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Those Open-Plan Office Blues: 7 Horror Stories to Make You Long for Walls


Ah, open-plan offices. Proponents say they can encourage creativity and collaboration among staff members, while allowing workers flexibility to decide where in the office inspiration is most likely to strike. Of course, open-office boosters generally have another reason to push for them: fewer walls can mean less square footage per person, which equals lower real estate costs. As commenter Meghan C. said, “What bugs me most about open floor plans is imagining The Powers That Be sitting in their @#$% offices saying how great open floor plans are.” If you’re not a fan of the wall-free office, these tales of woe, collected from Facebook users, will seem pretty familiar.

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(Photo Credit: jlcwalker/Flickr)

1. Trimming Nails

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Unexpectedly, this was far and away the most common complaint from commenters. Variations included:

Cassidy: “I saw that yesterday … first HEARD, then SAW. I had to confirm it was really happening. … But seriously. WHY IS THIS OKAY? Why do people think, ‘my desk is a great place to do some personal grooming’? How about NO.”

Robert: “Y’all mean like ‘finger’ nails, right? I used to share a cubicle with a guy would clip his toenails and never pick the damn things up.”

Bryce: “My wife works in a medical office. She has seen the receptionist clipping both finger and toe nails at her desk. To clarify: THE RECEPTIONIST AT A DOCTOR’S OFFICE CLIPPING HER TOENAILS AT THE RECEPTIONIST’S DESK! I still wake up straight out of a dead sleep over that one.”

Nancy: “I saw the clipping of the nails even with offices. Still disturbing.”

2. Other Personal Grooming Activities

Laurie: “I worked for a doctor who would clean the sleep from his eyes in front of me, look at them and then wipe them on his pants. I kid you not, this man went on to win the lottery a few years ago. Life is SOOOOOOOOOOOO not fair!!!!”

Lisa: “Flossing at the desk – with little bits flying everywhere. I’m still in shock. There aren’t enough Clorox wipes in the world to fix that s**t.”

3. Sexism to Make Don Draper Blush

Pam: “Males ogling breasts on female co-workers.”

Amber: “A male employee whose cubicle was behind me discussing who would be best to appear in a Babes of Company XYZ calendar.”

4. The Whole World Is These People’s Dining Room

Elizabeth: “We use real dishes. That means eating from your desk is a five dimensional experience with exciting smells and loud clanking of forks on plates. Did I mention that we all have laptops and a cafeteria, so eating from your desk is totally unnecessary?”

5. TMI

Sarah: “I used to work with a woman who married a little later in life. Which, not a big deal. She would, however, have extended phone calls with her husband that involved animal noises and baby talk. The clincher was after her mammogram, where she discussed it, in depth, using the names of her ‘girls,’ with her husband. It was … awkward.”

6. Why Book a Conference Room When We Can Just Loom Over Your Desk?

Johnny: “My first job in NYC I was sitting right outside the boss’s office. They would have impromptu meetings around my cubicle and would lean on it and knock things over. It made it almost impossible to get any work done.”

Beth: “Eons ago, while working as a legal secretary in San Francisco, the support staff cubicles had low walls just over the height of our desks. My computer (which could not be moved) had me facing the of-counsel’s office; she was always there, had her door open and shades up. Hey, I like sunlight too, but the glare gave me migraines. I ended up making a makeshift cardboard shade to go on top of my computer; on my side I put up far-side cartoons. As far as I was concerned, it solved the problem of a bad interior design.”

Juan: “Having conference calls regularly and thinking that you are the only one at the office. He talks so loud!!!”

Julyne: “Every single person in my shared office space stood at a standing desk overlooking mine. I felt like a zoo animal on display. Should have clipped my toenails every week until they moved desks.”

Jennifer: “I had co-workers who sat directly on either side of me. They would phone each other and talk. I finally started joining in because it totally felt like I should.”

7. What’s yours is mine.

Pam: “There’s always somebody who ‘borrows’ your fave tool while you are visiting the bathroom.”

Tell Us What You Think

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen in your open office? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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Bert W.ShirleyYa'acovOctopus Recent comment authors
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My favourite is the ones who gossip about you, thinking they’re not being heard but they are as they’re sitting 2 metres from your desk. Oh and having all my own stationery “borrowed” without ever being returned. The bliss of office life!


The office could be a disgusting place. Never mind “open plan” – what about the shared toilets. In a multicultural society, you will find that some people don’t believe in flushing a toilet after a number 2 and it is perfectly okay to wash your face at the shared faucet and leave water dripping from the pressed board ceilings… I’d say the worst thing about open plan design is the ambient noise and the lack of privacy – did I… Read more »

Bert W.
Bert W.

Ugh! Open-plan office is one of an introvert’s worst nightmares, which could only be topped by having an open-plan office with see-through floors and office furniture.


I guess open plan isn’t for everyone. But what’s wrong with a little co-worker participation? If I worked with the doc’s receptionist who clipped toenails, I would pull her aside and explain a little something to her. If you’re not willing to do that, then I’d be skeptical you can do anything effective at work.

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