What are your workplace pet peeves?


Is your workplace like the Garden of Eden? Probably not. No workplace is perfect. And while we can usually perform well around people who have a wide range of idiosyncrasies, some behaviors just get under our skin.

Most of what we consider to be bad habits and tendencies in other people - commonly known as "pet peeves" - are simply speed bumps in the road. We tolerate them, but they're not something we look forward to everyday.

Why do they bother us? My view is that the offending behavior goes against our value systems. When somebody behaves in a way that's contrary to what we regard as acceptable, our sense of right and wrong jumps up and says "that's wrong!"

Wikipedia's entry for pet peeve is "a minor annoyance that can instill great frustration in an individual."

Interestingly, the Georgia-based employment services company Randstad recently commissioned Harris Interactive to conduct a survey on workplace pet peeves. The results of this survey have been picked up by newswires around the world, with newspapers, TV news stations, and bloggers regurgitating the results.

The top offending behaviors? Line up 10 people, and six of them will be offended by gossip. Five and a half of them will be offended by other people's poor time management skills, and four and a half of them will be offended by messiness in communal spaces (break rooms etc.).

I always wonder about such surveys: Who was surveyed? What were the survey questions? What were the conditions of the survey?

A little research of my own discovered that a little over 2400 people were surveyed online, of which only about 1500 were employed. The press release containing this information indicates that those surveyed were given a list of seven pet peeves from which to choose.

It doesn't tell us how the respondents were selected, nor who determined what pet peeves should be listed as the top seven.

Apparently, one of my pet peeves is news outlets presenting unscientific survey results in a way that makes them sound very official.

Because I have serious questions about the top three workplace pet peeves being gossip, other people's poor time management, and messy break rooms, I decided to conduct a little unscientific survey of my own. I emailed 20 people from my email list (all of them employed) and asked them to identify their top two workplace pet peeves. I didn't give them a list from which they could choose, I just wanted to hear their gripes without influencing their response.

Guess what? Nothing relating to gossip showed up in their responses.




Only two items came close to correlating to other's poor time management skills ("unreliable coworkers" and "unproductive meetings")

Only one person mentioned messy communal spaces as a pet peeve ("people who don't clean out the company microwave or wipe off the counters").

If I had to create a category to label the most common pet peeve from my survey respondents, by far it would be "Poor Interpersonal Communication Skills." Here are some of the pet peeves from my (unscientific) survey that would relate to that category:

  • Surprise confrontations during meetings
  • Sending an email when one is emotionally charged
  • People who leave LOOOOOOOONG voice mails
  • A lack of full disclosure – and also people who stretch the truth
  • Lack of necessary communication
  • Lack of courtesy between professionals
  • People with big egos that won't shut up
  • People with little egos who won't speak up—even when they should
  • People who eat while on the phone
  • People who assume they know your motives

My unscientific survey also had a lot of comments that could be categorized "non-collaborative efforts," or "not operating from the same page." Here are some pet peeves that would fit in such a category:

  • Employees disregarding our company values
  • Coworkers who are not team players
  • A boss who sets a different standard for himself than for everyone else (his is lower)
  • Having unrealistic goals set for me by people living very far away
  • Spending too much time focusing on "what went wrong" instead of learning what could be done better next time

I don't know about you, but throughout the years, most of the pet peeves people tell me about are very similar to what's listed above. Call me silly, but when 36 percent of the Randstad's survey respondents are unemployed, it's hard to relate their findings to the real workplace, where the unemployment rate is only about 4.5 percent.

Do our happy parrots in the media care about that? Apparently not.

All that said, if my unscientific survey results are anywhere near accurate, it seems we could make our workplaces much better if we focus our attention on just two things:

a) improving our communication skills, and
b) getting everyone to think like a team and operate from the same page.

What a concept!

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He's been providing management and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 20 years.

Older Comments

I agree that your unscientific survey results are more meaningful but I would like to point out that gossip can destroy 'teamwork.' Poor time management of some of the members can throw a team out of kilter and if everyone on the team doesn't take responsibility for the cleanliness and order of the communal areas then they are not working as a TEAM. I believe that the respondents who listed these three peeves have: been hurt by gossip, waited for a meeting to start because of tardy attendees, and have had to clean up the breakroom solo!

Dail Steinman

Poor time management in my workplace equates to hourly employees visiting for 3 hours before they start work, then being paid overtime when they have to stay late to finish their work. That's stealing in my book. By the way, I'm a salaried employee who works from the time I arrive until I leave and take only 15 minutes of my hour lunch most days.

Dawn GA

I agree completely with your conclusion! I hope you will continue this series and share which program you feel would be best to bring into a corporation that will teach better communication and team work. There used to be a program called 'Communications Inside and Out' that I took in the late 80s. I've been unable to find it anywhere. Great article! Keep up the great work!

Elaine Gagne Rhode Island