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What is Cubicle Etiquette?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 16, 2024
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Cubicle etiquette is a set of unwritten rules that exist in the workplace and help govern how people behave when they work in close quarters. Etiquette guidelines should be adhered to by both workers in the cubicle and people in adjoining work spaces, and many employees get very upset if these guidelines are not respected. One of the main factors in workplace etiquette is privacy.

Although employees are usually part of a larger workplace, they sometimes regard their cubicles as their own offices. For all intents and purposes, the cubicle should be viewed as a private workspace. When entering, coworkers should not just barge in and begin talking; the employee may be concentrating on something important. Visitors should stand at the entrance to the cubicle and make their presence known until the worker is able to talk.

Privacy should also take noise levels into account. While talking on the phone, employees should keep conversation volume to a normal level. Few people like to hear constant chattering or high pitched laughing. Just because the speakers is in a cubicle does not mean that sound will not travel to surrounding areas. Employees should remember this before using a speakerphone.

Confidentiality should also be taken into account as part of cubicle etiquette. Thin cubicle walls will not prevent people from hearing client discussions, which is an important consideration when workers are talking on the phone or discussing confidential client information in person. If a conversation or meeting is confidential, it may be more appropriate to conduct it in a private office.

One rule of etiquette that most irritates people if it is broken is that of odors. Eating strong smelling food in a cubicle can be very off-putting to other workers. People may also be put off by visiting a cubicle that constantly smells of a certain food. If smoking is allowed, then the same rule should be applied.

Keeping a cubicle clean and tidy is also important. A disorganized cubicle can reflect poorly on the employee’s level of professionalism. Space in a cubicle is usually limited, and covering every open space with personal items may not gain any merit points from an employer who visits.

Although cubicle etiquette covers the rule of privacy, it is a good idea for employees to get out of the cubicle now and again. Work colleagues should not feel apprehensive when approaching another person's desk. Keeping a fine balance between privacy and accessibility will improve relations with colleagues. If etiquette is respected, the workplace should become a more productive and harmonious environment.

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Discussion Comments
By anon945679 — On Apr 14, 2014

I have a coworker who shakes his leg, which shakes the three cubicles that surround him. We have communicated to him that it disturbs us and have gone to management and nothing has been done. It is very difficult to focus on technical assignments when your workstation screen is shaking.

By anon348844 — On Sep 20, 2013

Wow some people are way too sensitive. Super loud people, banging furniture, throwing things, 90 degree heat, crappy office equipment, horrible smells - those are some real problems in a cubicle area. If some people are worried about someone crunching an apple or eating sunflower seeds, they have serious issues.

By anon341100 — On Jul 08, 2013

There's a jerk in my cube city who chews sunflower seeds all day long. My work requires lots of reading, understanding technical fodder, and converting the new knowledge to usable formats. I'm So tired of the sunflower seeds.

By anon336762 — On May 31, 2013

'Personal Space' in a cubicle environment is an illusion.

By anon330287 — On Apr 15, 2013

When my supervisor comes back to her desk, she always has to whistle or make some clicking noise as she walks by. I guess to announce that she is back but it is really annoying! I am a receptionist and my desk is out in the open, so I hear all kind of noises all day long, but it can be very quiet and she will come around with quick whistles (not even making a tune).

By anon324811 — On Mar 12, 2013

I'm a woman who works in an open bullpen environment with three other men in the bullpen. It's not always easy, but I get along well with guys and am pretty easy going and easy to get along with.

The guys play music loud, and it took a while for me to get used to at first, but I've never complained. For the longest time, they played mostly good music that I liked too.

I've been busy lately, and haven't been making conversation as much, and I've noticed that they've been playing screamo music, country music and rap for about the past two to three weeks. They know that I hate all of that, as I've said it in passing a few times, and they never used to play any of these before. If I then put my headphones on, like during lunch (to watch a video or listen to music) then they turn it up blasting.

What's going on here? Do they not like me anymore? Are they trying to annoy me/tick me off?

By anon309636 — On Dec 17, 2012

My co-worker plays music I can't stand all day long. I'm so non-confrontational, I don't want to complain. And I know I'm hardly perfect, but the music she plays depresses me.

By anon300346 — On Oct 29, 2012

My co-worker continues to run her fan even though she knows it disturbs me. She even keeps it running when she goes off for a significant amount of time (i.e., lunch) and I have had to start asking her if she can turn it off before she leaves for a while.

Even though I have asked her numerous times, she still keeps it running when she is away. Today she was getting ready to take off for lunch and I asked her if she could turn her fan off if she was going to be gone for a while. She did turn her fan off but told me that I needed to bring a coat work each day if it makes me cold.

I am comfortable with the A/C temperature of the building and only get cold when she has her fan running. Also, I have on a long-sleeved sweater dress today so I was quite bundled already. I told her that I already had long sleeves, but all she did was remark "55 degrees is cold to you?" - the temp outdoors. I told her that yes it was.

Is there anything I can do and still stay professional about this? Being politely open to her about how it bothers me doesn't solve the issue - she just ignores my request. If she is at her desk and I am cold and ask if she can shut it off for just a little while (I don't say anything unless it gets super bad - I normally just stay quiet about it) she tells me that I need to bring a coat.

If I am comfortable on a daily basis with the company A/C temp, why should I change my wardrobe so that she can run her fan? Keep in mind that she never wears skirts and had sweatpants and socks with sporty slide-ins on today. Am I wrong to think that if she is hot with the normal company temp that she should be the one to adjust her own dress and not me?

By anon288444 — On Aug 30, 2012

Another employee came into my cubicle and picked up my phone and read all my text messages. How should I handle this?

By anon285451 — On Aug 15, 2012

I am pretty much in love with my cube neighbor, and my cube neighbor, after a short period of heavy flirtation, is not in love with me. I work exactly thre feet from a person who is not in love with me, who I am in love with, eight to 10 hours a day. Moving is not an option.

And this, dear friends in CubeLand, is the truest, most awful description you will read today of pure, unadulterated hell. I really think I may go mad. So if you don't hear from me again, you'll know what happened.

By anon284321 — On Aug 09, 2012

@Post 5: If you are not at your desk for an hour, the question is why the fan is on, not why it is turned off. No one says anything when you are there. Get the picture? It may cool the area down more than you think or may be louder than you think, in addition to the fact that you leave it on and leave your desk. No one has the right to enter your space when you are not there, but perhaps they are apprehensive about saying anything and are trying to give you a hint without confrontation. Have you ever asked your co-workers if your fan disturbs them in any way? Start there and see what happens.

@Post 19: People were not posting to have someone tell them that the issue is their social skills and to withdraw from life because you do not like something someone else does. Did you happen to notice that everyone on this post, for the most part, feels the same? Maybe that is why everyone is afraid to simply open their mouth and speak.

I think the point is this: you are not the only person on the planet, so you have to act as if you understand that you must act in accordance with others to find peace in a public situation.

Smoking is not allowed in public places because it is dangerous to other people, but there was a day that, when it was allowed, it took a general consensus to come up with a rule for the greater good.

If this many people have issue with chewing ice, eating chips and the like, eating apples and the like, whistling, singing, talking on the telephone about personal issues, taking meetings and general work conversations via speaker phone, tapping a pen on the desk, clicking your pen, talking behind someone’s head to the person next to them while you are holding the handset for your meeting trying to be considerate, laughing at some mundane quip on IM, or grossing everyone out with your phlegm Olympics, it means there is a problem. Furthermore, my guess is that most people who are writing here do not need to ask their co-workers what it is they do because they are conscious of their actions and those of others and the individual who wrote that must be guilty of being an inconsiderate neighbor themselves.

I would suggest to anyone with this experience that you explain your concerns to the individual without being confrontational or embarrassing, or venting your frustrations and see how they respond. Try the sandwich technique. Also, if you must, there is an HR department and they would be more than happy, if there were enough complaints, to offer assistance in spreading the word on office etiquette to your fellow coworkers as a general statement and not one that calls anyone out or fingers you as someone that others would tell. If you are having health issues with the stress and aggravation, you have every right to speak your piece!

Everyone should be mindful of their actions and considerate of others in all things.

By amypollick — On Jul 12, 2012

@anon279445: For real. If someone told me I had to turn my fan off, I'd tell them to go away. My fan blocks out a lot of extra conversation and dampens down the sound of three police scanners (standard equipment for a newsroom). Half the time, it's pointed straight up; I just need it for the background noise. I'd find out why someone turned off my fan, for sure. It can't be as annoying as when some management types have a problem using their inside voices, so you can hear their phone conversations 50 feet away. Good grief.

By anon279445 — On Jul 12, 2012

@giddyupam: It's absolutely OK to have a fan in your office/cubicle. Maybe the person who turns it off is a diehard energy saver, and they can't stand to see things running if no one is using them. They probably shouldn't be stepping into your cubicle to turn it off since it's your space, but that could be a reason. I don't see how anyone could think a fan is noisy.

By anon277180 — On Jun 28, 2012

How do the rest of cube workers feel about a co-worker who clips their nails at their desk. Even worse, they don't limit this to fingernails.

By anon253157 — On Mar 08, 2012

I completely agree with post 21. I have the same exact issue with my coworker who eats carrots, apples, pretzels, on top of the fact that he does it all day long and he chews with his damn mouth open.

By anon249341 — On Feb 20, 2012

I have a co-worker who eats an apple and celery every day. It is so annoying that he thinks its OK to crunch into these loud foods as if it isn't a disturbance. What an inconsiderate pig.

I'm going to send him a nice email letting him know his loud apples/celery/radishes are a disturbance and suggest that he cut his apples first or eat them in the break room.

By anon209691 — On Aug 27, 2011

I agree with post 15. You are in a public place. This is not your home or private space. Accepting people is a part of life. Also, communication is key. If you don't have what it takes to communicate with your co-worker, then maybe you need to get away from the public.

I love how you all don't think that you are doing something that bothers the person you are next to! You should ask them if anything you do bothers your co-worker? You may be surprised and humbled a little when you get the answer.

By anon172438 — On May 03, 2011

I just got a new job and I happen to sit in the busiest section of the office. It seems like every 15 minutes or so someone is coming in and talking to the guy next to me. It is way too distracting especially due to the fact that I am learning a lot and need to really concentrate. They also say my name aloud and try to include me in the conversations but it is very frustrating trying to balance talking to them and getting back to work.

I have no clue what to do and this stress is causing my eyes to blink about three times every second or so all damn day. It is one thing to have some annoyances in the workplace, but this is killing me. If someone has any solutions please do tell.

By anon142244 — On Jan 12, 2011

The fact of the matter is that cubicles stink! Especially if you have to do work that requires concentration. I hate it.

By anon137375 — On Dec 27, 2010

It's funny that we all have questions with no answers.

I also have a phlegmy co-worker who does not believe in medication because she doesn't like the way it makes her feel.

Our only male makes the sounds of orgasm while he eats at his desk, which is against the rules for the rest of us. There's another female way down at the end of the cube line and if she is on the phone, you cannot hear the person in your cube talking to you because of the cackling and laughing.

I now have a white noise fan, a telephone headset on one ear and an mp3 ear-bud in the other ear. I listen to music or movies while I work and turn down the volume a little when I have to speak on the phone or with another coworker!

There's one more coworker. She's in her 40's with two grown children. She does not know the difference between 'to' and 'too'; doesn't know when to use 'between' versus 'among'; did not know that there are rules related to the use of 'a' and 'an' and cannot spell (she spells it speel) much more than her own name. I find that extremely unprofessional.

By anon134581 — On Dec 15, 2010

If you have a problem with someone, go talk to them. If you don't feel it's right to speak to the person because your dislike is too petty, then it is too petty and you need to get over it.

By anon100289 — On Jul 29, 2010

I work in the same small office with this woman who has post nasal drip. All I hear all day is her sucking down snot and coughing up mucus. She even does it on the phone when she talks to people. I've complained numerous times but all my boss does, who by the way doesn't work on the same floor, is to look at me like I'm crazy for complaining.

By anon94562 — On Jul 09, 2010

A co-worker who sits next to me makes noise eating because he eats with mouth open and puts two spoons full in at one time. Then he eats all unhealthy food and then he complains that he is not well. what an idiot.

feels like, huh? Please tell me how to tell him.

By anon94394 — On Jul 08, 2010

I sit next to someone who smacks all day long like he's eating air with his mouth open. He also eats sunflower seeds popping them open as loud as possible and then smacking them down. It's equal to sitting next to someone who chews gum and pops it out loud.

I wear ear plugs but that doesn't seem like a fair option. He smacks, crackles and pops all day. It's so rude! Is there a polite way to tell him to knock it off! It's driving me crazy!

By anon91562 — On Jun 22, 2010

Speaker phones have to be the worst. It's so rude and the person who does it is the first to complain about everyone else. After reading these posts, I guess it's not so bad for me.

Cubicle design should be outlawed. Whoever came up with these things probably worked on a farm. Sometimes I feel like an animal. No one wants to be this close to their co-workers. It pits people against each other.

By anon74300 — On Apr 01, 2010

Do you really have to laugh out loud when you type "lol" in an email or instant message? Well my co-worker who is next to me laughs out loud while writing e-mails or using IM. That's disturbing to hear a deep gurgling laugh while you're working. Am I being selfish?

By anon66202 — On Feb 18, 2010

Well, you know that eating ice is a sign of sexual frustration. The louder the ice crunching, the more the frustration! When you hear it, just laugh to yourself.

By anon56517 — On Dec 15, 2009

I eat an apple for my lunch everyday. And reading the above comments, now I am not sure if that is the best thing to do. Any suggestions?

By anon49582 — On Oct 21, 2009

How about sitting next to someone who snuffs his snot 6-7 times each minute; that is about 420 times an hour. As I type this, he is eating an apple--now how would I know that? because I hear the bite into the apple, and he chews each bite with his mouth open; if you have children, please teach them to chew their food with their mouth closed.

By libz20 — On May 20, 2009

I work in a cube, around mostly other women and want to know how to approach others who have to blow their nose, while at their cube. I have a very weak stomach and this sound just makes me sick. I understand that people have to do this, but should they go to the ladies room when they really have to clean their nose by blowing nasty sounds into a tissue? I always go to the ladies room to do this as it just isn't something I feel everyone else needs to listen to.

By giddyuppam — On Sep 17, 2008

I always have a quiet fan running in my cubicle because I am always so warm because of the medicines I am taking. Lately every time I leave to go on break or lunch, my fan is turned off when I get back to my desk. This bothers me that no one has said anything to me and comes in my cubicle without me being there. Is it okay to have a fan in your cubicle? I don't know what I will do to stay cool if they make me keep it off.

By dml31481 — On Jul 10, 2008

I have a coworker with whom I share a cubicle wall. He obsessively chews ice and shakes his cup full of ice. Needless to say, it is extremely frustrating to this surrounding coworkers. I don't know how to broach the subject, or if it's even proper for me to bring it up. I've tried masking the noise with white noise from my radio, but he's a very...what's the word...FERVENT chewer of ice. Help!

By cayenne — On Mar 31, 2008

And don't forget that people can hear all of your conversations. While it's important not to share confidential information with a client in your cubicle, it is also important to go somewhere else to make your doctors' appointments, etc, especially if it's something you'd rather all your coworkers not know about!

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