Coping With a Noisy Office

The loud clatter of an out-of-date heating and cooling system, the incessant whine of the photocopy machine, the annoying drone of officemates’ personal phone conversations – though they may seem like relatively minor distractions, these and other sources of office noise can take a surprisingly dramatic toll on productivity and well-being in the workplace.


In fact, according to one study conducted by researchers at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, noise is the most cited distraction in office settings. What’s more, office noise is a leading cause of workplace stress — even when employees aren’t consciously aware of it.


It’s often impossible to eradicate the root causes of office noise, but you can take steps to limit its impact on you. Here are a few methods you can use to eliminate annoying office noise – and to reduce noise-related stress. 

  • Don’t forget your headphones. If office policy allows for it, you can alleviate some noise by drowning it out with your own tunes.
  • Bring in some green. Believe it or not, researchers have found that offices with a significant number of plants often have fewer noise complaints.
  • Tune it out with white noise. Whether or not you use headphones, you may be able to mask some annoying background noise with a white noise generator. Purchase a small portable unit, or use a free online service (perform a web search for ‘white noise’ to find plenty of options).
  • Rethink office layout and design. Offices with large open spaces, tall ceilings, and lots of hard surfaces (e.g., tile or marble) tend to generate more noise.  You can combat some of these design issues by making small area groupings and adding more furniture or rugs to the space if possible.
  • Discuss the issue with co-workers. Is a disproportionate amount of the noise in your office generated by one or two particularly boisterous employees? If so, it could be time for a (polite) intervention.


If the noise level in your office becomes more of a health hazard than a mere annoyance, it may be beneficial to discuss the issue with your boss — the installation of advanced soundproofing materials may be necessary to muffle potentially harmful noise levels.