2012: The exasperated sigh of office workers across the world may soon become a thing of the past. In the name of increasing employee satisfaction and productivity, scientists have begun to research that most vexing of problems—the irritating cubicle neighbor. The New York Times reports:
Cubicle culture is already something of a punch line—how many ways can we find to annoy one another all day?—but lately the complaints are being heard by the right people, including managers and social scientists. Companies are redesigning offices, piping in special background noise to improve the acoustics and bringing in engineers to solve volume issues. “Sound masking” has become a buzz phrase.
Scientists, for their part, are measuring the unhappiness and the lower productivity of distracted workers. After surveying 65,000 people over the past decade in North America, Europe, Africa and Australia, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, report that more than half of office workers are dissatisfied with the level of “speech privacy,” making it the leading complaint in offices everywhere.
1853: A clerk in the law-office setting of Bartleby, the Scrivener, Herman Melville’s ode to the absurdity of the workplace, managed to be a nuisance to his colleagues even without the benefit of modern professional accoutrements. Here, the lawyer who narrates the story recounts one of his most annoying employees:
The difficulty was, he was apt to be altogether too energetic. There was a strange, inflamed, flurried, flighty recklessness of activity about him. He would be incautious in dipping his pen into his inkstand. All his blots upon my documents, were dropped there after twelve o’clock, meridian. Indeed, not only would he be reckless and sadly given to making blots in the afternoon, but some days he went further and was rather noisy. At suck times, too, his face flamed with augmented blazonry, as if cannel coal had been heaped on anthracite. He made an unpleasant racket with his chair; spilled his sand-box; in mending his pens, impatiently split them all to pieces, and threw them on the floor in a sudden passion; stood up and leaned over his table, boxing his papers about in a most indecorous manner, very sad to behold in an elderly man like him.
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