my coworkers are heathens in the office kitchen

A reader writes:

I am the office manager for a company that has recently moved into a building with two kitchens, one on the first floor next to all the meeting rooms and one two flights down, in the basement. Since clients have to walk past the first kitchen to get to the meeting rooms and bathrooms, the rule is that it’s a “drinks only” space; coffee and water are ok, but all food must be stored in the other kitchen.

The problem is that since this is the floor most of the staff are located on, it’s far more convenient for them to use that kitchen to prepare their lunches. Sometimes after lunch I’ve walked in there to find food debris on the counter and in the sink, or worse, dirty dishes piled up high.

So far, I have sent out emails telling people that any food found in the upstairs kitchen will be thrown away — and followed though on this. But unless I catch someone “in the act,” there doesn’t seem to be anything else I can do. The director is also furious about this and has told me that the next time it happens we should take away all the free coffee to discourage people from using that kitchen at all, but isn’t there some other way to encourage adults to be responsible for their own messes?

Realistically? Probably not. People are notoriously bad at following rules related to office kitchens.

But if the issue isn’t that people are leaving a mess in there but rather just that clients can see it, can you just install a door and keep it closed? Ideally you’d get one that swings closed on its own so that your next problem isn’t people not closing the door.

Anyone have a better idea?

{ 167 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Assign clean-up duty to someone. Jobs not assigned are jobs not done. Tell them to clean it at some specific time – I’d suggest one brief wipe with a washcloth in the morning, after the coffee rush, and a better cleaning in the afternoon right after the lunch rush.

    Depending on seniority, status, and the like, you may need to rotate the assignment among a few low-level employees. You might have a janitor that will already provide this service, if you tell him what you need, depending on the company size. You might also be able to contract a cleaning service, but that seems extreme for one little kitchen.

    It seems pure nonsense to me that you installed a kitchen and then tried to tell people not to use it as a kitchen. Suck it up and get it cleaned regularly, or uninstall it. Halfway things like declaring it a “drinks only” area sound very silly and I can’t imagine why you all thought it would work.

      1. Anonymous*

        They can always remove the kitchen appliances if they don’t want people to use the kitchen. I suspect that once there’s no refrigerator, no coffee maker, and no utensils, it will stop being a kitchen. Disable the sink and fill the counters with paperwork or empty binders, and then it will certainly cease to be a kitchen. Remodeling is expensive, but using the kitchen as a storage area isn’t. New office supply room!

          1. MillenniMedia*

            That was my thought. Leave the coffee maker and some paper towels, take the fridge, microwave, etc. We have one break room that’s got a table and a microwave in it, but the walls are lined with file cabinets, mailboxes, a printer, etc. People see it more as a workspace than a break room and respect the need for cleanliness.

            My office is also cheap and provides only hot/cold water (free) and vending machines (not free). If you want coffee you either buy it in the cafeteria or bring in a Keurig for your desk, which also helps cut down on messiness.

            1. Jamie*

              Our Keurig is hooked up to the water line. If they make them where you can just manually pour the water in and it doesn’t need a hookup then I think this is the best solution.

              You can offer beverages and have a lovely supply closet/copy room/whathave you as well.

              1. Anonymous*

                Valves, they’re called valves. They are used to cut water off from one place or allow it to go in another place. Water to the Keurig, no water to the sink or refrigerator.

                Granted, you may need to lock the area under the sink to prevent clever employees from turning that valve back on, but locks are also fairly cheap.

              2. Natalie*

                They do make a Keurig that you just pour water into. The water container is a little unwieldy, but a pitcher works great.

    1. COT*

      Our workplace situation is a little different: we’re a homeless shelter with a kitchen that volunteers use to prepare dinner each night. Sometimes the evening staff and volunteers were coming in to find a mess left by daytime staff using the kitchen to make lunches. (As the volunteer coordinator, I hated my volunteers having to deal with that!)

      We’ve got a pretty responsible and respectful small team who cleaned up their act once we had a little staff meeting discussion about how the messiness impacted the evening staff, but a few “structural” changes also helped:

      1. We made sure we had a better system for staff to handwash their daytime dishes–dish wand, drying rack, etc. so they didn’t just leave dishes in the sink to be loaded into the dishwasher with the dinner dishes.

      2. We created a weekly “kitchen duty” rotation amongst some key daytime staff. When it’s my week, I am responsible for giving the kitchen a daily once-over to make sure it’s clean and orderly for the evening. I don’t have to do major cleaning, just make sure that the counters are clear and clean, dishes aren’t in the sink. etc.

      3. Clear delegation of duties: the evening shelter staff are responsible for unloading the dishwasher of dinner and breakfast dishes. The meal volunteers are responsible for loading it (clearly communicated in our written volunteer materials as well as some signage that explains WHY it’s so important that the volunteers handle this task rather than leaving a mess for the staff).

      4. At my other workplaces, it’s fallen upon someone (often the office admin or manager) to be in charge of the kitchen whether or not they want to. The best thing is frequent no-holds-barred cleaning, including throwing away stuff like you’re doing. It’s gross and unfair, but you can’t make childish folks behave like adults.

    2. James Adam*

      We use a tool called Harmonia ( to manage assignments like this automatically.

      If everyone takes responsibility for keeping things clean (and other chores), we’ve found it helps make the team feel more cohesive as a whole – everyone pulling together to help out.

  2. Lexy*

    I don’t understand the problem with clients seeing that your employees eat?

    I mean I understand not wanting the kitchen to be gross but… no food because a client might see you is… weird? Like… they work too, and probably eat food in their office kitchen occasionally.

    1. Sophie*

      It’s not so much the eating as it is food debris being left out, which rots and smells and makes a mess of things, and presumably dirty boxes being left on the counters. It’s the smells that are really offensive.

      1. Lexy*

        In that case I think either having an assigned kitchen tidying person (when I was a receptionist, this was my job) or rotating the duty among people is the way to go.

        If the garbage is emptied every day it shouldn’t be a stinking mess… although people microwaving fish (one of my pet peeves) is exceptionally hard to control. People who microwave fish… do you hate your coworkers?

        1. Sophie*

          I have a coworker who microwaves fish for breakfast. He’s on a zero carb diet. Microwaved fish (and sometimes shrimp – even worse) is NOT what you want to smell at 8am.

      2. Jamie*

        I thought the issue was offensive food smells, which to me is 99% of food smells, but it’s rotting food smells?

        I agree that kitchen rules are notoriously hard to enforce, but that is ridiculous. The if it’s “everybody’s job then it’s nobody’s job” seems to be in play here. If this were just normal stuff like taking out the trash and wiping down the occasional counter then I would say assign the task to someone – even if you have to rotate. However, these people seem several steps below the average messy co-worker so I’d be tempted to kill the free coffee and make the room totally off limits.

        Are they this filthy in the basement kitchen as well? That’s not okay either, just because clients can’t see it.

  3. fposte*

    I agree with Anon. above–this is a space geared to the use to which people are putting it, and you really can’t stop that. You can either control the outcomes of that use that you don’t like, by using a door or having a cleanup squad, or you can change the space so it’s not a kitchen.

    This is like public-space planners who want busy working people to walk on lovely winding paths instead of going straight to their destinations. Guess what happens? Desire lines worn into the grass.

  4. Sophie*

    I think a door may be the only option, or an outright ban. However the outright ban might not work either, people are still going to use it if they can get away with it. I don’t think taking away free coffee is much of an incentive. Perhaps if you took the microwave away, or anything that would encourage the cooking of food.

  5. Verde*

    Kitchens are the worst and your co-workers are the worst roommates you’ve ever had. I have worked at two non-profits with kitchens in them, and the stuff that happens in there is appalling. We do not have the staff to assign cleaning the kitchen to one person and, more importantly in my mind, we have adults who work in our office who need to clean up after themselves and pitch in when others don’t. It’s one of the pettiest and most infuriating things about sharing space with others.

    I have tried every tactic to nudge people, including my hippie high school’s “are you leaving this place cleaner than you found it”, Terry Tate – Office Linebacker humor/veiled threat tactics (good for a laugh, if nothing else), “your mother doesn’t work here”, and so on. The one I finally got the most leverage with was saying “Every time you see something around the building that is broken, or a mess, and think ‘oh, someone should/will take care of that’, remember that *you* are someone and *you* can take care of it.”.

    Kitchen wars are ongoing, and someone will make a fortune one day when they come up with an employee training program that actually works.

    1. Heather*

      I don’t get why office kitchens are always so gross and why people can’t clean up after themselves. do they do this at home? Every office I’ve worked in has this problem.

      The worst was one place I worked and there were 4 staff. One of the guys would throw his used tea bag in the sink. The garbage can was right by the sink (literally). Why would someone do that? It makes no sense.

    2. Sparky629*

      “your mother doesn’t work here”

      And even if she did, it still wouldn’t be her job to clean up after you because you’re an ADULT.

      Lol, that’s what I’ve always wanted to put at the bottom of those signs when I see them.

    1. Ivy*

      Haha that’s actually the first thing that came to mind! By that standard, OP should send out an email threatening to fire the next person she sees eating from that kitchen! :P

  6. Jesse*

    This is unusual, but put a set of eyes in the kitchen. Either on the wall, or in a visible place. Eyes? Why eyes?

    When people feel like they’re not being watched, they’ll act in a way that doesn’t earn them brownie points with their coworkers. We’ve all done it. When people feel like they’re being watched, they’ll go above and beyond to be a team player.

    I did this when I worked at summer camp. The costume room was always messy. After I put up eyes it was noticeably tidier. Then my coworker tore them down stating that they were “creepy.” The costume room became filthy and cluttered immediately.

    1. Jamie*

      Are you using the word eyes as a euphemism for a security camera? I would be loathe to spend money to monitor people’s disgusting behavior.

    2. S.L. Albert*

      No, just a picture, realistic or cartoony of eyes. Someone, I think Discover magazine, ran an article on that a couple of years ago. I can testify that it helps, too. We put one over the cashbox of our honor system farmer’s market and we definitely noticed an increase in money left. Weird, I know, but it works.

      1. Two-cents*

        This recommendation was recently reported by PsyBlog and they had research behind it. Yes, weird, and yes, it works.

        1. Jamie*

          That’s one of the creepiest things I’ve ever heard of.

          So if you want to cut down on office gossip should you post pics of ears on every wall? :)

          1. Jesse*

            Creepy, but it does work. It helps to be less creepy if you use cartoony eyes rather than human eyes. It feels like spyish.

  7. Brook*

    Lock them out. Send an office-wide email about “the roach problem,” explaining that NO food can be left out anywhere in the office, and leave that room locked for a couple of weeks. The break from that space and the new bug-phobia will give them a chance to establish new habits, hopefully. Make sure that the kitchen is scrupulously clean, no clutter, no dust, so that any little mess will stick out like a sore thumb. Require that all personal property- lunches, lunchboxes, snacks and sodas be labeled with a name, so that the slobs can be held responsible. Just put everything that isn’t labeled in the trash, immediately, and they’ll adapt.

    1. Vanessa*

      I don’t think its necessary to lie to anyone! This level of micromanagement would drive me insane, and I don’t think it’s appropriate or a valuable use of this manager’s time.

  8. Sasha*

    Hi there, thank you for answering my question! It’s just made me realize that there is no simple, magic solution to the problem haha.
    I think I should give a few more details about the layout –
    1 it’s a Victorian building so changing the location of the kitchen is not really an option
    2 we kind of need to have a coffee machine up there because if a client asks for coffee it will be a nightmare to run to the basement kitchen to fix it
    3 we have a cleaner, she cleans the office at night
    4 it smells, imagine you’re pitching for work, your office smells like a musty old bodega and there is Tupperware and grease all over the counters – everyone has to eat, but not everyone has to be a slob about it
    I was hoping to avoid this, but it looks like the only solution is to become such an overbearing bore about it that people will find it easier to be tidy than to listen to my speeches

    1. Ivy*

      Has the director gotten involved at all? People may be more willing to listen to him and/or to see the severity of the situation. Is it possible to also give your coworkers a little leeway in exchange for cooperation? What I mean by that is to allow them to prepare/store food at this kitchen. They are doing this anyways and even you have acknowledged that it makes sense for them to do this in terms of convenience (since they all work on that floor). As well, the fact that they’re storing food isn’t really the issue, it’s that they aren’t keeping the area clean.

      So I guess what I’m saying is, can the director send out an email (or even have a meeting to really show them he’s serious) that has a message like: “We have a rule that states that we cannot use the upstairs kitchen for food storage/preparation. The reason we have this rule is because clients can see and smell our kitchen when they come here, and we want to maintain a professional environment. Recently, the kitchen has been left in a messy state, which is completely unacceptable and inappropriate in an office environment. That being said, we realize that most of us work on this floor and it’s more convenient to use this kitchen. That is why we are allowing you to use the kitchen with the stipulation that you all keep it clean.”

      He could even end off by saying that if it’s not kept clean they will again not be permitted to use this kitchen, the food will be thrown out on a daily basis, people caught will be warned, coffee machines will be taken away, etc. (varying levels of punishment)

    2. Anonymous*

      So you will scrupulously avoid just assigning the clean-up duty to someone and moan about it instead? I don’t think this will be effective. Just tell someone it’s part of their job to wipe it down at some regular interval.

      If all you need is a coffee maker for clients, just put a coffee maker on a little table in the hall outside your meeting room (or in a corner of the meeting room). Take the necessary precautions to make it difficult to knock over. Coffee machines don’t require a kitchen. Lots of my co-workers keep one at their office desks.

      Also, prioritize. What’s more important to the client – immediate coffee, or not passing by the smelly kitchen?

    3. fposte*

      Really? I think you’ve had some good suggestions here–repurpose the room to minimize its kitchenness or implement a cleanup rota (which would presumably have the advantage of getting the basement kitchen cleaner as well).

      I don’t think you doing what you’re already doing only louder is likely to change much. On the other hand, it might be even worse if you were quiet, so maybe you can just go on the theory that your warnings are curbing the worst of it.

    4. Jamie*

      “I was hoping to avoid this, but it looks like the only solution is to become such an overbearing bore about it that people will find it easier to be tidy than to listen to my speeches”

      Just a heads up – that will not work. You’d be amazed how quickly stuff like this becomes white noise if there is no teeth behind it.

      Don’t nag, don’t beg. Set expectations, consequences if they aren’t met, and follow through.

  9. Danni*

    Whatever you do, please do NOT implement a cleaning rotation schedule. My office did this and I think it is incredibly inappropriate. Not everybody uses communal kitchens in offices, and chances are that out of 10 people who use it, there are two people creating the most mess. Unless the job description of your employees includes cleaning the kitchen, then it is not fair to ask people to clean everyone else’s mess. All this does is encourage the messy people to be even worse since people are scheduled to clean up after them! It is petty, yes, but it is incredibly unfair to be expected to clean up an area that you don’t use and that is entirely the fault of other people.

    If I were you I would call people out individually. Nobody thinks those mass office emails apply to *them*. I would pay attention to who is using it and then address them directly. I think you would only need to do this a few times before people get the message and realize that they don’t want to be called out individually. “Hey John, I noticed that you made lunch in the first floor kitchen today. Can you please wipe down the surfaces?” or “Hey Jane, is that your lunchbox sitting there? Can you please move it somewhere else because the kitchen looks cluttered” or whatever.

    If people feel like their behaviour is being noticed specifically they are more like to clean up rather than thinking it is the “group” problem.

    1. Jamie*

      “Unless the job description of your employees includes cleaning the kitchen, then it is not fair to ask people to clean everyone else’s mess.”

      I agree with you in theory and totally agree no one should have to pull kitchen duty after these people (how do you even get grease everywhere?)

      However for most workplace kitchens even with tidy people someone needs to run a cloth over a counter from time to time, take the garbage out, and make sure penicillin isn’t breeding in the fridge.

      That falls into “other duties are required” in most job descriptions. If it’s reasonable there is nothing wrong with assigning that task to someone, imo.

      1. KayDay*

        I would say that it’s better to have a weekly or monthly rotation that to assign it to just one person. If one person is always cleaning up after everyone, they are bound to get a little bitter after a while. (And of course, having people actually clean up after themselves is best.)

        For occasional (and gross) tasks like cleaning out the fridge, I think it’s best to ask for volunteers, and give them a small reward (like leaving early one Friday or a Starbucks card).

          1. Verde*

            We clean out our fridge three times a year before our fundraising drives, and on an as-needed basis in between those. We have some wonderful, wonderful volunteers who actually offer to do it, and we thank them profusely and with whatever little thank-you gift we can provide (like a t-shirt or CD or gift card). The other times, it’s kind of whoever needs the fridge for an event, or whoever notices it and just does it. Asking people to label and date food does help.

            1. Jamie*

              Ours is cleaned every Friday – and although I don’t keep anything in the fridge I know this because it’s clearly posted.

              Friday afternoon the Office Manager goes through and tosses everything which doesn’t have a “Don’t toss me” post-it with initials (with the exception of soda, condiments, and water, etc.)

              If you want your stuff because you’re taking it home – stick a post it on it. Want to keep your Tupperware then wash it out, take it to your desk before toss time. Nothing is left to fester over the weekend.

              It occurred to me that since a change of staff our kitchen has been really clean. I just go in there for coffee and soda – but it’s been ages since I’ve seen dishes in the sink. Since ‘Mr. I don’t do dishes at home and am certainly not doing them here’ and his buddy ‘Mr. Why empty the trash when I can balance a filthy plate on top of the pile so it topples onto the next person who opens the lid’ moved on to other opportunities.

              When it comes to the kitchen I have lovely grown up co-workers.

              1. Andrea*

                I used to work with two men who argued that they didn’t have to clean the kitchen at home so they weren’t going to do it at work, too! Of course that attitude spilled over into many other issues and tasks, too. (I was of course insanely jealous of their wives.)

        1. Two-cents*

          Excellent ideas, and to pile on another support for cleaning out the place on a regular basis. We only had a microwave and refrigerator and not much counter space at one place I worked. The refrigerator was cleaned out every Friday and everything was tossed out by the cleaning staff. Leftovers in styrofoam containers? Gone. Unopened cans of Coke? Gone. Tupperware containers? Gone. EVERYTHING was tossed out and discarded into a large trash bag and placed in the dumpster immediately. Most people got the idea pretty quickly not to leave anything they wanted.

        1. Jamie*

          You are reading elitism into my comment that just isn’t there.

          I clearly said no one should be forced to clean the disgusting mess in the post. People should clean p after themselves.

          Early in my career that wa my responsibility along with coffee etc and I had no problem with that whatsoever.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’d go a step further than Jamie and say yes, it should be assigned to a low-level employee. That’s not about “elitism”; it’s about assigning staff resources sensibly. Senior and specialized employees should stay focused on the tasks that only they can do well and which they’re paid to do.

          The elitism, Vanessa, seems to be coming from your interpretation of lower-level employees are “mere” lower-level employees. No one else characterized them that way.

          1. Vanessa*

            I’m bringing in the historical context that has characterized individuals in that way. Cleaning isn’t something that “important” people do which is the exact reason that people would oppose for the CEO of a company to be responsible for this task –the administrative assistant should be. I think I’m especially keen to this broader context–I was a women’s studies minor and love to think about things from a sociological perspective.

            1. EngineerGirl*

              Cleaning doesn’t generate money for the company. Therefore it isn’t considered as important. Revenue generators always get more respect in the company. And then there are the resource issues. If you have an $80/hour specialist, (billed at $250/hour) do you really want to have them spend their time at support activities or revenue generation activities? Isn’t it better for the complany to pay the $15/hour person to do the support activities? That is why they have pay tiers in companies.

              1. OyVey*

                I really hate this argument. Sure, cleaning doesn’t *directly* generate revenue for the company, but when you lose clients because an area is filthy and off-putting – that’s the same as losing money. It’s showing clients that you don’t care about the little things or details.

                Revenue generators won’t be as successful at their role if the support staff isn’t well, supporting them! I’ve been in both sales and support, and try not to take my support people for granted because they sure as hell make my job easier so I can go out there and bring home the bacon for the company.

          2. Anon2*

            I definitely the dynamic of the company may come into play here too. If it’s a company that wants to come across as egalitarian, then maybe it would be appropriate for all staff regardless of position to get a rotation cleaning the communal kitchen. Then it’s more about fostering a sense of teamwork no matter the level, than about 100% efficient use of your time. However, there are organizations that WANT to have a very separated hierarchy and want that chain of command kept clear. In that case, it’s also not about the money but about keeping tasks separate.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              That’s one way to look at it, yes, but I’d point out that you can also have a culture with a very strong sense of teamwork where there’s still a clear hierarchy and defined roles. You could also have a culture where all that is left fuzzy and there’s still not much sense of teamwork.

              Whether this type of thing is left to the junior staff or not isn’t likely to be what determines a sense of team — that’s much more likely to come from bigger cultural issues, and if you don’t manage your culture right, the CEO cleaning the microwave won’t fix that (and if you do manage your culture right, the admin cleaning the microwave won’t undermine it).

          3. Kelly O*

            Vanessa, I understand what you mean, but think about it from a cost/ROI perspective. Do you want your IT guy, who makes $20/hour (we’re talking rough numbers here) to spend an hour a week cleaning up a kitchen, or do you want your $12/hour mail room person doing it? What’s the better use of your company dollar?

            The other thing is, most people in administrative roles understand that part of the job is keeping things clean, organized, and tidied. I’m not even the admin for our office any more, but I still clean up messes when I find them. I still wipe off the garbage can, or push chairs in if I’m back there and see a mess.

            I could complain, but it doesn’t work. Putting up signs doesn’t work. Assigning a cleaning schedule doesn’t work (because invariably someone will be out of town or in meetings or have a higher priority project than wiping off a counter.)

            I don’t really mind it too much. It doesn’t seem to bother others to have a gross kitchen, but it does bother me. So I just clean it. (I will also wipe up the bathroom if it gets too bad, and that happens more than you’d think in an office predominantly full of women. I don’t understand how the ladies’ room gets that gross, but that’s another story I guess.)

            I also don’t necessarily care for filing, but it has to be done. So I just buck up, do it, and get it over with. If you do it in smaller doses as it happens, you won’t have a huge mess anyway. (Translated – if I’m in there refilling my water and see something on the counter, I wipe it up. If I’m grabbing my lunch, I’ll push in chairs from the group before me. If I’m grabbing my grapes in the afternoon and notice something on the side of the garbage can, I clean it.)

            Honestly I’m to the point of just wanting to say “either do something about it, or stop complaining.” I hear the complaints a lot in my office, and it gets old really fast hearing complainers but never seeing them actually do something about it. Simply, put up or shut up.

            (Not directed at you in particular, I’m just one of those who hears it a. LOT. Especially lately. I need a really small violin…)

        3. Spiny*

          The advantage to spreading the joy depends on the motivation- if everyone ends up having to deal with the mess, they will be less likely to create it- and if everyone does it, Mr. Stinky Bologna might be less inclined to leave something delightful for a coworker/manager.

          If it becomes someone’s job, that just makes it okay to leave a mess.

      2. KellyK*

        However for most workplace kitchens even with tidy people someone needs to run a cloth over a counter from time to time, take the garbage out, and make sure penicillin isn’t breeding in the fridge.

        Exactly. And something that’s “everybody’s” job is something “nobody” actually does.

        Another perk to having a rotation is that the person whose job it is to clean is much more likely to give individuals grief for leaving a mess than random coworkers who can think “not my mess, not my problem.” If five or six people have said, “Dude, clean the microwave when you’re done with it,” to a specific person, that may make more difference than a mass email. It might also make it clearer who the violators *are* (whether because people are paying more attention overall or because messes miraculously stop happening when it’s one person’s turn to clean). And knowing who’s causing problems and dealing with it one-on-one is always better than group nagging.

    2. Anonymous*

      Fair? Where do you work? I’ve never found an office where duties were assigned on the basis of fairness.

      I can sympathize with your desire not to clean up after your co-workers, but sometimes them’s the breaks. I’ve gotten stuck cleaning up my co-worker’s rotting sushi, week-old pizza that’s been left out, booze bottles, mountains of Mountain Dew cans, and shrimp-flavored corn chips. I hated it, but I also knew it needed to be cleaned up and that the boss had decided Mr. Sushi was too important to clean up his own messes. I’m a scientist, and I certainly never signed up for that duty and I certainly groused about it, but I did it.

      It’s better to assign it to someone than make everyone (including clients!) suffer with the side effects of a trashed kitchen.

      1. Danni*

        I think the problem is that everyone sees two options: either everyone chips in or it doens’t get done. I work with competent adults, so to me, the solution is everyone cleans up after themselves. Just because some people are disgusting and selfish does not make it a communal problem.

        What if these employees weren’t doing their actual work? Would the office manager assign a rotation schedule for everyone to pick up the slack? No – that person would be dealt with on an individual basis. If your coworker came in late every day, woud you want your boss to tell you that you needed to cover their desk and answer their calls? No. I don’t see why the kitchen situation is any different. I am not there to do anyone else’s work, including cleaning up the kitchen. Things like wiping down the surface, that’s fine. Anyone can do it while they wait for their coffee to brew. But telling me that I HAVE to clean up because someone else is a pig? No. What if your boss said “everyone’s individual desk areas are really messy but people won’t clean them up, so we’re going to have a rotation schedule and you will need to go around to each cubicle and wipe off everyone’s keyboards”. Pretty sure you wouldn’t want to do that!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The problem, I think, is twofold:

          First, few managers are going to fire a top performer for leaving dishes in the kitchen, and most people know that — so you’re relying on people to do it just because they should do it … which just often doesn’t work with this kitchen issue. People know there’s no teeth behind the threats.

          Second, it’s often hard to know who’s responsible for the mess. If you do, you can confront them (but see the first problem above), but often you don’t even know who it is, so you end up addressing the whole group, which is less effective.

          1. Laura L*

            If job hunting is like dating, sharing communal spaces in an office is like having roommates.

        2. Anonymous*

          I’m the Anonymous one who had to clean up after Mr. Sushi.

          I also had to wipe down his keyboard, actually. We had a communal workstation for some devices that are shared among many staff. Several of our staff felt that hand-washing was beneath them. I had the lowest tolerance for using a blackened keyboard and mouse (they started at white!) so I was the one who cleaned them off. It sucks, and there were more productive things I could’ve been doing, but it kept me from getting nauseous and running to wash my hands every time I used that workstation. Yes, I asked the boss to have them clean up after themselves – no, he wasn’t going to be bothered with that at all.

          I also cleaned off Mr. Sushi’s personal keyboard once. He had completely turned it from white to black, and he shared an office (but not keyboard) with me. I cleaned it one week while he was on vacation simply so I didn’t have to look at it ever again. Threw it away when he finally left.

          Yes, I hated it. Yes, I resented my co-workers for being too childish to clean up after themselves like adults. Yes, I resented the boss for not holding them to any standards. Yes, I left for a set of less obnoxious, self-absorbed co-workers after a while. Yes, their basic neglect of common sense led to many other problems around the office – including a fire. But frankly, it would’ve been unbearable to not clean it up and continue to work there, and I couldn’t just quit immediately and go without the paycheck at the time.

          So even though I’ve suffered through it, I fully endorse sucking it up, cleaning up after the idiots (or assigning the cleaning to someone if you’re the boss) and making the place livable. Hire a cleaning service for all I care, but don’t neglect the place and make it horrible for everyone because no one is responsible.

    3. Esra*

      The rotating office cleaning schedule can work, but it needs to be well thought out. The one in our office works for the most part, because it’s just light cleaning duties like putting away clean dishes, making sure there is soap and garbage bags etc. Anything more than that would be irritating because, like you said, not all of us even use the kitchen.

      The really crappy part is that the upper management decided they should be on the rotation, for the appearance of fairness, but if you’re scheduled with them, they don’t actually do anything.

    4. Seattle Writer Girl*


      This sounds like a totally reasonable suggestion if you work in a normal office with regular people. However, my co-worker tried this once with our crazy intern who had the habit of making his lunch at OTHER people’s desks (that’s right–NOT his own desk or in our break room but at other employees’ desks who weren’t there that day) including slicing up bread to make his sandwich. Co-worker emailed intern and asked him to go and clean up his mess that he left and he ended up screaming/yelling at her for like 30 minutes straight. It was really horrifying and scary and became a very big deal that eventually led to him getting fired.

  10. KT*

    Can you ask the CEO to send an email? You mentioned this was bothering him a lot. People may be more likely to listen to your CEO.

  11. Wilton Businessman*

    Sounds like a perfect place for a copier room.

    If its that big of a deal, it’s got to be converted to a non-kitchen.

    Or you could hire somebody’s niece/daughter to be the kitchen monitor between 11:00 and 2:00 every day.

      1. Wilton Businessman*

        Why assume managers are female? Most things have a female gender bent on this site.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think WB meant that I use “she” as a replacement for saying “he/she” every time. I don’t think that’s the same as “niece/daughter” (daughter, at least, has a gender-less version: kid), but I take his point.

        2. Anonymous*

          Because “he” was the default gender-neutral pronoun for the last… forever. After 1000 or so years with “she” as the default gender-neutral pronoun, I’d be happy to take another turn with “he” as the default again.

          Heck, I’m willing to be generous and settle for “she” as the default pronoun for a mere 50 years before we give the boys a turn again.

          Still not going for it? How about we settle it by gender, then. Men can keep using “he” as the default neutral and women can use “she” as default neutral. Rulebreakers who use the opposite gender as the default neutral will be forced to clean up the office kitchen. Deal?

          1. Camellia*

            I have been known to use ” s/he ” instead of ‘she or he’ and ” hir ” instead of ‘him or her’.

  12. clobbered*

    Bring a laptop or paperwork, and spend one day sitting in the kitchen giving everyone a hard stare. Comment freely on anything that should not be done. “Excuse me, no food is allowed in this kitchen. Sorry, no mugs to be left in the sink. Yes, I am the kitchen police”.

    Sometimes people just need a jolt to drive home that yes, that memo *does* apply to them. You probably will have to do it only once.

    (Also, make sure you have a commercial kitchen bin with a flap in it and instruct the cleaning stuff to remove the rubbish daily. Even if no food is allowed, it is reasonable to expect people to throw their lunch debris in a kitchen bin, so make sure it doest smell up the place.)

  13. KayDay*

    I agree with Wilton (and many others) that the room needs to be re-purposed if you don’t want people using it as a kitchen. You can still keep the coffee maker/water cooler there, but don’t leave any extra counter space for people to fix there lunch, get rid of the fridge and/or other food storage places.

    If you want to keep it as a kitchen, then you need to let people use it as a kitchen, and then deal with the mess. If it’s just a matter of hiding a small amount of mess (some clean dishes lying about, a few crumbs) you could probably put up a nice curtain if a door isn’t an option.

    Now, as for getting people to clean up after themselves, I am at a complete loss. People seem to forget all their manners inside the office kitchen…..perhaps try Jesse’s “eyes” idea.

    1. Anonymous*

      I suspect at least a few of them treat their own kitchen the same way. I have seen some personal kitchens that give me nightmares.

      1. Laura*

        Which is why office potlucks (or any potlucks with people you don’t know) freak me out. There are many kitchens from which I never care to eat. Never ever. Probably restaurants too, but at least those are occasionally graded, so there is the illusion of regulated cleanliness.

        1. Jamie*

          Yep – although watching Kitchen Nightmares disavowed me of the notion of clean restaurant kitchens.

          And yes, this is exactly why potlucks and homemade baked goods are such a bad idea.

          1. Laura*

            I can’t watch Kitchen Nightmares because I like restaurants and can’t stand to know the real truth.

        2. Vanessa*

          You are so right. A friend in HS pointed out to me that not everyone’s mom kept their kitchen as clean as ours did! SCARY!

  14. Anonymous*

    I think anything left out should be tossed immediately. Gee sorry but you abandoned it so it’s gone. You are welcome to dig through the dumpster for it though, right out there in the back.

    You’d need your top level boss’s support for this, but if it’s really affecting client pitches that should not be a hard sell. Also, you will have to step up as the bad cop.

    I read at one point that is what our former Governor Arnold S did with his messy kids. iPod left on the floor? Gone. Backpack? Gone. (they were living in the hotel downtown at the time, and he’d take everything to the incinerator, so it was really very gone)

      1. Kelly L.*

        (And of course they shouldn’t have left their things lying around, but I just can’t see “Oh, I burned your possessions” as a great way to deal with it.

      2. CF*

        I bet he only had to do it once or twice. Kind of like that dad who shot up his daughter’s computer. Those lessons are learned quickly.

        1. Anonymous*

          Yes, but what’s the lesson? “Don’t go anywhere near Dad” was what I got out of it when my father did that kind of thing.

          I certainly didn’t end up as an adult who keeps a nice, clean house. I did end up as an adult who sees her father less than once a year. I also don’t allow him into my house.

          You reap what you sow.

        2. KayDay*

          Actually, my mom did that to me when I was little (okay, she only hid anything expensive in the attic, but I didn’t quite catch on to that) and it (a) didn’t really get me to clean my room and (b) I now have a really irrational fear of people touching and/or throwing out my things.

          1. KayDay*

            …woah, after reading the comments below, I should add that there was no child abuse going on in my case…just a few childish temper tantrums. But my point is that taking away my toys as a child did NOT result in a clean desk as an adult.

      3. Verde*

        My mom told me would throw away every toy still on my floor if I didn’t clean my room, after trying everything else to get me to do it (she was a pro-education liberal borderline hippie, so you can imagine). She gave me three chances, I didn’t touch a thing despite the warnings, and then she followed through (and I mean gone – never saw that stuff again). It was not cruel, it was learning. I learned that she meant what she said, I learned the consequences of my choices, and I learned to appreciate and care for the things I have. Toys are a wonderful luxury and privilege, as is the extended and protected childhood we offer all of our kids today. Maybe more people were “cruel” to their children, I wouldn’t be dealing with the mess those now supposedly grown kids leave behind every day in our office and kitchen spaces, not to mention their other work/life habits.

        1. Anonymous*

          Getting rid of toys isn’t “cruel.” Throwing out a co-worker’s cereal bowl isn’t cruel.

          Dramatically destroying the kid’s stuff to assert your power is. It’s like the difference between grounding your child because she won’t clean her room, and burning your child because she won’t clean her room. It’s not wrong to punish children, but certain punishments are wrong for children. Your mom took your toys away – it’d be a different story if she burned them and made a point of telling you or making you watch.

          For example, I’d say throwing out your co-worker’s uncleaned dishes is okay as long as they’ve been warned at least once. Dishes are cheap, they can get more. Throwing out your co-worker’s laptop, on the other hand, would be completely inappropriate.

          1. Jamie*

            I don’t think you can equate the destruction of any inanimate object with physical harm to a child.

            A millionaire tossing out his kid’s iPod isn’t even in the same universe as the child abuse you’re referencing.

            1. Anonymous*

              I don’t think you much understand what it’s like to have someone destroy your stuff in front of you violently. I do. It’s an implied threat. “I can break this without consequence, and I can do the same to you if I want.” That is, most certainly, exactly what my parents were telling me – occasionally they’d fully verbalize it, but the implication is pretty darned clear without the explanation if you witness it. Yes, even though it’s usually an empty threat. Adults might recognize the fact that it’s an empty threat – children won’t necessarily realize it. If my father were to ever shoot my laptop, I’d have assumed he meant it as a threat.

              Taking toys away from children is a perfectly reasonable punishment. If you want to make it a permanent event, you quietly throw the stuff away or donate it. Shooting, burning, or otherwise violently destroying the things is the problem – it’s misplaced anger, an improper attempt at discipline, and ineffective in the long run.

              1. Jamie*

                I am so sorry you had to go through that.

                What you are describing is a serious trauma, and no child should ever have to suffer that.

                My point was that violence is always better acted on inanimate objects than on a person, which I believe, but that by no means makes what you are describing okay.

        2. Laura L*

          I actually disagree with taking away toys from children permanently, particularly well-loved toys. My parents would temporarily take away toys, but we always got them back at some point (don’t remember if we had to do chores or what).

          But I had certain toys that if they’d permanently taken away, it would have really hurt my relationship with them. (e.g. the teddy bear I still have-I’d never have forgiven them for taking that away).

    1. Jamie*

      I’ve taken stuff when I would get fed up with things being left lying around – but as I don’t have Arnold’s money and can’t afford to replace things so quickly I’d just take it so they would have to ask to get it back. This usually involved some additional chores for my trouble.

      That works also – and is cheaper than burning.

    2. Natalie*

      My grandmother didn’t destroy the things, but she did have a similar rule about items left in pockets of dirty laundry. What ever she found, she kept. Each of her kids lost money to mom before it really sunk in.

      1. Laura L*

        Same with my mom. And she always made sure to tell us about it, so that we’d eventually remember to check our pockets before putting dirty clothes in the hamper.

    3. CF*

      I worked with someone – I never knew who it was – who ate oatmeal every morning and left the oatmeal-laden bowl in the sink. For days. I, who also ate oatmeal but washed my bowl every morning, got tired of seeing the filthy bowl in the sink. At first, I would wash it and take it out of the sink, but after a few times, I realized that that was dumb.

      So the next time, I threw it away. That seemed to have solved the problem.

      1. Yup*

        I used a similar approach with a college roommate. I spent several weeks asking and reminding (“Please wash your funky macaroni pot that’s been sitting there for 17 days. There are bugs, and the sink smells like death.”). I finally said that if she didn’t wash her dishes, I would be forced to move them. She didn’t, so I did. I gloved up and put them all her her bed. The dishes got done after that.

        1. twentymilehike*

          Oh My … Yup … I think we used to be roommates! If someone left dishes overnight, the next day we got to put them in their bed. There ended up being only one offender … and she was quite messy and disorganized to begin with.

          The other issue was deciding who was buying toilet paper … but our creative ways of getting around that are probably better left for another blog post ….

          1. Rana*

            Oh, god, toilet paper wars. I had one roommate once who never bought any, ever – even after I started hiding my own in my room – and I tried really, really hard to not think about how she handled that.


            1. twentymilehike*

              “Oh, god, toilet paper wars. I had one roommate once who never bought any, ever – even after I started hiding my own in my room – and I tried really, really hard to not think about how she handled that. ”

              Old coffee filters. I think we had the same roommate …

              1. twentymilehike*

                OMG I realize now how horrible that last comment sounded!!

                Not OLD as in USED … rather OLD as in new in the box on the shelf for a long time because no one in the house drinks coffee anymore. LOL

    4. Anonymous*

      You guys are reading way too much into my offhand line about the Gov. He did warn his kids. Repeatedly. Their attitude was (as I dimly recall) isn’t that what maids are for. He has a work ethic, and was trying to instill it in his kids. If you feel the need, the story was in the Sacramento Bee and you can hit their morgue. But please don’t make assumptions about someone’s personal life based on two lines you read in a blog. You wouldn’t want that done to you! Cheers…

  15. Blinx*

    Wow — some of the descriptions are really gross. It’s sad that people have to put up with this stuff. Two ideas:

    1. Install a Kitchen Cam, with a live feed that EVERYONE can watch from their computers. Maybe if they’re being watched by their colleagues, they’ll clean up after themselves.

    2. If you’re lucky, you have a neat freak in your office who is just DYING to clean up, but feels they might be taken advantage of. Assign them to tidy up the kitchen 2x daily, and reward them regularly somehow (lunch coupons, extra-long lunch breaks, etc.)

  16. Kimberley*

    The office kitchen is always messy. Everywhere I have worked it’s treated with the attitude of “it’s not my problem”. The unfortunate result of this attitude is that my husband recently started to work from home. As a consequence I usually come home to a messy kitchen! What’s up with that?!

    1. Anonymous*

      What’s up with that is you need to set some expectations for him. Tell him to knock it off. Tell him that if he won’t clean up after himself, you expect him to start budgeting for a house cleaning service.

  17. Rana*

    I think there are three problems here:

    1) There needs to be ready access to coffee for clients
    2) The clients should not be near gross food smells and garbage
    3) Someone needs to clean the kitchen

    The first one is easily solved, and should be separated out from the other two.

    The second can be solved by either (a) getting rid of the kitchen, (b) preventing the mess, or (c) making arrangements for cleaning it. The first seems like the easiest, and the second has resulted in nothing but frustration, it sounds like. However…

    There’s still that second kitchen, right? Even if you solve the upper kitchen problem, I can guarantee you that you will face the same problems in the basement kitchen, and even if clients aren’t seeing or smelling it, *it is still gross.*

    You’re going to have to figure out how to have the kitchen(s) cleaned, I’m afraid. Some people will be pigs, others will resent cleaning up after them, and, honestly, I think you just need to bite the bullet and either get rid of the kitchens entirely or arrange for someone to clean them. It’s like having bathrooms, or even just office space; part of the deal is arranging for their cleaning.

  18. Charlotte*

    We had a similar problem here that we’ve used a couple of methods to address and in combination they seem to have worked! 1st rule, any dirty dishes left in the sink get thrown away (by the boss no less!). 2nd, reminders on the microwaves to wipe up any spills. 3rd, we have two employees who each come in for an extra half an hour (paid) on alternate weeks to give the kitchen a good wipe down. The refrigerator gets cleaned out once a month and everyone is warned in advance that any open food will be thrown out. The two staff who do the cleaning volunteered when we sent out an email looking for someone to make sure the kitchen stayed clean and by paying them for their extra time they don’t feel like they are being taken advantage of. If you don’t want to “pay” whoever cleans – give them a gift certificate or time in lieu…

    1. Vanessa*

      I think this is the key…. recognizing that it isn’t a task that should be forced on someone, taking volunteers and thanking the volunteers with an incentive/reward/money.

  19. EM*

    I work for a small company, and our accountant takes out the trash, does the cleaning, and maintains the kitchen. Yes, our accountant. I’m sure it was part of the deal when she hired on, and she’s been here at least 12 years. I’m also one of those neat freaks, so I’m frequently wiping down the counters or putting dishes in the sink. I’d rather do that than look at filth. It takes less than a minute of my time.

    Nagging and harping will accomplish nothing. Either get rid of the kitchen (repurpose it) or assign one person to kitchen clean up duty. I would suggest the lowest person on the totem pole (usually the newest low-level person); most people understand the concept of putting in their dues.

    On a side note, responding to Wilton Businessman’s comment on gender pronouns: I appreciate AAM’s use of the feminine pronoun to refer to managers. Language is one of the most insidious forms of sexism, and is the hardest to change. If managers are always referred to as “he” people internalize that and assume that managers are always male. That’s changing now (slowly) and we need to change our use of language to reflect that.

    1. Vanessa*

      I don’t like the idea of forcing it on “the lowest person on the totem pole.” That can give people the impression that they’re better than Jane because she’s new here and has to clean up after disgusting people. I strongly dislike work cultures that reinforce that sort of thing.

      Other suggestions of a rotating schedule, especially one where ALL community members participate including management, sounded better.

      As someone else stated, I also think OP would have plenty of volunteers if she incentivized it (i.e. person who holds responsibility of cleaning kitchen can leave work 30 minutes early every other Friday, or every Friday, or come into work 30 minutes late on Monday…whatever will make people desire to help).

      1. Jamie*

        Aside from cases like the OP where her co-workers are disgusting – routine tidying is a lower level task.

        It doesn’t make sense, financially, to have the CFO cleaning the kitchen when she’s paid to do higher level work.

        It’s not an insult and doesn’t mean the upper management are better than more junior positions – but that they do draw higher salaries so therefore their time is more valuable to the company.

        1. Vanessa*

          You think that routine tidying is a lower-level task. That’s not a universal truth. . . someone said their accountant had the responsibility of cleaning and others said that their management were on the rotating schedule.

          It might not make sense financially…although that seems a moot point to me since its not like they’d be working for hours upon hours doing this task – perhaps 15 minutes/month depending on the size of the staff.

          It does, however, make sense culturally for a staff and building a sense of team. It sends the message of “everybody here is valued; everybody is part of this team. nobody is “too important” to help keep our kitchen glowing and smelling wonderfully despite differences in job title.”

          1. Jamie*

            I believe everyone should clean up after themselves – no one should ever leave a mess for someone else to clean up. And if someone sees the garbage pail full they should empty it.

            But the routine stuff like replentishing supplies, moving stuff to get under appliances, etc. if you don’t have a cleaning service no I don’t think the CFO or VP of operations should have that on their schedule.

            It’s not a good use of payroll, IMO.

            If the CEO eats a bowl of cereal she should rinse out the bowl and put it in the dishwasher. But making sure everyone empties their crap out of the fridge on Friday? Not IMO.

            1. KayDay*

              I actually agree with Vanessa that it can be a bit insulting. In our society, cleaning up after people is something that many people find degrading (particularly if they aren’t informed ahead of time that it will be part of their job). Personally, if I was asked to clean up the kitchen on a regular basis, I would feel like it was a demotion. To single out one person would sort of be like telling them, “FYI, you are officially the bottom of the totem poll.”

              If you don’t have a cleaning service (I’ve never worked anywhere where cleaning wasn’t provided by the building) I would assign different tasks to a few different employees–the CEO might get a pass, but I would not single out one person as the office janitor either.

              1. Vanessa*

                I agree that upper management might get a pass. I was using management to mean the OP, as she (I think it was she) is an office manager, and other people on that level.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Office manager is usually an admin position, not a management position. Could be even be your front desk person in a small office.

                  Regardless, there are some tasks that fall to admins — ordering office supplies, keeping common areas neat, ordering lunch for meetings, etc. It’s not degrading; it’s part of the basic job.

              2. Anonymous*

                You know that there are a lot of people who get paid to clean up after other people, right? I hope that everyone is courteous to their office janitorial staff and don’t let attitudes like this show. I’ve seen the poor janitors get screamed at for nothing by people who think they’re “better” than cleaners.

                It’s just a job. The exact social rejection of the work is exactly why it needs to be assigned to someone. No one will do it on their own initiative because it’s “beneath” them, even though it clearly benefits the whole office in a direct way (complete with a quantifiable financial impact if you worry about a messy kitchen driving off clients).

                Making coffee is a menial task. Sorting mail is a menial task. Cleaning up after people is a menial task. Changing printer cartridges and refilling the printer paper is a menial task. They’re also all jobs. If you wouldn’t complain about how “degrading” it is to make someone sort the mail or refill printer paper, then you shouldn’t complain about cleaning an office kitchen. Making up some elaborate rotation with managers and co-workers to try to share some of the “shame” associated with cleaning just furthers the problem instead of treating it like any other job duty.

                This “cleaning shame” is the exact same prejudice that makes certain business people look down on parents that want to balance their work life so they can interact with their children regularly. It’s a pure “women’s work” mentality that devalues cleaning in such an odd way – just like child care. I know it’s pervasive, but can’t you see it’s also illogical?

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Thank you so much for saying this. By talking about these tasks as if they’re demeaning or degrading, we demean and degrade people who clean for a living — which is many, many people.

                2. Vanessa*

                  I completely see that it is illogical which is why I supported the suggestions to have everyone pitch in in this work…because i believe a person is less likely to hold this attitude about a task they complete themselves.

                3. Jamie*

                  This comment so beautifully articulates my thoughts on this – much better than I could have said it.

                4. Jamie*

                  “I completely see that it is illogical which is why I supported the suggestions to have everyone pitch in in this work…because i believe a person is less likely to hold this attitude about a task they complete themselves.”

                  But that is what I don’t understand – why is tidying up any different than any of the million other tasks that people do? Why isn’t there the suggestion that everyone take turns unjamming the copier, or ordering office supplies, or sorting the mail? It seems like you are putting the task of cleaning in it’s own category which is somehow shameful and I just don’t understand why it’s different than any one of the other routine tasks that are required to run an office.

                5. KayDay*

                  (@ Anonymous 12:11 am) We were just saying that the CFO has too many important well paid tasks to do, and it wouldn’t be an efficient use of her time/salary to clean. I’m not necessarily referring to people being rude to the janitorial staff (which is completely inexcusable) but rather that many hiring managers wouldn’t consider cleaning applicable experience to say, a “next-step” type position for an office worker. So if you make one low-level office staff do all the cleaning, that’s time s/he’s spending doing work that likely won’t help him/her move up in her career, particularly at an a new company.

                  I think if you can spread out the most menial tasks among a group of people (not necessarily everyone) it makes the sting less hard on the lowest level person who is trying to climb the latter. Or ask for volunteers—it works! If everyone has to pitch in a little, they are less likely to look down on those tasks than if the bottom/least paid person is the only one who does those things (…or at least they can all be grumpy in solidarity with each other). Also, since there are still more women receptionists and other admin positions, spreading out the tasks to other positions can help remove the “women’s work” label.

                  p.s. I’ve worked in non-profits where this is really common:, and my first position full-time position was as an administrative assistant, so that may have really colored my opinion.

                6. KayDay*

                  @ Jamie, I don’t think tiding up (after people) is any different than many other those other tasks you mentioned; it’s just what the topic of the day is. (I do however, find cleaning up the shared employee kitchen different from straightening up the entry way for clients). Since everyone contributes to the mess, everyone should help clean. I would also suggest the same thing about un-jamming the copier. Or replacing the paper in the printer (it takes about 4 seconds. The CEO has an extra 4 seconds).

                7. KayDay*

                  OMG, “ladder” not “latter”. I try to write a well thought out response and this is what I write instead. I’m going to get another cup of coffee now.

                8. KayDay*

                  @ Jamie, sorry, my comment didn’t quite make the sense I thought it did when I typed it. I think the difference isn’t cleaning vs. buying office supplies, I think the (subtle, hard to define) difference has to do with whether you are figuratively cleaning up someone else’s mess vs. helping the company as a whole.

                  Personally, I don’t mind buying coffee for a big funder meeting, but I would mind if my boss asked me to get for her on a regular basis. I don’t mind straightening up our publications, but I would mind having to clean up after the staff uses the kitchen every day. I don’t mind loading more paper into the printer when I’m standing by it, but I do get annoyed when someone takes 3 minutes to track me down instead to load the printer instead of taking 4 seconds to do it themselves.

                  I think we are in solid agreement that people should just clean up after themselves, though, so I’m going to stop typing now.

                9. Jamie*


                  “I do get annoyed when someone takes 3 minutes to track me down instead to load the printer instead of taking 4 seconds to do it themselves.”

                  This should be a fireable offense – copy paper is like toilet paper. If you use the last of it you replace it before you walk away.

                  However, on a related topic, when a well-meaning co-worker has been trying to find the paper jam in the copier (which is NOT where the screen shows it to be!) and has already gotten their hand stuck (twice!) and is on the verge of tears…the person who knows how to clear the jam should be a hero and bail said person out.

                  Not that this happened to me this morning or anything (belied by the copier marks dug into my left hand).

                10. fposte*

                  Ninthing this.

                  And honestly, this issue tends to be in spaces where people are perfectly happy to have a separate service take care of cleaning the toilets, but I don’t hear anybody complaining that that’s not egalitarian enough and volunteering to do that task on their own.

            2. Vanessa*

              Financially, I can understand your point.

              But in acknowledging that their are other aspects that comprise a successful office – team culture being one of them- I think that management should be included on a rotating schedule if one is in place.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I agree completely with Jamie. With all tasks, you need to ask whose time would be most sensibly spent on it. It makes sense to assign lower-level tasks to more junior staff, so that higher-paid or more specialized employees can stay focused on work that only they can do well. It’s just about sensible use of resources — and that’s a good message to send.

            Generally this sort of thing is assigned to an admin, just like you’d assign the ordering of office supplies to an admin, not to the CEO.

            1. Vanessa*

              But it’s really not “just like” assigning ordering office supplies. It’s like you’re equating this with the standard responsibilities of a position which were advertised to me before I accepted the position. Nobody is going to call Jane “low (wo)man” on the totem pole because she was assigned to screen BigBoss’ calls because she’s the receptionist. Nobody thinks shes “putting in her dues” by completing the expected responsibilities of job. But by (all of a sudden, because that was not the norm), Jane being responsible for cleaning up the dirty kitchen does emphasize that she is “just” the receptionist and therefore going to be required to do the tasks nobody else wants to do.

              Ref: Em: “Nagging and harping will accomplish nothing. Either get rid of the kitchen (repurpose it) or assign one person to kitchen clean up duty. I would suggest the lowest person on the totem pole (usually the newest low-level person); most people understand the concept of putting in their dues.”

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                It’s not about emphasizing that she’s “just” the receptionist. It’s about delegating tasks to the person where it makes the most sense to have their time spent on it. And it is very, very typical for an admin job to include ensuring the kitchen stays reasonably clean. An admin who doesn’t want to do that type of thing is going to need to be very careful about the jobs they take.

                You might find this post and the comments on it interesting:

                1. Vanessa*

                  I will definitely check out those comments!

                  I don’t think it is anyone’s attempt to purposefully highlight the “just” aspect or to try to make anyone feel terrible about themselves in the process. I also understand the importance of using specialized, trained staff in the most economic way possible.

                  What I’m pointing out is the idea that these traditions (for lack of better word), can reinforce an elitism. After all, a fellow commenter DID reference the person who should complete these tasks as “low (wo)man on the totem pole.” I zoomed in on that as I wanted it to be explored.

                  And yes, a person would need to come to terms with the expectations of their role, both formally stated and informally stated. I, however, am not one to be in a role where that would be the case.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  “Low man on the totem pool” is an expression of where a particular jobs falls in the office hierarchy; it’s not inherently degrading (assuming you accept that businesses do generally have hierarchies to some extent or other).

                3. Twentymilehike*

                  I suppose it depends on the company but I would be inclined to say that it could be part of the office manager or an admin’s duty by default (this is the situation I happen to be in also). Part if my duties are to order office supplies and make sure everything in the office is running smoothly. If the state of the kitchen is causing turmoil in the office it would be part if my job to figure out what to do with the kitchen–either doing it myself or finding someone to help me. But I consider it part of “keeping the office running smoothly.”

    2. Anon2*

      “I appreciate AAM’s use of the feminine pronoun to refer to managers. Language is one of the most insidious forms of sexism, and is the hardest to change.”

      The only downside to that with this particular blog is that so often Alison is talking about poor managers. Which is not to say that either gender has a monopoly on poor management decisions/actions, but when only 1 gender pronoun is used it can start to feel more like a comment on their gender than abilities as a manager. Which is also an internalized bias that I’m just now realizing I have, because if Alison only ever used the male pronoun I would not see that as starting to feel like a statement about how men manage versus how people manage.

      Either way, I don’t have a problem with it (or didn’t, not consciously) because I agree with why she does it, but I wonder if anyone else has that same internal bias and finds it reinforcing gender stereotypes instead of breaking them.

  20. twentymilehike*

    Oh snap… at the risk of flaming …

    AAM, I would work for you in a heartbeat! Your advice has proved invaluable to me in the workplace. And the enthusiasm of your following is refreshing. I am baffled at Trisha’s comment, though I understand she is entitled to her own opinion, I just think it’s a little off topic.

    And just to keep on topic–you ought to see the way some of my coworkers “wash” their mugs … I finally paraded one of them around the office saying, “I’m not accusing anyone of anything, however, cups like this are not clean, and should not be placed in the cupboard with the clean ones. Would YOU drink out of it?” It doesn’t happen anymore.

    1. Jamie*

      I also would be sending in a resume pronto, should the Chocolate Teapot factory ever come to fruition. :)

      At the top of my list of things I value are direct communication and no ambiguity. I would doubt that anyone who has ever worked for Alison had to wonder what she “really meant” by some comment, or had to try to read through the lines of passive-aggressive feedback to try to figure out what the real issue was.

      You could do worse than a boss who knows their stuff and is honest, clear, and doesn’t just talk about accountability but backs it up. I’ve worked for people who had these traits, and those without, and let me tell you it’s a LOT easier to excel at your job when you have a boss who operates like this.

      1. twentymilehike*

        “I also would be sending in a resume pronto, should the Chocolate Teapot factory ever come to fruition. :)”

        Jamie … BAD IDEA. I would eat ALL of the inventory.

      2. Rana*

        “At the top of my list of things I value are direct communication and no ambiguity. …You could do worse than a boss who knows their stuff and is honest, clear, and doesn’t just talk about accountability but backs it up.”

        Oh, gosh yes. I want to do my job, and do it well; I’m not interested in playing mind games, office politics, or “guess what the boss is thinking.” Tell me what you want, let me do it, and give me feedback on how to do it (even) better the next time around.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I do want to acknowledge that I’ve been cranky this week, and I know it’s come out in some places in the comment section, where I’ve been quicker to be snappish than I am normally am. I’m sorry about that — I’ve spotted it and recalibrated now.

        1. Jennifer O*

          Here’s yet another reason why I love this blog and your management style (i.e. candidly admitting and addressing possible crankiness*). No managers are perfect all the time and it’s great for them to be self-aware enough to handle it in a productive manner. Thanks again for giving us an example of your management style within the comments of this blog. I would definitely work for you at the Chocolate Teapot Factory!

          * I say possible crankiness because I don’t think you’ve been cranky here. Possibly more direct – but as others have said, I appreciate direct. :)

    2. Laura L*

      UGH. I just moved out of a house with roommates into a studio apartment of my own. At least two of my pans were covered in some sort of greasy substance because one of my roommates didn’t understand how to clean dishes!! Grrr.

    3. Rana*

      *laughs* I will admit to having horrible tea cups. BUT! I would never expect anyone else to drink out of them or treat communal cups that way. That’s just nasty.

  21. Cassie*

    We have a staff room that was converted from an old office – it was too expensive to install a sink so we only have a full-sized fridge, microwave, toaster and a water cooler. For a while, the fridge was pretty empty except there were some old frozen foods in the freezer. In a staff meeting, the managers announced that the fridge would be cleaned out on the day before our winter holidays. Anyone who had stuff in the fridge (and wanted to keep it) had to remove it.

    It sounded good and all except that no one was assigned to clean it out, and absolutely nothing happened. Truthfully, only a couple of people used the fridge on a regular basis (some of us, like me, would keep coffee creamer or salad dressing – nothing that would be smelly or go bad) so it wouldn’t have been super disgusting to clean it. But the managers didn’t assign anyone or ask for volunteers – heck, they didn’t even set a deadline (e.g. by 2pm on Friday 12/23). Very ineffective.

    I would suggest moving (removing) the microwave. The fridge shouldn’t be too stinky, but if they have to go downstairs to microwave, maybe they’ll be more likely to also use the fridge downstairs. (Although maybe they’d put the food in the upstairs until lunchtime, but it shouldn’t be too stinky).

  22. Anonymous*

    At my place of work, we have a sign up sheet and require everyone who uses the break room to sign up for clean up duty. That seems to help. Our kitchen is actually pretty clean.

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