Have you ever had to reread a passage over and over because someone near you was speaking too loudly for you to concentrate? Or perhaps you've tried (and failed) to write a paper in the presence of a chatty friend. If you've been in situations like this, you know that noise can greatly affect performance.
Productivity dips by up to 66 percent if you can hear someone talking while reading or writing, according to a TED blog post. This is especially evident in the workplace: If your office is open and filled with loud workers, you probably don't get as much work done as you could if it were quieter.
"Noise and interruptions definitely affect productivity and increases employees' stress, increasing blood pressure and heart rate," said Dr. Jude Miller Burke, workplace psychologist and author of "The Adversity Advantage: Turn Your Childhood Hardship into Career and Life Success" (Wisdom Editions, 2017). "It is the rare individual who can day after day, hour after hour, focus well with a constant hum of background noise."
It's easier to focus when you can hear your own thoughts over the cacophony of an entire company. But sometimes, you don't have a choice – you're trapped in a rowdy space and expected to get your work done regardless.
So how do you confront the issue?
1. Wear earplugs or headphones.
Lynn Taylor, workplace expert and author of "Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job" (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), noted that earplugs are one of the best options for workers who are easily distracted. They drown out background noise and help the brain concentrate.
You can also play music through your headphones, Taylor said. Depending on how sensitive you are to noise, mellow tunes can actually help the mind stay on task. Create a playlist that suits you and listen to it when the office is particularly loud. You might even find yourself feeling more inspired or happier while listening to music.
2. Locate a quiet room.
Often, open workspaces are to blame for frequent conversations and sometimes even personal phone calls. While the layout might encourage collaboration, it can hinder productivity, said Taylor. If you can't focus enough to get your work done, see if you can locate a quiet space that is not in use to complete particularly intensive projects.
"Find a conference room or empty office that you know isn't off limits [to use] as a safe haven when you absolutely need quiet time," said Taylor.
Additionally, certain times of the day might be louder than others. You can plan your assignments according to the volume of the office.
"Keep all your strategic and deep-thinking projects to hours of the day when it's most quiet," said Taylor. "For example, handle more transactional activities when the noise level is higher."
If there is a particular day where the volume is at its peak, more thorough tasks can be scheduled in the separate room. Even if you have to share the space with another worker or two, it will be less noisy than the entire office.
3. Confront the issue.
When all else fails, be upfront. Executives especially should step up, taking aside those who are causing the distractions and being honest with them before it gets out of hand.
"It is up to the leaders in the organization to set the culture for the department, and it is best if the manager can set very clear expectations on unnecessary noise," said Burke. "Initiate dialogue each week about the noise level and encourage people to discuss it openly at staff meetings. Set the expectation that if someone is being extra loud with personal phone calls, jokes or daily gossip, that you should ask that person directly to be less noisy."
If you feel uncomfortable confronting a co-worker, you should confide in a supervisor, explaining that the noise issue isn't personal, but you can't perform to your highest potential because of it. Burke recommends explaining that with clear direction from them, the whole office could be more productive.
"Maybe it would be worthwhile to discuss the noise level and creative solutions in a staff meeting," she added. "You may be surprised as to the unique solutions that might come up that could be helpful."