ASK THE INSIDER: My coworkers' loud eating noises are making me hate them -- what should I do?

Ask the insider

Dear Insider,
I work at a very corporate company with many creatives in open seating.

I’m surrounded by 13 people, five days a week, 8-10 hours a day — and I can hear their everything.

From music to aggressive typing to conversations to videos, I can hear it all. I’ve learned to cope with most of this noise, zone out, and focus on the work.

Unfortunately, there’s one sound I simply cannot drown out no matter how hard I try: chewing. Others’ chewing drives me to something close to insanity.

Crunchy salads, chips, banana chips, corn nuts, and almonds are the worst offenders. Even a mushy, soft banana that someone rolls around in their mouth absolutely disgusts me.

It’s not that I’m just annoyed — it’s that the sound of someone’s chewing actually makes me start to not like said coworkers. What should I do to cope with this aside from blasting music in my headphones?


Disgusted By Chewing Sounds


Dear Disgusted,

Oh, the joys of the open workspace! Unfortunately for most of us, aspiring to have an office with a door (or at the very least, a spacious cubicle) that shields us from our colleagues is now a sad relic of a bygone era.

As I sit in my New York workplace, my desk is jammed against several others. Even the founder and CEO of my company suffers the same plight just a few feet away from me. While all this togetherness can lead to better collaboration and communication, awareness of people’s personal habits and quirks is heightened. By Friday, you want to take Anna’s cup of corn nuts and chuck it across the room.

I am a firm believer that overly crunchy snacks should be banned from the office (who thought that Japanese rice cracker mix was a good idea!?), but also acknowledge that a utopia of office kitchens stocked with only odourless and noise-free foods is unattainable. There’s little you can do about your coworkers packing the snacks of their choice and eating them in their own unique styles.

That being said, there are a few ways you can cope. First and foremost, invest in a good pair of headphones. When I made the switch from earbuds to headphones (Sony makes these great, inexpensive ones), I was amazed at how much they drowned out the sound. Sometimes I wear my headphones without even playing music so I can muffle some of the noise but still hear if someone is trying to get my attention.

You can also be a little sneaky. A few weeks ago, I tweeted about my desire to publish a book of scentless, silent office foods. This spurred a lively discussion among my coworkers about acceptable and unacceptable foods.

You could even make a comment like, “I was going to pack baby carrots for lunch, but they’re probably too loud for the office. What do you think?” Or make of point of saying you’re going to start eating lunch outside so you don’t bother anyone. Awareness could lead to change.

Ashley LutzHollis Johnson/Business InsiderSenior editor Ashley Lutz.

Spending long hours in a corporate environment can take its toll on even the most patient person. Perhaps evaluating some of your own work habits will help ease your stress levels.

Are you making a point to get up at least once an hour and walk around? You could set an alarm to remind yourself. Regardless of how you keep yourself on track, pick a time and go, if only for a couple of minutes.

And you really should take a real lunch break, if it’s an option. Eating away from your desk and computer will help maintain your sanity and insulate you from coworkers chomping on their reheated fish dinners and crispy kale salads.

Focusing on wellness outside the office will also carry over into your time at work. There are guided meditation apps that promise relaxation in just a few minutes.

If possible, you should also make time for an outlet or hobby. Spending even a few minutes writing in a journal, exercising, or setting some goals can make you happier, according to scientific research.

If you invest in yourself, the long, deafening hours spent at work will be easier to tolerate.

Ashley Lutz is a senior editor at Business Insider answering all your questions about the workplace. Send your queries to [email protected] for publication on Business Insider. Requests for anonymity will be granted, and questions may be edited.

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