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Backstory:

For the past 2+ years, I've been with the same company. They brought me through college, and essentially trained me.

My time with them began with a summer internship. During my time there, the company hired another intern, (we'll call them "Pat") who had (has) a coughing problem. When I say "problem", I mean it's so bad that I timed it once: Pat coughed once every 12 seconds on average.

To be clear, this is not a petite "ahem hem hem", but a hacking, raucous, gasping, wheezing cough. To belabor the point, early on, after a fit of coughing, I would ask Pat if they were alright out of genuine concern for their well-being.

At the end of the summer, despite being offered continued employment through the school year, Pat declined. I however, accepted and was quite relieved to be rid of the incessant coughing.

Fast forward 2 years, to my senior year. Pat has somehow managed to find their way to my senior project's team, bringing the coughing with them. "Ok" I think to myself, "Just another year.. I can wait Pat out".

Or so I thought. Pat applied to, and was hired on at the same company I had devoted my college career to. Not only that, but Pat was placed in the cubicle right next to me.

Problem:

To compound the coughing issue, Pat's manager holds 20-minute-plus meetings on a seemingly weekly (or more often) basis at Pat's cubicle. These often involve 3 or more people.

To block out the noise, I wear noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs (32dB) all day, everyday. I've noticed other coworkers do the same.

I would rather not have to do so.

There is an employee leaving at the end of the week (12/4). Their cubicle is about 3 cubicles down from where I am, and is comparable in terms of traffic/window-access, but is slightly larger. This cubicle was occupied by someone with more than 10 years at the company.

Question:

Given my situation, my question is multifaceted:

  1. Does requesting a cubicle change mark me as a "problem"?
  2. If not, is it appropriate to request reassignment to the departing employee's cubicle on these bases?
  3. If it is appropriate, how long after the employee departs would it be appropriate to ask for their cubicle?
  • Maybe you should ask how handle with noise coworkers? Changing cubicles isnt always an option and isnt a guaranted some one with karaoke complex move next to you in at future. – Juan Carlos Oropeza Nov 30 '15 at 19:19
5

I can sympathize with your problem. Unfortunately, however, often times who gets what office space is very political. Everyone wants that one nice spot, especially when they're "running away" from someone like Pat.

Now here's the deal. Knowing that your coworker is leaving, you should act now. Why? Because likely many others will be having the same thoughts as you.

The problem, however, is that you neither the most senior, nor likely to be the only one to request that new space. What you must keep in mind is that moving cubicles is, for you, a means to an end: getting out of range of Pat's coughing.

So here's how to approach the situation:

  1. Be prepared to be rejected - this is most likely going to be the case, just brace for it. Think of asking this as a means to opening the topic of Pat's coughing
  2. Ask your boss if he has a minute to talk. Do this in his office, not around the coffee machine, or water cooler - you want him to realize it's a serious request, not a random chat he can forget about a minute later. Be polite, and to the point:

I know Bob is leaving in a couple of weeks, and I was wondering if I could move into his spot when that happens.

  1. Your boss will most likely either delay you (Oh, I'll have to get back to you on that), or demur (A decision will be made about that, but not at this time, so I really can't comment). It is at this point that you need to bring your main issue to light:

Yes, I understand, I didn't mean to put you on the spot with my request. It's just that I have a concern which I've been meaning to speak up about but didn't really know how to phrase. You see, Pat, who's an awesome guy and otherwise a great neighbor, coughs incessantly and very loudly. I was hoping that this was just a passing cold, or something he was getting help with, but it's been weeks, and his coughing hasn't stopped. This is incredibly distracting me to. I've taken to wearing headphones or earphones all the time, but you can only do so for so long before they become uncomfortable. I've been finding it harder to focus on my work, and I admit I just can't take it anymore. I think that moving further away would allow me to properly focus on my work again.

Now you've got his attention. Here you are, a hard-working employee who's been with the company for years, politely and diplomatically bringing up an issue that's affecting your productivity.

Here's the truth and make no mistake: Pat should be seeking medical help for his condition. It's unacceptable that you should have to put up with his very distracting condition 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. It's your company's prerogative to hire him, but it's also their responsibility to you to provide you with a appropriate working conditions. This is not it.

They may formally request that Pat seek medical assistance for his condition, or, knowing that his conditions is simply what it is, place him in an office somewhere where he won't bother the rest of the team.

They're the ones who will have to seek this solution. You just have to get the ball rolling.

Good luck!

  • Substitute weeks for years and this is accurate ;) – FuriousFolder Nov 30 '15 at 20:48
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    @FuriousFolder - you poor, poor bastard. Run! :P – AndreiROM Nov 30 '15 at 20:53
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    SUCCESS!!! My boss immediately began drafting an email to coordinate new spacing with the other managers :D – FuriousFolder Nov 30 '15 at 20:56
  • @FuriousFolder - that was fast, lol. I've given a whole bunch of advice over the past few weeks, but never actually had anyone come back to report the results, let alone success. Glad it worked out for ya! – AndreiROM Nov 30 '15 at 20:57
  • Off-topic: IIRC something like 1 in 20 people will respond if they're satisfied, while 1 in 5 will respond if they're upset. – FuriousFolder Nov 30 '15 at 20:59
9

Ask before the person leaves. Don't make a big deal of it, just say to your manager:

I notice X is leaving. Any chance I can have that desk? It might be a bit quieter for me to sit there.

Your boss will say one of:

  • Sure! You can move in when X is gone
  • Sorry, Y has already bagged it. Maybe next time one comes up.
  • Not my call, unfortunately. [Changes subject]
  • Not my call, but you could ask Z
  • That size cubicle is for a senior. I'm going to move A into it. You can have A's old one [or some long chain where you end up with D's old one.]

And after that I'm fairly certain your boss will never think about it again. Don't make it a "thing" and it won't be a thing. Most importantly, don't start your request with the big long story about Pat and the coughing and the meetings and the headphones. Just ask. A brief reference to it being quieter is likely all your boss needs to get all the rest of it anyway.

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