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Jewish World Review April 2, 2001 / 9 Nissan, 5761

Workstyle by Paula Bern

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Consumer Reports

Noise at work ... snoopy patients ... lunch protocol -- Q: I told my boss that I'm totally stressed out from trying to work at my desk while meetings are going on in the conference room. He told me that since no one else was complaining then it must just be something wrong with me, that it's all in my head. I tried to explain that over the years I had gotten used to normal office noises like ringing telephones, business conversations and typing, but that I simply could not get used to all the loud conversations and bickering going on in that conference room. There are no walls or doors to shut out all this background noise - it is all open space. What can I do? -Janine, Texas.

A: Your boss is partly right ... when he says it is in your head. You are responding to the detrimental effect of low-intensity (and occasionally loud) noise, a workplace problem that only recently has been identified as a major stress factor for persons working in open-space offices.

A study recently conducted by Cornell University scientists found that employees working in noisy environments showed increased levels of epinephrine, a stress-related hormone. The study showed that it not only affected the quality of their work, but that it also disrupted their motivation and physical health; the workers tended to have both more sick days and more on-the-job complaints than workers in more traditional settings.

Your problem is that workplace environmental changes are difficult for an individual to make. You might be able to move your desk further away from the racket if your boss cannot understand the problem or is unwilling to make changes.

Q: I'm a physical therapist. My work is done in a large room so everybody can see everyone else receiving rehabilitation. Quite often I'll get questions from patients asking why I'm doing certain movements for other patients. I don't like to answer these questions because I believe everyone's treatment is their own private business. Is it rude to refuse to answer, saying only that the protocol I follow is a private decision between my patient and myself? -Blaine S., Bradenton, Fla.

A: You're absolutely right in your stance. I'm surprised you haven't told these nosy people, "It's none of your business." I'm surprised that some persons have the nerve to even ask about the procedures for someone else. Should they insist on knowing exactly what you're doing and why, just suggest that they speak with the physician who sent them in for therapy.

Q: How much should you entertain labor when you have workmen crawling all over your office space during normal work hours? We're having a total renovation in our company offices and during lunch hour each day the guys stop for a sandwich and Coke. I generally don't go out for lunch, so I'm at my desk while all the electricians and carpenters are eating nearby. I feel a little embarrassed and am wondering whether I should provide cookies or fruit for them while I eat my own packed lunch. -John C., Bowling Green, Ohio.

A: If you don't stop thinking this way you're soon going to be cooking the workmen homemade soup. There is no reason whatsoever you should feel it necessary to provide dessert. It's up to them to bring their own lunch or to go out for a snack during their lunch period. If you can't conquer the guilt feelings, take your meals at a nearby restaurant until the renovation is completed.

03/28/01: Too many kids hawking stuff ... working at home ... candy
03/22/01: Express lane miscreant ... wife needs a life
03/15/01: Explaining gap in resume ... therapist ... unemployed
03/07/01: Rude public...venegeful man...whining speeder
02/20/01: Computers and preschoolers ... rude bank customers
02/13/01: Hooked on subliminal tapes ...picking up the tab

Dr. Paula Bern has taught executive seminars at Carnegie-Mellon University. Comment by clicking here.


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