Tuesday 31 July 2018 4:00 am

All work colleagues have irritating office habits, but there are ways to make your co-workers bearable

If an email titled “New research reveals” lands in your inbox, don’t open it. Most of this stuff is so bad that a glorious tweet comes to mind: “Jesus regrets dying for each of you”.

Recently, however, I broke this rule and read a “study” on irritating office habits – the morbid appeal of this subject was too much to resist.

Here are some of the findings.

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Smelly foods

I agree. More than a decade ago, being new to France, I wandered into my Paris office with a Chinese takeaway. Promptly, I was booed out the door.

In the next two years, lunch was a full-hour, three-course, white-cloth affair on a Saint-Germain terrace. A glass of champagne may have been involved. Would you believe me if I said that I liked this arrangement better than choking, Brit-style, on a sandwich in front of a computer screen?

Ignoring emails

Indeed. My most murderous fantasies – those inspired by season one of The Bridge – involve email dodgers.

But the day will come, the tables will turn – and nothing will prepare these guys for the near-insanity of being stonewalled.

Long stays in the toilet

What? What kind of company keeps track of an employee’s loo habits? Leave now.

The list goes on to include messy desks, interrupting, etc. This is fine – but it misses the point. And that is: if you are eyeball-to-eyeball with the same people for months and years, every single one of their habits eventually becomes irritating.

When Tom had first joined my pod, I liked swapping weekend stories with him. Fast-forward a year, and it became a tedious ritual. What did you do on Saturday night? Should I tell him I went to Pizza Express? He does not expect the truth anyway. Oh no, now he is about to tell me about his weekend. Please keep it short, because I lost interest in you a long time ago.

Is there a solution to office drudgery? I can think of three.

Have an all-consuming job

The kind of job that delights and enlightens, that lifts the spirit and challenges the mind, that fills you with purpose and meaning. Know many of those?

Share the office with a genius

Back in my open-plan days, when I looked above my screen, I saw Samantha plagiarising the wires to produce a “bespoke” client report.

How different my life would have been if, instead, this was J M Coetzee writing Disgrace. I might have even ended up with a people-loving personality.


Not of the polite, HR-friendly, employee-tribunal-resistant variety. But the outrageous, irreverent, politically incorrect laughter that makes the blatant meaninglessness of office work bearable.

At my old firm, there was a senior woman aged – as Muriel Spark would have put it – between 50 and 80, who had a recurring wardrobe malfunction in the form of visible Spanx.

At the same firm, I had a rift with another colleague, which no amount of traditional measures was able to heal. That is until the day when, seeing our boss’s backside on full display, we headed to Coq d’Argent to overcome our shock, and left with a delightful sense of camaraderie.

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Poor woman, you might say. Not really: with her vast resources, she could have invested in a pair of better-fitting underwear.

So yes, the co-workers. They are irritating. And if ignoring or admiring them is not an option, have a laugh with them