I am currently 5 months pregnant and work in a tech company. We have an open seating area for the engineering department and this is where I sit as well. I have just received my semi annual review a few weeks ago with one of the highest scores in the company. However, recently I have been assigned a very interesting research project that requires a lot of focus.

The problem is that the engineering area is very loud. When I'm not pregnant I'm usually able to tune a lot of the noises out, but right now I find it impossible. For example, one man sitting next to me talks to himself while working (talking through his work and announcing every time he needs to go to the bathroom) and another group of women congregate by my desk a couple of times a day for 30 minutes at a time to vent about their mother in laws.

I am very worried that my performance has started to suffer. Up until now I have managed to get work done by booking a conference room for myself but people have started to complain that I'm hogging the conference room (though I follow proper company procedure when using the conference room). I have also thought of asking to be moved to a different work area or working from home a couple of days a week but I am afraid of asking for special accommodations when I don't want to be treated differently because I'm pregnant.

I have thought of getting noise cancelling headphones but I don't find them to be very comfortable. Perhaps they are my only option.

How do I balance my growing need for peace and quiet while not making a bad impression by asking for special accommodation?

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    I wish there were a broader forum to put this out to, but "Noise-Cancelling headphones" are not the panacea that many present. They cancel out broad-spectrum, repeating noises like machinery, engines, airplane noise, air handlers (forced air) very well. Then, in turn, non-repeating noises like speech and most music ends up to be MORE noticeable. Ear PLUGS may be the better choice, here. Also, it's very inexpensive to get a small pack of disposable ones to experiment with. May 2 '16 at 18:40
  • 1
    Noise cancelling headphones plus music works well for me. With my headphones colleagues can't hear a thing even when I turn them up to a level that is too loud for myself, and with the right music you hear nothing going on around you. On the other hand, everyone is different.
    – gnasher729
    May 2 '16 at 19:43
  • Maybe this answer will help as it deals with heavy noise cancellation?
    – enderland
    May 2 '16 at 20:02

I'm autistic and things like that always drive me crazy. Get a pair of noise canceling headphones, or ear plugs, and anything else that can lower stimulus.

A few women I know had extreme increases in sensitivity to stimulus when they were expecting (which makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, you're going to want to know if there is a predator in the area, if food is spoiled, et cetera).

Try the headphones or earplugs and visit some autism sites for ideas on how to combat sensitivity to stimuli.

  • Visiting autism sites is a fantastic suggestion. Wish I'd thought of that when I was preggo.
    – JK39
    May 3 '16 at 6:45

There seem to be two major issues you need to deal with:

Guy Who Talks To Himself

Try talking to him about it. Maybe he doesn't realize that he's doing it, or knows, but doesn't realize it's bothering you. Be polite, but firm:

Hey Bob, sorry to bother you, however are you aware that you narrate your workday out loud? Could I please ask you to try and do so internally?

(you may want to work on the wording - this is simply off the top of my head)

There's no need to really step on egg shells as most people will react reasonably if you're polite and friendly about it.

Gossiping Gal Pals

Whether these women are trying to include you into their conversation or not you can still approach them in much the same manner:

Excuse me, guys, I don't mean to interrupt, but could I ask you to take your conversation over to the lunch room? Thanks! (you don't need to specify a reason - it should be obvious that you're trying to get work done, unlike them)

If for some reason they do feel offended point out that you're working to meet a deadline for the manager X, and should take up the issue with him if they wish to.


If you're still finding that you can't focus then you may wish to speak with your manager and simple be honest:

Hey boss, these new projects are a lot more taxing on my attention and focus than some of my regular work, and I'm finding it difficult to stay on task in the open-plan area. Could we work out some kind of arrangement, because I feel like I need a little bit of peace and quiet while researching these issues.

Your boss will probably engage with you and work on finding a solution.

  • I think the OP wanted to find a way that didn't call attention to her pregnancy or seem like special treatment. And if she says these things without specifying it's due to pregnancy, people will be walking on eggshells around her after she comes back from maternity leave.
    – JK39
    May 3 '16 at 6:48
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    @JK39 - where in my answer do I mention pregnancy? However if she does not wish to work in the common area (I mention asking to be placed elsewhere as a last resort) then what she's doing is indeed asking for special treatment.
    – AndreiROM
    May 3 '16 at 13:36
  • You didn't. But, her colleagues know she's pregnant (I assume). So if she follows your advice without attributing her annoyance to pregnancy-related sensitivity, people might just think she's "like that", which could have long-term consequences for their treatment of her in future. But if she offers that as an explanation, it will seem like special treatment, which she said in her post she wanted to avoid.
    – JK39
    May 3 '16 at 16:35
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    @JK39 - so just because she's pregnant she can't ask people to take their conversation somewhere else, or to stop talking to themselves? If a person walks up to me and asks me to be a little more respectful of her having to get work done my reaction would be "I was being loud and bothering people, I should be more considerate" not "Oh, she's only saying that because she's pregnant" There's nothing wrong with my advice - it's what I'd tell anyone in that situation. You're the one attaching the "special requests because of pregnancy" label to a perfectly normal and simple request.
    – AndreiROM
    May 3 '16 at 16:42
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    @JK39 - that's the thing, I don't see what constitutes special treatment in asking people to take their conversation somewhere else, etc.
    – AndreiROM
    May 4 '16 at 13:18

Tell people your hearing is sensitive right now, and that you can't concentrate.

Normally adults take these things in their stride and go somewhere else to chat. You may get some resistance at first, or people simply forgetting but just keep politely telling them.


If booking the conference room works for you then keep doing it, just make sure you follow company policy. You would also be wise to explain to your boss why you need to do it and ask him to make people aware of the reason and to stop complaining!


How do I balance my growing need for peace and quiet while not making a bad impression by asking for special accommodation?

Stepping back to 10,000 feet, this is a failure of management. Engineers usually work best when they have a distraction-free environment, and that usually means private offices. The failure is, management is not providing it.

Maybe you can tactfully suggest management read Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams. Or cite it in your arguments to obtain a distraction free work area.

(I take no position on the common area where engineers meetup and collaborate when needed. I think that area is useful, too).

  • Despite this is a good suggestion, it won't work I guess. At least until it maybe happens, OP will be not pregnant anymore. Such "big" changes in the company demand months to be prepared and made. Sep 18 '19 at 6:53

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