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Shh! When Your Workplace is Way Too Quiet

What if your office is so quiet that you can hear yourself think, and your thoughts are screaming that this workplace is way too damn quiet?

Shh, don't eat your orange slices too loudly at your desk, or you might attract unwanted attention from your colleagues. Let's use this blog post to whisper about this scary-quiet workplace problem!

The noisy workplace can be very distracting. But equally distracting, if not more so, is the office that emits no ambient sound to distract us from the small sounds we humans make continuously, from grumbling tummies to boisterous knee bouncing to calculated keystrokes on a keyboard. In a head-to-head sound match-up with the local library, you are sure that your office would win, hands down.

In fact, the too-quiet workplace is so quiet that you can hear a co-worker writing from 20 feet away! Setting a cup of coffee on your desk feels like an act of aggression. You hate talking on the phone at work, because you feel like 25 sets of ears are tuning in to listen to your conversation. You would never think of eating a bag of Cheetos at your desk, lest you stand out like a sore, orange thumb. You're starting to wonder if your shoes, and breathing, are too loud. You work very hard to stifle every sneeze as if your work life depended on it.

There's a name for this workplace problem: Pin Drop Syndrome. As in, it's so quiet in this office that you can hear a pin drop!

There are modern factors contributing to the overall lack of noise at work. Shrinking work area real estate can make employees feel like they need to practice economy of conversation in order to preserve some personal space. It's like sitting next to somebody on an airplane. Do you really want to open up a conversation that you might not know how to exit, given the proximity? No. So you put on your headphones and keep to yourself.

The festival-seating business practice of finding a new desk on a daily basis can also create a layer of headphone-inducing silence. Shh, you're not in my department and I'll have to change desks later today anyway, so why bother talking? So nobody talks, the workplace gets even quieter, and new hires wonder how this office got so quiet.

Quiet Offices Are Less Productive
Not to burst your bubble -- we wouldn't want to startle everyone in the office, would we? -- but a too-quiet workplace can feel like a far worse work environment than an office that is always too loud! Silence that makes employees feel oddly conspicuous for taking a sip of soda isn't cool. Can we get some music piped in instead of piping down? How about a fish tank? Anything that would breathe some life into the workplace noise vacuum.

This CareerBliss article offers great advice for adding some noise to an oppressively-quiet work environment, but what if management says no? No, radios are not allowed. No, we are not getting a fish tank. And you can forget about the zen water fountain, too!

It's at this point where you have some decisions to make. This is a work culture issue that has developed over time, and you're probably not going to change it all on your own. Sorry. It may be that this work environment simply doesn't suit your personality and need for some noise, and that's okay to admit to yourself.

If all else fails, then you might let your manager know that research has found "the too-quiet workplace" can actually become a bastion of non-productivity. When a workplace becomes too quiet, we hear every single small noise. These tiny noises distract us, and we are unable to maintain proper focus on the task at hand. In the process, we lose overall productivity. So some level of noise works for us as employees.

See? Now you have a case to make for bringing in the noise! Good luck getting your quiet-loving managers to hear it.


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