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Loud Breathing, Sniffling, Smelly Foods Irritate Co-Workers

Two women sitting at a desk in an office.

​Don't you hate it when your co-worker breathes too loudly? And you will surely scream if your colleague raps her fingernails on her desk one more time. So, what's with the guy in the desk next to yours? Did he bathe in a vat of cologne? Oy vey!

What habits do your co-workers have that drive you around the bend? These are their top 10 cringe-worthy habits, according to a recent survey by London-based Chewsy Gum of 1,782 full- and part-time workers in the United Kingdom:

  1. Loud or open-mouth chewing. Nearly three-fourths—70 percent—find this really annoying.
  2. Strong smells such as food, body odor, and too much cologne or perfume (68 percent). Fish and eggs were the smells people found most offensive.
  3. Coughing, sneezing or sniffling (48 percent). Sniffling was considered the most egregious, noted by 64 percent, versus 21 percent who indicated coughing and 16 percent who noted sneezing.
  4. Rhythmic tapping (43 percent). Tap, tap, tapping your pen is enough to drive some co-workers around the bend.
  5. Loud music (42 percent). While only 10 percent ask their co-workers to dial down the volume, 48 percent play their own tunes to drown out the other person's music choice. Slightly more than one-fourth—27 percent—just ignore it.
  6. A colleague's messy desk (36 percent). Some find them distracting.
  7. Loud breathing (32 percent). Apparently, a co-worker's mere existence can be annoying.
  8. Clinking cutlery (27 percent).
  9. Loud typing (26 percent).
  10. Anti-social co-workers (16 percent). While a small percentage dislike it when a co-worker doesn't try to be social, 74 percent think their colleague should be sociable.

Stinky food and too much cologne or perfume also made the list in a U.S. survey earlier this year, conducted for Los Angeles-based Stratus Building Solutions, a green commercial cleaning and janitorial services franchise. Not surprisingly, many of the bad habits that surfaced in that survey dealt with hygiene and cleanliness—or the lack thereof. More than half—54 percent—of the 503 respondents wanted a workplace policy that bans employees from heating up smelly foods in the office kitchen, and 93 percent said food left in the office fridge should be removed within a week.

Workers also can't abide colleagues who return from workouts less than daisy-fresh. Put away those smelly gym clothes and sneakers!

Ever missed a deadline, arrived late to a meeting or took a longer-than-allowed lunch break? Some U.S. office workers would like to slap a fine on such behavior, according to a survey by London-based commercial property estate agent and commercial property surveyor Savoy Stewart.  

Most of the 1,566 people surveyed (65 percent) think a fair fine structure would make everyone much more accountable for their actions. Here are the fines surveyed employees said they would levy for the behaviors they rated as the worst:

  • $28 for not meeting a deadline (79 percent).
  • $24 for being unnecessarily rude or offensive (72 percent).
  • $20 for not attending a scheduled meeting (66 percent).
  • $14 for making or taking multiple personal phone calls during working hours (64 percent).
  • $10 for showing up more than 5 minutes late to a meeting (58 percent).
  • $12 for taking a longer lunch break than allocated (53 percent).
  • $6 for showing up more than five minutes late to work (45 percent).
  • $8 for dressing inappropriately or sloppily (40 percent).
  • $5 for saying they'll attend a work social and then not showing up (37 percent).
  • $3 for allowing a personal phone to ring during a meeting (31 percent).

As for how the money from the fines would be used, the majority think it should be used to improve the office, such as by purchasing better furniture and new equipment.


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.