A study into workers’ attitudes around homeworking has revealed that ‘annoying colleagues’ are the main reason for people not wanting to return to the office. 

Some 40 percent of UK workers surveyed by manufacturing firm, Airdri, said irritating behaviour of their fellow employees was the thing they most dread about working in an office environment.

Temperature (too hot or too cold) came a close second, with 35 percent of the vote. This. suggesting that age-old divisions around where to set the office thermostat will resume when we get back to work.

Annoying habits 

Nearly a quarter (23 percent), cited their colleagues’ bad habits – such as chatting, clicking their fingers, humming/singing and whistling – as an issue. 

Meanwhile, a further 20 percent said that the poor hygiene of the people sharing their workspace was their main cause for concern. One in ten people also found their teammates’ lunch offensive.

The study was taken to find out the main stumbling blocks to getting the nation back into empty offices and city centres. It also found Covid-19 to be a concern for over a quarter of respondents (26 percent), despite the progress of the vaccination programme in the UK.

 “A third of the people we surveyed haven’t been back to their office since the start of the first lockdown in March 2020, so it’s a big culture shift as companies do tentatively welcome their employees back,” said Steve Whittall, group director of R&D and operations at Airdri.

Jerks at work

With more people heading back to the office, discussions have been raised around re-integrating with colleagues.

In her recent book Jerks at Work, American psychologist Tessa West offers advice on how to counter the ‘annoying colleagues’ in the workplace. She also looks into the stress response they cause on their counterparts.

 “Some of us get overwhelmed, so we ghost people, do a disappearing act,” she writes, “At work, those folks are more likely to be free-riders, or neglectful bosses. Others get anxious, so they micromanage.” 

Colleague stress should not be overwhelming

She says that if people are concerned about communications they might get from colleagues, or lack of communication which might obstruct their ability to do their work, for example, they might get elevated stress. She says these regular feelings add up, until they are uncontrollable. 

Interestingly, in a 2014 study, Ms West also found that parents who were stressed and tended to their babies (aged 6-12 months), transferred those emotions to their children. This resulted in their babies using stress responses themselves.

She argues that stress from colleagues should not be disproportionate to the point of transference to spouses, siblings and children, as it becomes an even bigger issue then.

Ms West says that to ensure people feel valued at work, there should be clearly designed structures and policies on how people can do their jobs. This could also mean that everyone gets the credit they deserve for the work they have done, or even how people are expected to behave within the office. Presumably, this could be extended to what level the thermostat should be set at and a designated space for eating lunch, to prevent conflicts.

“As a nation we have gotten used to homeworking over the past two years, and sharing a space with others it seems, is weighing on our minds as we tentatively ease our way out of lockdowns and back to normality,” said Mr Whittall from Airdri.

“Where most have been enjoying being sociable in pubs, restaurants and seeing family, mixing with others in the workplace does not seem to hold quite the same appeal.”