Workers: Leave the earbuds in the cubicle

Walk down most hallways in offices and you'll likely see workers walking around with earbuds or headphones in place, cut off from the world around them.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor on
Bose earbuds
Image: Bose

When the corporate world moved from private offices to cubicle configurations workers quickly discovered how noisy and distracting they could be. Before long gadgets like MP3 players and smartphones helped folks deal with the environment with magical earbuds that allowed workers to replace the noise with music.

Not all companies allow such devices in the workplace, but many do. Visit a company that does allow them and you'll see an army of workers with earbuds firmly in place. That's understandable, but it's often taken too far and can lead to isolation of individuals, even in vast cube farms.

No one can blame those who work in noisy environments for plugging in and tuning out. It makes for a more pleasant work day to block the noise and listen to some good tunes. While it may not be a good idea to be always isolated from coworkers, there's nothing wrong to do it regularly.

Earbuds become a thin, dangly barrier to interaction that is vital for coworkers

Where plugging in becomes a problem is when it leaves the cubicle. Walk down any hallway in an office that allows workers to plug in and you'll likely see folks walking around with the earbuds firmly in place. This isolation is not good in public areas, as it cuts people off from colleagues. This becomes a thin, dangly barrier to interaction that is vital for coworkers. Those who do so regularly will get tagged as loners.

While some actually want others to leave them alone, it sends a poor message to both colleagues and managers. The corporate world wants employees to work together, and keeping the earbuds in impedes that objective. Once you get the reputation for not interacting with others it's hard to shed that image.

If you're lucky enough to work in an office that allows the use of audio devices with earbuds, leave them in the cubicle when you leave the space. Make a show of being interested by speaking with coworkers in the halls and other public areas. Actually talk with your colleagues regularly to be known as a team player. The image you give to your managers will be better for it.

It's also a good idea to put the earbuds down in your cubicle from time to time. This will give you a feel for what's going on with others close by. It's easier to relate to coworkers if you hear how their day is going.

If your earbuds are attached to a phone or tablet, don't watch video of any kind at work. It's a quick way to get fired so don't do it. But that's another article for another time.

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