cleaning the office microwave: hidden duties when job-searching

A reader writes:

I recently went on a job interview for a position of HR assistant. During the interview, the HR manager explained the duties required for the position. Just when he finished explaining, he said, “Oh, one more thing: cleaning of the kitchen should be done once a week, including the microwave and the refrigerator. The HR assistant always had this duty.”

This killed the interview for me. I was stunned because this was a fairly well-known company with 50 employees at that office. Thankfully, they did not offer me the job.

My question to you is: in a job interview, what can I ask to find out if the employer expects me to do a duty that has no connection to the job that I want? I know that I was lucky last time because the employer volunteered the information.

It’s not unusual for fairly low-level positions to include some miscellaneous duties like this (particularly for a job like HR assistant, since in a lot of offices HR — rightly or wrongly — gets a lot of random office work, like organizing the holiday party and so forth). Other entry-level-ish positions might include similar things unrelated to the core job — such as going to the post office or ordering the office’s Wednesday morning bagels or whatever other miscellanea isn’t a natural fit with anyone else’s job.

I suppose that to get at this, you could try saying something like, “I know jobs at this level often include additional miscellaneous work too. Can you tell me what other types of tasks might fall to this person?”

But even then, it’s likely that you could still end up being asked to do something they didn’t mention in the interview or job description, either because they didn’t think to mention something minor or because it’s something that wasn’t easy to foresee popping up.

Or you might end up with no jobs you’re willing to do, because this is often the nature of jobs at or near entry level. It’s one of the reasons people talk about “paying their dues” before they moved up.

I don’t know that it’s realistic to assume you can get around that at this stage in your career (I’m assuming here that the jobs you’re targeting are all at the approximate level of an HR assistant).  That’s not to say that every single entry-level job has this component, because of course some don’t, but it’s common enough that you really risk coming across as naive and entitled to employers if you make a big deal about it.

But if you’re good at what you do, this problem will solve itself in a couple of years because you’ll get promoted out of those jobs and into roles where your boss isn’t going to want someone at your salary level cleaning the microwave.

{ 82 comments… read them below }

  1. The Bulldog Recruiter*

    I've often felt that when you really get down to it, your job is basically to do whatever the hell they tell you to do.

    And if that troubles you, you should have a strategy for insulating yourself from lower-status positions within the company.

    You are not going to walk into an organization and dictate your demands and how your day will be scheduled.

    Try it, if you feel inclined.

    – The "Bulldog" Recruiter

  2. Beth Robinson*

    There is no such thing as a job that doesn't have "unconnected" duties and unpleasant duties.

    I was a product development chemist. Great job (until I became interested in the biz side). Off the top of my head….

    Unrelated things:
    sourcing cubicles for new building
    answering main phone when secretary was out

    Unpleasant things:
    expense reports
    safety committee meetings
    lab clean-up (ie. what is THAT?)
    testing samples over and over

    There were more, I'm sure, but it was just part of the job.

    It's not about duties. It's about attitude. None of this was just me. We all did assorted duties as needed. The phones rotates through the male chemists too, btw. It was just pitching in.

    Look at the atmosphere if you're worried about getting taken advantage of.

    And if you spend half your time doing unrelated stuff and half your time doing what you like and builds your experience for your next job then you're ahead of the game.

  3. Clare*

    It's worse when you're not told about the "extras" and then they get thrown at you in a performance appraisal.

    I once worked in a small company as a corporate trainer (spending most of my time out of the office, as I was with various clients.) The owner of the company told me I wasn't pulling my weight in keeping the office clean and tidy and that I should vacuum it once a week.

    Entitled or not, I told him he should hire a cleaner. We parted ways soon after.

  4. Anonymous*

    I have to say, I do not think asking employees to perform janitorial duties (vacuuming, washing other people's dishes, clearing out the office fridge, dusting, whatever) is something any employee – even and ESPECIALLY and entry level one – should tolerate.

    Claire, I believe your response is the appropriate one. If you don't feel good doing something at work, I say, DO NOT DO IT. Your personal and professional integrity are far more valuable than the check you collect at this point in your career.

    If the thought of doing this type of thing really bothers you, it's not going to get any better when you are actually required to do it on a daily basis, TRUST ME.

  5. Cheryl*

    I too would have an issue with this "extra type of duty" due to medical issues that are not the business of anyone in the office. Since I do not ask for any special accomodation in regards to these issues, I also dont see any reason I should then have to divulge the information to get out of an "extra" duty such as this.
    My job currently has this as a requirement for each team, to clean the break room once a week. I opt to not get off the phones to breathe the cleaning fumes or breathe the dust that a vigorous dusting/vacuuming will bring up. I also used to have a friend that was serverely allergic to any cleaning compound and her skin would crack and bleed when she came in contact with any cleansing chermical.
    So if this "cleaning of the office or breakroom" is going to be a part of my duties, I want to be told up front so I can decide right then and there if I am also going to divulge the medical information. Because one that information passes my lips, I will be treated differently from that point on.

  6. Henning Makholm*

    Anomynous 2:11, are you suggesting that businesses should look for volunteer janitors? Have the owner do all the cleaning? Ask the customers to dust? Just let filth accumulate?

  7. Kimberly Roden*

    No doubt another generational attitude that I see more and more. Clearly, anyone who whines about what needs to be done at work has never worked for a start up company either–where some of the most invaluable experience can come from and where people wear many hats because "the work needs to be done."

    If it's part of the job, suck it up and do it. As a lower level employee, you do have to pay your dues and you don't have the right to be a prima donna, nor do you have the ability to choose your job description.

    Yes, be glad it was revealed to you on the interview and remember, if you think you have it so bad, the grass isn't always greener.

  8. Richard*

    Oh good, an easy question.

    If they reveal this to you at your interview, and you do not feel comfortable accepting the position based on these additional required duties, then don't accept the job.

    It's pretty much as simple as that.

    Perhaps you think that the duties are unreasonable given the position that's being advertised, but it's down to the employer to decide what the position entails, and down to you as a candidate to decide as to whether this is something that you're willing to accept should they offer you the position.

    As long as the employer is being open and honest regarding the duties that they expect from interview candidates, then it's difficult to really complain about it. Sure, maybe you've wasted some time applying and interviewing, perhaps they could have mentioned something along the lines of additional duties in the job description, but even then you would probably want to attend the interview to find out exactly what these may entail. Just remember that it's better to find out about it now, and decide on whether this is a dealbreaker for you once a deal has been placed on the table (assuming you get offered the position), than to find out that they expect you to do these things after you've already accepted the position.

  9. Anonymous*

    In my place of work, if you use the microwave then you're supposed to clean it after you've used it. We have a cleaner though who hoovers, dusts etc.
    In my voluntrary position, if you use a mug to make tea/coffee, you're expected to wash it up. We don't have a cleaner so volunteers hoover, dust shelves etc.
    I don't really see the problem in cleaning up after yourself but I'd probably not like to do it as an "extra" duty to my job.

  10. Anonymous*

    This seems like such a petty issue…Really, you'd turn down an otherwise fine/good job because of being asked to clean a little?

    With the exception of the people with medical reasons…what's the big deal?
    Everyone cleans their home for free, if someone wants to pay me to do some cleaning around the workplace, fine with me, I don't like to clean but at least I'd be getting paid for it!

  11. Marjorie Williams*

    It really bothers me when employees, especially those at a small company, throw a fit about doing what has to get done. I run a small nonprofit, 2 full time and 5 part time employees, and everyone is expected to help make sure the place looks neat and tidy. Even me. We have a crew that comes over from a sister organization twice a week to do toliets, trash and floors, but that's about all they do. We're responsible for windows, dusting, general tidiness, and anything kitchen related (other than the floors.) If I have to hire cleaners to do all of that, someone here is out of a job. If we all pitch in, clean up after ourselves and take care of things that have to be done on a regular basis, no one is out more than 10 minutes a week.
    What do these people do at home???

    1. Zacchur*

      You should tell the people who made the mess to clean it up. Where has America gone to when they think they can hire someone for one job and then make them do something so low. If you mess up then clean up. Being small of big has nothing to do with cleaning up behind yourself. You hired an employee not a maid or butler.

  12. fposte*

    I think this can be a touchier issue to somebody who's just starting out and trying to establish their position as management than for people who are higher up and comfortable. I clean the microwave now and then and wash other people's dishes when the need arises. Most people, including the Big Boss, take a turn at staffing the front desk now and then. Such work does fall mostly on lower-level people–which to me would include an HR assistant–but I'd agree with posters upthread who point out there's no position where you can guarantee such things would be beneath you, and a lot of positions where trying to claim a job's beneath you would put you at odds with workplace culture.

    Hint: bowl full of water on high for a few minutes, then just wipe down oven with a paper towel. Easy-peasy.

      1. Jamie*

        Lemon juice in the water. Just like was said everything wipes off with a paper towel and the lemon makes it smell so fresh.

  13. Anonymous*

    I spent most of the first 6 months with my current employer photocopying documents. Why? Because nobody had time to train me, I was the most junior person in the office, and the photocopying needed to be done.

    Even today (8 years later) my clients give me undesirable tasks and I still do them. Why? because that's my job….and if someone wants to pay me $$$ to make excessive use of the photocopier, then the joke's on them.

    I think a matter of what your deal breakers are and what you're willing to put up with (and for how long). 8 years ago I may have willingly made coffee and taken out the garbage, if asked. Today? I doubt I would be as willing.

  14. Class factotum*

    After I got my MBA and then spent 2 years in the Peace Corps, which apparently is not the resume builder one would think it is, I did temp work for a while. My first temp job, at the World Bank, where I hoped to skip into a professional position (Ha! it is to laugh! Once they've seen you as a secretary, you are never going anywhere else), the head secretary was showing me around. She showed me where to hang my coat, the break room, the bathroom, the mail slots where the mail comes in twice a day and it's really important that it be distributed quickly and to the proper person and she is going on and on and on about the stupid mail and I'm thinking, "What does this have to do with ME?"

    And that's when I realized that I would be the person distributing the mail.

    Bitter pill, but that was the job I was hired to do. Also, apparently, to photocopy page upon page upon page from economics books for the French econ. consultant to use somehow.

    PS I also found myself washing strawberries in the ladies' room for a fruit platter for a party.

    PPS If you are going on vacation and they are going to use a temp while you are gone, delete the porn bookmarks on your computer. Just saying.

  15. Dawn*

    I work for a very small bank. I started as a teller and now I am the vice president. To this day I still pitch in to answer the phones (do you want to leave a customer waiting?), open the mail (might be something important), wash my dishes (who wants crusty dishes?),and make coffee for the Board (even though I'm not a coffee drinker). Do I like doing that stuff? No, but I believe it's helped make me into the person I am today – someone who's willing to pitch in to get the job done, even if it's not written into my job description. In a small company, saying something is not your job is an easy way to be labeled as not being a team player, which will hurt you. That's not to say you should be expected to clean toilets and do a full office cleaning every week, but if you really want the job and want to gain the experience, doing a little light cleaning is a small price to pay. Eventually you'll move up and the person who replaces you will be given those tasks.

  16. Anonymous*

    To the OP: All jobs include some level of 'other duties as assigned'. This would be among those.

    I've worked places where everyone (I do mean EVERYONE) had their turn cleaning the kitchen space. Running the dishwasher, wiping down the counter, mopping, table cleaning etc. If you couldn't do it, you better get a backup and trade days.

    Heaven help those that forgot their 'day' & the first person in walked into a messy undone kitchen without a clean coffee pot.

  17. Anonymous*

    I've chosen not to work in sanitation/janitorial services for my career.

    I will always clean my work area and clean up after myself.

    I'm not cleaning your company's break room up or cleaning up after my coworkers. I am not their mother.

    Bathrooms, however, are an even bigger no. I'm not ever cleaning them for your company (non-profit, or for profit). Blood-borne pathogens?

    As for what I do at my home? I clean all the rooms at my home. It's my home. If I don't want to clean my home, I have to hire someone else. I can't say to my landscaper – hey, come clean my bathrooms.

    If you can't afford to hire someone to clean a breakroom, and your employees cannot clean up after themselves – you don't need a break room.

    1. Nicol*

      Thank you. These people are ridiculous to think someone SHOULD be comfortable enough to clean their nasty mugs that they have wrapped their slurppy slips around. I Totally agree with you, I clean my house, not other peoples!

  18. Anonymous*

    This is really an "office" thing, isn't it? In the industries I've worked in (hotels, restaurants, catering) this does not fly. Sure, you get people who don't want to pitch in as much… but the second we are down one dishwasher, the regional director is in there washing plates. No job is too small for anyone.

    Maybe I'm missing something because I'm not an office person, but it doesn't seem like the request is anything unusual. It's not as though they are asking you to extensively clean the building. You're applying to be an assistant, which gives the impression that you are young and inexperienced.

  19. Anonymous*

    @Anonymous 10:40

    They could also decide they have no need for your services, but I guess you're okay with that.

  20. Anonymous*

    I've had a few interviews where all goes well and they psyche me up for the position and team, then, at the end they toss in the "Oh yea, you don't mind carrying a pager do you?" sort of thing.

    It's a sign of the company's structure and preparation when they do this. If you don't mind being in a fighting fires corporation and the "oh yea… " bit incorporates a task you don't mind doing, all is well. However, if it's a substantial task (as in my case pager duty is) if you're one who likes organization and preparation, this probably is not the company for you. Most projects are probably treated with the same after-thought as the way the task was mentioned in the interview.

  21. Anonymous*

    I pay you = I get to tell you what to do. If you don't do it you'll be unemployed. Remember it's called work for a reason. And maybe you thought your degree would get you out of certain tasks – think again. The only way you get to dictate what you do is if you're making me gobs of $$.

  22. Ask a Manager*

    Wait, wait, Anonymous 12:47!

    Great employees have options and can pick and choose among those options. And great employers are motivated to attract and retain them.

    The problem here, though, is that this person is at the early stages of his/her career (I'm assuming, based on the HR assistant position). And at that point, you haven't established a track record of being great yet. Plus, most jobs at that level include some miscellanea, so it's not realistic to have the attitude he/she has.

  23. Anonymous*

    You should naturally keep your desk/work area in an orderly state. You should wash your mugs, glasses and plates etc. after you've finished with them.

    Anything else, the company hires a cleaner.

    If an employer asked me to get out a vacuum cleaner or scrub down the kitchen, they'd get a polite refusal.

  24. Anonymous*

    Heres the deal, if you're easily replaced ( ie lower level job) you don't have any negotiating power. I can find hundreds of great HR assistants. But the harder it is to replace you the more I'm willing to give you what you want.

  25. GeekChic*

    Just think OP, you could have an "other duty" like my colleagues and I did at a former job:

    "Staff shall tend and maintain the grave of the cat M… in an appropriate and respectful state during all seasons and weathers."

    The cat was owned by the person that owned the land that the organization sat on and I believe that it was a condition of the use of the land that it be maintained.

    Most of us saw this duty as humorous – others saw it as creepy.

  26. Anonymous*

    I've cleaned the microwave, washed the mugs, answered the phone. Last week, actually. We have janitorial staff, but keeping things neat is part of my job, too. It comes under "other duties as assigned".

    I did it when I was entry level, and I do it now if it needs doing. If they want to pay me my 6 figure salary to wash mugs, that's okay with me. I make the same amount. It seems like a poor use of resources, but that's not my call.

    Why? I graduated in the early 80s. I took whatever work I could get. (four part time jobs). I worked my way up by saying "yes I can", not "no I can't".

  27. Anonymous*

    Its typical in smaller organizations for the secretarial pool (which may consist of 1) to take care of the kitchen area. It's wrong IMHO, but it is part of their duties… what I'd like to see instituted is a camera that shows the major offenders for making a mess and not cleaning up… divert a part of the bonus they would be getting into a bonus for the secretary who has to be their mom.

  28. Dawn*

    Anon at 1:09 PM…

    "I worked my way up by saying "yes I can", not "no I can't"."

    You said that perfectly! It seems that a lot of people, including people where I work, don't realize how they are hurting themselves in the long run when they say "it's not my job." Not only with something as minor and mundane as wiping the kitchen counter, but with other things like answering the phone when the admin assistant is out sick ,etc.

    On a separate note, I've also noticed that they want the pay increase BEFORE they put the work in. It works the other way around. Put in the work, and I will reward/recognize you.

  29. Ask a Manager*

    "If you're easily replaced ( ie lower level job) you don't have any negotiating power. I can find hundreds of great HR assistants. But the harder it is to replace you the more I'm willing to give you what you want." — Well said, Anonymous 1:03!

    Dawn, totally agree about people who expect the raise before they do the extra work. That's the opposite of how people get promoted.

    GeekChic, that cat story is hilarious!

  30. Kimberly Roden*

    You'll be a great employee if you think like a business owner. If a company is not in a position to hire a professional cleaner and everyone chips in, either don't take the job or do it.

    While I agree that most companies do have cleaning services and this may not be an issue but some of the posts here represent either laziness or pretentiousness when you feel that certain tasks are beneath you. Get over your hierarchical self, grab some rubber gloves and put a smile on your face. A great attitude speaks volumes about an employee.

    It's easy to say, "hire a professional cleaning service" when you're not writing the check. If you want to add value to any company, think like an owner.

    For the record, yes I've scrubbed microwaves, cleaned out the 3-month old tupperware from the fridge and even cleaned out disgusting locker rooms at an office that had an exercise facility — even after I was a manager.

  31. Anonymous*

    I have no problem doing all the cleaning etc. at work especially if it with a small company, as long as other employees do the same. But in my previous job with a huge oil company I was expected to do all those for everybody else in addition to supporting the CEO and a few other people (there were two executive assistants, and I was the senior EA). To me, they were just being extremely cheap by wanting to pay one person doing multiple jobs (including receptionist, security, IT, etc.). Needless to say, I put in my 2 weeks notice in my first week there.

  32. Ask a Manager*

    "Needless to say, I put in my 2 weeks notice in my first week there."

    Out of curiosity, did they let you work out those full two weeks? If I had an employee give notice in the first week, there wouldn't be any point in them staying at all. Would love to hear how this went down.

  33. Dawn*

    AAM…I think my favorite is hearing, "I don't get paid enough to do XYZ." You collect a paycheck every week, don't you? And you've been collecting it for X years. I'm not asking for you clean the toilet, just keep the place tidy, just like everyon else.

  34. Anonymous*

    My favorite "duties as assigned" is that I now make all the "Clean out the Fridge" signs. Each one is unique, and always references pop culture. I take pride in these signs, and that I clean out the fridge. It is certainly not in my job description, (and some of the thrown out things are not in vocabulary either) but it has really helped my career. I've become know for witty phrases, a killer memory and puns, and occasionally I'm asked to help out with an introduction or whatnot. It worked out to be a great way to expand my skills and build relationships. Of course, the task is not my job – but I don't want to work or live where everything has to be so spelled out. No fun!

  35. Anonymous*

    AAM, actually they specifically requested me to stay for two weeks since they really needed me there. I would have been happy to leave after the first week.

  36. Anonymous*

    I ask my assistants to do everything from cleaning the office to washing the dishes to getting me lunch.

    I am very up front about why:

    1) I bring in (gross) almost 15x their salary for every billable hour;
    2) my gross pays their salary along with everything else;
    3) it is not efficient for me to take time off billing to do anything else; and
    4) there's a reason I pay them.

    I do not usually put this in the job description, other than as a general line. It's only 20 minutes a day. However, I always disclose this fully in the interview phase. If they take the job, they know what they're in for.

    I would not hire anyone who refused to do those things. Why should I? I did them when I started out; they're perfectly appropriate for a $15/hour entry level job; and they are not objectively horrific. Sure, they're occasionally being asked to scrub the toilet–but they're using it as much as I am.

    1. Zacchur*

      Get a mad. $15 hr is no money. People who do things like this want to feel important at work because they have no power anywhere else.

  37. Mo*

    As an employee, it is your job to do what is asked of you.

    As a receptionist in a physicians office right out of high school, I was required to clean the entire office once a week. Of course this was not something I wanted to do… but my willingness to do what was asked of me (especially the unpleasant things) worked out eventually and I was promoted.

    I currently manage 10 employees in another facility. And guess what, we take turns cleaning the breakroom. We do have a cleaning crew come in once a week and do all of the heavy cleaning, i.e. dusting, mopping, windows, etc. But the general up keep of the office is up to us. And no one has a problem with it. I am no better than them, and I get off of my ass and clean right along with them.

    Being unwilling or "too good" to clean is an attitude that I don't want to deal with in my office, so not doing these tasks will eventually have you "kicking rocks" so to speak.

  38. Anonymous*

    When I was in college I managed a record store to pay my way. One morning a customer (who was very inebriated) relieved himself on the store's our counter, apparently mistaking it for a urinal.

    After the police escorted him out, I looked at the woman who worked for me and said, "Tell your teammates that I will never ask you guys to do anything I wouldn't do myself."

    And I gloved up and cleaned up the whole disgusting mess.

    On a much more somber note, a friend worked at a convenience store that was robbed during the wee hours of the morning. The lone employee was shot during the robbery and was killed.

    B, not knowing of any of this, reported to work and was told by the store owner that he needed to clean up the crime scene, blood and all. He refused and quit on the spot. And I don't blame him.

    B and I would have been thrilled to mind the cat grave!

  39. Anonymous*

    Seriously, this question rubs me the wrong way. I work for a start-up and everyone here…all 40 of us have a do- whatever-it takes attitude. If you dont, you dont last. She needs to change her attitude and stop being petty if she wants to get employed and be successful anywhere.

  40. Anonymous*

    On the issue of “other duties as assigned”, this statement, which is ambiguous at best, is also fairly common on job descriptions. Unfortunately, many companies use this statement as a convenient catchall for anything from taking out the trash to scrubbing toilets to taking 100 lb. boxes to the offsite storage location.

    The issue is when you look at the statement from an ADA standpoint. “Other duties as assigned” may have issues if they potentially include duties that prevent an employee from performing them due to a disability that would not affect their ability to perform the essential functions of the job, but would require them to reveal the disability because of the other unspecified duties, which are not essential functions.

    Is there a better way to write “other duties as assigned” that wouldn’t create potential ADA issues? For example, “other duties as assigned that fit within the disability requirements of the essential functions of this position”.

  41. Karen*

    I'm a little appalled, though not surprised, at the answers that insinuate a low work ethic on the part of the OP.

    Janitorial tasks are for janitors. If the company is too cheap or lacks the forethought to hire a janitor, then everyone should share the duty on a rotating basis. Or here's an idea, clean up after yourselves an don't trash the kitchen/office/communal space.

    I get that job descriptions can't possibly cover all of the small tasks that an entry level job requires, and that's OK. Entry level employees should expect some additional unpleasant, menial tasks. But janitorial work…really? What's next? Are you going to ask the person on the bottom of the totem pole to clean toilets? Act as an exterminator? Paint the building?

    I'm sensing some sour grapes from people that have perhaps been treated poorly as young professionals, and now feel that it's their right to do the same to the next generation.

  42. Anonymous*

    I think Karen (4.03pm) said it really well. My problem is not about doing the menial stuff, more about the distribution of the task. I was hired as a Sr. executive assistant (not an entry level), not a janitor. If everyone wanted to pitch in, sure, I'd be happy to do my part. But I didn't want to be the maid for everybody at work.

    At home, I have a cleaning lady whose job is only cleaning. I wouldn't expect her to mowe my lawn or do my laundry.

  43. Anonymous*

    @anon(2:53pm): You sound like a grade A jerk to me. You go and say you make 15x their salary then try to put yourself on the same level by saying you are using the facilities too.

    Make up your mind, either you are part of the team or you see yourself above the team due to your salary.

  44. Anonymous*

    I agree that some of the comments are a little demeaning. "15x", really?

    There's a happy medium here. Asking your staff to clean the toilet is too much, yes. But that's not the case in the OP. It sounded, to me, like the OP was asked to do some minor dishes which is something our receptionist does as part of her job, as well as brewing coffee, etc. There is a big, big, big difference here.

  45. Ellie*

    Ok, why doesn't it just work like this?

    1. You are responsible for the general upkeep of your own workspace.

    2. You are responsible for your own personal needs. It's no one else's job to make your coffee, fetch your lunch, or drop off your dry-cleaning. (Within the scope of a typical office position- although there are variations of a �personal assistant� type job that would specifically include these things) Support staff is there to support their supervisor in the duties that relate to his or her role in the company, which would include things like filing, answering phones, doing the mail, etc. NOT attending to their personal needs, like feeding them, keeping them caffenated, etc.

    3. Any general upkeep in a communal area and not covered by the custodial staff ought to be shared by the staff. Since, in general, a break room or kitchenette is designed to serve workers� personal needs, it seems to me that its upkeep ought to be shared by those that use it. (In my office this is no big deal- everyone from the receptionist, to the accountant, to me, to our head honcho- has cleaned out the microwave at some point. It's actually sort of a running joke in the office how the prior boss never pitched in with that!)

    4. If you make an unusual mess in a communal space (i.e., put something leaky in the fridge, or nuke spaghetti and it spatters all over the microwave, or spill coffee on the floor, etc.) you are responsible for it. Even in a system where you do have a designated person responsible for the cleaning, this is just common courtesy.

    Anyway, those are sort of the unwritten rules in my office, and they seem to work pretty well :)

  46. Anonymous*

    Sometimes everyone needs to pitch in a little to make things run smoothly.

    I would not ask anything of a staff member I would not be willing to do myself. That includes those weird little miscellaneous duties like tidying up the general pupose area or making sure there was toilet paper in the restroom.

    In this ecomony, and the job market the way it is, if my company has to let the cleaning service go so I can keep MY job, I'm more than willing to pitch in!

  47. Anonymous*

    To all the people expressing their righteous indignation at the OP, could you please descend from Mount Pious? Why are you offended that the OP doesn't want to do a certain task – it's her perogative! Obviously, she will not have as many employment options because of this restriction, but again, that is her choice. You made yours, she's making hers, and I'm not impressed by the stories of the crap you've had to clean on the way up the ladder.

  48. marybeth*

    I work at an outdoor pool in the summertime, and have worked there for 5 years now. When I started, the "first year guards" were always "cut to clean", meaning that at the end of the day when there are less patrons, the first year guards had to clean everything in the complex. It was grossly unfair, but no one complained, because thats the way it was.
    In the next years, it changed to everyone except the managers could be cut to clean. If there were more managers lifeguarding than normal lifeguards, then there were less people who had to clean, leaving the guards to have to clean more, which always led to vast amounts of complaining, especially if there was an especially repulsive mess in the bathrooms.
    Last summer, when I was promoted to head manager, I decided to change things up so that everyone who had worked that day had to take part in the cleaning – managers included. I worked my way up to the top, and just because I did doesn't mean that I am any less capable of cleaning than my lifeguards. I enjoyed doing the same work as they did, but I can't say the same for the assistant managers that I passed up on the way to the top. They refused to clean because they didn't think it was fair. Their refusal to change will also result in their refusal to be reemployed next summer.

    Cleaning: Sweep and mop the bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms. Clean and disinfect the toilets and sinks. Replace any toilet paper or paper towel as needed. Clean and disinfect the Guard Hut (aka break area), the microwave, the refrigerator, and front entrance. Pick up trash and empty the trash cans as needed. If it's a Monday or Friday, the trash cans also need to be washed and disinfected. On Tuesdays, we also have to mow the lawn. This is all done by the employees – there is not money for a janitor.

  49. Leslie*

    I also don't get the self-righteous indignation at the OP. The OP was shocked when the interviewer mentioned that these duties were part of the job. In my opinion, the problem doesn't have anything to do with the OP's attitude, it has to do with how the job was represented in the original job advertisement. Plenty of employers list miscellaneous duties such as tidying up the break room and kitchen area, why not simply state those things up front in your job ad if you know right away that that's what you want someone in that position to do?

  50. Anonymous*

    I think the problem is really simple. One should have an open mind when applying for a job because there is always something else you're going to do that will annoy you and has no relevance to your position. If you are not sure what the "other duties as assigned" means than PLEASE ask. The interview is about learning about you as much as learning about the job and the company.You have to understand that the job description will not contain every little detail as that would be a waste of time.Jobs change and are always tailored to the companies needs.

    If you are not willing to at least do your fair share maybe you can stay home. In this economy, count your blessings that you actually have a chance to go to an interview.

    HR Recruiter

  51. Dawn*

    OP is lucky it was mentioned at this stage in the process. Most of the time a person doesn't find out about "other duties" until everyone starts complaining that XYZ hasn't been done and is looking at the new person and wonerdering why she isn't doing XYZ. Why? Because he/she hasn't been told it's his/her job.

  52. Mike*


    I'm sorry, you've been sold a bridge in Manhattan if you believe that companies in general are hurting so much as to need to get rid of janitorial staff. My family runs a janitorial business (great motivation to get into a good engineering school) so I have a good idea what this sort of thing runs.

    Companies large and small are hoarding record amounts of cash because they can scare their employees into working more unpaid overtime for fear of being "downsized". If you want to really get down to it, household incomes have been stagnant for decades despite constant increases in per capita productivity.

    You mention "these economic times" and when I think of that phrase, I think of record contracts my company brings in and how my coworkers that aren't allowed to have weekends off due to the work load. I think back to the lack of a review system and a lack of raises and bonuses despite the business being brought in. I think back to how we've been promised benefits that others would consider normal only to never hear about it again.

    I think back to how all the H1-B visa holders leave the instant they get their permanent residency. They have it the worst, because if I'm fired for not working overtime, I'm not kicked out of the country.

    So when I hear posters talk about "having a can-do attitude" and being "happy to pick up the slack", I can't help but think you're all being sold a bill of goods.

  53. Savvy Working Gal*

    We are getting off topic, but the reality is our companies sales are down 50%. We haven't made money in two years. Our bank is nervous and our line of credit is renewed on a month to month basis. We have to provide continuous lists of what we have done to reduce costs. If they pull our line of credit we are out of business. It would be very hard to find a new bank. We've also haven't had any employees leave on their own and everyone has received either a pay reduction or a cut in hours. If they could find a new job I'm sure they would be gone.
    Now lets stay on topic. Sorry AAM

  54. Anonymous*

    This is something that has particularly interested me since I changed careers from being at senior VP level, went to law school and started out at the rock bottom again.

    I agree that it's best to have a can-do attitude and hence I have done everything I have been asked to do, however weird or menial, and with a smile on my face.

    Sometimes, however, I have found myself wondering what's going on when a business hires an entry-level lawyer, with six years of law school and several degrees, and pays them to make and serve coffee, stack a dishwasher, do the photocopying and cut up fruit for punch bowls (all of which I have done in the last year). I get that sometimes the nearest warm body has to do what's needed but there's also, definitely, a hint of 'we suffered this, now it's your turn, and soon you can do it to the next intake'.

    I also think you have to be careful about it affecting your professional status. For example, if my firm holds a client function I have no real beef with being the guy at the door taking coats, greeting guests, giving out name badges etc because that's really just showing courtesy to your clients, and they appreciate the welcome. But I am always much less keen on being seen by those clients later bussing tables, taking glasses, taking out fresh trays of canapes, etc. If you are also doing billable work for these clients (which I am) I think it can give out a confusing message about your professional status.

  55. Anonymous*

    Anon 1:35PM, this is Anon 10:03. My experience with clean up was also with a law firm. They were *cough* frugal in the office, but outsourced help for client events.

    If your employer doesn't have enough business savvy to understand what happens in the office stays in the office, they don't have enough sense to project a professional image which could impact your future. Take stock of what is happening around you and choose wisely.

  56. Savvy Working Gal*

    When I was starting out I would have been disappointed if one of my duties were to clean up after my new co-workers (because I so wanted to make it), but janitorial duties would never have prevented me from taking a job.

    In the companies I’ve worked at, there has always been one employee who made sure the office was clean and operated smoothly. This was the same employee who helped you fix the copy machine when it was jammed. In both companies, this person wasn’t necessarily assigned cleaning duties, but took them on as part of their job. They wouldn’t hesitate to clean the microwave if it need be, but there would be a “clean up after yourself” sign posted the next day.

    At my current company, all cleaning services were cancelled as part of a cost cutting initiative last year. Initially, our company owners told everyone they were responsible for keeping their own area clean and assigned floors and restroom clean up to the guys that worked in inside sales. Our President did not feel the ladies in my department should have to clean toilets. The inside sales team lost two employees to a downsizing in September and you guessed it they no longer have time to clean. This has caused a huge raucous in my department (accounting). While I was on vacation, a gal from inside sales hung a cleaning schedule up in the ladies bathroom. One of my employees tore it down saying if she has to clean toilets she is quitting. A third employee filled me in on the happenings. This was two weeks ago.

    Since the incident I cleaned the restroom last week and the inside sales guys cleaned it this week. The plan is to send an email out each week asking for a volunteer. From my experience the cleaning itself wasn’t so bad — the restroom was more dusty than anything, but I wasn’t comfortable cleaning in work clothes despite it being casual Friday.

    Yesterday, I witnessed the inside sales gal carrying out the lunch room trash and it got me thinking. In these economic times everyone needs to look around and do whatever needs to be done. I can understand not wanting to clean toilets, but if the restroom needs paper towels walk over to the storage room and get a pack. It’s not that hard. My employee who tore down the schedule is the first one in my office asking about potential promotions, but when a special work assignment comes around she is either too busy or too picky to get the assignment done. When a promotion does come around the employee who volunteered to fill the towel roll is going to be looked on more favorable than the one who doesn’t empty her own trash. Just my two cents.

  57. Class factotum*

    MaryBeth, when I was a lifeguard, I didn't mind cleaning the bathrooms so much because they usually weren't very dirty.

    It was the summer at the city pool when the gang of ten year old boys decided to poop on the floor that got me. The lifeguards had to clean it up and the city wouldn't let us lock the bathrooms and hand out the key so we could identify the poopers. The next summer, I found a different pool to work at.

  58. Anonymous*

    Thank goodness there are still people who value their skills enough to not let themselves be mistreated in the workplace.

    I am fine with cleaning up after myself and taking care of my own dishes, desk, etc. but when a job includes being the only person to vacuum, dust and scrub the toilet at an office, in the immortal words of Liz Lemon, That's a deal breaker.

    It's demoralizing. It's unacceptable. It's exploitative. And there are PLENTY of other places to work if you're talented, dedicated and a great team member.

  59. kara*

    Why is it exploitative? If that's part of what you're being hired to do, that's part of the job and you can take it or leave it. As all these comments show, lots of people are fine with accepting that as part of the job. That's what a job is, a business arrangement where the employer hires someone to do work and the employee either says yes or no to that job. And I don't know what world you live in where your job never goes beyond your core duties. If that's been your experience, you've been lucky.

    And it's a little condescending to people whose jobs revolve around cleaning to be so disgusted at what they do for a living.

  60. Anonymous*

    I think a really important problem everyone's missing is that this assignment of menial tasks is very often gendered. What do you do if you're a master's degree level female professional with 15+ years of experience, but you're the one asked to do the dishes because the $8 hour intern is male?

  61. Anonymous*

    Kara, I'm not suggesting the task itself is demoralizing. I'm saying employers should not be asking their employees to do basically an EXTRA job without compensating them.

    These are things totally outside of what the job entails. It's exploitative because the employers is getting a two-for-one. Instead of spending the extra $100 a month to have a cleaning service, let's just make whoever we hire next clean the office. Not okay.

    I'm not disgusted by cleaning nor am I disgusted by the hardworking, commendable folks who do it for a living. But I think it's ridiculous to ask someone with a COMPLETELY unrelated job to roll up the sleeves of their suit to do a job someone else could be doing (and doing WAY better, by the way) to satisfy the petty greed of their employers.

  62. Emily*

    My title is "Coordinator." At least once a week, I'm expected to take a box cutter to the towering assortment of cardboard boxes that my department has emptied over the course of the week (I usually hop to it more often, or the pile would grow to block the entrance to my office; I only let it grow to "towering" when I'm feeling especially resentful of this duty and fall into denial that the boxes really exist). The department assistant (not administrative-we don't have one) has always taken care of this duty, but then she got promoted…to coordinator…yeah, it's me. And it's still my "duty" because there isn't anyone coming up behind me to take over. It helps to think of it as a "duty" that's pretty much unrelated to my "job" and my "career." That minor semantic distinction makes it feel a liitle less demeaning, at least in my head. It also helps that the "duty" involves a box cutter! I take it all out on the garbage and then I can get back to my job.

  63. Jamie*

    I am so glad I decided to pursue older posts over lunch…GeekChic's cat story was awesome!

    And I bet smokers were lining up to tend that grave, at least in nice weather – I know I would have been, except during periods were I've quit. During those months I see no point in ever going outside.

    On point though, everyone has their deal breakers – and if you're just starting out it's good to differentiate what you don't want to do from what you really can't bring yourself to do.

    And Allison was exactly correct for any position in any field – work to rise through the ranks where management would bristle at someone of your pay grade cleaning the microwave?

    For me? I'd have cleaned the kitchen but not the bathroom. Only to save my family from starvation would I clean a public restroom. I don't even like having to use one, much less breaking out the toilet wand.

  64. Brian*

    When I was making coffee at my last job the CIO walked up beside me to get some decaf. Several times in the past she thanked me for making coffee which, while it struck me as odd coming from a big wig, quickly reminded me that good managers see everything. Small tasks and chores that many people ignore always struck me as a great way to make a good impression with minimal effort (and I’ll probably be getting another cup of coffee later;) I was really surprised when she suddenly announced that she wished there was a place on resumes for things like “always makes a new pot of coffee” or “picks up trash in the hallway”.

  65. lapreghiera*

    I really wouldn’t want to work somewhere employees didn’t clean up after themselves if they spill coffee while pouring or the lasagna blows up in the microwave … The janitorial crew shouldn’t be doing much of anything but vacuuming, dusting, and emptying trash if employees keep their and public areas of the office tidy. Makes you kind of wonder what what else they try to push off on others/each other professionally…

  66. Anonymous*

    All misc. assigned and “hidden” tasks are not created equal. I believe in dealbreakers, too.

    I have been working since I was 16, and like most I started at minimum wage and worked entry level, in retail and office positions through college. Never was I asked or expected to clean toilets as part of my duties, even at that level. Dust, vacuum, sweep, empty trash, wash display cases, maintain a high level of cleanliness: yes. And I didn’t have an issue. That’s expected.

    At one company later in life, as the only female manager out of 10, I was the one the owner of the company asked to dust the conference room, and my direct boss there had me make and bring him coffee whenever he wanted, and run out and pick up his lunch. I did that with a smile, too, even though I knew had I been a man, this never would have happened. So I understand paying one’s dues, being flexible, lucky to have a job, picking one’s battles, yada, yada, yada.

    At another company I worked for the communal kitchen area was to have the refrigerator contents thrown out every Friday with a rotating list of employees, so everyone, in theory, took a turn. Very few of the men in the office ever took their turn, and nothing was ever said to them by management. Their female co-workers would grumble, but the men still found it beneath them, an inapporopriate “request.”

    Later, I owned a small business (four full time employees and two part-time). I would NEVER have asked my employees to clean the company toilet. Before we could afford to hire a cleaning company, I cleaned the facilities myself. To my way of thinking, manners and upbringing, the least a company can do is offer their employees a clean bathroom to use in their place of employment.

    Shame on those managers and employers that are that cheap, demeaning and disrespectful as to have employees not hired as janitorial or cleaning staff be expected to clean their toilets at work, too. (My respect and appreciation to those that are professionals and do this service as a living.)

    Kudos to those that say “no” and hold to a minimum standard of what they expect from themselves AND their employers. I give 150% at work, but wouldn’t and will not work for an employer that doesn’t understand the difference between a “team player” and a doormat.

  67. Marie*

    I think a lot of people who view the OP as being unacceptably snooty have worked in places that are generally clean and respectable. If you are tasked with doing a thorough cleaning of the kitchen in a place where employees clean up their own messes and wash their own dishes, it’s not demeaning — everybody is pitching in, and you’re pitching in your part, too. But it’s a whole different ballgame when you’re the only one tasked with cleaning and your coworkers leave spills on the counters, dirty dishes in the sink, and explosions in the microwave because it’s not “their job” to clean up. There are a lot of workplaces where this happens, and refusing to be the one made responsible for other people’s lack of adult behavior isn’t a sign of laziness or entitlement — that’s probably the best example of projection I’ve ever seen.

    Once you’ve worked in an environment like that, you become very wary of employers telling you your duties include cleaning — depending on the company culture, that can mean that everybody else gets to quit picking up after themselves now that you’re here. And it is *very* demeaning to know that part of your job performance is based on doing your coworker’s dishes, though they receive no reprimand for leaving a bowl full of rotting food on a counter.

    I know not every “clean the kitchen on Thursdays” job contains that as a postscript, but some do, and it’s not fair to paint everybody who balks at that with the same “not willing to work hard” brush. Some of us have just had very different experiences of what “your job is to toss the fridge” ends up actually meaning.

  68. Anonymous*

    What if you never get promoted after “sucking on it”? Then you got abused and all for low wages too. Don’t do it have a backbone and let them hire a cleaner (or whoever) for that role. My experience the more you do the less you’re appreciated.

  69. Nicol*

    When I was in high school, I worked at a movie theater in the concession stand and taking tickets. This new “assistant manager” (whatever) came in one day and asked me to clean the bathrooms. I simply told her no. And that I was assigned to my two areas and that I did not want to clean the bathrooms. She gave me her spill about how she scrubbed toilets at chickfila, and how cleaning wasn’t a big deal to her. I listened, but told her, good for you. And she left. Speak up if you don’t want to do something.

  70. Anonymous*

    Well, it’s a matter of corporate culture and/or budget… There are companies where the corporate culture is more egalitarian and there are also those where it is less so… Some top managers even think that this kind of ‘unofficial’ tasks are good for the team spirit… So, it really depends on how you look at that: if such tasks are equally divided within the team but you still find them unacceptable, look for another job in another company, with the ‘right’ corporate culture and/or the ‘right’ budget… In other words, tolerate it or vacate it.

    1. anonymous2*

      I accepted a job at $10 out of necessity as a receptionist and was told I’d be answering phones, make coffee, clean break table, light cleaning and a performance review and raise after three months. I struggled finding a job after my company closed, unemployment ended and I needed a paycheck. Work demands were reasonable enough so I took it. I had no clue! The first day I was given a limited overview and a crash course on the phones and that was it. I’m a quick learner and I figured things out but still had questions. One day the COO asked a co-worker to show me around, what she showed me was the vacuum. When I asked if they had a cleaning lady she smiled and pointed at me, this was news. No big deal, then after nine days I was told to dump the trash in the bathroom?! Whoa, I was caught off guard and asked if that was part of my job that I wasn’t informed when I was hired. The room fell silent, and the look I received told mean that was my last day. The next day the bosses sat me down and gave me a choice, since their a small company everyone pitches in but was prepared to let me go and had my check ready. I have never been fired from a job let alone over dumping the trash, so I stayed and decided to go with the flow. I figured this is the norm for small companies, things were done as needed but how far is too far? What constitutes a constructive dismissal and did I have one. My past training taught be to adapt and use my organization skills to help them out. As time went on more jobs were added, pulling supplies, packing heavy boxes, assembling parts in the warehouse. A raise after three months didn’t happen and told I’d be processing invoices and would be learning QuickBooks. During the months that followed employees started dropping like flies, some terminated some just walked off the job. New people were being hired everyday and more were leaving. Payroll was late off and on, bills weren’t paid, suppliers started calling and we froze after the heater went out. I endured it for 6 months until overload, frustration and stress hit me after another person walked off the job leaving two of us to run the office. I couldn’t do it anymore and when payroll was late again I informed my boss that I was turning in my resignation. This women never looked at me the whole time that I spoke, the next day I handed my final check. I stated that I’d stay to train my replacement, which was on my letter was told it wasn’t necessary and could leave. I was also turned down for unemployment because I voluntarily quit without good cause. Comments, suggestions, tomato? Team spirit was not on this offices ship, and everyone was overloaded and jumped ship.

      1. KellyK*

        You might want to check “Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home,” a blog written by an employment lawyer. (I think Donna Ballman is her name.) That would give you good info on what constitutes constructive dismissal. I think courts generally find that if you don’t leave over it fairly quickly, it isn’t severe enough.

  71. Anon with a name*

    “your boss isn’t going to want someone at your salary level cleaning the microwave.”

    My last job was at a small business (less than 50 employees) and we had a rotation for who was going to do the cleanup each day. Each person was responsible for putting their own dirty dishes in the dishwasher, and if you made a huge mess of course you should clean it up yourself.

    But there was a calendar stuck to the fridge with everyone’s names on a certain day, and when it was your day you ran the dishwashers if they were dirty, emptied the dishwashers when they were clean, wiped down the counters/threw away anything left lying about, and refilled the soda fridge. Everyone was on this list, from the CEO to the newest hire. Actually one of the company founders probably did the *most* cleanup; he’d always empty the dishwasher in the mornings while he was waiting for the coffee to brew. It was a great environment, and nobody was upset about having to do their part. (I’m not saying OP doesn’t have a right not to want to do this as part of her job. Just that it worked really great for us.) And if you had to leave early for some reason on “your” day, someone else was always glad to switch with you (or sometimes just say “go, it’s okay, I’ve got it”). Man, I really miss that job! But that’s another story :)

  72. Eric*

    I work at an engineering firm, and the owners are beyond cheap. Not to mention how ghetto our office is, they do not pay for janitorial and expect us to do the clean up and taking out the trash. The management/leadership is so terrible, that cleanup hardly happens, there are no directives, and the place is nothing but filth. I have been on the road for a month at work, and came in a few weeks ago and noticed that there was a water leak that had really devastated the office space. Servepro, carpet replacement, shampooing-nope! Its not the first time that the office has had water leaks, but this time they decided to remove the 20 year old carpet….yup, 20 years and fucking nasty! Walked in from being on the road, and there is a mound of dirt under my office chair from the years of grime and lack of attention to detail by the owners. Hire some bum from around the corner to clean it up, maybe a once in a blue moon janitorial service, pressure the landlord to take care of business-nope, mound of dirt remains and I am expected to work there. If it is to be cleaned, it is to be done by me which is exactly what I am doing now on a sunday after I couldn’t put up with it anymore. Oh, and did I mention that there is no mop to be had in this office, so I just laid the whole floor with wet papertowels to put a dent in the dirt. Low pay, filthy conditions, no owner compassion or responsibility-yeah, want to complain about a microwave, try working in this grungy office for a day!


    I work for a small engineering company with 54 employees out of our 5 state locations. I moved from the East coast to the Mid-West with my family last year and it took me awile to get my first job. I was so happy when I was offered a job as an Admin for this company. For a long while I sat at the front desk doing literally NOTHING! I would ask my boss all of the time for projects to do but he had nothing to offer. Long story short, the holidays came around and we had an employee that invited her family (husband and 2 small daughters) come in and eat lunch with her in the conference room. No one was really in the office so it wasn’t really a big deal to me. When she and her family were done and gone something told me to look in the room. There were 15 chairs in there and all of them were out of place or turned over. There were crumbs ALL OVER the lond conference table. SERIOUSLY?! I was so pissed but I cleaned it up. Could you amagine having to walk into a conference room and see that mess.

    After the holidays were over and everyone returned back to work I pulled my boss aside and told him what happened. He just kinda looked at me like he wasn’t sure why I was telling him this. I made it very clear that I am no maid. The fact that one of OUR employees thought it was ok for her family to trash a conference room and not have a care in the world was crazy to me. Then I asked my boss if people knew this was not my job. He said we are all adults and should help out every now and then. I don’t agree with helping out every now and then but if people oar going to be pigs they better clean up behind themselves. And yes…I did tell him that.

    The reason why I even decided to write on here today is because one of my co-workers just asked me if all of the glass cups were dirty. I told him “I don’t know, I don’t drink out of those cups and he could check the dishwasher. He looked at me confused as if I was supposed to get up and do it for him. Ha!

    At the end of the day I am a professional. I am happy to help my company in any way that I can…within reason. We have a cleaning lady that comes in 2 times a week. I love the look I get when I let people know that I’m not cleaning their area. One of my favorite movies is Clara’s Heart with Whoopi Godberg and Neil Patrick Harris. Whoopi was hired to be a housekeeper for a well to do family. My favorite part in that movie is when the wife does not agree with what Clara (Whoopi) is saying and tells her “Don’t talk to us like that Clara.” Clara fires right back and says “Excuse me but don’t YOU talk to ME like that, I am not your child.” Yup! That’s me…with all do respect.

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