Noise, grumpiness, productivity and control

It’s been a long day. It’s been a long couple of days. I’m sitting on a plane and we have been in flight for about an hour. The baby in the seat next to me has been crying for just over an hour. No amount of music can drown out the sound of that crying. I know I have another hour to go. Soaking up the view on a balcony in Florence a couple of months ago seems a world away.

Someone once told me that the sound of a baby crying had been honed by thousands of years of evolution to be too annoying to ignore. Maybe I read it somewhere. Normally I’d be able to remember, but I’m in a filthy mood and my head is pounding. Every movement around me and every cabin announcement makes me yearn to have access to a punchbag.

I’m aware that I can’t be angry with the baby, so I’ve opted to be angry with the world. Or furious with the world. I just want someone to give me an excuse to be unreasonable. I’ve considered shooting the parents filthy looks, but I’m just reasonable enough to understand there is nothing they can do.

Control of your environment is hugely important to people. I was lucky enough to grow up in a small village in the countryside. We had the sound of a road some distance away, but other than that we didn’t have to really put up with noise from neighbours or loud parties. Even now I struggle to sleep in places where there is noise. Apparently it isn’t the noise that keeps you awake, it is the lack of rhythm. You can sleep on a train because of the rhythm, but you can’t sleep when it is people shouting. No rhythm.

I doubt I’ll sleep much tonight, which means I’ll be grumpy tomorrow. I didn’t sleep much yesterday either or the night before. But I’m presenting tomorrow so I’ll have to be nice to people. So I’ll bottle up my grumpiness and someone will find me irrationally grumpy about something on Thursday instead.

Every day in offices we put people in environments where noise is disrupting their flow, where it is overwhelming their ability to think. We vastly underestimate the impact of this. Noise, mood and capacity to perform are inextricably interlinked. Yet we ask about environment so infrequently when assessing barriers to productivity.

I apologise if you are meeting me on Thursday.

As with any of those pesky human resources I’m all too human.

2 thoughts on “Noise, grumpiness, productivity and control

  1. This resonates very strongly with me – as a participant in a workplace that has adopted “activity based working”, where you have no fixed workspace (just find a spot every day) I’m always at the mercy of the environment. The colleague who has regular, loud phone discussions (despite the fact that there are ‘phone booths’ for private conversations) where you find yourself constantly losing your train of thought and also finding yourself sitting next to any random person who has chosen that spot for the day and wants to chat, and having your belongings in a locker that you have to go to/from 10 times a day! It’s a constant distraction, and although there are clear, financial benefits to the organisation in reduced floorspace required, it’s definitely not enhancing productivity.


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