Ask Laskas: “How do I get my coworker to stop humming while he works?”

Advise this distracted employee on how to get some peace and quiet at the office.

My coworker, who sits in the cubicle right next to mine, hums all day long! It is a constant, off-key droning that drives me insane. How do I 
ask him to stop without hurting his feelings? —Distracted Employee


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32 thoughts on “Ask Laskas: “How do I get my coworker to stop humming while he works?”

  1. I work with a guy that hums and whistles all the time. He’s also extremely “active” when he works, he keeps moving his chair back and forth and keeps “jumping” in his seat all the time. It’s like he’s hyperactive or something. Kind of annoying.

    1. I had the same problem….in fact thoughts of picking up a
      chair and busting that co working in the head did occur! But I
      did take someone’s advice, and walked right over to him and told him, that the humming
      is driving me crazy man!”, and, it comes
      thru my cubical like a bumble bee buzzing in my ear. He apologize, and every
      now and then he starts humming but catches himself, only because it’s a habit.

      The more you coward out and not say anything , the more they
      will do it!!

  2. There are white noise machines that can drown out a lot of noise. I’d try one of those.

  3. Your coworker doesn’t have an evil plan to break your concentration! As someone who hums frequently, I can tell you it’s a very subconscious habit. I suffer from tinnitus and the humming helps cover the buzzing when I’m concentrating on something. Have some compassion and try gentle humor: “Hey, can you change the radio to a news station?” or “Hey, do you take requests? I haven’t heard (name of song) in ages!”

  4. Just gently tell him “You may not realize you hum quite often. It’s distracting, and I’d love it if you would stop. Oh, and feel free to let me know if I distract you in any way.” Then smile.

  5. Your co-worker’s humming, although driving you crazy, may be the only thing saving his sanity. It sounds like he suffers from tinnitus and is humming to drown out the constant buzzing noise in his ears. Let him know the humming bothers you, but be sympathetic about the tinnitus and recommend some alternate strategies such as listening to soft instrumental music while working.

  6. As someone who gets annoyed with sounds very easily, I can understand your frustration. The problem, however, is not that this is just noise, but most likely your coworker’s unintentional self-soothing…he’s probably not even aware that he’s doing it most of the time. Even if you bring up your frustrations with his humming, he may not be able to stop. To help yourself, try purchasing a white noise machine to drown out noises made outside your cubicle. This will not only help you to focus on your work, but also helps keep office politics reasonable by recognizing that your coworker’s humming is not an intentional attack on your “sound space”.

  7. This could be me. I am usually UNAWARE of my humming. Ask him if he is aware of this practice. Tell him nicely that it bothers you. My friends simply say “You’re humming.” That is enough to get me to stop. This might work with him. But, be nice – we hummers are sensitive people.

  8. This seems like a no brainer-just tell him it makes it hard for you to focus-if he has a qualm then he is being rude and it wouldn’t be rude to point this out to him!

  9. tape one of your coworkers humming sessions and play it back, either to him or just as you are working. it could end up being very funny and a way to prove how annoying it is!

  10. Have you tried humming back, perhaps even more loudly? The coworker might not even realize they’re humming: if you do it, they may ask, “What are you doing?” and you can (teasingly) say something like, “I’m copying you!” That could lead to a stoppage, and probably wouldn’t hurt their feelings.

  11. Own the problem. 2 options. Ask the person to join with you to to get a radio or music player and work together to select the music. Or politely let the person know while you appreciate his music, you have trouble concentrating and would appreciate it if he would stop so you can keep on track with your work. I had to explain to a cubicle mate that I had a severe allergic reaction to her perfume (her favorite, expensive one) and while she had no requirement to, I would appreciate it if she’d stop wearing it. Thank goodness she did. Remember, it’s your problem, not his.

  12. Simple: Go to the individual when he/she is not deluged with work. Say you’d like to talk for a few minutes and get the person’s consent to take time to talk. Then explain that the humming is extraordinarily distracting, that your workday is being negatively impacted; and that it’s not reasonable or fair to the employer to have co-workers subjected to conditions that reduce productivity. Explain that it’s the polite, reasonable, thoughtful, kind, and considerate thing to do – stop the noisy distraction. Thank you, I appreciate that so much. Let’s go out to lunch together sometime, out for a drink, whatever, to smooth over the humiliation and engender a spirit of community.

  13. Your co-worker is probably unaware that he is humming. Politely bring it to his attention and ask if you could say the word “humming” whenever he starts so that he will become aware that he is disturbing the peace. Eventually this may bring his subconscious habit under control.

  14. The best way to get a serious point across without causing offense is to do it indirectly through humor. For example: “Wow, you’re really getting into the music, aren’t you [name of coworker]?” This will probably cause your coworker to become flustered and stop humming. Where subtlety fails, however, it’s better to offer up a positive followed by a negative: “Hey [coworker’s name], I’m loving your musical performance, but it’s a little distracting…” This statement is more direct but still not offensive.

  15. As politely and sincerely as you can, explain to him the negative impact that this is having on your work performance. If this doesn’t work, your supervisor or HR certainly should be willing to intercede. There are also several different types of personal noise reduction devices available if you prefer to go that route.

  16. When one of my coworkers was bouncing a tennis ball constantly, I just said, “I’m really sorry, but could you not do that? I’m having a hard time concentrating.” I tried my best to do it in a tone that said it was my problem and I was asking for help, and it seemed to work. Maybe something similar would work in this case?

    1. I have someone doing exactly that – except it’s a squash ball! I am beside myself on how to ask her to stop – she does it when she’s stressed out (most of the time). I am thinking I will be percieved as petty in asking her to stop…..

  17. Consider that the constant humming may be the symptom of another problem! My husband has tinnitus, and the constant ringing in his ears can be very distracting when he’s trying to concentrate, so he will hum to himself to drown out the squeal of the tinnitus. Maybe your coworker isn’t aware that it’s even audible to you. Have a respectful conversation about the reason for the hum without asking them to stop, and if there’s a reasonable explanation consider buying an ipod dock for your desk. . .

  18. Go to the boss and report the situation.Things like this should not be tolerated because every company is bounded by rules, policy, and ethics. And every employee are opt tofollow all of it. Actually, upon job offer, everything is being explained and the employee agreed on it. So after agreement, what is next? Yes correct. Compliance.
    We also have the same here, but they are not humming. But they are really loud and animated. We don’t know if they know how destructive they are already but since we have policy here, they were reported to the immediate boss. They do have to show courtesy to others who are busy working on phone and online, don’t they? Now, we have noticed how professional they are. They are no longer loud and animated like before. And that is good… not only for us, but for them too. Courtesy begets courtesy. Respect begets respect.

    1. Demand that humming be explicitly prohibited in the employment agreement? Report the “destructive” coworker to the boss without first gently raising the issue personally? Wow, I don’t think your coworkers are the ones that lack professionalism and courtesy.

    2. Wow…does your company’s policies also cover bad breath, poor grammar and stinky lunches? Sounds like a great place to work o.O

  19. I see a few ways to solve this problem. If hes humming hes not talking,so I guess your not either. I pods with music in your ear,other ear left open so you can hear and talk on the phone.Or a white noise machine on your desk. I have a alarm clock that has bells, birds, rain,and ocean sounds when set on the lowest volume drowns out the sounds like nails on a chalk board.If you dont want to do anything, but want him to stop,leave a letter on his desk. Start it by saying good things. Make sure you dont blow up ,and tell him your leaving a letter so either of you dont need to comfront each other. Or you can give him sticky candy. Carmels, gummy bears.

    1. Writing a letter is such a chicken way to deal with this and not at all respectful. I have this habit of unconsciously humming, and if someone would bring my attention to it, I would stop. People seldom intentionally annoy others.

    1. I beg to differ ! My office mate hums when she is nervous – she drives the rest of us crazy ! It is extremely distracting.

  20. I’ve noticed I hum a lot and don’t even realize it. It seems to be a sign of happiness. I’m sure if you tell your co-worker it is distracting, he will try to stop. Be glad he is so happy!

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