer sounds to help block out my coworkers’ conversations (I tended to like a combination of pink noise with a rainstorm over the top). But that was my personal preference, I’d never force my coworkers to listen to it. And honestly it would probably annoy me that there was no break from it — after all if I needed to have a conversation or meeting or just get up from my desk and grab coffee I would turn it off; I wasn’t listening to it the entire time I was in the office.

  31. Leftylanie*

    Would you be able to acquire noise-cancelling headphones? They’re perfect for blocking out steady noise at a constant frequency, and could probably make the brown noise go away. You’ll still be able to hear noises that vary in frequency and volume (like conversations, phones ringing, etc.) although quieter.

  32. DisneyChannelThis*

    I know my Bose headphones that are noise cancelling work to filter out repetitive sounds – worth a try? (works great on plane mechanical noises and in office on noisy HVAC)

    1. Random Dice*

      Bose are wicked expensive. Soundcore Life Q20 is pretty good, but cheap enough to have that “ear pop” sensation when in noise canceling mode. Phillips TAH9505 are a bit more – but no Bose – and don’t pop the eardrum.

  33. Lady_Lessa*

    Snarky idea, to be enjoyed, but not tried.

    Could someone move the dial scale around so that was is #9 reads as #2 and what is #2 reads as #9.

  34. Bunnyc*

    I sleep with a sound machine app, and if brown noise was on in my office I’d be out like a light! I struggle with mouses in general, whirring of fan motors, beeping, ac turning off and on. It took me forever to find a white noise that didn’t have a repeat on it that I can hear. I would not be able to handle office wide brown noise.

  35. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

    This would be so rough for me, for entirely different reasons–I sleep with brown noise on at night. It’s not quite a Pavlovian response, but hearing brown noise sure wouldn’t put me in an alert, professional state of mind!

  36. HonorBox*

    I find it disconcerting when it is too quiet, so some sort of background noise is great for me. But I feel for you OP and hope that suggestions here can be of assistance, as it sounds both troublesome for you personally and for the entire office’s productivity.
    I think the idea of going as a group to ____ (HR, level up manager, president if necessary) to let them know that you as a group are unable to communicate with one another reasonably with the volume at anything above a 3. If you have to shout, or if you can’t hear someone talking to you from a reasonable distance away, or if you can’t have a phone conversation because of the noise around you – whether that’s because of music, white/brown/pink noise, monster trucks practicing in the parking lot, cows mooing in the barn next door – you’re not able to be productive and that’s hurting the bottom line. The company president should understand the pushback when it is presented with dollars and cents attached.

  37. Fluffy Fish*

    OP maybe you can find studies/articles that talk about the NEGATIVE affects of said noise. IF the boss is passionate because they’ve hear its just so beneficial, they *might* be swayed by learning the opposite.

    I wouldn’t personally hand them to them, but it might help if you do go to HR or to support your accommodation request.

  38. Troutwaxer*

    In addition to the volume knob on the wall, there’s almost certainly an amplifier someplace. The smart strategy would be to find out where the amplifier is (probably with the network/phone stuff)
    and turn down the power there. Then a “10” on the knob might be a “3” on the actual volume.

      1. Troutwaxer*

        The problem would be cutting them invisibly, which requires an enormous awareness of the security cameras and how the boss might access them. But yes, certainly a strategy if the office surveillance system can be dealt with.

  39. Excel Jedi*

    So. I just put brown noise on my home speakers for about 10 minutes (good, high quality Bose speakers, not just a laptop, on a normal volume). The sound isn’t an issue, but….there was something about it that I could feel vibrating in my bones and on my skin. I could feel my whole back and neck clenching up as a result, and I was feeling rather sick. I’m not sure if that’s my hypersensitivity speaking, or something else….but I would not have fun working with this all day.

    I then grabbed the earplugs I keep for my sound-related hypersensitivity at parties and restaurants (clear ones, discrete, and with which I can still hear conversations) and put them in. I can still hear the noise, but the weird side effects of *feeling* it in my vertebrae subsided.

    OP, I would *highly* recommend trying this. I personally have Loop Engage plugs, which I find to be comfortable and reasonably priced, but there are a bunch of options out there.

    1. Ama*

      The best white/brown/whatever/noise apps and devices allow for a lot of adjustments because the response to that is so personal (the white noise machine I use for sleep, for example, has several different pitches you can cycle through — and I find that my preference for pitch changes periodically, not sure why). Broadcasting just one sound and expecting that to work for everyone all the time is based in a fundamental misunderstanding of how individual people’s audio responses to these noises are.

      1. atalanta0jess*

        I have definitely purchased them and had them delivered in the US.

        They aren’t that great though. They advertise well….and obviously from comments have cornered the market. I have eargasm earplugs that are worlds better.

      2. Excel Jedi*

        They have a separate US site which is not the first one in my searches – look for that. They’re also on a few other retail sites.

  40. kctipton*

    Disable the speaker _or_ get up there, remove the cover, and stuff the thing with cloth of a color that wouldn’t bring attention. Speaker will still work but be much muted.

    1. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      Ooh! Stuffing in it is a great idea!
      Like a dark packing eggshell foam like they use in recording studios.

    2. Cyborg Llama Horde*

      So, you didn’t hear this from me, and I’m not RECOMMENDING that you take any action based on this information, but most white noise speaker systems are basically a bunch of speakers daisy-chained on ethernet cables (IIRC technically CAT3 instead of CAT5e, but not a relevant difference here).

      A speaker can be removed from the system by bypassing it in the chain — unplugging it from its neighbors and running one of those cables between the two — or an entire zone can be truncated by unplugging a cable and removing it.

      Sometimes the speakers turn/pop to click into their holders, and if you release them you can adjust the cables; sometimes it’s easier to stick your head into the drop ceiling via a neighboring ceiling tile.

      If you did decide to do anything with this information:
      – Check for cameras first
      – Be aware that messing with ceiling tiles will likely get you covered in ceiling tile dandruff and/or ceiling dust
      – Make sure to not get said dust in your eyes; it’s gritty and unpleasant and trying to flush your eyes in an office sink is a bear, and also not remotely on the downlow

      1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

        Depending on how the controller is mounted, you can also sometimes just unplug the cable for the entire zone at the back of the box with the knobs, but that may or may not be more difficult/obvious that it’s been tampered with, depending on the setup.

        1. Wired Wolf*

          Unplug the cable, coat the exposed metal with Superglue and replug after the glue dries? Would that layer of glue be sufficient to break things?

          1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

            Anything that prevents the passage of electricity between the contacts and the cable would make it not work. (For that matter, if it’s the kind of cable that just has a plastic end crimped on, which is probably is, yanking on the plastic end a bit to dislodge the wires would ruin the cable and make it not work. Anyone considering such a course of action would probably want to practice on a random cable to get a sense of how much force you need to pull the wires out without yanking the plastic bit the whole way off.)

  41. remote worker for a reason*

    What kind of absolute sociopath wants to ADD noise to an office????

    1. NeedRain47*

      It’s supposed to be so you can still have conversation, but it muffles further away noises (like someone elses’ conversation). Like we had it in conference rooms at previous job and it was supposed to muffle the noise from outside, I guess.

      I am really not sure what LW’s prez is trying to do, though, b/c you should barely be able to hear it, not have it so loud it prevents all conversation.

  42. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Is boss potentially experiencing hearing loss – which is why she wants it turned so high?

  43. Fluffy jellybean*

    I didn’t know what brown noise was, but after 30 seconds with a YouTube video, I am miserable beyond miserable.

  44. Risha*

    White noise (and pink noise) tends to aggravate my anxiety and misophonia to the point where my heart starts racing and I feel like I’m going to have a panic attack. And it makes me feel really “off”. I can’t describe how it makes me feel, I guess uneasy would be a good word. Often times, I hear phantom voices in white noise. I also have diagnosed mental illness and would request an official accommodation. So what if you came at it from that angle? What if you could request an on the record accommodation.

    I’m not an attorney and don’t have much legal knowledge, but if you have a diagnosed mental illness (or can get one diagnosed), and your doctor requests an accommodation, wouldn’t they have to work with you? I know Alison said in her response that employers aren’t required to make accommodations if the ADA isn’t mentioned. But what if it was? If this is affecting your mental health, and/or if it’s triggering or bringing out any anxiety/depression/mental stress, I would start with that.

    Seriously, this is the hill I would die on at work. I can listen to any music, even crappy music, all day, but certain frequencies in these different color noises really mess with me and I would push back from the ADA stance.

    1. NeedRain47*

      If the company is less than 15 people they don’t have to do anything about ADA. Even if they “have to”, they still might not, b/c that is the way a lot of companies roll.

      I once moved desks and found my new workstation was *shaking constantly* due to being over a machine room and had a similar “I will lose my mind” reaction, luckily they just let me move.

      1. garblesnark*

        Yeah, the ADA has absolutely no teeth unless you can BOTH prove noncompliance with it cost you money AND afford a lawyer.

        And even then, places don’t have to *fix* the problems usually, just pay you the money you lost.

    2. Happily Retired*

      Gonna push back here! I most definitely would not announce a mental health diagnosis to this CEO. She doesn’t seem grounded in reality about the stupid speakers. No way I’d give her potential ammo like this. Sensible managers are too often known to discriminate against those with mental health diagnoses.

      I would like to think that OP could get a letter from their doctor that the sounds were causing stress and distraction, etc. No named -osis should be needed (or advisable.)

    3. Victoria Everglot*

      Ooh, I hear voices in static too! It drives me absolutely NUTS to hear humans but not be able to understand what they’re saying and also not know if they’re really even there at all. It’s really, really awful.

      The variations in rain/etc don’t produce that in me though.

      1. BlueSwimmer*

        I have high frequency hearing loss. My husband loves sounds like these to help with insomnia but to me, they all sound like creepy people all saying “munch, munch, munch,” which sounds funny/cute until it is 3:00 am and I’m lying awake hearing “munch, munch” and my mind starts thinking about Jeffrey Dahmer.

        We settled on ocean waves and rainforest sounds, which work for both of us.

  45. NeedRain47*

    The volume at 8! That’s not how these things are designed to be used, wtf does the CEO think the goal is here?

  46. MB*

    Does anyone with hearing loss work in the office? The use of such noise would decrease the signal to noise ratio of speech, creating an audibility problem. Diagnostically, tests like the SPRINT or Quick SIN create data to support this – even for persons with normal hearing, Central Auditory Processing and speech understanding can be degraded. Definitely an ADA angle to be pursued here for some. An educational audiologist could do a noise survey and formal report – sound level meters can be used and an acoustical study. An audiologist or speech pathologist can provide additional testing or information.

  47. Delta Delta*

    This would drive me insane. I’m also someone who doesn’t like background noise like that. My husband likes the sound of a fan to sleep. He also often leaves the bathroom fan on when he leaves the room because he likes the background noise. Both of these make my shoulders creep up to my ears and make me very edgy. I would probably lose my mind if I worked there.

    Don’t really do this, but maybe walk around screaming all the time? The boss likes noise and that’s certainly noise.

  48. Candles candles*

    Loop Earplugs. There are various levels for various types of noise. I use them myself and I highly recommend them.

  49. Holy Carp*

    I’m surprised the system hasn’t yet mysteriously become non-functional overnight and beyond repair.

  50. CatCat*

    This would set my teeth on edge, OP!

    I wonder if the Flare Audio things would help. They’re supposed to take the edge off annoying sounds.

  51. MI Dawn*

    When my office moved to open office (instead of a cube farm), they eventually added a white noise to all the floors because people complained that they were having problems hearing telephone calls due to the other noise.

    I hate it. It gives me the worst headache (all white noise does – my brain keeps trying to “make sense of the noise” (in other words, it tries to interpret the noise as words and fails) and I’ve been so happy not hearing it when I work from home.

  52. System D*

    They renovated the building I worked in and, after we all came back, there were actual damn BIRD SOUNDS playing over the speakers in all the staff areas. Actual birds got into the building not all that infrequently, so people were constantly wondering if it was an actual rogue bird or the stupid sound system. It annoyed everyone so much it got turned off after not very long. Not before the dumbass who suggested it got an award though.

  53. Library Cryptid*

    My office installed a speaker system right after we returned from the pandemic and played Top 40 music at high volume all day. I was completely overstimulated and on edge, it was awful. Not to mention we have sales people on the phone with clients and this uncensored music was blaring all day? That was bizarre to me. My teammate and I hid in various conference rooms for a few days before they finally turned it down. Even at the lower volume I could hear it over my noise-canceling headphones (yes, we’re perfectly at leisure to use headphones; I don’t know why we all needed to listen to the same music when we could just listen to our own…). I was seriously considering seeking ADA accommodations to deal with it until my boss showed me how to turn down the volume.

    Now, a year or so later, they rarely play anything on the speakers, thankfully. It was a silly “solution” to a problem that wasn’t really a problem—pre-pandemic, we had a much larger workforce and more people in the open office, so it was louder and chattier. Apparently the higher-ups wanted it loud and chatty again and thought music was the way to do so. It seems like now they’ve accepted that we’ve got a different (quieter) vibe after the return to the office.

  54. White NOise*

    I have ADHD and this level of unescapable sensory input for hours a day would be TORTURE for me. OP, if you or another co-worker have neurodivergencies you’re willing to disclose, there might be an ADA angle there, I know that I would not be able to do my job if I was spending every day teetering on the edge of a sensory meltdown (and it does sound like what you’re describing is sensory overload). Just mentioning because I didn’t see anyone else call that out yet!

    1. Rainy*

      That’s a good thought–I’m also ADHD and I get easily overstimulated by certain kinds of noise, and I know my pdoc would write me a note for something like this if I needed it. It’s sort of hilarious because Mr Rainy is also ADHD but he’s overstimulated by too much light.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Same. I would demand an ADA accommodation or I would quit.

      I’m not saying you have to be that harsh OP, but it would impact me to the point I would absolutely be that harsh. The idea of it is making me edgy on its own.

    3. AnneSurely*


      What might help one person focus can be torture and distracting for someone else, and it’s all so personal and specific. I only use white noise for sleeping because it helps drown out my husband’s snoring and other mouth sounds (I have misphona, and it freaking sucks), but don’t find it great for working. I am extremely picky about what “color” sound works for me without being distracting or irritating, and generally for working what I really need is something that is going to have a bit more oomph to help quiet my hyperactively ADHD brain and allow it to focus. Kind of like how stimulant medication quiets ADHD brains — I need stimulant sounds. But just the right level, surely not precisely what any other person necessarily needs. Thank god for noise cancelling headphones, and magic little pocket computers that give us access to basically all sounds imaginable.

      My personal jam while working is actually very specific kinds of spoken word. Think soft spoken monotone museum tour guide. It’s basically my flavor of ASMR, but frustratingly I can never use that term when searching for stuff to listen to, because I can’t do tapping and whispers and mouth sounds. *shudder* I keep it a secret at work because I think that many people won’t understand — at best thinking it’s weird, but possibly thinking that I’m lying and listening to things that will distract me. I would never entertain the possibility of forcing other people to listen to stuff like this while working.

      (Please tell me I’m not the only person working while YanghaiYing reads to me about Greek mythology? I mean, reads to the hyperactive parts of my brain about Greek Mythology, so it behaves while the other parts of my brain try to work.)

      1. Recently Retired*

        I have to have the radio on while driving so that my mind doesn’t go off in another direction, leaving not enough concentration to keep from causing an accident.

  55. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

    See if you can get ahold of some jlab headphones from Target. Yup, the regular kind you can plug into a phone (via Bluetooth or wired, it doesn’t matter) and put them in your ears. I swear those were the only things that kept me from losing it in dog playroom, which are EXTREMELY loud! You don’t have to play anything, they’re just really good at noise reduction while allowing you to hear something happening.

    And good luck on getting out of there when you can.

  56. Toots La'Rue*

    I feel like this is constantly happening with offices bringing people back from WFH. Like, we MUST bring people back into the office / But people have gotten used to working without all of the distraction of their coworkers around / Ok then we’ll spend extra money and install something to deal with that / It’s driving some people nuts though / Well we spent the money on it and it SHOULD work so just figure it out…

    …just creating problems and half-assed solutions when OP was working with whatever sound situation suited her best at home.

  57. D*

    if all else fails…
    Have a crafty person made a label that can cover the number setting and make it “look” like it’s at the president’s preference. while being at zero…. or as close to it as you can get away with it….

  58. Holly*

    This is absolutely an accessibility issue, regardless of whether OP needs an accommodation. This kind of thing would prevent many different types of people with disabilities from working in the space, misophonia or no. That might be another way to frame it with HR, that this is a huge barrier to being an accessible and equitable workplace. Maybe they don’t care but it could be a concern for HR to hear that even optics-wise.

  59. MelMc*

    They installed one of these at work for client confidentiality. They had to get rid of it within a few months because it was triggering seizures in one of the employees. Definitely get a health note.

  60. New Senior Mgr*

    Ive never heard of brown noise so I just listened to a you tube clip. It’s frightening to me. I wouldn’t want to hear that at work, on any day.

  61. Slightly Less Evil Bunny*

    The following is a quote from the intro to a 2022 journal article on white noise – might be worth looking at the original studies this excerpt is referring to:

    “Finally, studies have shown that exposure to high levels of white noise can lead to stressful reactions manifested by physiological arousal. In their study, Nakajima et al. used white noise (70 dB) as an auditory-stress inducing mechanism while studying how music can help individuals recover from a stressful situation. Their results suggest that white noise was associated with an increase in heart rate. Stress responses have also been demonstrated in other studies when participants were introduced to white noise between 75 and 93dB25 and at 90 dB26. In the latter study, when exposed to 90 dB for 15 min participants demonstrated a significant increase in the secretion of salivary chromogranin A, a protein used as an indicator of stress. Most of the related literature has focused on relatively high levels of white noise, which is why a tertiary aim of this study is to determine the effect of different white noise levels on the physiological responses and stress levels of neurotypical office workers.”

  62. Eldritch Office Worker*

    OP I don’t want you to, like, ACTIVELY admit to any crimes if this is an identifiable story….

    ….but I do want an update on this letter.

  63. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    “Is there any effective way to improve things?”

    Well, you may be able to improve the white noise problem via e.g. a doctor’s note or the machine suffering a sad accident BUT ….
    your real problem is that your president is a dictator with the “my way or the highway” style of management and the logic processing of a kangeroo on roids.
    This will likely cause one problem after another.

  64. Calamity Janine*

    to get a niche joke out of the way: if you work at Vault-Tec or one of their satellite offices such as Vault 92, your boss sucks and will not change and you probably want to be looking for a new job. that’s not white noise. or not JUST white noise, anyway.

    but on almost the same topic: …are you sure this is actually white noise and not some variant that your boss loves, but makes your brain want to vomit? because teasing out that difference could lead to even more nuanced positions of “you can’t play it through all the office, boss”… if you think your boss would be receptive, anyway. it may also be a useful excuse to get your boss feel like you’re agreeing but also moving towards useful change – “i know white noise is soothing, but something is going terribly wrong with the sound system so it’s producing something awful that distracts all of us! maybe it’s a faulty speaker buzz or interference with other wires, not sure, but i think we should have it only play in YOUR office to avoid the issues…”

  65. Funkywizaard*

    I work in the insurance industry. I used to work at a company that bad music played from speakers in the ceiling. I heard “Did You Ever Know that You’re My Hero” and “The Best Thing About Being a Woman” at least three times a day.

    1. pagooey*

      Back in the mists of time, I was a summer temp at an insurance company (what is it with insurance companies??) that piped in muzak that couldn’t be shut off–so, I heard the same songs, just syrupy instrumental versions thereof. I don’t think I was even quite old enought to drink, yet, but that job almost drove me to it.

  66. Inkognyto*

    They added this to our office when they built new ones back in 2007. No one likes it, and it set of my Tinnitus something fierce. I complained, everyone complained. The ‘knobs’ for it were on the device. the wires were exposed. in the open style ceiling. The fear was without a drop ceiling the noise would be too much. But the industrial poured cement splayed with bumpy white stuff blocked sound just fine.

    It also was above my head. Turns out the manager didn’t even remotely ‘hear’ as he was partially deaf and had his own office. He frankly didn’t really care as he was a toxic sob of why I left the job way later.

    Well let’s just say they mysteriously stopped working one night (in all of that floor) and not a single person complained. Everyone else left by 7pm. I worked noon to 9pm.

    The one idiot who started to say something got smacked by a co-worker in the chest then walked them said person out of the room saying “oh that cough is horrible, come with me to get some water”

    1 floor down where the Service Desk was, that manager was cool. Even their mgr said it sucked, and as a group they literally unplugged them in the middle of the day as a team building exercise.

  67. Starfleet HVAC Engineering*

    I have only seen a white noise machine in the work place once, at the doors to a conference room on the campus of [AEROSPACE COMPANY] where there were occasionally classified briefings taking place. You only noticed it near the doors, to prevent eavesdropping. Why anyone would think it’s a good idea to pipe that throughout an entire office is beyond me.

    If it’s loud enough that it could interfere with you hearing fire alarms or other mass notifications through the PA, it’s a safety issue.

    1. Ginger Cat Lady*

      My therapist’s practice has them in the hallways and waiting areas as well. And so did my daughter’s therapist, now that I think about it. Probably for a similar reason.

  68. Starfleet HVAC Engineering*

    Also, if you really want white noise for cheap, just strip out the acoustic lining in your HVAC ductwork, or partially close some of the dampers throughout. Instant, random white noise.

  69. La Triviata*

    I am sensitive to noise and that would drive me wild. I’m in an open office and just about everyone uses headphones or ear buds, so it’s usually very quiet.

    Years ago in an open office, two co-workers were having a music battle – they both played music and tried to drown each other out. That was, eventually, ruled out, but for a while there it got really loud.

  70. Daisy-dog*

    Remembering the episode of Gilmore Girls where Luke & Lorelai break the bells.

  71. Victoria Everglot*

    I would quit on the spot and eat grass to survive until I got a new job. Not even kidding. That would destroy my ADHD/anxiety/depression/OCD brain. The only thing I’d be doing all day would be hiding in the bathroom crying and fantasizing about finding a bow and arrow or something so I could shoot the speaker.

    I used to think it was all white noise that bothered me until I discovered that “white noise machines” actually have lovely options like rain and ocean noises and even “summer evening gentle wind with crickets” noises, which actually help me sleep instead of leaving me freaking out.

    Maybe boss would be willing to switch to ocean waves or something?

    1. Victoria Everglot*

      Can’t believe I forgot to add misophonia to my basket of mental illness eggs!

      Feeling incredibly better as soon as That Horrible Horrible Noise stops is so relatable.

  72. Hexiv*

    God, I’m so glad I have an autism diagnosis, because noises affect me SO badly and I would really want to be able to make this an ADA request if it ever happened to me.

  73. Rage against the open office*

    I have misophonia and would eagerly have my right hand cut off if it meant relief. This person describes perfectly the white hot blinding rage that builds and builds until the stunningly-immediate relief the moment the sound stops.

    This is nothing short of sadism. And hope this president rots in hell.

  74. aunttora*

    Heh. A law firm I worked at got the “muzak” company as a client, and had a system installed throughout the six-floors of our downtown offices. It took months to install and who even knows how much it cost. It was used for about a week, as I recall, until the idiocy of the idea became evident. For the rest of the duration of that firm (RIP) the only sign of that genius idea was the dozens if not hundreds of ‘ghost’ wall units. (Still not as bad as the firm that got as a client some investment arm of a famously-no-alcohol religion, and thereafter no beer or wine at firm events. Still more annoyed by the muzak thing, because that cost money!)

  75. SB*

    Overstimulation can hit you hard! I have a very noisy office (I manage an industrial site these days) so I have bought some noise reducing earplugs. They aren’t noise cancelling so I can still hear important sounds (the phone, someone speaking directly to me, the evacuation alarm, etc) but it just seems to soften everything out & cancel those background noises so I can concentrate on the voices in my head, I mean, the task at hand.

    There are a bunch on the market but I bought LOOP brand & love them (I am not paid by Loop & I will not receive any kind of compensation for endorsing them, in fact, I doubt they will ever know I have posted this). They are cute if that is important to you, but most important, they deliver on the promises they make & they are not even close to the most expensive on the market!!!

  76. Higher Ed*

    Flare Audio makes a product for sound sensitivities called Calmer that might help.

  77. Goody*

    In the vein of the Unethical Life Hacks Reddit… someone should get up into the ceilings and snip the speaker wires to everything but the president’s zone. :D

  78. Some Internet Rando*

    I just googled “brown noise” and I have it going now. I feel like I am cooped up on an airplane. I would not want to hear this all day. UGH!

  79. I need coffee before I can make coffee*

    Ok, I don’t know much about this, and I’m not going to research it, but common sense would dictate that a noise system (whatever “color”) should be to mask annoying background noise, like muffled conversation from across the room. The noise itself should not be noticeable. I’m sure there must be a recommended level. If it is drowning out normal conversation, it’s obviously too loud. If there is published data, the LW could cite it to push back (one time only) on the volume (more work than LW should have to do, I know). If that fails, finding a new job seems the only option, but be sure to cite the noise system as the sole reason you are leaving.

  80. Raida*

    I would go to a doctor to get whatever I could in writing, use noise cancelling over ear headphones all day – I have rain and thunder and fire sounds that are excellent in surround sound – request to move desks as soon as either a)I had in writing it was an issue or b)I though my boss would agree.

    Then, yes, go the route of finding someone the president listens to and do it as a group, along with the medical accomodation suggestions.

    But realistically, if I could get a job elsewhere, I would start looking – the president is so in love with their own idea they’re damaging the business. That irrationality doesn’t bode well, nor does people tip toeing around them.
    I’d be highly likely to turn the noise down, get an agreement from the staff that work in the area what it is to be set to, put a sign next to the dial stating the volume it is to be set to, and put myself in the office early enough to say “OI! Turn that back down.” then ~realise~ it was the big boss and probably get into an argy bargy with them fcking with a working environment they don’t work in.

  81. Wintermute*

    I don’t think suggestions of sabotage, while a fun fantasy, are very responsible here– he FIRED someone for complaining too much, want to bet your future he won’t get the cops involved if the system ends up destroyed? People are not usually as sneaky as they think they are and there’s a decent chance you’re going to get found out. It would be a very unfortunate time to find out how much the system cost when you receive a charging instrument letting you know it was expensive enough you’re going to be done up for felony destruction of property not a misdemeanor.
    Plus it does not solve the problem, he will just replace it, it’s clear that the white noise machine is near and dear to his heart, it breaking won’t just result in a “oh, well that was a silly idea anyway”, it will result in it being repaired or replaced. it may even result in escalation.

    I think the best tack is a group complaint, because complaining about your working conditions as a group invokes legal protections on your right to address management with concerns about your working environment.

    The second best tack would be a noise meter and an OSHA complaint if it is violating the level that is acceptable without hearing protection. Your boss might back down when he sees the image issues with having to provide everyone with rated ear protection because of his noise preferences, most people are going to look at you all like you’re from mars if everyone in an office is wearing industrial ear protection and there’s a white noise generator set to max volume. He might be sensitive to the image issues at play, the practical issues with having everyone wearing sound dampeners normally reserved for working with industrial machinery, or the cost involved.

  82. Rick Tq*

    I have an app on my phone called FrequenSee that visualizes the ambient sound and gives decibel ratings. You might see if your phone has a similar app to get an objective measure of how loud your boss tries to run the noise.

  83. Overit*

    As someone withh the luck of having both tinnitus and misophonia, I would have been out by end of day one. If I even made it that ling.

  84. IwishIcouldthinkofaname*

    Does it make it hard to hear people? And especially the CEO – if people can’t quite make out what she is saying and keep asking her to repeat stuff, and explain that the background noise makes it hard to hear people clearly, then maybe she will decide that it needs to be turned down to save her valuable time. But this will need to be a group effort, and sustained whenever she is around.

  85. ElenaSSF*

    I personally still blame my since developed tinnitus on the agressive white noise in the office we moved to five years ago. Everyone else feels it’s no big deal but it is at best oppressive and often drives me near bonkers requiring outdoor walks to shake it off. ADD, gifted and very sensitive hearing here, and I’d life-long avoided excessive noise.

  86. Pink Geek*

    Instead of noise cancelling headphones see if you can find a pair of noise isolating ones.

    I have a pair of over-ear construction hearing protection that have been a life saver for me. Mine are pretty obviously construction because they’re safety yellow but there are some pretty sleek looking ones for musicians.

    If you still want music or noise cancelling you can slip ear buds into your ears before putting on the noise isolating one’s over top.

    I’ve only just realized I’m having the same (but way less loud) problem with the air filter next to my desk. I wish you relaxed shoulders, an unclenched jaw, and a feeling of lightness!

    Oh, PS, if science might help change the boss’ mind – look up the study “ Noise, Cognitive Function, and Worker Productivity” by Joshua T. Dean

  87. Sophia*

    My first thought was this was ADA for sure. I don’t know if it’s my diagnosed ADHD or undiagnosed autism but sometimes in stores or restaurants the music is too loud and it mentally builds until I freak out and have to leave the store. I’m a pretty high-functioning person with a mid 6-figure job and absolutely couldn’t stand working in an environment with pumped in sound like that.

  88. A person*

    We had a hissy speaker at work and one of my colleagues just cut the cable… and everyone was happy for it. I wouldn’t recommend that… but ya know… it was effective and making the hissing stop.

    You could look up articles about the optimal decibel level of brown noise in office areas for concentration and then measure the decibels in your office area and present it that way as “science”. I’m certain you’re not really supposed to hear it in a noticeable way… one of our office buildings has that and I can sort of hear it if I really focus but it’s so faint… I’ve never heard anyone complain about it so it must be better than what you’ve got going on.

    Could also try to get yourself a really good pair of noise cancelling headphones or ear plugs. I can’t do headphones, but I am sensitive to some noises so I do carry ear plugs with me to stave off over stimulation because it can make me nearly non-functional for the rest of the day.

  89. Zee*

    I used to work somewhere that had a white noise machine that made me SO drowsy it was nearly impossible for me to get anything done. But, it was a counseling place and they used the white noise in the hallway to make sure sound didn’t carry from the individual therapy rooms, so getting rid of it wasn’t an option. I can’t stand earplugs and I don’t like headphones either, so there was nothing I could do.

    (Positive twist: I learned from the experience that white noise makes me sleepy and now use a white noise app to help me sleep through the night.)

  90. Filicophyta*

    Depending on what the knob looks like physically, remove the knob and replace it in a way that the arrow appears to be pointing to 8 while actually at 3. You might need to file a bit of plastic off the inside. People did this in WWII to listen to contraband stations, for example listening the the BBC in Germany.

  91. Vida Winter*

    While the OP waits to get out of this crap situation, Loop earplugs might help. I have two pairs, one the maximum-noise-blocking Quiet pair (I use them for sleep, but they’re good for creating focus while working) and one (Experience) that filters noise but doesn’t put you in a bubble. They’re somewhat adjustable, surprisingly comfortable, and look weirdly cute while being worn. Could make the period of job searching at least somewhat more bearable.

  92. Joseph*

    Interviewer: “Have you ever had to deal with conflict?”
    Me: “I sat next to the controls for the air con for 12 months”

  93. Morning reader*

    There was an article in WaPo recently about the effects of ASMR on the brain. For some brains it is soothing and produces a tingly sensation. For others, it’s cringe-inducing and stressful. I am not sure if the same results happen with white or brown noise, but you might be able to find some relevant research that would back your experience and support your request for accommodations.

  94. For the love of decency*

    Every time “band together as a group” is used as a solution I have a hard time picturing it. Does a mob of coworkers march down to HR? What’s a safe number? Too many and it looks ridiculous that the whole office is going to cram into HR. Too few and the spokesman for the group are more likely to be fired. So do you get a signed petition? That seems a little unprofessional like the interns rebellion against dress code standards. How is this done in a logistical way?

    1. Zee*

      I imagine you book a meeting room and invite the HR person (letting them know that they’ll be meeting with a group and not just you, because that’s an overwhelming thing to walk into unprepared and you want them on your side).

  95. Noise is Noisy*

    I just want to say that you’re not alone in being set on edge by certain types of noise! My toddler sleeps with a noise machine, so white noise comes through the baby monitor when we have it on during nap times or at night. I have found it to be HIGHLY overstimulating, and same as you, I often don’t realize that I’m aggravated until I step outside and the noise ceases.

  96. Student*

    You know that packing styrofoam that looks bumpy-wavy? That stuff is a great sound absorber and it’s cheap.

    Stuff with a lot of surface area – fabrics or wavy surface patterns or foams – help absorb or reduce noise.

    Stuff with surface areas that point in lots of different directions – again, fabrics and wavy surface patterns and foams – redirect the noise.

    If the speaker is behind a little recessed screen, I’d put some muffling material, like a cloth or packing foam or whatever, right inside that screen.

    If that’s not an option, hang some fabric or foam in your cube for a cheap way to reduce the impact on you. If you search for “acoustic panels” “sound absorber” or “noise-reducing panel” you may find something you can buy cheaply that looks decorative, but mainly reduces the noise from this speaker right above you.

    Personally, I like the option of opening the panel on the dial, re-adjusting how the exterior knob relates to the interior setting, and fixing the situation there. It’d be a shame if one of your co-workers made it so setting #8 on the outside is setting #2 or #3 internally. It’d take them ages to figure that out. It’ll probably just take a small screwdriver to loosen the set screw on the knob, rotate it, and re-attach. Sometimes those knobs have a keyed configuration though, which makes it harder to “fix” like this – if that was the case, your hypothetical co-worker would need to drill out the keyed bit enough to maneuver around the keyed portion, and potentially use a bit of super-glue to get it to stay in place after the recalibration.

  97. GlitterIsEverything*

    I have misophonia. Mine is triggered by the typical mouth sounds, bathroom fans, and most white / colored noise. There are a couple very specific brown noise sounds that soothe my tinnitus, but even those I can only tolerate for short periods. I also have some hearing loss, and background noise exacerbates that.

    This forced brown noise would leave me absolutely incapable of functioning.

  98. Former Installer*

    I don’t have a lot to add to the situation with the president, but you may be able to talk to IT or Facilities and see if they can change the noise type or lower the overall volume. All the volume zones will be connected to an amp and controller in your IT closet. Changing it to white or pink noise may help with how you are feeling. They use a different mix of frequencies that may not affect you the same way. Also if they can adjust the overall volume of the system. the max volume controlled by the wall controls will be lower. I used to install white noise systems and they generally shouldn’t be louder than your hvac system. They are meant to raise the overall volume in an area so that conversation becomes indistinct, not that it is drowned out.

    1. Nomic*

      I was wondering this as well. is OP reacting to “noise” or to “brown noise”. Asking the boss to change the type of noise might work better than asking it be turned off.

  99. JB*

    For anyone in a decision-making role about shared workspace, the WORST thing you can do is assume everyone will be happy with the things that make you happy, and then to get personally offended and defensive about it when folks do not, in fact, share your preferences.

    It’s a waste of time, money, and hurt feelings over something that is inconsequential, really, and that you can just do for yourself without making everyone do the same!

    So goofy.

  100. Pdweasel*

    Vaseline on the knobs. It doesn’t leave fingerprints.

    A childhood prankster

  101. Turtle Duck*

    I went to youtube to listen to some brown noise and I had such a visceral reaction to it. I couldn’t turn it off fast enough. poor OP.

  102. Chirpy*

    It would be a shame if the machine just…became slightly unplugged…

    I absolutely hate artificial background noise of all kinds (including tv/radio/recorded versions of natural sound), it puts me on edges. ugh. Personally, I’ve been considering getting one of those universal keychain remotes so I can sneakily turn off the breakroom tv…

    1. Quill*

      Or, you know, the batteries disappeared… or the plug got damaged when someone tripped over it…

  103. Ace in the Hole*

    This could be an OSHA issue as well! OSHA’s hearing conservation standard has very specific rules and requirements for protecting employees from high noise levels and hearing loss.

    You mentioned that at 8, which it’s often set to, people have to raise their voice to have a conversation. That’s a red flag for hazardous noise, which should prompt the employer to do more thorough noise testing.

    The OSHA action level is 85 dB (similar to standing next to a busy street or in a crowded restaurant), averaged across a workday. It might be worthwhile to check what the noise level is with a phone app and if it’s near or above 85 dB, bring it up as a safety/compliance concern. If employees are being exposed to noise above the OSHA action level, the employer has to do a whole bunch of things… provide annual hearing exams, training, hearing protection on the job site, periodic safety assessments of noise levels, etc. Presumably your employer would much rather not take on the cost and admin burden of a hearing conservation program when they have the option of just turning down the volume a few notches.

  104. I just work here*

    This is a bandaid, not a solution, but loop earplugs might help you save your sanity while you work out the actual fix.

  105. CLC*

    My open office has white noise but it’s pretty much imperceptible. After a day or two you don’t notice it all. I’ve never heard anyone complain about it. Maybe there is a technical problem with the system?

  106. Burger Bob*

    This sounds absolutely terrible. I am having a revulsion reaction just thinking about it. White noise is actually really annoying and distracting to me. There are those that find it soothing and it can lull them to sleep. And then there are others of us. I suspect I would get daily headaches having to listen to it all day every day.

  107. Anonymous Today*

    I didn’t read all the comments, but I noticed someone mentioned OSHA.

    While my reaction my sound extreme, I looked it up and found that the use of noise in the handling of POWs has been banned under the Geneva Conventions as a form of inhumane treatment. It is up there with sleep deprivation.

    I doubt the president is aware that she is subjecting her employees to treatment that would be in violation of the Geneva Conventions if they were POWs!

  108. Coaching Works*

    Oh dear lord…

    White noise actually is a type of ASMR. This means that it triggers your brain in specific ways to help soothe you…or to drive you mad. If you pick the right sounds, it will calm you, lull you to sleep, help you concentrate… However, if you pick the wrong sound, it can drive up your anxiety, make you feel sick physically, and more. Turn the sound way up, or being just below it would affect you more.

    For me, I listen to storms with lots of rain. This is helpful to me and lulls me right to sleep. I knew a man whose sound was women wearing high heels while sweeping or mopping hard wood floors. (To each his own, right?) It seems the LW’s happy sound is the generic white noise, though, and she can’t fathom that it would drive anyone else batty!

    LW, I would use information about ASMR’s more negative effects, and possibly speaking to a psychiatrist who understands about ASMR, to help you with this. They might be able to help you get further with your company if your doctor’s note doesn’t.

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