fired for not replacing the milk?

I’m curious to know what you guys think of this email, which was sent by Keith Zakheim, CEO of Beckerman PR, to his whole staff. (The story is courtesy of Gawker.)  He’s fed up with no one replacing the milk in the office kitchen when they use it all up, and he’s going to fire anyone he finds is responsible for it.

From: Keith Zakheim
Date: September 27, 2011 8:20:21 AM EDT
To: Beckerman Staff
Subject: I don’t know what else to do…

I have repeatedly requested until I am blue in the face that the person that finishes the milk must replace the milk. Its not complicated and is a simple sign of respect for fellow employees.

So, imagine my chagrin this morning when I stumbled in at 715 after enduring a typically painful Redskins loss and in dire need of a shot of caffeine, only to find that the skim milk in the refrigerator had three drops of milk left. Literally 3 drops, an amount that would maybe fill the tummy of a prematurely born mouse. The person that did this is either incredibly lazy, obnoxiously selfish or woefully devoid of intelligence – 3 traits that are consistent with the profile of FORMER Beckerman employees.

As you can tell from the tenor of this email, I am not happy and at my wits end. Allyne, Ilhwa, and I have repeatedly beseeched you to replace the supplies that you consume – whether its pencils, paper, or MILK. This costs you nothing – I pay for it! Yet, it is still repeatedly ignored.

So, I am gravely serious when I write this – if I catch someone not replacing the milk, or at least, in the case where the downstairs store has close already, not sending an email to the office so the first person that arrives (usually Christa or me) can pick one up upon arrival – then I am going to fire you. Im not joking. You will be fired for not replacing the milk, and have fun explaining that one to your next employer. This is not a empty threat so PLEASE don’t test me.

99% of this office consists of great people that work hard, treat their employes with respect, and understand that they are part of something that is bigger than them. However, there seems to be a small element that doesn’t understand this. So its time that they do or else they should start refreshing their resume.

For those of you who have worked for me for years, you know this is not my style so PLEASE take this seriously!

Thank you for your cooperation.

KZ

KEITH ZAKHEIM | CEO
BECKERMAN
ANTENNA GROUP

So. Is Keith losing sight of what really matters in an employee, or is he on to something?

{ 127 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous

    Well, first of all, he should check his grammar. It’s hard to take someone seriously when their rant is filled with grammatical mistakes. It makes him look crazy.

    If he has done what he says he has done, which is emailing the employees numerous times regarding replacing items they’ve consumed, and no one has taken up on it, then he has every right to be angry. Perhaps there are other employees who are right there with him, but just don’t say anything. He might be unearthing a potential bad trend amongst his employees.

    I don’t know if I would necessarily fire the person if he ever caught the actual person(s). But I would sit them down and have a discussion about just plain old office etiquette.

    But he should have nip this in the bud a long time ago…for his sanity and the poor guy/gal who is going to get the short end of the stick if ever found out.

  2. Nick Armstrong

    This guy is on the same level as the owner of one of my former workplaces who didn’t allow coffee machines on the premises for fear that the workers would gather around and waste too much time worrying about coffee.

    It’s the little things that matter – like follow-through, but the email here just generates a climate of fear (and imagine if you were getting called on the carpet because your dog just died or something – who cares about the milk at that moment?)

    It could have been handled any number of different or funny ways, but whew… this was obnoxious.

  3. JoAnna

    Wait a sec… HE is paying for the milk, but he wants his employees to pay to replace it when it runs out? Am I missing something?

    Rather than get all hot and bothered, he should just stop providing free milk and require each employee to supply their own milk (or non-dairy creamer, or whatever) for their personal use.

    1. Anonymous

      I took it to mean that the company pays, but someone has to actually go replace it. Like how if I use the last of the notepads at work I would reorder using the company card.

    2. Anonymous

      I suspect what he means is that he’s letting them expense it out. Though I buy $1.00 creamer for the office all the time and never expense it. What annoys me MORE is when I buy expensive creamer for myself (mmmmm peppermint mocha) and then everyone else uses “just a little” for themselves and never replaces it for me.

        1. Michele

          When I worked at IBM, I used to bring 12-packs of Diet Coke in on every Monday morning and store them in the communal refrigerator. Someone started stealing my sodas. I wrote my name on them. Sodas continued to disappear. I wrote a scathing, shaming note. The sodas still continued to disappear. Finally, one day after touching up my lipstick I had a lightbulb moment: I slathered my lipstick on as thick as I could, then kissed the pop-top on each can lid and then put them back in the fridge. No one ever stole another soda.

    3. Anonymous

      It’s a company expense that everyone is welcomed to. Therefore, the person who uses the last drop of milk or pencil should make an effort to replace the items – whether it’s taking the company credit card to the nearest convenience store or ordering office supplies online.

      1. Lina

        I have a feeling this could be solved by having the first person who comes in, whatever that name was, Christa (I think), to open the fridge every morning and make sure there is milk for the boss. If there isn’t milk she should run out and get it.

        Simple.

        Whenever a small responsibility is spread out among many people, it almost never gets done. However, when one person is responsible for this everyday then there are no problems; if the person is a responsible employee.

        I understand that he expects his employees to be responsible but I think this is something a lot of people do at home. It’s not a work related habit, more like something your mom would nag about.

        1. linder

          You hit the nail on the head. There’s an old flier about employees named Anybody, Everybody, Somebody, and Nobody. Anybody could have done it, Everybody thought Somebody would do it but eventually Nobody did it. It’s just not a workable system.

          I don’t understand what the confusion is, though, about the procedure. People are making it sound very complicated. It seems obvious to me there’s a store downstairs that sells milk, and the company has an account they let employees charge such things to.

          1. linder

            And another thing — waiting until someone finished the milk is too late, if you want to keep stocked. If they’re smart, they’ll figure out how long it takes them to go through a container of milk and pre-emptively replace it, so there’s a new milk ready when there’s still a couple of servings left of the old.

            1. Natalie

              If they bought ultra-pasteurized milk they could even keep it in reserve for a few weeks – that stuff lasts for months provided it stays sealed.

          2. Anonymous

            All the more reason to ask the last person to replace what they used up instead of waiting until the next morning.

          3. Kimberlee

            I think, for a situation like this, you should keep in mind that buying milk is a rather low-level task. When everyone does the job, it’s a shared responsibility, and that’s fine. But when you make it one person’s job, it’s a touch demeaning… not to say that doing small tasks isn’t important, but making it one person’s job means that the interactions she (Christa?) has with employees will now more often center around whether or not she bought milk when it was needed… and that shows in that person’s relative position. I’m a bookkeeper, but because I order office supplies and answer the phone sometimes people act like it’s my job to make their copies or do all the cleaning. I’d be highly resentful if something that was shared among all employees suddenly became my job just because everyone else was too lazy to do it.

            Might be a totally different story if this Christa is a senior executive who just happens to come in early, but still, making one person do a job for the simple reason that their co-workers are jerks is a bad idea.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Whoa, I totally disagree! Some tasks are indeed low-level tasks, and it makes sense to assign them to a more junior person or someone whose job they fit in better with. That doesn’t make it demeaning. After all, it’s not demeaning to be a secretary or a janitor, but they’re doing what many people would consider “low level tasks.”

              People with more senior jobs and/or getting paid more should stay focused on work that only they can do well; it’s simply a smarter use of the employer’s resources. That means that the VP shouldn’t be coordinating office supplies (and I’m including milk as an office supply in this situation), and the office manager or an admin should be.

              (Similarly, the CEO shouldn’t be involved in this situation at all, and it was his mistake that he was. The guy needs to delegate and get clear on how his time can best be spent.)

            2. Stacy

              I once had a temp job where one of my duties was to “get the milk”. It was almost hilarious how often it came up and how often I was praised for it. I think maybe I was a bit under-utilized in that organization. Surely I couldn’t have cleaned the fridge or something, too! :)

            3. Natalie

              I don’t see how getting office supplies isn’t one specific person’s job already. Would adding “get milk” to that really be such a change?

              1. Anonymous

                I agree! At the company I work for now, there is always sparkling water and various sodas in the communal fridge for anyone to drink. However, it’s the job of the two administrative assistants to make sure that the sparkling waters and sodas are always there; just like’s it always their job to make sure there are sufficient office supplies. It’s unbelievable that this CEO hasn’t delegated this milk getting task to a low level employee eons ago.

            4. Kylie

              Kimberlee, why is it ok for a “senior executive” in your example to get the milk but demeaning to a lower level employee? Lower level employees are there to do lower level tasks. Higher level employees are there to do higher level tasks. It’s not demeaning, it’s practical. This isn’t a family or a commune, it’s an office.

              And thinking that lower level jobs are demeaning is itself demeaning to people who have them!!

        2. Anonymous

          BULLSHIT, Lina. The person who took the last of the milk knows that he/she did it. They should be fired.

  4. Anon y. mouse

    Phew. He’s going way overboard. Rather than admitting that his approach (to a relatively inconsequential matter!) isn’t working and finding a new one, he’s trying to ram it down everyone’s throats. I’d bet good money that this dude has a short temper, it *is* his style, and office morale is already down the drain.

  5. Rachel

    I totally sympathize with the guy, but it makes him as a CEO look ridiculous. If he had sent this to an office manager and said “listen, clean this up so I sound like less of a d**k but make it clear that I expect people to be responsible adults and replace the milk” he probably would have gotten the same result without having his email go viral over the internet.

    Bottom line: I agree with the sentiment 100%. The delivery, not so much.

      1. Rose

        Not really… A lot of people out there aren’t naturally good at grammar/spelling/punctuation and need to spend extra time correcting their work. A lot of people struggle with dyslexia and dysgraphia. It would show lack of attention to detail if this were publicly released, but this is an internal email, so it is beside the point.

        1. Marie

          It *should* bother you; bad grammar is unprofessional in the workplace and is totally ignorant and inexcusable.

          1. CJ

            AMEN! If the internal emails are full of grammar and spelling mistakes, you can GUARANTEE that the external letters and memos have them as well. My sales manager is living proof of that!

          2. Ask a Manager Post author

            Lots of people aren’t good at spelling and grammar but are extremely talented at something else (like, for instance, running a company). I’ve seen plenty of less-than-great writers who send internal emails like this but know to have things meant for the public proofread by someone else.

            1. jersey knit

              The mistakes bother me because he’s the head of a PR firm. PR is supposed to be about perfecting presentation, especially when it comes to writing and communicating clearly. Even if it hadn’t gotten out, it’s at a large enough company for it to damage morale if the boss can’t fulfill the basic communications standards all PR experts should follow by default. Also, you would assume that a big PR firm might have a specialist to deal with internal communications specifically in situations like this (or for crisis communications…ha). The errors just reinforce the negative opinions of him further. It’s hypocritical for him to accept his own mistakes yet lambaste the mistakes of others, even symbolically, especially when he’s so demonstrably bad at uniting people under the banner of his leadership.

              God bless the Internet.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                Okay, again I say this as someone highly judgmental about people who don’t write well, but I’m going to disagree here. Internal emails don’t need to be perfect, and it wouldn’t be a good use of someone’s time to proofread every internal email that gets sent out.

                I don’t think the writing here reflects on this guy’s ability to do his job. (The content might, but the minor mistakes don’t.) PR is also about coming up with great ideas, not just sending out a well proofread press release — and he might be great at the former.

      2. Anonymous

        I’m with you Lina. Internal or external, you should pay attention to things like this – there have been enough escaped emails for people (especially at that level) to realise that it may go public – and surely a PR firm should know this?

        Bad grammar can also detract from your message – although in this instance, anything that can detract from an email that makes the boss look like a petulant kid is probably a good thing. . Still, it’s not as bad as the response from the Area Manager at the Australian clothes shop, who should be prosecuted for flagrant abuse of the word ‘whom’. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2043171/GASP-visited-Kim-Kardashian-Katy-Perry-unapologetic-customer-service.html)

        1. Lina

          Sorry, I just noticed that. However, I think there is a difference between posting a comment on a blog, no real editing, and a work memo or email.

      3. Mike C.

        The message is perfectly clear, why should I care that he isn’t every last gramatical rule?

        I mean christ, this is the second comment going on and on about grammar. They are arbitrary rules that change based on the industry and situation and it sounds more like an excuse to discount someone’s message than anything else.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I agree with Mike C. I mean, I’m someone who’s hugely neurotic about grammar and writing in general, and fairly judgmental about it on top of that, but come on — it’s an informal interoffice email. It doesn’t need to be perfect. His message is perfectly clear.

          1. Kimberlee

            Really, using the same logic you used above, it would be silly for the CEO to put a lot of time in editing an informal memo like this. And bad grammar in informal settings definitely doesn’t mean that the firm in general doesn’t put external communications through rigorous editing before putting it out to the world.

              1. Gene

                I disagree. I try to ensure everything I write has proper grammar and spelling. I admit I don’t always succeed, but I make the attempt.

                He took the time to write this blast, he should take the small amount of time it would take to at least let MS’s grammar and spell checkers do their thing.

            1. jersey knit

              It depends on whether the goal is to galvanize your staff behind you, which I think most leaders need in order to do their jobs decently. Someone who holds everyone else to a higher standard (as this email suggests this boss does) gets a lot less leeway from the people held to that standard if he makes glaring mistakes of his own. He made mistakes in the substance, obviously, but mistakes in the style just do nothing to help him.

              The issue isn’t strictly about grammar. It’s about a combination of different factors that make him come across as a jackass, and the grammar is just one more reason for people not to take him seriously. Even if the loss of credibility is infinitesimal, it’s still contributing negatively to his reputation. It’s not a huge deal generally, but it makes him look like a tiny bit more of a jackass that he did already.

  6. Jane Atkinson

    He’s done us all a favour. We’ve been forewarned not to waste our time applying to for a job there.

    That is, unless you want to be writing “How do I deal with my crazy boss?” emails to AAM after several months.

  7. K.A.

    It sounds like he’s either never had roommates, or never learned how to get along with them.

    If he cares that much about the milk he should keep a spare unopened container in the fridge or delegate someone to keep track of the milk situation. He should also probably take a human factors class.

  8. Anne

    It makes sense to me that milk would be provided for coffee rather than having all the coffee drinkers bring in their own creamers, etc. And is it so hard to email someone and ask them to pick up more milk?

    The real test would be what if it was the staff beer fridge?

    1. Anonymous

      From what it sounds like, he already has asked people to do so…in mass emailings like this, in softer tones.

  9. ThomasT

    Redskins fans get what they deserve. Go Eagles!

    But, I agree that this is the wrong approach to take, that he needs to find a new and better solution to the problem, rather than “last one gets more.” In a knowledge-worker office, asking all employees to be responsible for replenishing supplies strikes me as remarkably inefficient. Why can’t one designated person check the milk levels at the end of the day (maybe every other day, depending on how fast they consume) and buy more on the way in the next morning if it’s close to out? It sounds like there’s a store in the building which should make that easy.

    1. Jennifer

      That was my first thought: have someone designated to take care of the milk. I also like the idea of always having an unopened carton as well (’cause it makes it easier to be assured there’s enough milk in the fridge).

      But this is not a guy I’d want to work for. (A CEO spending so much time dealing with such a trivial issue as milk?)

  10. Oxy

    @JoAnna, yes it is somewhat contradictory. I’d assume that they’d have some petty cash then to reimburse the employees who bought the milk.

    It sounds like a small company, so why not set up a rota or nominate someone to own that task? Or can they not arrange a milk delivery (this is what we have, but I’m in a large office)

    Reaction was way over the top though; the guy has gone viral (not good). So glad I don’t work with him! ;-)

  11. Kelly

    He’s a Redskins fan who sounds like Snyder is his hero, judging from this letter. In which case, he deserves whatever he gets! ;)

    It’s a bit much. Dude, you’re the CEO, why don’t you have your own fridge that your assistant can keep stocked?

  12. Janice

    Kanye West fired his employee who didn’t change the batteries in his PSP. But then again, that was the job–to change the batteries.

    Perhaps, replacing the milk was in the job description?

  13. Anonymous

    If milk was this important to him, you’d think he’d get a mini fridge and keep a personal bottle of milk.

  14. clobbered

    Doesn’t matter what the issue is. If you have a procedure X that constantly fails to work and where the only way to even have a hope of getting people to comply with it is to threaten to fire them then boy, you sure have the wrong procedure!

    I really like the approach that flight accident investigators take. Even if the cause is “pilot error”, the question is “what can be changed that would make it less likely for a pilot to commit that error?”.

    What can be done to ensure milk in the fridge? Make it one person’s job to keep the fridge stocked with milk. Problem solved.

    Personally, I’d be damned embarassed to be known as the CEO who couldn’t even keep milk in his company fridge without throwing a hissy fit.

    1. Anon y. mouse

      “If you have a procedure X that constantly fails to work and where the only way to even have a hope of getting people to comply with it is to threaten to fire them then boy, you sure have the wrong procedure!”

      Exactly. It’s pretty rude of people not to replace office supplies when they’ve been asked to, but when that becomes the rule rather than the exception I’m going to blame the procedure. I’m guessing that this guy is a real dick about other things as well. If I knew that taking the last of the milk would irritate my (hypothetical) terrible boss so much, I’d probably do it too! Childish? Sure. Fun? Definitely.

    2. Riki

      Yes, the only way to deal with this is to put someone in charge of ordering/buying food supplies on a regular basis. We used Fresh Direct at my last job, so, no one had to physically go out and buy stuff. Easy peasy. If it’s everyone’s job to keep the fridge stocked, it will always be empty.

  15. Anonymous

    LOL! We just had a group discussion like this at my office! Everyone wants there to be condiments for everyone to use, but no one is willing to replace them. The empty ketchup & mustard bottles stay in the fridge for weeks. Everyone complains when we run out, but no one steps up. Those that do eventually take the time to replace them are irritated with the ones who take for granted that it will always be there. Everyone thinks that we should have them, but some thought an errand like this was beneath them. I think I will print this letter and tape it to the fridge so everyone will see that it could be much worse.

  16. Clarissa R.

    I understand where he is coming from. It’s a simple instruction that seems to have been given several times and no one can follow it. I think it says that employees might be overlooking other orders and just haven’t been caught yet. What happens to “attention to detail” that everyone loves to boast about on their resumes?

  17. Brian

    This strikes me as coming from someone who lacks empathetic reasoning. Yes, it might be a repeat issue, but what if the person who used up the milk was there till 1 a.m., desperately trying to stay awake and finish a proposal with an insane deadline? What if his star employee does it next time, will he have to ruin his productivity to save face and stick to his threat? Not smart to make threats like this public – you might have to follow up on ’em. Verdict: selfish, spoiled brat.

  18. Diane

    I feel for the guy. So he wants to offer a fridge and stock it for his employees. He probably also does not want to task the upkeep to one person. He sees his employees abusing this perk, and because he likes the perk, he doesn’t want to take away the fridge/coffee/creamer whatever. He could do that, but he’s asking people to be considerate. Either they go or the fridge goes, and he wants his damn fridge.

    This reminds me of dealing with teenagers. Since I can’t fire them, I’m really jealous of this guy.

    1. Lina

      I actually laughed out loud at that one. Imagined a small cow out back!

      Also I think he’s lucky to have a team that’s 99% good. Even a team that’s 100% good will make an occasional mistake.

  19. Anonymous

    It is perhaps more an indicative of my own state of mind lately than of anything else, but, I totally sympathize with this guy.

    I suggest someone at that company be pro-active and set up a 2-bin system for milk. Their star will rise quickly!

    1. saro

      Yeah, I sympathize with the guy. I know he’s upset and he could have phrased it better but I think it’s justified.

      I work with a number of colleagues who leave absolute messes behind them in the kitchen; use up all the milk and etc and those people are selfish and obnoxious to work with in other matters too. So I do think it’s all related.

  20. KB

    Well, there’s a downstairs store and the company probably has an account. If you finish the milk, jump downstairs and grab a gallon. Or let someone know. “Don’t be a dick.” The kinds of people who say “well, it’s not my job…….” while drinking the milk aren’t the ones you want at the company anyways.

  21. Anonymous

    While this email made me cringe (especially the typos, but that’s just me!), I do sympathize with this guy. I worked in an office where we supplied the kitchen with silverware that constantly went missing (and was never replaced) and where folks left the kitchen (which was also our only conference room) a mess with dirty dishes left in the sink, nothing put away and food rotting in the fridge. I don’t know that his threat will be effective (and if it is, at what cost to his reputation and the work environment), but I feel his frustration over colleagues not showing basic consideration for their coworkers. Has anyone found a successful way to deal with these basic consideration issues?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’d say that since it’s basically considered an office supply, have whoever’s in charge of ordering office supplies in charge of the milk too.

      On the other issues you raised, I’d stop supplying silverware (let people bring in their own), assign an admin to throw away everything left in the refrigerator every Friday afternoon unless it’s labeled with a name and a date, and … well, the dirty dishes in the sink are tougher. Has any office ever handled that problem successfully?

      1. Nichole

        I think the dirty dishes are a par for the course issue in any office with a kitchen. My department will be inheriting a small kitchen notorious for getting dishes left there by other areas soon. If it becomes an issue, we plan to post a passive agressive sign letting coworkers know that they can donate dishes to the apartment of our resident Young Single Guy by leaving them for us in the sink. Work Mom (every office has one) seems to always get stuck with this task, so I’m curious to hear from offices that have solved this as well.

      2. just another hiring manager...

        Every month in my old office someone was assigned to keep the staff fridge clean and monitor the supplies. Staff could opt out by not using the kitchen and condiments, so people that didn’t want to clean and what not found alternatives to using the kitchen. Occasionally, the office manager would send out a friendly reminder for all staff to mind their dirty dishes. I thought this system worked well.

        1. Esra

          This is how it works at my office, except for the opting out. Every week we have two people assigned to make sure the kitchen is clean, take home the dirty dish clothes and wash them (!), and take out the compost. I hate it.

      3. linder

        Maybe this is a symptom of not having an administrative person. These kind of jobs used to be the domain of the receptionist, the office manager, and other support personnel. Offices increasingly leave those positions unfilled these days; who needs a receptionist when there’s voice mail and you need an act of Congress to enter a building? Who needs a person to order supplies when we all can get our own online?

      4. class factotum

        I got so sick of the oatmeal bowl soaking in the sink at work that I threw it away. I had been rinsing it and moving it, just because it grossed me out so much, but after a few months, I’d had it. Into the trash it went.

      5. Samantha

        This is a huge pet peeve of mine. Why are people such pigs? How hard is it to empty a dishwasher and put your dirty dishes in it? Or run when it when it’s full?

        Do they do this at home? Disgusting.

      6. HB

        At my old office, we rotated “Kitchen Duty” among departments. There was a calendar hung in the kitchen that made it clear which department was on Kitchen Duty each month for the year. There were six departments, so each department only had to do “Kitchen Duty” two months out of the year – not too terrible. Within our department, we were responsible for figuring out who would load/unload the dishwasher, refill coffee/creamer, clean out fridge, etc. It worked pretty well, although you sometimes had a slacker who wouldn’t do their job. At least it was clear who was responsible for doing what!

      7. Gene

        Here’s how we solved the dishes problem at our place of work. Everyone supplied their own dishes and flatware and anything abandoned in the sink went into the dumpster. At our workplace the dumpster is full of sewage screenings (just like it sounds, anything larger than 1/2″ that comes through the pipes), so no one in their right mind would try to recover them.

        It took less than two weeks.

      8. Eric

        I have to continually purchase the dish soap yet everyone uses it (I really dislike taking dirty dishes home.) I have thrown out dishes left after a day or so thinking it must not be important enough to care for. Yes, our bank of six refrigerators get everything thrown out every other Friday

  22. Sabrina

    I understand this guy’s frustrations. But if I were an employee of his I’d be arranging to have his office filled with milk jugs.

  23. Suz

    Once the milk perp gets fired this could be a great opportunity for some desperate job seeker. You could customize your cover letter by explaining how you always keep at least half a carton of milk in the fridge at all times. LOL

  24. Jaime

    As someone with slight OCD tendencies, I can sympathize that it is actually worse to have a milk carton left in there with a few drops than to open the door to NO carton at all. However, it is ridiculous that he hasn’t just stepped up as a manager to handle this situation before he got this mad.

    It’s a classic example of everyone being responsible and so no one gets the job done – this is why there are managers in the first place. Two easy, simple solutions have already been suggested: keep your stuff separate or appoint 1 person to re-order the supply. It doesn’t take a genius to fix this issue, it does take maturity and a willingness to not let your pride and ego get in the way. SMH

  25. Anonymous

    Unfortunately for him he was probably already having a bad morning and forgot the rule: never send an email when angry. Sure, go ahead and write it but then wait a few hours before actually sending it. He might have thought twice after giving himself a little while to cool off. Maybe his employees are used to this but he still dug himself into a deep hole with this. I love the quote by Warren Buffett… It takes 20 years to build a reputation but only 5 minutes to ruin it…

  26. mouse

    Total mixed feelings. I’ve worked in places where the person who eliminates A is supposed to replace it and never does so I get the frustration. But he is a little over the top and I think the person above talking about procedure fail (i.e. change the procedure) is onto something.

  27. Anonymous

    Wow, just wow… and this made me just replace the creamer in my office even though I wasn’t the last person to use it all up!

  28. Julie

    As a few people have mentioned above, I like the idea of assigning a single person the task of keeping the fridge supplies (milk, cream, sugar, whatever) in stock.

    Because, let’s face it, we can all imagine circumstances where you’ve got enough time to make yourself a cup of coffee, but going downstairs to pick up a new carton of milk might derail your mental progress on an important file, take you away from a conference call that’s about to start, or cause a delay in a last-minute rush file. I imagine the employee in such a situation finishing the milk carton and saying, “Drat! No time to get new milk NOW! Surely, someone else will do it…”

    People don’t mean to be malicious, generally, but sometimes circumstances make it so that you just don’t have *time* to go downstairs right away and buy a new carton of milk if you’re unlucky enough to finish the old one.

    1. molly

      I agree with this! And especially when I am working late or under a tight deadline. I will not feel obligated to empty the dishwasher if I’m already busy as I feel like I am already giving my all and don’t have time to fool with trivial tasks.

  29. Perfectshinist

    Something about the email seems off. Why would someone so angry mention a Redskins loss? That tone of that comment seems to contradict the serious nature of the rest of the email. The fact that this is a PR firm leads me to believe that this may be some sort of a PR stunt.

    1. Anonymous

      I think he was genuinely upset about there not being milk in the fridge, but I also think this was written with the intent of it going viral. I bet Antenna’s site hits went way up!

  30. Anonymous

    Yikes. This was not managed well at all. I get where he’s coming from, and sympathize with his frustration at inconsiderate office behavior. But communicating something like this as a CEO of a public relations company sends a really negative message. To me it says a lot of negative things about the company and how its leadership fails to grasp the concept of public relations.

  31. Anonymous

    If I were in charge at my company, I would immediately fire anybody who doesn’t flush the toilet.

    I can understand where he’s coming from. Oops. I guess I should say I understand from whence he’s coming, least my grammar be questioned, too.

  32. Heidi

    He just confirmed that he’s a child that needs to be taken care of. Aren’t there bigger things to worry about than milk? Get over yourself man and stop acting like the world revolves around your need for milk.

      1. RedRabbit

        A coffee drinker can easily handle not having milk on hand. If they can’t, then they have more serious problems to focus on.

      2. Natalie

        But I am, and I’m also the only person who buys (unflavored) cream at my office. If it runs out and I don’t have time to replace it I just drink my coffee black like any normal person would.

  33. Anonymous

    I understand his situation. For some reason when adults enter a workplace they revert to childhood habits. One would expect an adult to replace or inform some office manager that the milk was low and not try to leave a trace amount so the next guy is stuck with the job. Similar situation with toilet paper in most offices.

    Clearly the guy has some levity, as he mentioned the Redskins losing, but is really annoyed. So just replace the milk. Easy request. Lots of people out there would be happy to replace milk on their own dime to have a job. Right?

    As for the grammar: this was written off the cuff, not thru an assistant as usual with CEOs. It got the point across in spite of that.

  34. CJ

    I’m the office manager at my company. I have taken the approach that it is my job to order office supplies and purchase condiments and coffee. If I didn’t, no one else would.

    If he would just assign the responsibility to any admin, office manager, or receptionist to ensure that the milk is always there, then he wouldn’t have to send out emails like this that make his employees laugh behind his back.

    P.S. There could be a whole separate column on how bad grammar in interoffice emails is all too indicative that bad grammar is in emails going outside the company.

  35. RedRabbit

    This is bordering on tin foil hat level foolishness.

    I would take this position; if you want milk, replace it yourself. Otherwise, you can go without it.

    But if you WANT to make a fool of yourself by writing this kind of drivel, then there is certainly internet fame to be had.

    1. Henning Makholm

      Yes. If you want to have a system where people are subjected to milk runs at random unpredictable times, why not let the trigger be, “when you need milk and there isn’t any”, rather than “after you used the last milk”? This would statistically saddle everyone with the exact same number of expected work interruptions, and be quietly self-enforcing to boot.

  36. Henning Makholm

    Just wait until he fires a senior associate for missing a hard deadline because he happened to look in the fridge just before filing the results of his hard work and so had no choice but to drop everything and go on a milk run NOW, no exceptions made.

  37. Anonymous

    Its standard in the UK that there is one person who is responsible for making sure there is enough pads etc and ensure that tea, coffee, sugar and milk are appropriately stocked.

    That means they have a rough idea of the usage and do a check in the afternoon to see enough milk is in the fridge. If there isn’t they get some.

    Unless people start having breakfast in the office or having drinks made with a whole mug of milk then there are no issues.

    It makes it so much simpler. It also avoids off balance rants like the above!

  38. Nyxalinth

    Agreed with everyone else here. Also, I’d like to point out that replacing the milk with three drops left instead of throwing it away and possibly replacing it with a full one speaks storngly of passive aggressive behavior.

    While I don’t condone such a thing, it’s possible that this boss has annoyed his employees to the point where they’re using the milk as a big “Take that!” instead of being direct.

    Also, I’m the sort who just to be a smart-ass would probably bring in 2 or 3 gallon jugs of it and stuff them in there :)

  39. Phyr

    I have heard crazy CEO stories from my cousin., so this doesn’t surprise me. I think he is going about this the wrong way. No one can replace the milk the moment it is out and leaving the empty carton in the fridge is a cleanliness problem as well. chances are that even if the empty container was tossed out and the person had stepped out to get a new one, this guy would happen by and still be upset because there was no milk when He wanted it.

    I think the best fix would be for him to get a vending machine were the vendors keep it filled and he will always have his milk.

  40. kb

    He could easily fix the problem , get a small fridge for his office, keep it stocked himself and lock his office. Remove any privileges like free items in the “kitchen” and let them fend for themselves. He’s given them all a chance to be team players in all aspects of the office, too bad so sad now. If they want something they pay for it now. Done deal to me.

  41. Vicki

    Here’s a question for y’all. If, instead of “milk” he’d said “coffee”, would you feel differently?

    This has been a common problem at companies where I have worked for 20 years. Someone walks to the coffee break area and pours a mug. There is now 1/8 inch of coff in the pot. What do they do?
    a) put the pot back on the burner
    b) rinse the pot and put it on the counter
    c) rinse the pot, empty the filter, make a new pot

    It’s amazing (to me) how many people do a. Which leads to a burnt tarry sludge on the bottom of the pot and, sometimes, a fire alarm. Second most popular choice is b.

    Where I work now, we have frequent discussions about people who are too careless to pay attention to how they park, so there are frequently spaces that cannot be used because the cars on one or the other side of the spot (or both) are well over the line. Compact spots are difficult enough to park in under the best of circumstances.

    Some of us have asked: if you don’t care enough about your co-workers to check if your car is between the lines… if you can’t take 2 minutes to start a new pot of coffee… if you can’t be bothered to replace the milk after you’ve used the last drop… if you leave dishes in the office sink — how do we know that you will hold up your end when a deadline comes due and we need you to be thinking of the team???

    How do we trust you to be a professional in your work when you are personally selfish _at_ work?

  42. Cassie

    I have absolutely no problem with the CEO’s email or his plan. It is an active decision to take an empty carton of milk, save three drops, and put it back into the fridge. I know people may do this in their own homes (you know, there’s always that sitcom scene where a guy puts an empty carton back into the fridge), but why can’t people just be considerate of others? In the workplace, in public, wherever?

    This happens at work with the water cooler. Women, for whatever reason, are just too weak to replace the 5-gallon jug. Except me, apparently. Nor can they ask another coworker to help them, or even ask one of the few male coworkers to replace the bottle. They just leave the empty bottle there, and go to a different water cooler on another floor. Even if I’m not getting water, but I see the bottle is empty – I’ll replace it. It takes me maybe 30 seconds total and I’ve learned how to do it without spilling water all over the place (my very first time was a disaster – I spilled like half the water on the carpet and myself).

    I get that employees shouldn’t have to work under fear of getting fired (I mean, for such a small offense), and this is understandably a small offense. But it points to a bigger picture (well, I think so, at least). I wouldn’t be surprised if a more responsible employee doesn’t take it upon themselves to monitor the milk levels and replace the carton as needed, not because the task gets assigned to him/her but because they just feel a sense of duty. (I often wondered why our purchasing person didn’t determine how frequently she needed to order coffee – if they come 15 in a box, and there are 5 days a week, you would need to replace it ever 3 weeks… so mark it on your calendar every 2.5 weeks to order some coffee – but no, she just waited until one of the other employees told her to order more coffee – neither of them actually drink the coffee, though).

  43. DCM

    I don’t think it’s a demeaning task to have the office manager or other designee order milk, coffee, cleaning supplies, paper towels, etc., along with the paper, pens, and notepads.

    I also think it’s a matter of empowering the OM or designee to get things done in a timely manner so he/she isn’t wasting time on what is actually a perk/privilege and not a “right.”

    This means every Friday (or other clearly stated date/time), EVERYTHING in the fridge gets tossed. The OM shouldn’t have to read labels or take guesses when people forget to label–AND THEY WILL FORGET.

    The company should also use all disposable paper, utensils, and plates unless people want to bring–AND CLEAN–their own. Dirty dishes or cups or utensils left in the sink or on the cabinets get disposed of every afternoon. When a fav mug is thrown away, I guarantee the employee won’t leave another one out.

    This policy works great in our office–the kitchen and fridge are clean, supplies are available, and there’s no arguing because who wants to ADMIT they left the dirty mug on the counter/in the sink? It’s a win-win!

  44. BossLady

    This should be simply assigned to someone whose scope of work it fits with, admin, reception, office manager, or whose workday schedule it suits, ie the first one in each AM as another poster suggested.

    One of my former managers and valued mentor had a saying: “If it is everyone’s responsibility, it is no-one’s responsibility.” While it is ideal to imagine people would be considerate enough to do this on their own, that is just not practical. This is a workplace, not utopia.

    My $0.02

  45. Jamie

    This is definitely one of the universal problems in every office…in fact I’m sitting here drinking coffee with flavored creamer (yuck) because the person in charge of replenishing the coffee stuff keeps buying 90% flavored when 90% of us prefer regular creamer or half and half.

    I’m only mad at myself for not remembering to stop on the way to work and running out of my emergency supply of powered coffee-mate I usually keep in my desk.

    Boils down to anything that is “everyone’s” responsibility ends up being no-one’s responsibility. Just assign it to one person and be done with it.

    And there’s nothing demeaning about this task – it was my job earlier in my career and never bothered me. I order IT stuff, the office manager orders coffee stuff…seriously many would consider the coffee items more important for running the business.

    1. Kimberlee

      I didn’t mean to imply that there’s anything inherently demeaning about the task… it’s just that if you’re going to take a job that was supposed to have been done by everyone and giving it to a single person simply because the group is too lazy/selfish to have done it themselves, I think it’s important to think about how that is going to affect that one person. If it’s always been part of your job, fine. If it gets added to your job because it fits in with your job, fine. But if I worked at that company, and it was a big enough issue for the boss to start threatening to fire people, and ultimately he just threw in the towel because people refused to do something very very very simple and said “It’s YOUR job now,” I’d be pissed.

      Besides, I think in this situation, it’s easy to say that if you don’t have time to run “downstairs” to get milk, then don’t use the last of the milk! If you’re not willing to take on the burden of being in a shared society, why should you get to partake of the benefits? Especially since clearly these people are not having issues replacing pencils and whatnot, per policy.

      Again, it would be totally different if it has long before been made part of an admin or OM job. But to make him/her do it simply because his/her co-workers are jerks could be a hit to morale, and it’s worth thinking about that before you just add it to someone’s job.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I see where you’re coming from here, but a different way to look at it is that the system was flawed from the beginning — stuff that’s everyone’s responsibility ends up being no one’s responsibility (to echo what lots of others have pointed out here). So it’s more a matter of correcting a system that shouldn’t have been in place to start (although it was well-intentioned) and recognizing that if something’s a common office supply, it should be managed like other common supplies are.

      2. Jamie

        “But if I worked at that company, and it was a big enough issue for the boss to start threatening to fire people, and ultimately he just threw in the towel because people refused to do something very very very simple and said “It’s YOUR job now,” I’d be pissed. ”

        On more substantial issues than coffee we’re going through this right now. In going through the process for ISO certification part of that is documenting where responsibility for certain tasks lie. There can be a lot of resistance to clearly delineating accountability for tasks that were once “everyone’s” (hence “no one’s”)

        We’re just reiterating that we’re not adding work, we’re just correcting/clarifying things that have been vague which will increase efficiency and make everyone’s jobs easier in the long run.

        So you’re right that it’s a natural response to be pissed, sometimes it’s necessary to correct a problem and eventually people get used to the new way of doing things.

  46. Jamie

    Am I the only one reminded of the Tiger Oil emails AAM posted ages ago?

    I loved this blog before those, but that post solidified AAM at the top of my RSS feeds forevermore.

    Without knowing the man, it’s possible he was being tongue in cheek about actually firing someone and was just being hyperbolic in an attempt to get people to see how the little things matter.

    And they do – when you have to get a long with people for eight hours a day some common courtesy goes a long way.

    Funny, the person who used to get the milk/creamer at my office just left so this position is in a state of flux right now. I won’t volunteer and not because it’s beneath me, nor do I find it demeaning but because I know I will not consistently remember and I don’t need people to have another thing about which to badger me.

    However, I wouldn’t complain if it wasn’t there…I’d consider that my problem.

  47. Kate

    As I read this, it’s not just about the milk. It’s about common courtesy and officemates that don’t respect the office environment. I work in an office with a similar “we all share the kitchen, please take a moment to empty the dishwasher if you see it’s clean, put new soda in, etc.” policy. Often people are busy and will put dishes in the sink instead of dishwasher, and I use this as an excuse to leave my desk and move around cleaning the kitchen. Normally, if people see me doing that, they end up doing something else (like replacing empty milk) while they’re in there.

    I think what the CEO would be better off doing is calling a meeting and asking people about how they feel about the office policy of “use it up, replace it” and see what they say. I bet there’s something underneath that’s causing this passive-aggression.

  48. Stacey

    I just find it odd that the CEO of a PR firm would create his own PR nightmare. Or misguided publicity stunt. Either way it’s amateurish.

  49. wrong decision Maybe...

    I believe he is out of his mind …no one cares that the redskins lost the night before and now you want to act like a ass the next morning… What he should do is stop providing free coffee for the employees and stop at Dunkin Donuts and purchase a cup for himself before coming to the office … Then he doesnt have to be a asshole when he arrives .. and if anyone else wants some they have to stop on their way in as well…obviously they are all adults but if they cant replace the items then he should not continue to provide the items…IJS

  50. Seattle Writer Girl

    I had to come back and read this post again today after going to the water cooler in my office (only source of water other than the bathroom sink) and for the 1,100,111-th time someone had left an empty bottle on top of the machine for me to change. In a 14-person office, 1 person should not be changing 3-4 out of 6 bottles every month (my officemate claims he changes out the other 2 bottles–so that is 2 people changing all bottles for 14 people).

    I have complained, loudly and directly, during company meetings, (for which I continue to get teased about on a regular basis) and yet people still refuse to change it themselves!

    I completely get where this guy is coming from. I just wish I had hiring/firing power so I could get rid of my lazy a$$ co-workers.

  51. jana

    why do you guys make such a fuss out of it. It is just a milk. One person should be responsible for it – end of the story. There is nothing demeaning about it!

  52. Student

    This kind of thing is exactly why we need more women in management. A woman would know that you don’t buy milk after the milk’s run out. You buy a new milk when the old one is down to 1/4 (or whatever). Just like toilet paper. You don’t go shopping for toilet paper after you’ve used the last roll. It guarantees that you, or someone in your household, will immediately have the runs on the day you let the toilet paper run out.

    This is grocery shopping 101, people. Also, the misandry was tongue in cheek, as I’m sure there are women who don’t know how to grocery shop either! I just haven’t met one…

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