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I work in an open plan office, with my team members sitting in the same desk bank. Unfortunately most of the team has quite a heavy workload and there is some inter-personal conflict in the team with some members not getting along.

I am surrounded by people who feel very stressed and are constantly sighing and generally being unhappy. Unfortunately there is nothing I can do to reduce the workload, or resolve the interpersonal conflicts.

What are some good excuses for switching desk banks?

What other options are there for not being affected by lots of stressed people around you?

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    Are headphones an option to at least zone out and remove yourself mentally from the environment around you? If I'm annoyed by the sounds or conversations around me and cannot focus, I put both headphones in and turn it up to the point where I can't hear the noises around me but if someone were to address I would hear/notice. – cheshire Mar 14 '17 at 15:54
  • If you're not the manager, there's little you can do apart from bring it to the attention of the manager. Headphones work, as everyone else says. – PeteCon Mar 14 '17 at 16:19
  • Hi Thanks for the suggestion, I do have headphones and wear them pretty much all the time. The problem is my co workers insist on communicating with me verbally as they usually want changes that they consider to be quick so I end up taking my headphones off to listen to them. – Lukas_T Mar 14 '17 at 16:23
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Unfortunately most of the team has quite a heavy workload and there is some inter-personal conflict in the team with some members not getting along.

Hate to say this, but your team is experiencing a problem that only a manager can resolve. On the positive side, it's not your problem and you're not overreacting. Negative team morale is evident, at least to you. Go talk to the person over you, let them know that you feel that there is a toxic environment building, and you don't want it to damage team morale or productivity. You're already having productivity issues because of the issues, and that will only worsen with time.

If you feel the need, express interest in splitting the team up over areas. Or offer other suggestions for action, but let them know you're interested in resolving the underlying issues instead of just poking your head down and letting a problem fester.

Good luck with the co-workers!

  • Thanks, good point that only a manager can resolve this problem. The way I see it the issue is mostly due to lack of focus as we are constantly trying to do everything, I.e. The company is competitive in multiple product segments and has a very flat and open culture, so someone from Bulgaria or Sweden feels like they can Skype a message over and expect a response within a day. Being a graphic designer with some front end skills, I feel like I am swamped with requests. Anyway, how would you suggest I raise this with my manager? – Lukas_T Mar 14 '17 at 22:08
  • You can request a meeting or just pull them aside and let them know what you're feeling: there is tension in the team, some of it seems personal/non-work related, and you can see the impact on the team. Especially because of the focus/competitive/high-speed issues, you think it would be a good idea to resolve any issues quickly. If you're running full-speed the last thing you need is interpersonal conflict coming along like an untied shoelace. Just let them know you're concerned about those things and are thinking of the team. Resolve those issues and your issue should work itself out. – SliderBlackrose Mar 15 '17 at 13:05
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Your options are unfortunately, few.

I would start with headphones to audibly isolate yourself from the annoying behavior. That will help your focus.

If you have monitors (as opposed to laptop screens), try placing them in a manner such that they block the greatest offenders of the depressing behavior.

Ultimately, you've just got to find a way to be happy yourself. If you're happy it'll actually begin to rub off. We tend to think that it's only the toxic employees that affect morale, but we all do. If you're happy, you'll help those around you be happy. Yes, it seems corny but it works.

Unfortunately, you likely won't be able to make up a good excuse to move desk banks so if all else fails, just try the truth, emphasizing that you'd probably be a lot more productive if you didn't have to listen to the personal conflicts.

But seriously, try to be outwardly happy. You may be surprised to find that you can be a positive force for your office morale.

  • The problem is with being outward happy among of people who aren't happy is that it might come across as 'smugness'. People in a ratty mood don't always jump to the obvious and positive interpretation of expression. – Snow Mar 14 '17 at 16:24
  • @pete I agree, Being happy might come across wrong. But I am generally a pretty happy guy; I work out every morning (spin + weights) and usually have an endorphin rush that lasts at least until lunch time. But this doesn't seem to help at all. – Lukas_T Mar 14 '17 at 16:26
  • @Christopher Estep Yes I have done exactly that I have monitors positioned such that I don't see people infront of me or to the left, the problem is that the offenders sit on either side of me and its generally the whole team that is pretty stressed out including my line manger sitting across form me. As for the headphones I wear them pretty much all the time, and ask collgues to email new requests but they insist on communicating verbally :( – Lukas_T Mar 14 '17 at 16:29
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    I personally don't care if someone thinks I'm smug, to be honest, especially if they're in a crappy mood. I can't control anyone's mood but my own and I refuse to let someone's bad mood change who I am. As an aside, I personally think open work spaces are dumb dumb dumb and your experience validates this one more time. I wish there was more you could do . – Chris E Mar 14 '17 at 16:37
  • Yes I agree open plan offices are a terrible idea, as a person with front end design and web development skills, surrounded by people who don't know how to use adobe products or code, in a marketing department for a technology company, I feel like I am the only person who builds things. As a result I get interrupted all the time by everyone to fix a 'small issue', while my line manager is understanding, that most of these interruptions need to be addressed. Personally I feel as though I don't get to finish anything or write a full sentence without interruptions – Lukas_T Mar 14 '17 at 22:14
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If you have a hot-desk area or meeting rooms open for ad-hoc use, then use them whenever you need some time out.

If there is any small way in which you can help the morale of the team, that might help as well. Providing a few snacks, non-work chat at the water cooler, seeing if there's any work related items you can help out with.

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