Sighing Coworker Driving Office Crazy

NOTE: Ignorance is NOT Bliss is an advice column written by Michelle Pendergrass. Questions are submitted by readers like you. To submit an anonymous question, use this form. Disclaimer: Advice is given as a friend would give. Michelle is not a therapist, scholar, expert, or otherwise. She’s just a girlfriend helping a girlfriend. Unless you’re a guy asking for help.


Dear Michelle,

A co-worker has an annoying habit of sighing all the time. She never goes longer than ten minutes and they’re deep, loud sighs that everyone in the office can hear. We’re about ready to scream! What do you suggest? Is she just bored?

Sighed all out….

I can relate, Sighed. Totally.

Wear earplugs. Check out your local pharmacy, they usually have bulk packages.


Photo credit: Flikr

No? I guess I’ll have to explore your question at a little deeper level then.

This hits close to home as I had a new friend in my life who sighed constantly, maybe even more than your co-worker. This person even sighed in chat. *sigh* It got to the point that I didn’t want to be in this person’s company (in real life or virtual.)

I sigh when I’m overwhelmed, stressed, tired, or as a general emotional release (positive or negative). Naturally, I interpreted other people’s sighs to mean something similar. Boy did I learn my lesson with my sighing friend. It turned out this person’s sighs were a symptom of a much deeper problem. Over the course of several months, my friend started to display many more “symptoms” linked back to passive-aggressive behavior.

What is that? It’s a lifestyle for many. It’s a coping mechanism at best, a tool of denial at worst. It is a way of expressing or displaying negative emotions indirectly, rather than being up front and honest.

Some typical passive-aggressive behaviors can include:

  • Lack of personal accountability
  • Lying
  • Blaming others for problems
  • Showing up late for important meetings or events seen as unpleasant
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Making excuses
  • Putting people down sarcastically, jokingly or criticizing, in subtle ways
  • Making you feel you can trust them, but they’re always letting you down
  • Talking about change, but never acting
  • Denial that a problem exists
  • Appear to follow the rules or directions, but will most often not fulfill the assignment or will, but in a way that’s not helpful.

Since your co-worker is sighing loud and often enough to make sure the whole office is hearing her, I’d think she might be a little passive-aggressive. I would suggest you approach her with a statement like, “I’ve noticed you’re sighing a lot recently, I don’t know if you’re aware of it?”

It could go one of two ways. She could tell you she’s been stressed or tired (or any number of, what I could consider reasonable, explanations) and then she’ll stop sighing as often and as loudly. However, she could also respond in a way that resembles other passive-aggressive behaviors. At this point, I would suggest you ignore the sighing knowing it is attention-seeking behavior and anything else you do might very well encourage her negativity.

Then, buy the ear plugs.

This is important.

For more information on passive-aggressive behavior:

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What do you think?



  1. 5

    I am a frequent sigher, I am not at all aggressive, passive or otherwise. I never really noticed my sighing until my co-worker mentioned it to me. Now that it has been brought to my attention I agree with her that I sigh quite frequently. I have been doing some reading on the subject and it turns out that sighing is a common symptom of asthma. There are other medical conditions that cause sighing as well. I, myself, suffer from exercise induced asthma and am considering trying to use my inhaler on a more regular basis and see if my sighing improves. While this woman may, in fact, be passive agressive or stressed out I find it important that people realize that not everything is about them. But definitely mention the sighing, she may have a medical problem and not even know it.

  2. 6

    You commenters need to chill out. There are ALOT of people that do this that don’t have serious heart conditions and actually fill all above traits. It’s super annoying to work with someone like this.

    • 7

      Yup, agreed. The majority of chronic “sighers” are passive-aggressive by nature but I think the biggest reason people constantly deep breath loudly is because they are drama queens. They want everyone to notice and hear them doing it in hopes they’ll either 1) Ask what’s wrong 2) Offer to help the person. My mother is one of these. I worked with her for years so I know she does it at home and work. She will literally sigh every 5 minutes at minimum if by herself at her desk. One day I kept a tally of how many times that I heard her sigh in an 8 hour workday and I stopped counting when I got up past 80. She is in great health, not overweight, doesn’t smoke or drink, no heart problems, so she doesn’t have a health issue that causes her to need to sigh that much. I think at this point, she doesn’t know how to not do it.

  3. 8
    Alexander Haven says:

    Instead of blaming everything on passive aggressive behavior you might consider an underlying physical problem. Sighing can be symptom in a myriad of physical conditions, my mom for example sighs constantly and she has
    congestive heart failure. A colleague of mine was also sighing frequently, turns out a simple adjustment of both
    his chair and desk height fixed his posture and eliminated sighing.

    Just because she is a women doesn’t mean she is neurotic or passive aggressive.

  4. 9

    I came across this article as I was looking for help. I have become a sigher. Probably about 6 months ago now I started sighing, I didn’t even notice I was doing it for a while, until my husband mentioned it and asked if I was alright. I also have been experiencing unsatisfied yawns, I think they are probably linked. Anyway, I have attempted to satisfy my involuntary need to sigh by doing so really quietly, but for whatever reason doing this makes it not satisfy that urge and I need to sigh again, real soon. Sometimes I sigh a lot, real close together, other times they are spaced further apart. I haven’t been experiencing any stressors over the 6 months that I could contribute it too, I’m not anxious, etc. 3 weeks ago I began to cut down smoking, I think I might be sighing more now because of that.
    My point is, although it’s relatively rare to just have to sign all the time (I’ve asked my doctor, it can’t be common), this co-worker may be as distressed by it as you are. I know I am, in fact it’s driving me crazy.