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Pet Peeves

What makes your blood boil and what you can do about it?

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash
Pet peeves that make you flip your lid.
Source: Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

You sniff a horrible odor and realize a coworker just microwaved fish. You reach into the fridge to find the sandwich you made for lunch half eaten. You’re trying to concentrate on a deadline, and the next-door neighbor's mutt is barking and the kids are screaming with laughter that drags on and on.

Working around annoying situations and people with bad habits can drive you up the wall, no matter how much you love your job. But what are the biggest offenders? And what can you do about them?

The Worst Office Offenders of 2020

To find out the worst pet peeves of 2020, Zety polled 1,026 Americans via Amazon's Mechanical Turk in June of this year. Respondents consisted of 54% females and 46% males. A total of 7% of respondents were 23 or younger, 62% aged 24 to 39, 22% aged 40 to 55, and 9% 56 or older.

The study investigated office situations American employees find annoying. Respondents were asked 56 scale-based questions regarding the perceived frequency of a given annoying situation as well as the perceived annoyance level caused by it. The lead investigators then came up with a tilt factor by multiplying the perceived annoyance level with the reported frequency. Their assumption was that for something to really take the joy out of someone’s work life, it has to happen fairly often and be nothing short of infuriating.

Here is a list derived from the study of America’s top 10 worst offenders:

1. Malfunctioning hardware or slow computer: 61% find it annoying or very annoying.

2. Coworkers not washing hands before leaving the bathroom: 59% find it annoying or very annoying.

3. Coworkers coming to work sick: 53% find it annoying or very annoying.

4. Slow WiFi: 51% find it annoying or very annoying.

5. Coworkers’ bad breath or body odor: 50% find it annoying or very annoying (but only 28% feel it happens often or very often).

6. Printer out of paper, jammed or broken: 48% find it annoying or very annoying.

7. People calling or arranging meetings to discuss things that “could have been an email”: 46% find it annoying or very annoying.

8. People using your mug: 45% find it annoying or very annoying (only 17% feel it happens often or very often).

9. Coworkers coming in late or leaving early: 44% find it annoying or very annoying.

10. Not enough parking space: 43% find it annoying or very annoying (only 31% feel it happens often or very often).

The survey concluded that while situations like not having enough parking space, other people smelling bad, or coworkers using your personal items all get on employees’ nerves, ultimately, what annoys employees most are the things that make it hard to keep up a good level of their own work. You’re unlikely to perform well if you catch someone else’s infection, especially with the uncertainty of the pandemic. And when team members fail to deliver their work, technology lets you down or your time gets wasted, your job performance can become compromised.

Pet Peeves Across Genders and Generations

The survey found no major differences in what gets on men and women’s nerves across US offices. But men reported higher levels of annoyance for 25 out of 28 office pet peeves that were analyzed. And women were more concerned than men about their health and overall office hygiene:

  • Coworkers not washing hands before leaving the bathroom: very annoying to 45% of women vs. 33% of men.
  • Coworkers coming to work sick: very annoying to 30% of women vs. 22% of men.
  • A/C too cold: very annoying to 20% of women vs. only 10% of men.

There was also a general trend that the older you are, the less angry you get when faced with office annoyances. Gen-Z and Millennials were angrier than Gen-X and Baby Boomers. Gen-Z and Millennials reported higher annoyance levels than Gen-X and Baby Boomers for a staggering 26 out of 28 office pet peeves in question:

  • Coworkers texting/browsing social media at work: very annoying to 25% of Baby Boomers, 15% of Gen-X, 13% of Millennials, 11% of Gen-Z.
  • Coworkers coming to work sick: very annoying to 32% of Baby Boomers, 30% of Gen-X, 24% of Millennials, 23% of Gen-Z.

The study concluded that younger generations are so used to the omnipresent social media that they barely notice their coworkers rummaging through their smartphones every day. And older generations, to nobody’s surprise, seemed more concerned about their health and well-being.

The Takeaway from the Survey: Forgiveness, Seriously?

It’s clear we all have our pet peeves. When people are put together in groups, it can create a soup of disgruntled employees. But it doesn’t have to. There are degrees of annoyance. Sometimes asking yourself if a situation is worth getting upset over gives you a change of perspective, helps you separate small things from the big kahunas, and provides relief.

On a 10-point scale, everyday irritations such as a printer paper jam, traffic jam, or jam smeared on your clean floor are 0-to-3 minor upsets. Your boss talking to a coworker about you behind your back might be a 4-to-7 moderate upset. And real life-or-death crises such as your teenager driving on icy streets or a spouse in the ER score 8-to-10 major upsets. But if you can’t chill during mundane 0-to-3 triggers, like when your computer is on the blink, how can you expect to keep your cool during a dire 4-to-7 event when having your wits about you is truly needed? Even in some 8-to-10 life crises, it’s possible—and arguably more effective—when you can keep your cool.

Maybe the final takeaway for all of us is to get used to the fact that work and life won’t always (or won’t usually) accommodate to our whims. The key for all of us is to learn to accept the fact we’re fallible human beings and learn to live and work together without sweating the small stuff. It’s a tall order, but most people who annoy you are just like you: flawed human beings, doing the best they can, deeply loved by their parents, a spouse, a child, or a friend. Besides, how many times have you cooked a smelly lunch in the office? Talked too loudly and interrupted or disturbed someone's concentration? Or bumped into someone accidentally. You know you have—we all have.

A piece of you resides in every person who drives you up the wall, gets in your way, or disturbs your concentration—the team member who talks over you in a meeting, the restaurant customer on a loud cell phone conversation, the family member who takes the last cup of coffee without replenishing the pot—they’re all human beings just like you with their own personal struggles that you will never know about, most doing the best they can. Forgive them anyway. And when you forget, make a mistake, or fail, which you surely will, learn to forgive yourself. You’ll have a much happier and more fulfilling professional and personal life.

More from Bryan E. Robinson Ph.D.
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