If your colleagues irritate you, you're not alone

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I don't want to worry anyone, but all the news suggests that we are a nation permanently on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

Half of British people don't trust their neighbours, according to a recent poll of 2,000 people by the Yorkshire Building Society. One in 10 is "suspicious" of people who move in next door. Londoners are the worst. (Well I'll go to the foot of our stairs – as they don't say in London.)

The workplace is no better. Another survey of 2,000 people, this one for the Institute of Leadership and Management, found that workers are driven wild with irritation by their colleagues, too. One hopes that these surveys studied two separate sets of 2,000 people, because anyone who lives in the overlap of that Venn diagram must be constantly stressed: fleeing home then arriving at work to find people leaving dirty plates on their desks and going off for cigarettes all the time.

The top three annoyances are, apparently, arriving late; sending emails to colleagues instead of talking; and never getting the teas in. "Wearing unsuitable clothes" such as flip flops or skimpy outfits is another, as are bringing children into work and gossiping about colleagues. But what if that means gossiping about a colleague's skimpy outfit, or the fact that his child has retuned your computer to CBeebies? What if you don't drink tea? What about the colleagues who insist on talking to you when you'd rather just read an email? Or the ones who secretly use your chair when you're not looking and adjust it in all sorts of sneaky ways?

If we examine the list of office workers' grievances, most of them are about the misuse of personal space, both physical and mental. It's the same with neighbours. People just want to be left alone with their own thoughts without being bothered by emails, germs, body parts or offspring. No wonder people in London are more annoyed about it than most: there are too many people in the city and there is not enough room. We're all just one sneeze away from stabbing each other in the eyes with the contents of the stationery cupboard.

As Professor Cary Cooper from Lancaster University points out: "Millions of workers spend more of their waking hours at work than at home", and of course you can't choose your colleagues. But to be fair, if we spent as much time with our partners as we do with our workmates, we'd probably end up getting divorced. Your office husband or wife (the person of the opposite sex with whom you spend most time at work – you know who they are) does not just see more of you than your real friends do; they inevitably deal with more of your rubbish, too. And they don't even get to see the fun, weekend you.

Really, we should be grateful to our colleagues. They have to put up with us because they're paid to. And if they didn't talk to us (even when we'd prefer an email), maybe nobody would. We might even be reduced to meeting our neighbours.

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