What To Do About Loud Co-Worker?

She doesn’t work in my department, but she’s in the cubes next to us. She is incredibly loud, ear-piercingly loud. Her laughter is more of a cackle and she laughs about EVERYTHING. I have had other staff make complaints to me about her. I have spoken to my boss, who won’t do anything, saying we can be just as loud, which I disagree with, both in decibels and the number of times a day this happens. My boss is in an office, the rest of us are in cubes, so I don’t think my boss gets the full effect.

Things to note:

  1. I have gone to HR about her. I believe an email was immediately sent to her supervisor, as she moderated her tone for about two months. This proves she can keep it down.

  2. I don’t want to keep complaining to HR, and it’s not my place to say anything directly to her or her supervisor. I’d rather let HR handle.

  3. Another staff member asked me if she could speak directly to Cackling Co-Worker, and I encouraged her instead to go to HR.

  4. I don’t mind when she talks about work, which she seems to be able to do in a lower voice. However, we have been regaled involuntarily with tales about jellybeans, toilets, her bitch of a mother-in-law, and her kid’s school, among other things. That plus she hasn’t found anything that’s not funny.

  5. Personally, I think it has something to do with the frequency (speaking of decibel and hertz range) of her loud voice and the frequency (number of times a day) that she gets loud about non-work matters which makes me and others in my department scramble to shove our earbuds in. There are outbursts from others on our side of the building, but they are brief and aren’t nails-on-a-chalkboard.

  6. I’m sure she’s a good employee. Working in a cube farm means you have to be able to tone out distractions. But oh my God, we actually relish the days when she’s out.

Should I go to HR again? I believe I have a valid complaint in that it is stressful and distracting not only to me, but to others in our department. Or do we just suck it up and raise the volume on our iPods?

Gentlemen of the jury, I demand the death penalty for this horrible person.

My guess is, if they do take your complaint seriously, she will end up in her own office where the door can be closed. There is no justice.

Document and go to HR. You’ve outlined quite a reasonable argument.

A well-documented group complaint would carry more weight than an individual protest.

I discovered the hard way that complaining about a coworker can ultimately get you in trouble.

My advice: wear ear plugs.

That Thurber tale looks like a reworking and expansion of The Unicorn in the Garden, an earlier tale by Thurber. Very similar story-line and outcome.

I remember a group of people signed a complaint about their supervisor. All the people that signed that complaint got fired while the supv kept his job.

To the OP: You’ve already went to HR (Which was unwise in my opinion). You’ve done everything you can do. I strongly suggest you don’t push this matter any further. Because basically, your coworker isn’t doing anything wrong.

Your problem is with personality conflicts. And the easiest way for HR to deal with that is to can the one making the most noise.

I would be surprised if HR considers this to be their responsibility. They are not there to arbitrate issues between employees. They are there to act on violation of company policy or things that expose the company to a liability. If the content of her noise were discriminatory or otherwise harassing you might have a case for HR but you are just complaining about the volume.

Someone is going to have to talk directly to her. If the boss won’t do it, then it could be you, or anyone else who wants to. Let the staff member in point #3 do it.

There are ways to be diplomatic about this without making it sound like you are attacking her. I would point out that given the cubicle setup, it’s important for everyone to be aware of how noise affects other people who are working. Loud conversation can be distracting. Etc.

You are going to have to live with her. If you can’t, time to polish up the ol’ resume and start looking for a new job. If you go to HR about her again, there is a pretty good chance they’ll ditch you and keep her. Are you valuable enough to the company that they will let her go just to keep you? My guess is, since you are in a cubicle just like her, the answer is no. Therefore their obvious course of action is to get rid of the complainer.

Get some ear buds and listen to music or white noise.

Try to see if you can telecommute.

Cube life really sucks sometimes. I have a coworker who isn’t loud. She talks a lot, but it’s usually business-related so it’s cool. But sometimes she’ll pop in ear buds and sing along to the music. It’s the kind of singing that people can do unknowingly, mistakenly believing they’re just mouthing the words and not actually making noise. If we were friends, I’d feel comfortable letting her know she’s being distracting, but we aren’t friends (she’s actually the Cookie Monster Fairy, if you’ve been following the current events of my life). When she isn’t doing this, she’s reading out loud to herself in a whisper. For some reason, whispering is more distracting to me than a regular voice.

So I wear big-ass earphones all day and drown it all out with music. 90% of the time it works. But sometimes the whispering still manages to seep through and I start to feel stabby. The other day another coworker IM’ed me and sent me laughing emojiis because she thinks the whispering is funny. But she’s not sitting right next to it.


Screw earbuds, get earplugs, expanding foam ones. They come in packs of twenty, offer them to others. Keep they on your desktop in a visible spot. Whenever she starts up, put them in. Do it overtly without shame or pause. Encourage others to do so too.

(They are not so blocking you won’t hear a phone, or speech or a fire alarm. But they will convert her voice to a very tolerable level. )

This solves your immediate problem. And either management or the loud one will notice and, quite possibly, change will magically occur, without anyone saying anything!

Good Luck!

We once had a loud co-worker who was asked by the supervisors to please keep it down. After that, she was just as loud, and would sometimes say things like, “Oh pardon me, I HOPE I’M NOT DISTURBING ANYBODY!” in a nasty tone. They moved her around so as to inflict her on everybody and after a few years she retired.

Now we have a loud, shrieky group of young folks who really enjoy each other’s company. Sometimes I just have get up and take a few laps around the building.

As CookingWithGas notes, the Human Resources department exists solely to protect the company from liability, which they will do regardless of whether the actions they take are fair for employees or good for operations; witness the people who are effectively demoted or pressured into silence while serial sexual harassers in positions of authority remain in place. HR may enforce company policy, but even that can be applied capriciously as upper management deems fit.

When I was a manager, I inherited a problem employee who ended up making a verbal threat against another employee. Despite the fact that I had made multiple previous complaints about the employee to my manager (who denied me the authority to take any disciplinary action), had sought information and guidance from HR on the formal probationary process (which was not provided, and HR and my manager had a private discussion that I was not privy to where it was decided that no action would be taken), and this employee had a history of bad work performance and disruptive behavior (which was not provided to me by HR but came out in the subsequent investigation), I was formally disciplined for “letting things get out of hand” and “making inflammatory statements” (which were actually a verbatim recitation of the complaint made to me, along with nothing that the threat created a “hostile work environment”, which was language I referenced directly from the mandatory harassment training provided by the company), and the employee was only let go after the required investigation revealed that he had engaged in other disruptive actions that I wasn’t even aware of.

Oh, and I was criticized for keeping records about employee work performance, notes of meetings I had with employees about performance and behavior issues, and was told not to communicate anything about employee issues via email; phone or in-person discussions only. When I asked where any of this was in violation of company policies, I was told that it violated state and federal employment laws (not true), exposed the company to liability (it doesn’t), and was against “common sense” (it’s actually good practice for employees to keep written documentation of significant or adverse interactions both for their own protection and to support any actions the company has to take later). Essentially, HR wanted to control the story to justify any action that they took, and were upset that I had documentation that would pressure them to remove the problem employee and expose them to a lawsuit however frivolous and unjustified.

Human Resources is not an advocate for employees or line management; it exists strictly to protect the company from liability involving employment law. If an employee or manager is deemed to be making excess complaints or otherwise creating a situation that could result in legal action, HR will take the quickest path to forestall the problem, even to the point of protecting a problem employee by eliminating people making complaints. If you do choose to go to HR, you should keep your own personal record of the discussion, and preferably follow up with an email confirming the issue and action to be taken so that there is a formal record that has been communicated to the company (and that they have had an opportunity to formally respond or correct). But frankly, if HR and management didn’t respond to the first complaint and follow up, they’re not going to do so for subsequent complaints unless there is a legal requirement to do so, and being an obnoxiously loud person isn’t a crime in and of itself. Line managers are often reluctant to deal with such problems because they rightfully fear they will not have the support of upper management and themselves can fall under scrutiny of HR.


Yea, this is (sort of) what happened to me.

I made a complaint about a person (“Bill”) who worked for me. Not because he’s loud. (Well, he is, actually. But I ignored that part of it.) But because he’s totally useless; he doesn’t do any work. Management’s response to me? “Bill is happy working here. You appear to be unhappy working here. We only want happy workers.” My job was threatened, and I quickly learned to shut up after that.

So yea, pop in the foam ear plugs. I agree with elbows… people will eventually figure out why you’re wearing them, and the situation may resolve itself after that.

When she’s loud, pretend you’re on the phone and say loudly “SORRY. A COW-ORKER WAS TALKING. CAN YOU REPEAT THAT?” If all your coworkers do this, she’ll get the hint.

When she starts laughing, yell over “OMG! WHAT’S SO FUNNY?”

Get some of those Bose Noise-Cancelling headphones and keep them in your desk. When she’s loud, get them out of your drawer, put them on, and slam the drawer so loud it makes a big bang.

But the reality is that she’s inconsiderate and will likely never really change. Get the Bose headphones and just forget about her. Those headphones are great. And you can use them other places like on an airplane and such. Take them on a flight and it’ll be so silent you’ll think you’re sitting at home.

HR gives fuck naught about job performance. Unless upper management is willing to make an issue of it (and they rarely are until they can do under cover of a reduction in force) in many companies employees can literally do nothing but show up, and HR will do nothing to support a line manager other than to respond that it is that manager’s problem to motivate the employee.

The passive-aggressive response is just as bad as the behavior of the employee in question. The appropriate things to do are either to confront the employee directly and politely ask her to be quieter, or complain to her manager about the “disruptive work environment”. If neither of those produces the desired result and the employee is not doing anything else that is actionable, you’re kind of out of options beyond earplugs/headphones and looking for a new job or at least trying to move to a space that is away from her.


Hi. I’m your loud co-worker. I know I’m loud. I work on it. But when I get excited, or nervous, or tired, my volume goes up, up, up. In my early years of work, I got complaints through channels - but I really did not know how to fix the problem. I’d try. I’d fail.

As I got more mature, I learned to take the initiative and talk to my nearby cubicle mates. I’d ask for their help - when I’m too loud, just pop over and make a hand motion of turning down the volume. I NEEDed this help. I WELCOMEd it. Some would just say “Hey, as_u_wish - indoor voice…” - they were able to do this knowing it didn’t hurt my feelings.

Over time, I learned to tell new supervisors right away about my problem. I learned to request the cubicle by the restroom or photocopier–places where I’d be least disruptive. But the problem was never fully fixable because on occasion I’d still get excited, nervous or tired…

So, possibly, POSSIBLY, an honest (though uncomfortable) private talk with your coworker might result in a similar collaborative arrangement rather than passive aggressive approaches, shaming or “going through (ineffective) channels” of supervisors or HR.

Could you use a noise level sensor which lights up when the noise is above a certain level? I’m sure they have them, as there have to be noisy workplaces which need to monitor it. You could put one in your cube and get the feedback automatically.