Managing Misophonia in the Workplace

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We all know someone who struggles with the sound of eating and drinking, who cannot stand the sound of someone sniffing with a cold or perhaps being bothered by the sound of a keyboard. In some cases it is more than a mild annoyance, it can trigger anger and a sense of panic, making every day sounds feel like an assault on the senses. The official name for this is Misophonia, meaning ‘a condition in which certain sounds cause a strong negative reaction in someone’. It is a fairly common yet misunderstood condition, with some experiencing rage and hatred as well as physical reactions such as sweating and an increased heart rate.

The workplace is an environment that is full of noises: typing on keyboards, people talking and sometimes shouting on phones, the copier going, colleagues snacking at their desks all day long, shoes on the floor and drinking of drinks. For most people these noises are just everyday sounds but for those with Misophonia these can be unwelcome distractions, making it hard to focus, become emotionally stressed and literally want to run out of the building. There is no treatment for Misophonia but it can be lessened by reducing the exposure to the triggers.

Whilst it is not officially a Disability, should Employers be recognising this as something that requires some reasonable adjustments? Laying down some gentle ‘rules’, will help build a more peaceful environment, for those in need of it, and encourage Employees to respect each other:
  • Encourage Employees to come to you if they are having any issues at work.
  • Ask that Employees they keep their voices down when on the phone.
  • In larger businesses where Employees have access to a staff room or kitchen, request that people do not eat lunch at their desk. Banning all food such as drinks and snacks could possibly be a step too far but it is reasonable to ask that they are consumed in moderation and that main meals are eaten away from their desk.
  • If the nature of your business can accommodate it, allow the occasional use of noise cancelling headphones. Some people find it hard to focus with external noises at the best of times, so allowing headphones could be a solution, as long as it isn’t to the detriment of the day to day operations of the Company
  • Consider some adjustments that could be made to the lay out of the office, perhaps even moving an Employee’s desk
  • If you are aware that an Employee is struggling with a colleague in close proximity, perhaps try to stage some sort of mediation, which would allow the employee to voice their concerns.
Whilst not all personalities at work will click, Employers can encourage a more harmonious workplace by promoting tolerance and understanding, which will strengthen the well-being of the Company’s Employees.

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