We can handle Chatty Cathy, but what do we do about Whistling Willie? — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily
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We can handle Chatty Cathy, but what do we do about Whistling Willie?

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Question: “We have a co-worker who is cooperative, personable, cheerful and a great employee. But his whistling is driving our office up a tree. Some people find it extremely irritating when they are trying to concentrate. Subtle and direct remarks have been made to him regarding the whistling, but he says it helps him relax and perform his duties better. Any suggestions on how to curb the whistling but not hurt his feelings?” — No longer whistling Dixie


I too was a whistler, and it drove my boss insane! She cheerfully reminded me that she did not hire a songbird and smiled while she said it. I got the hint right away!

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Sit him down and just say that you would like to have a casual conversation with him about something that is bothering you. Tell him that he is appreciated around the office for being so helpful and friendly but that it has become very difficult to concentrate while he whistles. That it is a positive thing to add to a work environment but it even though it relaxes him it does need to stop. Not that you want to change his work atmosphere but maybe he could whistle at only times like lunch time etc. Maybe he will take the advise knowing that it makes it hard for others to relax or work. Good luck, but he needs to know it will stop not it should. Who's the boss there anyways?

Someone does need to speak to him and let him know it may help him concentrate, but unfortunately it does the opposite for others around him and it would be great if he can be considerate to others. Ask him if there is anything else that can help him concentrate that wont distract others. Maybe earphones or a desk radio so that he can listen to music WITHOUT wistling?

Good luck.

Has management said anything to him about his little habit? If not maybe its time they say something. If its affects others in the workplace that is not good. I know it may relax him but if others are annoyed then he will need to learn a new habit for the sake of the other co-workers.

Many people would say being able to have a drink or two at work will help them relax and work better, but does that make it acceptable at work? I don't think the "it helps me relax" rationale should be acceptable when it is something that results in annoying other people. I would have a supervisor sit down with him and first bring up all his good points, but then say there is one thing he is doing that is causing problems with others. The whistling is helping him to concentrate, but it is ruining the concentration of others. I would tell him, not ask him, that it would help the entire staff if he could find a less intrusive way to relax.

I have very sensitive hearing and most whistling sounds like fingernails scraping across a blackboard to me. I don't know what I'd do if I had to put up with whistling in the workplace. This person's method of "relaxation" makes everybody else within earshot less relaxed and more stressed. I think that those of you who are adversely affected should write a memo to the supervisor (with all of your signatures)or have this issue discussed at a staff meeting along the lines of" whistling is having a negative effect on office productivity, so the focus is on the workplace rather than the worker. The supervisor should then speak to this employee to TELL him to STOP whistling at work, along with a written note in his personnel file, which could be removed one year after the whistling stops.

I've got music running through my mind all the time, so I can empathize with this whistler, but there is something you might suggest to him that he get in the habit of doing. Just as we can shout, talk or whisper, you can easily control the volume of your whistling to a "whisper." Only you can hear yourself, unless you are 18" from you co-worker, and it should satisfy that musical urge that calms you, without bothering others.

I think a man who whistles is a sign of a happy, content man. These days you don't see a lot of people who seem happy and content with their lives, so I suggest you lighten up.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Juan May 4, 2017 at 12:24 pm

how sad all your lives must be , i was just told not to whistle at work , which is outdoors. however i must endure a manager that uses a radio constantly shouting commands at the entire staff (micromanager)


bill bixby September 24, 2014 at 6:19 am

I’m buying referee whistle and joining in.

Trouble is when one whistler stops another one starts, often with the same tune as the previous one. It’s constant through the day. Every 5 minutes the main offender pipes up.

The only way I’ve found to dissuade him is by making him unhappy. I find if I screw his day up he whistles less. I’ve tried the gentle word in the ear, the public can you please stop it’s distracting – to which I get a tirade of whistling from all of them. So he can annoy me, but I can make his work day crappy.


Laura Sanders September 15, 2014 at 1:31 pm

I agree. Whistling, gum cracking, etc., drive me crazy in the workplace. It is especially a problem when the perpetrator is well-liked by the bosses, and the bosses aren’t in range of the whistling and gum cracking. So far I have just put up with it, but am ready to at least let my boss know of the problem, that it’s not only disgusting, but affects my ability to concentrate on my work.


LMM October 25, 2013 at 11:19 am

I’m in much the sam boat as Shaun- I’ve been with a company for over half a year, and there are 4 whistlers (they take turns to ensure whistling at least every two minutes) in a building that is very open and conducive to sound traveling well. It seems to me to be a very rude habit, like singing out loud, except it travels through the entire building, subjecting everyone to it rather thna just those in humming range. I don’t mind whistling- or at least I didn’t- but constant exposure day after day to constant shrill warbling is driving me up the wall. The last guy who had my job was apparently irritated by it- don’t know how he lasted 14 years. On the worst days I find myself trolling job boards, because it seems I’m the only one who has a problem with it. Any advice, at all?


Robert September 30, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Having a coworker who whistles is torture. It seriously interferes with other people’s ability to concentrate on their work. The problem is that people have become so selfish: “I like whistling, and I don’t care what affect it has on other people!”


Robert September 6, 2011 at 7:17 am

It’s really no different to people who talk out loud. In some ways worse and if particulaly persistent a sign of OCD I reckon. It’s not about “lightening up” it is just plain annoying. Either take some Prozac or shut the you know what up…..YOUR calming exercises should be just that, not disturbing to those around you.


Shaun Stockman January 15, 2010 at 9:54 am

Someone should forward him this blog. I too have whistlers at work. yes whistlers, four to be exact. I’m a contractor for the company I work for and have only been here for three months. I don’t want to be the office jerk or known as some anal guy, so I’ve created a gmail account called “please_dont_whistle@gmail.com” I’m getting ready to fire off a couple of e-mails to these people with an explanation of how distracting their whistling is and a couple of links to office etiquette articles.


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