Cubicle Sins: 10 Coworkers Who Drive You Crazy - InformationWeek

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10/3/2014
11:06 AM
Kevin Casey
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Cubicle Sins: 10 Coworkers Who Drive You Crazy

We've all dealt with, um, "interesting" workplace personalities, and to know them is not necessarily to love them. Check out 10 of the worst office offenders.
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(Image: Jake Sutton)

(Image: Jake Sutton)

Oh, the humanity
We'd all be tremendous team players if it weren't for our coworkers.

That's one of the things about work: We inevitably find ourselves shoulder-to-shoulder with a cast of characters we might not otherwise encounter elsewhere in our lives. That's usually -- emphasis on usually -- a wonderful thing. We get the chance to meet and learn from new people and develop relationships that last long after we stop working together. When we discuss the importance of professional experience, we tend to forget how much of that experience is created by other people. Even people who initially rub us the wrong way can become great allies, partners, and friends.

But this is the real world, and it's populated by real human beings -- and not a one of them is perfect. We've all encountered coworkers that we could do without. They're not necessarily "bad" people -- they might be real sweethearts, even, and it's just as likely that it's a "me" problem as it is a "them" problem. Still, these coworkers drive us bonkers with their strange habits, idiosyncrasies, and apparent lack of even a modicum of self-awareness.

We covered one strain of this phenomenon recently with our cardinal sins of workplace fashion. As more than one reader pointed out, though, appearance and attire choices aren't the only way to offend in the office. No, there are many, many methods for annoying, exasperating, and aggrieving, and some people seem to have quite a knack for it. And they probably don't even realize they're doing it -- or they do, and they simply don't care.

No matter, that's what we're here for -- to shine the bright, harsh light of truth on the personalities, tics, tendencies, and behaviors we'd like banished from the modern work environment. Maybe you'll see a familiar face or two in the crowd here; maybe you'll see one in the mirror. That's okay -- we've all got things we can work on. Stop flossing your teeth at your desk, for instance -- that'd be a huge leap forward for you and for your coworkers. That's not what the dentist meant when she said you needed to take better care of your pearly whites. No, the conference room isn't your personal "command center" -- and, yes, we have it booked for a meeting right now. And, please, understand there's a difference between eating lunch at your desk and auditioning for an upcoming episode of Chopped.

Workplace quirks can be particularly rough for those who work in cubicles or open offices. They rarely come with doors and the "walls" are more like low-slung fences. Sound travels easily, from one neighbor's music ("This isn't bothering you, right?") to another's incessant personal calls ("I love you, schmoopie. No, you're schmoopie!"). Smells do, too -- smelly people, smelly food, you name it. Sure, it's your desk -- but it's our office, and most of us would prefer it not reek.

IT professionals might suffer more than most from coworker peccadilloes. Not only does IT endure all the ordinary oddities and nuisances, but it gets to play the role of de facto tech support for those oddities and nuisances, too. Because everyone who works under the big banner of IT is a walking helpdesk, right? Oh sure, these data visualizations I'm working on for the executive team can wait while I troubleshoot your family's Xbox.

Read on for our All-Star Team of Annoying Coworkers. It's a 10-person lineup and, to be honest, we could have kept going. People provide great fodder. We'd rather hear from you, though: Which office types drive you batty? Surely, we missed some workplace irritants here. Tell us about them in the comments.

Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-size businesses. View Full Bio

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Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
10/7/2014 | 2:54:51 PM
Re: Smelly food

@Lorna Garey     Sounds like sardines to me, and yeah you probably should just help the poor guy out. : ) 

Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
10/6/2014 | 12:41:40 PM
Smelly food
Many years ago, a coworker used to bring in the strangest food that completely stunk up the office. I'm talking some salted/preserved fish concoction that could make your eyes water. He complained that he'd really LIKE to be able to get sandwhiches from the cafeteria, but he couldn't afford it. There was serious discussion of starting a fund to pay him to buy lunch. 
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
10/6/2014 | 10:59:01 AM
Re: We are All All of these.
Good point, @KMartin. And it is annoying, to have someone coughing and hacking right next to you all day, especially if it's a cold -- which IS contagious! I think we've all been in meetings, too, where someone is obviously sick as a dog and it's unclear why they dragged themselves into the office that day, especailly when you come down with the same virus a day or so later!

(Sidebar: That's one reason I'm so against schools that reward kids who have 100% attendance, finding it very hard to believe a child was never sick enough to really stay home over the course of their education.)  
KMartinGardner
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KMartinGardner,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/6/2014 | 9:24:52 AM
Re: We are All All of these.
True, but that being said, a person's illness is not a protected class against discrimination. Only certified disabilities are. And it is hard for the layman to distinguish between Cystic Fibrosis, and Tuberculosis, for which OSHA now requires safetly posters  to be displayed in the workplace. So, someone's chronic coughing could be grounds for dismissal, with the company having legal grounds to protect its workers and workplace. The "cougher" would have no recourse, unless it was a work-related injury, which is doubtful.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
10/6/2014 | 9:11:14 AM
Re: We are All All of these.
In defense of the hacking cougher (which isn't me and I've worked remotely for the past 15+ years), sometimes coughs are not contagious. They are symptomatic of a bigger condition like cystic fibrosis or cancer. So, not to be a Debbie Downer (!), but we need to recognize that someone who's always coughing isn't necessarily coming to work when sick with something they can spread to colleagues. They may be coming to work with a cough because that's the only way they CAN come to work. 
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
10/5/2014 | 10:34:49 PM
Re: What about "open" offices?
@Thomas So true. I have yet to work in such an environment, and never a fan of the cubical - I agree it doesn't sound so bad compared to the nouveau alternative.
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
10/5/2014 | 6:34:58 AM
IT and the Helpdesk
IT is a large field and it is impossible for professionals to know about every product, software and solution. However, if an individual works in IT, uses a Samsung/Android smart phone, it's automatically assumed that they have the same level of technical knowledge of iOS phones as well.

I think the key is effective communication. Professionals should share with their coworkers the skillsets that they have gained and learn about the skillsets of their coworkers. This would help limit the helpdesk problem as well as make the business function efficiently, since everyone would have a complete picture of the requirement of the business function.
KennethG146
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KennethG146,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/5/2014 | 1:28:43 AM
We are All All of these.
These are spot on, because we all do some of this. And it is these traits that are used as weapons, both for and against us, depending on how much we are liked or dislike someone else. For example, my supervisor sold Avon from her desk, openly. No one complained because she was blond and had a great body. The whiner isn't so bad when it is your drinking buddy complaining about his hangover from drinking at your place the night before. The paranoid neurotic is your poker buddy, and he's really good. The hacking cougher wouldn't be there if he wasn't the momma's boy playboy who all the girls adore and say BLESS YOU really loud in unison everytime he sneezes. You starting to see my point? All of these ARE THE traits of all of us at the office, it is just who gets busted down for them and who gets promoted for them. They are like poker chips in our stack.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
10/3/2014 | 5:55:00 PM
Funny and spot on
Haha. I've experienced every type listed here, and apologies if I've ever been one of them. Nobody's perfect.

I would add "The Ghost" -- that mysterious person in the office who never speaks to anyone and who's actual job is unclear.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
10/3/2014 | 4:35:53 PM
What about "open" offices?
It's even worse when you don't have cubical to protect you. 
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