cleaning the office microwave: hidden duties when job-searching

This was originally published on November 12, 2010. (I’m reprinting some posts this week while I’m recovering from the effects of too many rum balls and sparkly beverages.)

A reader writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{ 170 comments… read them below }

  1. en pointe*

    The thing is, SOMEBODY has to do these tasks – unless you want 10 month expired jam growing in the refrigerator.

    If it isn’t a big enough job or needs to be done more regularly than the external cleaners, then you need to consider which role would make the most sense to include this. The answer is nearly always going to be the most junior / entry level position(s) because they are likely to have the lowest opportunity cost of spending time on cleaning the microwave, rather than performing their other duties.

    It doesn’t need to be taken as an affront – it’s just about getting the job done in the most sensible way for the business.

    1. Chinook*

      I agree. For example, if someone doesn’t clean the fridge, then it may just fall to a partner because he was the one unlucky enough to have the very expired milk explode all over him and his parents trained him well enough not to leave such a disgusting mess for someone else to stumble across because “it is not my job.”

      I really do wish I had kept the company wide email he sent after that incident, though, because I remember it being priceless.

      1. Vera*

        I think this is confusing though, to young women who may have read or heard tales from leaders of the women’s movement of prior generations who fought hard AGAINST doing things like this delegated to women (more often referred to as *girls*) – things like getting coffee and cleaning the office kitchen (unless they are hired as delivery people or cleaners.) This is definitely the message drilled into my head over and over while growing up.

        I think young women being asked to do this work opens an employer up to sex-discrimination law suits.

        Can any of you hear EVER think of an instance when MALE entry-level employees are asked to do such work? I can’t – and neither can a quick survey of my female colleagues.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I can think of numerous entry-level male employees asked to do this type of thing, but in all those cases, their jobs were receptionist, department assistant, or something else along those lines. However, you see a LOT fewer men in those jobs than women, which is one reason why it’s less common to see men being asked to do these tasks. It’s role-based, but those roles are more often filled by women.

          1. fposte*

            And I do wonder sometimes if there’s more pushback or more successful pushback by males in those roles.

            1. VintageLydia*

              IME when guys push back it seen differently then when women pushback on this type of work. Help desk can be spending half their day playing video games but they “don’t have time” to clean the kitchen but the low-level admin can be running her butt off getting things done and she’s still responsible for it, even though they may be paid around the same and the guy in IT has the time.

          2. Vera*

            Thanks for that further context, AAM. I wonder if you might speak to the other aspect of this I was thinking of. I was a child in the ’70s, and there were just so many TV show episodes with “women’s lib” themes that would have secretaries taking a stand against sexism, trying to gather the courage to do so. Things would culminate in something like next time the boss would ask them to get a cup of coffee for him, the fed up female secretary would say “Get it yourself!” I get that this manner of communicating the sentiment would be inadvisable, but really… it was drilled into my head in almost every cultural reference of the day to never ever do that kind of stuff.

            In my case, I’ve never worked in that kind of role so I never personally had to think about such things, but I do want to understand more about what you’ve explained.

            Was is, perhaps, that in those earlier “women’s lib” years women did take such stances and they were indeed applauded and considered a great response (by other female professionals, if not the men who suddenly had to get their own coffee or a birthday present for their mistress)? Then perhaps in more recent times, with a more level playing field (relatively speaking) such duties crept back into role expectations?

            Or… were those common pop culture/media representations of the time merely for “entertainment” purposes and reall never something women rose up en masse and did in the workplace?

            Thanks so much if you can shed some light!

        2. Grace*

          1) Microwave – buy one of those $2 plastic food covers to prevent splatters and store it in the microwave for everybody
          to use.
          2) We’ve instituted policies where everybody has to put
          their name and the date on anything they put in the fridge
          and Friday is clean out day when you have to toss the stuff
          you brought that’s old. (Signs posted.)
          3) Extra kitchen duties get assigned to our janitorial staff as
          part of their contract.

    2. Jazzy Red*

      No no no no no! The people who clean the office should be the ones who clean the kitchen. The might be company employees, or they might be employed by a cleaning service, but it should not be the job of the administrative assistant.

      And everyone who uses the kitchen should clean up after themselves. This is one of the biggest things I don’t miss about my former un-lamented employer (I got a Christmas card from them today, and “tore right through it, Roz”). I worked with some of the biggest slobs in the United States, and I stopped using the fridge and microwaves because they were so disgusting.

    3. A Microwave Cleaner*

      This exactly. It’s not my ‘job’ to clean out the microwave, but if its dirty I WILL do it – rather than chance having everyone’s else’s baked-on icky food particles in there with my food…so hey, if my company wants to pay me $95K a year to clean out a microwave, rather than assign it to someone, that’s on them…its not that I think it’s ‘beneath’ me to perform these tasks, but every time I have to, I’m kinda always a bit…baffled I guess, as to the lack of forethought…in actuality it sounds like this company was trying to do the responsible thing…

  2. Mere*

    Mundane tasks are also often the “responsibility” of senior staff as well at small companies. I was a Senior Project Manager for a small company of 40 employees – Guess what? No one was assigned to cleaning out the coffee pot. It was just something that we all sorta kinda just did if we saw it sitting idle. Think I liked being 32 and a Senior PM and cleaning a coffee pot? Not quite. But seeing that it was part of the office culture, I went along with the flow.

    We also didnt’ have someone that would refill the copier with paper if it was empty. We just did it.

    I think the problem is your attitude. I’m guessing you are 22 and part of the Gen-Y “gimme gimme” generation THAT I CANNOT STAND.

    1. Oderixi*

      It’s not a generational thing – it’s a person thing. You get mature 20-somethings as well as entitled 40-somethings…

      1. en pointe*

        I agree. As far as it being commonplace, I don’t think this type of reaction is generational so much as it’s related to unrealistic expectations of the workplace. Entitlement, however, knows no generational bounds.

        1. Jake*

          The only difference is that the older folks seem to think it is possible to earn the right to act entitled.

    2. FD*

      I think the problem is your attitude. I’m guessing you are 22 and part of the Gen-Y “gimme gimme” generation THAT I CANNOT STAND.


      Yes, it’s definitely true that we’re a spoiled bunch. After all, the work force was so healthy when we started graduating college. That degree we were promised would open doors? It definitely wasn’t an overpriced piece of paper. It’s not like we were told over and over by teachers, after-school specials, and books that we should “Follow our dreams.”

      A lot of us would love to have a full-time job with benefits, even if it is nothing but cleaning coffee pots.

      Frankly, considering that you pointed out that you didn’t like being a Senior Project Manager and having to clean the coffee pot, I think the fact that you’re trying to paint all Millennials as entitled and lazy is pretty absurd.

      Like any other generation, yes, many of us were morons when we graduated college. Everybody’s a moron when they’re just starting into real life. But the entitlement everyone talks about? It’s long since been knocked out of the vast majority of us by the realities of the economic climate.

        1. Jake*

          This is the comment I needed to see. I’ve thought the same thing several times recently, but not said anything and thought “maybe its just me because I don’t really see Alison or the ‘common commenters’ coming out against this with the same type of furor they do over racism and sexism, so I must just be a little over-sensitive on this one.”

          The more I see it, the more I think that there are a whole lot of people in general, and on this blog, that aren’t quite as against bigotry as they like to believe, they are just against certain kinds of it. It is a 200 comment uproar every time a sexist posts, but when it is anti-young workers it tends to be a much milder blow-up, often with many more defenders of the bigotry in these situations than there ever would be for a racist or sexist.

          Then again, it seems this thread might prove me wrong because I haven’t seen nearly as many people defending this guy as I normally do for this type of comment.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I actually see this type of thing being called out every time it occurs. I can’t think of a time that a comment like this was made and wasn’t addressed by others.

            That said, it doesn’t draw the same type of reaction as racism or sexism because it’s not the same thing as racism or sexism.

            1. Jake*

              I agree that I see it called out, but I also see a lot of statements with the implication that if younger folks didn’t act so entitled, then they wouldn’t be treated that way. I’m not sure how that is any different than saying if women didn’t act so fussy all the time, we wouldn’t treat them that way in the work place. To me, both implications are horrifying. If somebody said the latter on this blog it would be game over for them, but if somebody said the former (which I see on here sometimes) it gets a very mild reaction and even agreement sometimes.

              I’m on the fence about your second statement. Sure it isn’t as historically significant as racism and sexism. It certainly hasn’t resulted in a group of people not being able to vote or being put into slavery. However, many of the results of work-place discrimination have affected workers of a certain generation in the same way that they would a woman or a member of a certain religion or race. Sure, the discrimination against younger workers goes away as they age, but it still doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

              After writing that, I can agree that it isn’t the same, but I still think it gets down-played and justified far more than it should.

              We should all get paid and be afforded opportunities based on the results we produce and value we offer the company. All of that being relative to market value of course. There are a ton of places where that simply doesn’t happen for workers considered “too young” or “too old.” Just as it happens in some work places to women and others.

              1. fposte*

                Well, one difference is that there genuinely are developmental stages that people go through chronologically before you even get into the generational cultures, and another, as you yourself note, is that people who are discriminated against for being young will only temporarily be in that category.

                I think one thing that the media has contributed to is not only a perception that millennials are entitled but also, simultaneously, that they are struggling in an unprecedented and catastrophic way (witness somebody downthread’s comment that most millennials aren’t employed, which is fortunately very far from the truth). And neither of those are completely true, and neither of those are completely false.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yep, that’s what I came here to say — these are people complaining about things they don’t like about developmental stages (and certainly generalizing more broadly than they should).

                2. Katie the Fed*

                  I find generational discussions really interesting. I’m on the cusp between Generation X and Millenials, but I don’t really identify with either. I definitely see some differences in some of the newer employees, but a lot of them I think is more a function of youth than being part of a generation.

                  On a separate note, a few people have thrown around the term “discrimination” against Millenials and should know that while there may be discrimination, it’s not a legally protected class. Age discrimination is only a legal issue when it discrimination against people OVER a certain age (40 or 45 I believe). That seemed terribly unfair to me when I was 25.

                3. Jake*

                  I agree with the second paragraph entirely.

                  For the first paragraph, yes, but how is that any different than taking the traits of a group (say women) that are exhibited more commonly by them than other groups and generalizing that to the entire group? A significant portion of the “this person was very unprofessional” posts end up being exactly that. As I said earlier, I agree that racism and sexism are different, but the way it is applied in the work-place is similar enough that it is shocking to see people defend it that would normally attack anybody applying racism and sexism in the workplace.

                  I feel the need to point out here that in spite of my opinions on the matter, I’ve never been treated poorly because of my age or generation. In fact, both employers I’ve had since graduating college have treated young workers and older workers in the same roles with the same responsibilities and similar industry experience reasonably fairly.

                  Plus, it turns out that this comment section is proving me wrong, so I guess I don’t have a very legitimate gripe anyway.

                4. Katie the Fed*


                  The difference is that gender and race don’t affect your work performance. But some of the behaviors that I’ve seen Millenials exhibit can and do. The BEHAVIORS, not the millenials. Plenty of them don’t do these things, so they shouldn’t be lumped in. But I have seen several who do things that really hinder their professional development and they should be aware.

                  For example, one thing I’ve seen is treating interactions with superiors like negotiations – your boss tells you do something, and you think it’s a negotiation and you don’t think that’s the best use of your time and perhaps you could do this other thing that you think is better for you to do. For organizations that are hierarchical or who don’t welcome that kind of interaction, that’s not going to do you much good professionally. That’s not to say feedback is NEVER welcome, but if I get pushback every time I ask an employee to do something, it’s going to get old, fast.

                5. Jake*

                  @Katie the Fed

                  I think the reason I enjoy these kinds of discussions is that age wise I am smack dab in the middle of Gen Y, but I identify with a stereotypical 25 year old from 1995 than I do with a stereotypical 25 year old from today.

                  I still have many of the positive and negative tendencies of the average 25 year old, but people that actually know me are 100 times more likely to call me cynical than they are entitled.

                6. Jake*

                  @Katie the Fed

                  I think the reason I enjoy these kinds of discussions is that age wise I am smack dab in the middle of Gen Y, but I identify with a stereotypical 25 year old from 1995 more than I do with a stereotypical 25 year old from today.

                  I still have many of the positive and negative tendencies of the average 25 year old, but people that actually know me are 100 times more likely to call me cynical than they are entitled.

                7. Katie the Fed*

                  @Jake –
                  I have yet to come across an entitled millenial. Most of the ones I’ve met seem to be really really grateful to be employed.

                  I’ve come across the brash ones though that think they have the answers to everything and everyone should be listening to them, but isn’t that just the folly of youth and why they’re so much fun to have around? Sometimes they really do have good ideas. And sometimes they need to be put back in their box.

                8. Jake*

                  @Katie the Fed

                  “one thing I’ve seen is treating interactions with superiors like negotiations – your boss tells you do something, and you think it’s a negotiation and you don’t think that’s the best use of your time and perhaps you could do this other thing that you think is better for you to do. For organizations that are hierarchical or who don’t welcome that kind of interaction, that’s not going to do you much good professionally.”

                  I think you hit on a subtle point. I was hired 2.5 years ago along with another entry level construction engineer. I’m the type that when my boss says “clean the toilet” I’m going to do it without any push back. So was my coworker.

                  Where we differ quite significantly when the boss says, “go buy the cable tray for this electrical cable on project xyz.” My coworker is going to go do it. I’m going to study the specifications and see exactly what is called for. When I find that we are allowed to use cable tray or rigid metal conduit, I’m going to run a cost estimate to figure out which would be cheaper. Then I’m going to go to the electrical superintendent to make sure my estimate is reasonable. Then I’m going to approach my boss and see if he still wants cable tray.

                  If he says he still wants cable tray, I’ll buy it, but if he just wants something that is within our contract for a cheaper price, I’m going to buy whatever is best based on my estimate.

                  From my prospective, it is his job to know that my coworker is going to do what he is told, so put him in a situation where that is what is needed. It is also his job to know that I’m going to dig into the details before I ever do it.

                  My coworker will get more done, but he is going to miss some stuff. I’m going to get less done, but I’m not going to breeze through anything. As a result he has put us in pretty different roles where we can both be successful.

                  I’m sure I would come across to many bosses as somebody that is “pushing back” or “negotiating” too much, but that is there job to take advantage of my work style, right?

            2. nancy*

              I’m a janitor in an office I clean the floor everything was clean this lady job for coffee and next week to clean it. My job

          2. voluptuousfire*

            Just sayin’ but at 32, the Senior PM commenter actually falls under the Millenial banner.

            So technically you’re talking about your generation. :D

          3. A cita*

            I be honest, I have rarely seen mention of the entitled, bratty gen y stereotype until I started reading here. Most of the gen y stereotypes I heard about had to do with social networking and connecting. I wonder if I see it more here because of the nature of this blog, i.e., the frustrations are higher; the reactions, more stringent because so many are struggling in their careers or job search in this economy.

            That said, I also notice that each and every time someone has made a negative comment about gen y’s, they’ve been called out (that I’ve seen).

            I don’t like ageism in any form, but I agree it’s not the same as racism or sexism. But do we really need to compare them anyway? I think we could address ageism on it’s own (and I think we do). I can see how demoralizing comments about entitlement can be when you are already struggling and so are many of your peers.

      1. Anon*

        Thank you. I’m so sick of hearing that.

        Hey! I have an idea! Since I’m so “entitled”, why don’t you pay my crushing student loans for my worthless Bachelor’s degree? That would make me exceptionally grateful. Oh wait, I’m never grateful.

        1. Felicia*

          +1 I would be grateful for any sort of job that pays above minimum wage. And I only want above minimum wage slightly, so I can pay my student loans for that bachelors degree that even coffee pot cleaning jobs require for some reason, and because in this region you can’t support yourself on minimum wage. Its the same for man of my peers who graduated in this economy. Far from having expectations to high, because of the state of the world we graduated into,, none of us have expectations anymore. Unless getting a job that will allow me to support myself, that’s maybe a step above something my 15 year old sister could get makes me entitled?

          1. De Minimis*

            Also, it’s not like only younger people are having to deal with student loan debt. Many people from various age groups went back to school and took out loans, and a lot of them have had trouble finding work during the recession. It is not just a Millennial problem by any means.

          2. VintageLydia*

            Even STEM grads have a tough time finding jobs so what does it matter at this point? You can’t even get a dead-end reception job without a 4-year degree anymore so no matter what you studied it seems like you’re stuck at minimum wage for 5+ years.

      2. steve G*

        thank you. I am also 32 and so sick of people labeling generations. I hate the millenial label. It was useful when we were little kids and were hypothesizing about how cool it would be to be the last year to graduate in the 1900s. But being that we are 14 years into the new millenium, the term “millenial” needs to drop. The term is now going back to include people born in ’77, I’ve seen in some articles. So now someone who grew up without internet at home or a cell phone until the were in college or later and grew up on the bubbly pop of the 80s is grouped with people born in the 90s that grew up on the internet etc. That makes no sense. That is why label are not good!

      3. Eric*

        *clap clap*

        I’m BARELY a Millennial–born in 1980–and I have quite a few younger friends. They all have great work ethics, are extremely educated… and can barely find work that supports them.

      4. De Minimis*

        I remember a lot of the same complaints being directed at Gen-X people when we entered the workforce. I think every generation thinks the next one has poor work habits.

        I had the experience of doing a career change in early middle age so I became entry-level again at the same time as many of the Gen-Yers. From what I’ve seen, I don’t believe there’s really any significant difference how they approach work.

    3. Anonymous*

      A lot of Gen-Y’ers do multiple unpaid/poorly paid internships that include mundane tasks in order to become qualified for entry-level positions. That’s a “gimme gimme” attitude?

      I can see why the letter writer might be put off by having to “clean” the office kitchen, depending on what was meant by “clean.” Neatening up (sweeping, wiping things down with an antibacterial cloth, throwing out spoiled food) seems reasonable for an entry level person to do. A thorough cleaning (mopping, emptying the fridge and scrubbing down the whole inside) might be less reasonable since they’re probably wearing dressy/business attire.

      1. Jessa*

        True, except for the fridge kind of thing however, the person making the mess in the microwave, drinking the last coffee, spilling something on the counter; should be the one actually cleaning it, refilling it, mopping it up. That’s what adults do, they clean up after themselves.

        1. Ann Furthermore*

          Well you would think that, but it amazes me how many people don’t. I always clean up after myself. I make oatmeal for breakfast sometimes in the office microwave, and sometimes it bubbles over. And what do I do? I take 10 seconds to grab a paper towel and wipe up the mess. But some people are so clueless — they just assume someone else will do it and go on their way.

          1. fposte*

            The one that makes me crazy in our office kitchen is the people who put their dirty dishes in the sink, or wash the dishes but then leave them on the counter. So they’ve thought about their obligation enough to understand that they can’t just keep the dirty dish in their office, but apparently they still believe there’s some kitchen genie who washes dishes and puts them away for the humans.

        2. Anonymous*

          It’s totally true that people should clean up their own messes, but they often don’t, so if someone *has* to be tasked to do it, I think it makes sense to ask entry level people to do light cleaning.

          I volunteered at a non-profit for a few years. The staff and (adult) volunteers absolutely never cleaned up their messes and always left food to spoil in the fridge (including spoiled milk that ended up spilling all over the floor when someone opened the fridge). Really frustrating. Me and another volunteer cleaned up, asked the supervisor to talk to everyone about cleaning their own messes, and we left a sign on the fridge, coffee-maker and microwave as a reminder. Nothing changed, except people commented on how disgusting everything got. Also had problems with people leaving half empty soda cans and plates with crumbs in the work areas. I really don’t understand people. =/

    4. The Clerk*

      These days you can’t even be a senior project manager by age 32 because it requires a master’s degree and ten years of progressive experience at the same company, but with salary increases you can only get by switching companies (and please bring copies of all performance reviews to the interview). It sounds like you were the one who had something handed to her and didn’t appreciate it.

      1. en pointe*

        I don’t know if that’s fair either given we don’t know her skills, company, industry or even country. Making judgements about people or groups is easy to do, but it’s unlikely to be particularly nuanced and doesn’t necessarily make the generaliser look insightful.

    5. Anonymous*

      You know most millennials are unemployed, right? And would love to clean up after your messes if it meant having a (minimum wage) job.

        1. Emma*

          Which millenials are we talking about? Unemployment among youth ages 14-24 in developed countries is about 20%, according to the International Labor Organization. It goes as high as 30% for our Middle Eastern friends and as low as 9.4% for our South Asian friends.

          So, no, *most* millenials aren’t unemployed (unless you live in Armenia, where youth unemployment is over 50%) but a big chunk of the young population in many regions are.

          That’s not just a problem for the individuals themselves at that point but has tremendous repercussions for their personal financial security over their lifetime and their country’s economic health.

          1. fposte*

            You’re right, globally it’s a different matter, though even there it’s still not accurate to say that most millennials aren’t employed, as your figures show–neither 20% nor 30% are “most.”

            However, I was talking about the U.S., which I should have made clearer. While the number of unemployed is higher among millennials than in some other categories, and we’re of course not factoring in underemployment and financial shortfalls in light of loans, it remains inaccurate to say that most millennials, in the U.S. or globally, aren’t employed.

              1. fposte*

                And since I don’t know your country, obviously I don’t know what the millennial employment rates are there–Spain, for instance, does have an unemployment rate of over 50% for millennials. However, it’s still not true globally that most millennials are unemployed.

                The other problem with summing things up in those terms is that it makes employment a binary. Employed millennials have a long-term economic wound from their longer job searches, coupled with considerably lower income prospects in available jobs. In countries where education loans are the norm, they’ve got a pile of debt on top of it. Then you have their parents, whose own prospects have dimmed, whose retirement support has diminished, and whose own parents need more aid at the same time their kids are relying on their parents in the face of the economy’s strain.

                Nobody’s getting out of this one for free.

    6. Jake*

      I’m sick of Gen X’s condescending “holier than thou” attitude too.

      Not really, just making a point.

      1. Mints*

        I am sick of it. But at least I understand that not all Gen Xers are like that. I can say “I hate reading articles by Gen Xers complaining about millenials” without making it sound like I’m implying it’s the entire generation. You could also say “I hate entitlement / gimme attitudes” without making 22 year olds feel defensive.

    7. A Teacher*

      22 would be a millennial, (cnn defines millenials as 18-29, 30-36 are the gen ys) but I also don’t think it’s fair to label a full generation based on one person. We all do mundane tasks not assigned to us…sweeping my classroom, picking up trash, cleaning tables, filling the copier, etc…it’s just an unwritten part of the job.

      1. en pointe*

        I thought Gen Y and Millennial were synonymous? I can’t see a generation encompassing only 6 years.

          1. HR lady*

            BTW generational labels like that are based on the years when they were born, not necessarily their ages. So currently millenials might be aged 18-29 [or whatever – I don’t actually have it memorize], but in 20 years, they’ll still be millenials even though they’re 28-49. I just wanted to make that little point.

    8. JCDC*

      Wednesday bagel duty! I literally had that in my first job :)

      Anyhoo, I don’t think it’s generational. I’m part of that generation and neither I nor the other assistants at said job got all worked up over said bagel duty. I mean, it was irksome and I’m glad to have aged out of it, but no more so that a number of other office things.

    9. Ann Furthermore*

      The only thing I haven’t seen addressed in this string is refilling the copier. I understand that it’s mostly administrative/clerical type staff that get tasked with the more menial duties of cleaning out the microwave and fridge, but I would never put refilling the paper tray in the copier/printer in this category. Everyone uses the printer, and when it’s out of paper it takes almost no time to open a few reams of paper and restock the tray. I will say that if a toner cartridge needs to be changed, I’ll let someone who knows how to change it do it, because that’s tricky.

      1. Jamie*

        Paper tray should be like the toilet paper roll, whoever uses the last replaces it so as to not leave the next person in trouble.

        I agree on toner, that stuff can be a mess and should only be done by someone who knows what they’re doing. I’d have no problem telling the receptionist it needs toner, but I’d never ask someone to fill a paper tray.

  3. Lacey*

    I don’t think it’s generational, I am nearly 40 and honestly, if my first job had included cleaning the kitchen I would have the same response. Yep, maybe this isn’t the right attitude, maybe I’m not enough of a team player, I get the feeling there are people reading this who will think both of those things. But I’ve never worked in a company with 50 employees or more that didn’t also have a cleaner to do this type of thing at least once a week – I’m currently working in a satellite office with 25 people that also takes care of it. Emptying and loading the dishwasher, buying more milk, wiping the bench, I’m happy to do all of that and always have been. Cleaning the kitchen? Sorry, I’m with OP on this one.

    1. TychaBrahe*

      I’m nearly 50, and my first job included taking the water cooler bottles home, stopping at a machine on the way to work to refill them, and lugging them up to the second floor.

      I’m often the one who puts away clean dishes or cleans out the fridge. Sometimes I can’t make the code do what I want it to, and ten minutes of manual labor or sorting through bottles of salad dressing checking expiration dates clears my brain.

      1. Chinook*

        TychaBrae I have to agree that sometimes doing the mundane but necessary work is a good way to reset the brain. Plus, when all levels of a company do it, it breeds a level of good will and let’s people know that no work should be beneath them. But,like AAM said, it is also about appropriate use of company resources. An assistants time costs less than a manager’s time (usually), so why shouldn’t they be expected to do this type of work? It is possible that this type of cleaning is delegated to everyone at the assistant level and the HR assistants job includes the microwave. They probably mention it in the interview as a way to screen out employees who don’t understand. The importance of “and other tasks as assigned.”

        BTW I do agree that people should clean the microwave after they use it if there is a mess, but sometimes there is no mess and it just needs a general cleaning.

      2. anon*

        My (entry-level) job includes some things like this. It really can clear your brain when you need it to. If I’m stuck on a project, the little chores around the office are just the kind of short break and distraction that helps.

    2. Felicia*

      All the office jobs I’ve had either had a janitor who did this sort of thing, or at smaller offices, we took turns which seemed more fair. But everyone across all generations didn’t know how the work world functioned at their first jobs, because it was their FIRST job. You can’t expect people to know how it all works right away, and i’m sure anyone who blames it on a generation was exactly the same at 22.

      1. fposte*

        I totally agree. (And that’s where age does tend to make a difference because it correlates with experience.) Many of us, though, are definitely well aware of how much of this stuff we messed up on or took a while to figure out in our early careers!

    1. ExceptionToTheRule*

      A lot of places are like that. We have 100+ employees and a part-time janitor who doesn’t have time to vacuum, let alone clean up after people in the kitchen and break room areas.

      1. De Minimis*

        Could be worse, we have housekeeping contractors that won’t keep things clean….and we’re a medical facility! Apparently it’s gone on for years and involves a lot of political BS that may not ever be resolved.

    2. fposte*

      I’ve never been in a workspace where the inside of the kitchen appliances was the janitor’s job. I’m sure there are some, but it’s pretty common for it not to be.

      1. De Minimis*

        I used to work in a large office building and they had facilities staff who were responsible for cleaning out the fridges once a week, but they just threw stuff away.

        1. Cat*

          Yeah, the “what gets thrown away” question was the first thing I thought of re why the fridge clean-out would be assigned to the HR assistant. My office does something similar even though we do have janitorial staff that comes in every night. The reason is that she’s responsible for enforcing the “if it doesn’t have your name and the date on it by 3pm on Friday, it’s gone” rule. It’s a lot easier for someone who’s actually in the office to go through and say “okay, that’s the leftovers from that catered lunch; they’ll keep till Monday; Jane’s salad dressing is old but won’t go bad; that milk is the office communal milk” and only throw away the things that are leftovers that will otherwise molder. I doubt it’s her favorite part of the job but it does make the office fridge vastly more usable for everyone.

          I don’t know about the rest of the kitchen, but I wouldn’t take the existence of that duty to mean that it is only being cleaned once a week by the HR assistant unless I knew that for sure.

          1. The gold digger*

            There is a self-appointed fridge cleaner in my office who threw away my coffee a few weeks ago. I was so cranky – I buy coffee about once a week as a treat and I get the large size so I can enjoy it over two days. (I know, the coffee purists are screaming, but I get a latte and you don’t notice the staleness as much that way.)

            Anyhow. My name was on the cup and it had been in the break room fridge for one night. I went to get it and it was gone.

            I stormed to a friend and said, “Someone threw away my coffee! I can’t believe it!”

            My friend said, “I have seen Maeve throw away coffee! She looked at Miranda’s coffee one day, said, ‘This is old,’ and just tossed it!”

            I said, “But Miranda does the same thing I do – she gets the large and spreads it out over two days.”

            My friend said, “I was so shocked, I couldn’t even say anything. Then Miranda found out and she was furious.”

            Don’t be Maeve. Don’t throw away something that does not belong to you unless there are clear rules about discarding items in the communal fridge. Don’t be a jerk.

            1. fposte*

              I’d go for an “it depends.” I’ve had lunch leftovers tossed in the same situation, and while I prefer an advance announcement (which we usually do get), ultimately my notion is that unless I’m willing to take over the job myself, I really can’t bitch about how it gets done.

            2. Cat*

              We do have clear rules. I’m not sure a cup would make it though, unless it was sealed; the chance of someone knocking that over and making a huge mess of the entire fridge seems really high.

              1. the gold digger*

                It was sealed. It had my name. She was acting on her own. When there is the big cleaning (about once a quarter), they always post a note to take your stuff home. She (I think) just randomly threw out my sealed coffee because she thought it had been in there too long.

            3. Judy*

              I have to admit that I’ve tossed things, but they were things clearly abandoned. I put up a note on Dec 16 saying anything that didn’t have a name on it with a date by 2pm on Dec 20 would be tossed.

              I tossed out some yogurt from 2010. I tossed out some thawed microwave meals from 2012. I tossed out a small milk container with an expiration date of June 2013. I tossed out a few plastic “keepers” that I’m pretty sure had been there since I moved to this part of the office in July.

              It was obvious over the week that everyone was tossing their own things, because the fridge was much emptier on Friday afternoon. And some things had names put on them.

              1. Judy*

                I should say that the standard company policy at this company is each area posted a schedule of cleaning. It rotated weekly, everyone was included, and the fridge was sorted out at 2pm on Fridays. I’m not sure why the manager of the group near where I sit now is not following policy.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          That’s how it is at my job–Facilities takes care of all that and they warn you in plenty of time. We have people who come in after hours and clean/restock bathroom and kitchen paper towels, run the dishwasher, etc. (I like to call them house elves). Same at Exjob–the after-hours cleaning crew took care of the fridge. I STILL clean up after myself, because I wasn’t raised in a barn.

      2. en pointe*

        Yeah, we have a weekly cleaning service but they certainly don’t throw food away or wipe out the coffee pot – those are my duties.

        We actually used to have a cleaner who would always wash up anything lying around (despite being told not to bother as it’s supposed to be done by individual staff) but wouldn’t do it properly. And so I used to go wash up everything I could find before the cleaners arrived. I guess I have an irrationally strong visceral reaction to lipstick marks on cups.

      3. JCDC*

        Ditto. At one of my past jobs (30-40 employees), the building had a cleaning staff, but their main responsibilities were trash and vacuuming. The office manager handled the dishes and the fridge-related business.

    3. fposte*

      This question also reminds me that I think we often duck the class issues around this problem. It’s not like cleaning the microwave becomes magically delightful if your job title is different and that it’s okay to leave messes in the microwave as long as the person cleaning it up doesn’t have administrative status. And presumably most of us manage to clean out our home microwaves now and then rather than leaving it entirely to our kitchenmaids. It’s a problem if you’re expected to perform messy tasks at the same time you’re expected to wear mess-vulnerable clothing, but otherwise it’s not a task anybody’s above.

  4. jesicka309*

    Reading all the old comments really shows the divide – half are completely indignant on behalf of the OP, the other half are up on their high horse telling stories of paying their ‘dues’. It’s fascinating, especially considering this post was from 2010 in the height of the recession.
    I think that if your role has ‘assistant’ in it, or your job function is to ‘assist’ or ‘support’ a person or team, then you could be asked to do anything. If you’re the only person with a role of that nature, sure, too bad, you’ll be the only person asked to do the crappy jobs. But that’s the nature of ‘assisting’ someone. If you don’t like it, go into a specialised field where you aren’t in a support staff role, or suck it up and work hard to get promoted above support staff. Don’t just complain that you’re being asked to support the office. An assistant’s role IS to support the broader office, the OP has lost sight of this.

    1. fposte*

      I read the comments a little differently, in that I saw less about paying dues and more about jobs having stuff in them that you don’t like and that’s the way it goes–not so much “what did you expect at your age?” and more “ehh, that’s part of working.” But I agree with your take on the assignment, and I’m reminded of the related post on AAM about coffee making–I won’t post the link in case Alison isn’t modding, but it’s called “I have my whole career thanks to my willingness to make the coffee.”

  5. L Anon*

    I think probably also comes down to “how do you define cleaning out?” Cleaning out the refrigerator is a once a year thing for me, because it is such a big job and involves baking soda and water and sponges and lots of towels. No way that’s happening once a week. But they probably mean “going through and throwing stuff out”. Not clear.

    Microwaves are easier, you just boil some water in it and then wipe it down. But, still, easier when folks are being considerate about their usage.

    I’m just thankful that no one ever asked me to do this kind of cleaning work. I don’t want to be The Bad Guy in the office for throwing their food out, or to have building resentment growing for That One Guy Who Is A Pig In The Microwave. My anxiety disorder does not need these complications.

    1. Anonymous*

      Everywhere I’ve worked the fridge has been thoroughly cleaned weekly – like your once a year clean. It was really excessive but the janitors did it.

    2. The gold digger*

      Really, what is it with people who will not cover their food in the microwave? When we moved into our house, the oven was pristine because the previous owner had never used it. But the microwave was disgusting – it looks like he had warmed something with tomato sauce and cheese every day for two years and had not once covered it.

  6. IronMaiden*

    I’m fine with doing ongoing jobs that everyone should od if necessary, such as washing a coffee cup or two or filling the copier with paper. I did however take huge exception the time my manager tried to make those on third shift responsible for routine filing duties when there was an admin to take care of that. My colleagues and I were highly qualified and paid professionals who had serious responsibilities to address, rather than being chastised because we didn’t have time to do the filing. Besides, we were a union facility and filing didn’t fall within the scope of our duties.

  7. Jennifer*

    I’m 31 and the head of a department and I’m the official toilet plunger of the building. The only other staff member who will clean up messes of this kind is 60 and also a department head. We all take turns cleaning the kitchen, even the director. We’re a small library (16 employees). It does make a difference that I’m the head of the children’s department probably (I did delegate the weekly disinfecting of the play area and cleaning of the hamster cage to my teenage aide) and that I pretty much volunteered for the toilet plunging just to get it dealt with. I’ve been cleaning stuff since before I started officially working when I was 13, doesn’t bother me. Then again, I have no professional dignity, so it’s probably a good thing I don’t work in an office…

    1. Chinook*

      Professional dignity? What’s that? (Says the woman who knows the tricks to detaining coffee cups (denture tabs) and how to change toner in a white shirt without wearing it (technique)).

        1. Chinook*

          Nope, even topless, that would just mean toner on white skin, which stains and makes it look like I got into a fight with the copier. Plus, no one really wants to see that.

          1. Jennifer*

            Ha! I have perfected the plunge ‘n’ leap, to keep exploding toilets from cutting my work day short…

  8. Jennifer*

    That being said, on the other side of the argument, I almost never shelve and this has sometimes been a point of contention. It’s not that I feel I’m “above” shelving – I’ve done plenty of it in my life and expect to do plenty more. It’s that I’m being paid $20 an hour to run the department and everything that goes with it, while other staff are being paid $8 an hour to shelve. I don’t feel it devalues me or my degree or anything like that, but it’s not a wise use of time and resources to use my more “expensive” time for these tasks that everybody can do instead of the things that only I can do. But that’s a determination your employer has to make – and you have to decide what level of time-value you can live with.

    1. Jamie*

      This. This point gets missed a lot, but it’s not about being above certain things…it’s about the best use of resources.

      No one is more valuable than anyone else as a person, everyone’s time doesn’t have an equal dollar value.

      That said, everyone cleaning up after themselves is just something adults should so so there shouldn’t be long term spills, etc. to contend with for the person charged with tidying up.

    2. The gold digger*

      By that standard, you should not be plunging the toilet, either. I agree that the job should flow to the lowest-paid person who can do it. I would not be pleased to learn that the director at my library, funded by my taxes, is plunging toilets, as that is a misuse of resources. (And I was a library volunteer for a year – I shelved. It’s a crummy job, but you don’t need an MLS to do it – you just have to understand the alphabet.)

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        It’s possible that she is the lowest paid person who can plunge the toilet. In my experience, it appears to be a skill that not every one has.

      2. Jamie*

        The toilet thing, it depends on the amount of time and how often it comes up. I think of toilet plunging as a couple of times a year at best, and it takes minutes. The amount of salary above the lower paid person for moments a year – it’s immaterial.

        I would definitely be expected to plunge the toilet if it went crazy rather than letting the mess fester or get worse while I found someone (it would take more time for me to track someone down, negating the salary savings) …but my boss would be not happy if I was spending my time vacuuming or opening and sorting the mail every day.

        Infrequent emergencies are different than routine tasks.

        1. fposte*

          Right. I also think there’s an ownership component that’s getting overlooked here. When something goes wrong in the space where my unit exists, I’m not going to just assume it will get handled by somebody elsewhere, because it’s my space, and a leaky pipe or gum on the carpet is my problem. One of the reasons kitchens end up as battlegrounds is because there isn’t that kind of ownership–it’s the “everybody’s problem is nobody’s problem” thing.

          1. Jamie*

            Exactly, although peer pressure and culture can help a lot in this regard.

            When the expected behavior is universal regarding cleaning your own spills, putting own dishes in dishwasher, replacing toilet paper in bathroom, etc. when someone comes in who doesn’t do it it sticks out and they are peer pressured into conforming.

            Like the fridge thing were discussing. Every month our receptionist sends an email about fridge clean out and she goes and tosses anything not labeled per instructions. It takes minutes, if that, because there is nothing to wipe or scrub – and usually nothing to pitch.

            People who use company dishes rinse when done and put in dishwasher. The one who puts in the dish that fills it starts it, and if not full the receptionist starts it at end of day. The dish users take turns emptying it.

            I don’t keep anything in fridge or use dishes there, so I don’t involved myself…but when we had a Leaver-of-Dishes-in-Sink we all knew about it. The owner made it really clear it wasn’t the receptionists job to rinse their cereal bowls.

            Not sure it would work as well in a larger office, but in a small office where you have even fewer users of the kitchen who are tidy the lone offender becomes a pariah.

      3. Jennifer*

        yeaaah, well it was a Thing. See, we have a cleaning service that comes in at night, but they don’t plunge toilets, b/c if it turns out the toilet is seriously plugged, there’s no one to call and you come in and find exploded toilet in the morning, or something – they’ll clean up the bathrooms, but they won’t plunge. We were calling the city workers, who got understandably annoyed when the toilets just needed a quick plunge ‘n’ flush (and they don’t work after 3pm anyways). We only have four full-time staff, so it’s not like you can assign a single person from the part-time and anyways most of them (including my director) were like EWWW NO. I didn’t care, so, whatever. I don’t clean up, mind you – I give it the old plunging try and if it explodes or overflows put up an out of order sign and the city guys bring out the snakes etc. and the cleaning people do the heavy-duty disinfectant. I usually have to plunge a couple times a month, although in some bad weeks it’s been almost daily. I’m just grateful that’s all I have to do – I have friends in small libraries who have to clean up the urine/feces etc. I don’t do that. (well, not from the bathrooms anyways…)

  9. Jake*

    We have an easy distinction on my current job for this. It is a government contract and we are required by contract, and therefore law since there are federal laws when it comes to federal contracts, to use union labor. Well, the laborer union claimed all janitorial duties as part of their labor agreement with out project.

    Staff gets in trouble for “cleaning the kitchen.”

    On a completely separate note, there is another reason why having staff members cleaning may not be a great idea, even if it is common place. If you are in a non-union environment, it is often cheaper to hire a full time “janitor” (or if there isn’t enough janitorial work to justify the title call them something else) and have them as an admin/janitor dual role. It will be cheaper to do this than to make a higher paid HR assistant do the work. This is assuming an HR assistant is an entry level position starting at 40k+ a year I guess. If that HR assistant is more like a $10/hr position, my point is either invalid, or they are simply calling their admin/janitor an HR assistant.

    There are cost saving opportunities like this in most offices because people don’t look outside of the “well it has always been this way” line of thinking. What is most cost effective for a 5 person office won’t be as cost effective once that office has ballooned to 25 people.

    1. Lora*


      Just hire it done. Seriously. It will save you time, money, and stress headaches. Before I hired someone to clean and re-fill copier paper and fuss at the travel arrangement contractor and stock shelves, we spent a LOT of money on engineers and scientists (who are paid 80k – 130k depending on experience, skills, etc) doing this stuff instead of discovering and designing things, and I spent hours every week listening to this one complain about that one leaving a moldy sandwich in the fridge and un-clogging toilets (because NOBODY was willing to use a plunger and bleach, other than me, apparently).

      Hired it done. Everyone was happy. She even kept the closet in the break room stocked with snacks. Eventually we made a career path for her in purchasing/receiving so she had a chance to move up (she was SUPER detail-oriented), and then we got another person to do that stuff.

      1. fposte*

        Do you think people would have been willing to take a salary hit for that? That would be the issue in a lot of places–they could hire somebody but the expense would mean no raises for a couple of years, say.

        1. Jake*

          Then it would be a horribly run place.

          The fact that you now have your engineers and scientists being more productive since they don’t have to do those tasks will add more value to the office.

          If that doesn’t end up being the case, then you have much bigger problems than cleaning the kitchen.

          1. fposte*

            It might be a horribly run place, but it’s still pretty common for personnel budgets to be so tight that adding another budget line would affect the group. There’s nothing special about engineers and scientists there–plenty of them work at universities on on federal grants, after all. And I wasn’t asking rhetorically–I have lots of perks at my job that I have instead of money, and I could see this being one of them for some people. So would it be worth it to you?

            1. Jake*

              I’ve got a two part response, the first answering your question, the second with some more writing.

              1. I work in an office without a kitchen. We have 120+ people with 4 microwaves and paper plates with plastic utensils. We have a union janitor because we are not allowed to sweep, vacuum, clean out the microwaves, etc. That being the case I can’t say from experience.

              However, being a low level engineer, I would probably advocate for a “let’s be adults and just clean up our own ***-**** messes people.” Then I would quit using the microwave, so I wouldn’t have to clean it up.

              2. If you can’t show that hiring the janitor is going to make you more productive, therefore able to serve larger/more accounts, then the boss either sucks at their job or the amount of time spent on these tasks is so minimal that you wouldn’t have to tell somebody in an interview that they will spend an hour a week cleaning.

              If it has reached the level where this actually matters to the workers, then chances are there is a more cost effective way to handle this that will end up making your office more money in the big picture any way.

              1. fposte*

                Part of my point is that a lot of what’s behind this is org and sector culture. Jennifer above unplugs her toilets, because she’s a youth services librarian and therefore a clogged toilet is a serious disaster where she works, and cities aren’t prepared to pay for a staff plumber for libraries; it’s not a question of just hiring somebody because her time is more valuable spent elsewhere. Your expectations align more with profitable private sector organizations, but even there the actual ability to hire and expectations for individual contributions are variable. So going in with the notion that it’s badly run if they don’t have the money to save the engineers from having to clean up after themselves is both unrealistic and culture-deaf in many situations.

                1. Jake*

                  You are 100% correct. I work in a for-profit culture where the mission is to make money without doing anything illegal. Anything that you can show works towards that goal is going to be approved, in an ideal world.

                  That being said, I think the library example falls squarely in the “not significant enough to justify hiring out” court simply because what are the chances that she is plunging toilets 10 hrs/wk? My entire point is dependent on having enough of this work available to make it cost effective, not just making it so that engineers and librarians are not required to clean up.

                2. fposte*

                  And in the OP’s query we’re talking an hour a week. I don’t see it making sense to hire somebody for that either.

                3. Lora*

                  If it’s an hour a week, can they combine their needs with other companies in the office park or whatever and hire someone to do it as a group?

                  That said, there are plenty of maid service places that will come in and clean once a week.

                  To Jake’s point, if you’re hiring engineers and scientists, you have the money even if you aren’t profitable–you have investor backing who will pay for that as part of overhead. I’d have a really hard time swallowing the “we can’t afford a cleaning service” complaint if I knew that there were financial management specialists, patent attorneys and other fabulously-compensated folks on staff. It would cost the equivalent of an executive lunch meeting. But yes, it is totally culture.

                4. fposte*

                  @Lora–no, there are definitely places with scientists and engineers that don’t have investor backing, either. You’re still thinking for-profit, I suspect.

                  (My brother always cleaned his own rumen fluid :-).)

              2. Lora*

                “However, being a low level engineer, I would probably advocate for a “let’s be adults and just clean up our own ***-**** messes people.” Then I would quit using the microwave, so I wouldn’t have to clean it up.”

                As a principle/lead engineer, I really really wish this actually worked, but it totally doesn’t. Worse, the smartest, best designer on your team who totally deserves ALL THE BONUSES is also the lazy bugger who left no less than six moldy half-eaten sandwiches in the fridge.

                It is true though, that if it really matters to people, it’s a problem worth solving. I find this is a universal truth.

                1. fposte*

                  Yeah, that’s the problem. You will never be able to get everybody to do their share, and a solution that depends on that will fail.

                2. Jake*

                  He asked if I’d take a hit for it, not what I’d do if I were in charge. I wouldn’t take a hit to get a service I don’t use.

                  As far as what I’d do if it were my decision, I don’t have a clue without being put into a situation and knowing all the details along with the personalities involved.

        2. Lora*

          Not a big hit, no. We had the money and were planning on hiring regardless, so it was a non-issue for us.

          In most of the places I’ve worked, the money exists, somewhere, and if it doesn’t exist then the business is in real danger and I start looking for another job. It’s a matter of finding out who has the money and making it worth their while to give me some. Their fridges aren’t getting cleaned out either, and they don’t like plunging toilets any more than I do, it’s an easy sell. Easiest argument is: “what if an investor/client/auditor/visiting politician saw that?” but failing that, “we weren’t able to complete (project) because we spent 50 man-hours cleaning stuff” also works.

      2. Chinook*

        Unfortunately, this type of support person is the first to go when there are budget cuts because they don’t bring value to the company and the work can be delegated elsewhere. That was why, before I started, engineers spent too much time creating purchase order requests, managers spent evenings chasing invoices from vendors and no one had time to verify contractor insurance. I wish more TPTB would realize the economy of hiring to free people to do their core responsibilities rather than only the value a position brings to the bottom line (because assistants will always be an expense that can’t be fully charged to someone).

  10. AB*

    I can see both sides of the coin. I have been an entry level assistant, and had to put up with a number of menial tasks that were annoying. But it does depend entirely on the task, the job and on the office environment. If the office is more casual and more “do it yourself” with others in the office taking on similar tasks, then it isn’t much of a problem. However, I too would be wary of being the only person in the office who is assigned such chores. It’s one thing if everyone pitches in and takes on tasks like this, it’s another if you’re the only person in the office who handles these tasks and you’re constantly being called on to clean up spills, plunge toilets or change light bulbs. The title “assistant” does not signify office custodian. If you want an assistant that handles his or her job professionally, then you need to do them the favor of treating them professionally.
    As an assistant, I didn’t mind helping out with things like changing the copy paper, getting the mail, ordering lunch or making sure the conference room was set up/ cleaned up before and after big meetings, or the year end clean out of the storage closet. But I definitely would have balked at being handed a scrub brush or a mop on a weekly basis. (There was one time I was handed a paint brush to “touch up” some scuffs and said no. It was an office where the dress requirements was business professional and I was wearing pantyhose and heels.)

  11. steve G*

    I’m in a mid-level job earning in the $70Ks and I still water the plants, re-stock toilet paper and papertowels, change the water in the water cooler, and now do water changes for the office fish. The last one annoys me because I didn’t want the fish, but someone needs to do those other tasks as they come up, you can’t wait for a cleaner to come in once or twice a week if the sink is dirty now.

    I think many office’s don’t fall into the above case laid out by Lora. There is not the volume of this type of work to support a full time employee in most offices.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But it’s generally not sensible or even possible to hire a contractor to do tasks that are really 5 minutes here and 10 minutes there, a handful of times a week.

            1. Lora*

              Sometimes true, sometimes not. It doesn’t take the coffee lady more than 5 minutes/day to come fill up all the K-cups in the break room, in fact she’s in and out within a couple of minutes. But, the coffee company serves the whole entire office park. So between 15 companies and 5 buildings, it works out.

              I just hate hate HATE it when companies cry poor about this stuff, then have a lavish holiday party or redecorate the executive offices. It’s such a morale-killer. And, as fposte noted above, people friggin’ NEVER clean up after themselves, it always seems to fall on a few people, frequently women. It’s not a massive investment. It’s a line item you can have auto-billed like electricity and water. If you’re hurting that hard for money, *in the for-profit sector*, you have very serious issues.

              Though I will point out that Harvard, Brandeis, MIT, UMass and BU do in fact have cleaning staff. :) Depends on the size of your non-profit.

              1. fposte*

                We have cleaning staff at our university too, but they’re not tasked with cleaning inside appliances, and I suspect there might be a union restriction involved.

  12. Katie the Fed*

    Here’s where I have an issue with this. I agree with this statement completely:

    “It’s not unusual for fairly low-level positions to include some miscellaneous duties like this (particularly for a job like HR assistant, since in a lot of offices HR — rightly or wrongly — gets a lot of random office work, like organizing the holiday party and so forth).”

    However, the unfortunate reality is that those types of jobs are also often staffed by women (especially HR and other admin roles, at least where I work) so companies essentially perpetuate women doing “women’s work” that’s outside of their regular job duties, which I don’t think is particularly beneficial overall.

    I’d be curious to know how many of the party planners and designated fridge cleaners and lunch picker-uppers in most of the commenters’ offices are women. My guess is most of them. Just something to be cognizant of when assigning these tasks.

    And I’m not looking for sexism or bias in these things, I just think it’s something for managers to be aware of – we don’t want to inadvertently reinforce gender stereotypes in these types of roles.

    1. fposte*

      Yeah, that’s my problem too–it’s not necessarily direct sexism, but there’s certainly indirect sexism. Unfortunately, you’re not likely to strike a blow for equality by refusing to tackle an entry level expectation, so the OP’s stand is not really an effective place for pushback–as you suggest, it’s more an administrative awareness.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I worked in an office once where I was the only woman. I usually made the coffee in the morning because I’m the kind of person who likes to make coffee for everyone. It didn’t bother me too much at the time. But then other things started to -like any group activities I would be assigned as the notetaker, they’d expect me to plan parties, things like that. I just stopped doing them. I didn’t make a big deal, but just said something like “I’ve been doing this thing for a while, time for someone else to take advantage of the opportunity.” There are ways to share the love without making it a Big Deal.

    2. Mints*

      This is important! I think it’s interesting to imagine what it would have been like if computer programming had remained women’s work. Would IT have become the miscellaneous housekeeping department?

  13. mel*

    I don’t understand what is so difficult about wiping down a microwave after each use, or not leaving random crap in the fridge. Why does someone have to be assigned to do these things for others?

    That said, there are lots of people, even those in their 60s who have been at the same job for over a decade, who have to clean vomit out of toilets every morning. A weekly microwave is nothing.

    1. Trillian*

      As a one-time lab rat who worked surrounded by young blokes who believed themselves immortal, I’d much rather deal with spilled coffee and a bit of mold in the microwave than mutagens and radioactivity. I have a low threshold for gloving up before dealing with messes even now, but I no longer look around for the Geiger counter.

  14. Ann Furthermore*

    I can see both sides of this argument. No, you don’t want to spend your time doing stuff like this, but someone has to do it, and there may not be enough need/budget/resources/whatever to hire someone else to perform those specific duties.

    This is hard to explain, but if this kind of thing were part of my job, it would come down to how people behaved. If they never wiped out the microwave, left crumbs all over the counter, or left trash lying around without bothering to throw it away, then it would really steam me. But if people in general had some respect and courtesy for their co-workers, and my job was to do a once-a-week cleaning like spray the counters down with 409, scrub out the sink, and so on, I’d be OK with doing that. In my own workspace, if I toss something towards the trash can and I miss, I pick it up and throw it away. Sure, people come around every night to empty the trash, vacuum, and so on, but leaving a bunch of trash sitting on the floor just seems rude and disrespectful to me.

    When I hired a housekeeping service to come clean our house every couple weeks, my husband and I kind of bickered about it. The night before they showed up, I would spend time picking everything up off the floor, clearing off the counters in the bathrooms and kitchen, and trying to bring my daughter’s toy area under control. My husband thought that “cleaning up for the cleaning people” was ridiculous. My response was that they’re not our personal indentured servants, who are there to walk behind us and pick up all the crap that we strew about. They are people hired to do the things I really hate doing, like clean the bathrooms, mop the floors, dust, and run the vacuum. So if we leave the counters covered with dirty dishes, or clothes all over the floor, etc then that’s actually a bit disrespectful towards them. They’re coming to clean my house, so my part in that (other than paying for their service) is to make sure they can easily do what I hired them to do, without having to spend a bunch of time picking things up (or whatever) first. It took awhile, but I think I finally got him to see my point.

    1. VintageLydia*

      The maid service my mom hired would clean around our messes–they weren’t paid to do dishes or put our makeup away. If the clothes weren’t picked up off my bedroom floor it didn’t get vacuumed. As a result I’m hyper vigilant when it comes to controlling clutter in my own home, but I hate vacuuming :P

    2. Jamie*

      This reminds me of that scene in. Mad About You where Jamie cleans like crazy before the new maid starts and Paul says they didn’t really need a maid, just the threat of one.

      Fwiw this is how our cleaning crew at work does it, as well. They will dust and wipe down empty surfaces, but they don’t throw anything away or move it so if you’re desk is a cluttered mess before it won’t be any better after they come. That’s fair, IMO, and the last thig I’d want is some one else organizing my desk.

    3. Lynn Whitehat*

      If we leave our stuff strewn around the house when the cleaning service comes, they will just shove it ANYWHERE so that it’s out of the way. And really, what else can they do? They have no way of knowing how we organize things. They’re supposed to be there to deep-clean, anyway, not to pick up junk we left lying around.

      I’ve come to like it. It’s easy to become blind to some clutter because you’re used to it sitting there. It motivates us not to leave stuff lying around everywhere. And by “us”, I mostly mean “the kids”.

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        This, exactly. Now, sometimes my 16 year old daughter’s room is such a pigsty that they can’t even get in there to shove crap away to clean. Once in awhile if they skip a room here or there, it doesn’t bother me. But if they have to do it all the time, then what the heck am I paying them for? I’ve laid down the law with my daughter and told her that the least she can do is pick her crap up off the floor once every other week and put it away so the cleaners can get in there to dust and vacuum.

        1. Grace*

          Great website at: www dot flylady dot net to learn to declutter, clean, and organize in baby steps (including
          for you to use with your daughter).

  15. Gallerina*

    Wow, this has opened my eyes somewhat. I’ve never worked in an office without dedicated cleaning staff, so the most I’ve ever had to be responsible for is washing up my own crockery and tidying up behind myself.

    That said, I have a near pathological hatred of cleaning, so I would rather know if it were expected of me at interview, rather than find out when I showed up at my first day on the job.

    1. Jax*

      I agree.

      I sympathize with the OP’s surprise at hearing she would be responsible for cleaning the microwave. That’s not a duty I would expect for a title of HR Assistant.

      I would think long and hard about taking a job that expected me to clean the office kitchen–not because it’s “beneath” me, but because it says a lot about the company. A small office / start up may have a “We all pitch in like a family!” attitude, which is fine but not what I’m looking for. A larger office may be cheap or had to scale back by dumping the janitor, or maybe it’s a bigger sign that management thinks of employees more as servants than fellow professionals.

      Plus cleaning my microwave at home is very different from the work microwave. Gag. And am I cleaning the thing in business professional skirt and heels???

  16. HR lady*

    This post does make me thankful that:
    1 – I work with some pretty thoughtful people who do replace the paper in the copy machine, wipe up if they spill in the microwave, etc.
    2 – My company employees a professional cleaning staff who does a great job of keeping our bathrooms and kitchens clean
    3 – We have one of those coffee machines like Keurig so people make individual cups of coffee (no bickering about leaving the empty coffee pot on the burner) and we have a water filter/cooler that is hooked up through our pipes (so no large water cooler bottles to replace).

    1. HR lady*

      I also came here to say that when I was an HR assistant, early in my career, I was the backup to the receptionist. I didn’t like it, but about once a week I had to fill in for about an hour. I was relieved when — like Alison mentioned — after some time I got promoted and didn’t have to do that anymore. Just wanted to agree with Alison that the entry-level office staff often has to do things they would prefer not to do, AND once you get a higher-level job, you often don’t have to do it anymore.

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        Yes, I had to do the same thing when I was an AP clerk. We, along with some of the administrative staff in other departments, took turns covering for the receptionist when she took her lunch hour. It was not what I wanted to do, but it was only once every few weeks, and the receptionist had to eat too.

  17. SA*

    Having worked in some very different industries I have a few things to point out here.

    1. Is this the norm for the position this person applied to for the HR Assistant to do this? Learning the copier and basic maintanence makes sense but cleaning up after slobs in a break room doesn’t.
    2. How many men/women in the office had to do the same nanny/janitorial work in the same/similar position?
    3. Why aren’t the adults employed there cleaning up after themselves to begin with? (This irks me more than anything else!)

    This isn’t an entitlement issue so much as underhanded discrimination against those in entry level positions (young or old). I worked at a dump that had the lovely “Your mother doesn’t work here, clean up after yourself” sign. Ironically the pigs in the office were the employers who would gripe about the bad smell coming from the fridge. The chauvinistic male boss asked me to clean up after him and I just cleared my throat and asked him if he could read the sign right behind him for me. Then I made the remark that it’s pretty sexist to ask a female employee to toss your moldy food when the male employee right next to him is closer to the trash can. Yes, I left that company and it’s got high turnover rate still. Last I heard it’s finally going under. Ha! There were a myriad of other issues but that one made me furious, and is an example of sexism when it comes to “cleaning”. I am NOT Mary Freaking Poppins!

    I’ve even worked at companies were coworkers stole and ate the lunches of other employees. You should either be fired or on food stamps for theft of another person’s meal. At the very least one should be asking since when is it ok to steal someone’s food? I’d be livid because my lunches are part of my budget.

    I’m sick of people claiming that work completely unrelated to your actual job description is somehow related to climbing that infernal socioeconomic ladder. It’s just someone who is too cheap to get their employees to act like the adults they are supposed to be. If you can’t hire mature adults who clean up after themselves I wouldn’t want to work there as it’s a red flag for many. It should be common sense to clean up after yourself regardless of what you are doing be it the fridge, microwave, bathroom, etc. When I was told by a customer to clean up fecal matter (pretty rudely) that was all over a toilet I asked her if she had health insurance. She said yes and I said, “I don’t so why don’t you risk getting infected with something instead? It’s not my job so what makes you think you can talk to me that way? How do I know YOU didn’t make the mess?”. I’m not risking illness because some nasty pig missed the toilet and when it has nothing remotely to do with the position I was hired for. That company did have a janitor service by the way. I’m actually all for charging people to use public restrooms and have self cleaning toilets as they do in Europe. People in this country are just filthy pigs.

    Having “been there and done a lot of that” only to benefit the company I know B.S. “duties” when I hear them. I agree with the poster. Being a free janitor, nanny, cook, etc. is just another example to me of poor management and evil people taking advantage of a still recovering economy. If you’re expected to do that kind of work when no one else there has, expect your lousy duties to grow as more often that not you’ll get pushed into being a clean-up lady.

    I’d also like to clarify there’s nothing wrong with being a janitor, but I find most people in that position are treated little better than personal servants and that is infuriating. A job is a job and people need to be treated with the same modicum of respect you would like to be treated with. I’ve declined offers since learning about those nonsense duties. I’ve earned my dues ten times over and see no need to abuse new employees that way and claim it’s some con for paying dues. If you won’t clean up after yourself and exercise responsibility then you can’t call yourself an adult.

    I would have said no to that job and it makes no sense to expect (what I would think) an employee to dress in professional attire, then to work with chemicals that can stain, damage, and destroy their clothing. Nicer clothes are more expensive and if it’s entry level you won’t be paid a decent wage anyway. I’d have to say no thanks. Women pay a lot more for a “blouse” than men do for a polo shirt and are usually held to a higher standard of dress at such companies.

    Sorry about the rant, it just drives me up the wall when I see people being told they have to be an office slave or perform duties that will not help them with their career. Again I ask why can’t people clean up after themselves? How can this be such a foreign concept?

    1. Katie the Fed*

      We all have to do things we don’t want to at work, but I think you’d do better in your career handling those requests a little more politely than these examples, and give people the benefit of the doubt.

      –> “The chauvinistic male boss asked me to clean up after him and I just cleared my throat and asked him if he could read the sign right behind him for me. Then I made the remark that it’s pretty sexist to ask a female employee to toss your moldy food when the male employee right next to him is closer to the trash can.”

      –> “When I was told by a customer to clean up fecal matter (pretty rudely) that was all over a toilet I asked her if she had health insurance. She said yes and I said, “I don’t so why don’t you risk getting infected with something instead? It’s not my job so what makes you think you can talk to me that way? How do I know YOU didn’t make the mess?”. I’m not risking illness because some nasty pig missed the toilet and when it has nothing remotely to do with the position I was hired for.”

      I actually agree that a lot of these tasks are often given to female employees and it’s a bad reinforcement of gender stereotypes, but you’d do yourself a favor by assuming their intentions weren’t bad and trying a more constructive way to change those assignments.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I wholeheartedly agree with Katie; this approach isn’t doing your stance any favors, SA. In addition, I wanted to comment on this:

      This isn’t an entitlement issue so much as underhanded discrimination against those in entry level positions (young or old).

      I’m not sure if you mean discrimination in a legal sense. If so, there’s no law against discriminating against entry-level workers. In fact, companies would be silly not to treat entry-level workers differently from more experienced workers. Of course entry-level workers are given work that’s often more menial than more experienced workers. Their time costs the company less. This is just basic business sense.

  18. HR lady*

    And another comment:
    Various offices handle cleaning out (throwing out old food) the fridge in various ways. I’ve never really seen a perfect system. For example, at one place I worked, a different person got assigned to do it each month (which solves the problem of it being just one person’s — often a woman’s– job). Everyone knew which month was their month ahead of time- it was posted on the fridge. Some people did a great job, and others would “forget” or not do it well in their months. This caused resentment among the ones who had to do it the following months and therefore do extra work. So that wasn’t a perfect system, either.

  19. Jan Arzooman*

    I think I was sort of surprised that an HR assistant (assistant in a department unrelated to office maintenance or administration) would be asked to do this. As a receptionist to the entire office, or an assistant office manager, it might be different.

    Being an entry level employee, especially “assistant something” USUALLY means menial tasks unrelated to the person’s particular skill. But the tasks are generally supportive of the department, not the entire office. As an editorial assistant I might be asked to make copies, file, put paper in the copier, but not clean the microwave … unless, perhaps, it was the microwave ONLY used by the editorial department.

    I’ve had temp receptionist jobs where I had to load the diswasher or straighten up the kitchen. It was a temp job so I didn’t care.

    I do think it’s odd to have the HR assistant clean the microwave. If I were interviewing and heard this was a duty, I would not like that news. However, given how difficult it is to find a job these days, if I had encountered something like that while interviewing I would have swallowed any comments, pretended it was no big deal, and then set my mind to proving myself and trying to move up and out of that role as soon as I could.

  20. Kacie*

    My branch library had limited janitorial services, and we were all expected to pitch in. Including me, the branch manager. We had a rotating kitchen schedule spread out across about 25 employees. So that meant you had to wipe down surfaces in the kitchen about twice a year. If something was abandoned in the sink or counter (clean or not), it was tossed.

    The weekly schedule helped made everyone more aware of their own messes, and we had few problems. Luckily, our one really inconsiderate employee left the branch shortly after I started.

  21. bio cleaner*

    in todays job market, being limited in any aspect of the office is going to inhibit your ability to get a job, or get promoted. Take charge or clean your desk!!

  22. JenTheNiceHRGirl*

    I remember just starting out in the business world and being tasked with keeping the kitchen cleaned and stocked. It was definitely a part of my job that I didn’t like. People would leave filthy messages for me to clean up. I hated it when my manager would pass by my office and “casually” mention that someone had spilled some coffee in the lunch area or that it appeared we were getting low on medium-sized insulated coffee cups. I would simply smile and take care of the mess. Personally I do like the ideas above about having a cleaning schedule that requires everyone to pitch in, but I know that isn’t possible in every office and that often times the kitchen duty does fall on the lower level employees. I would definitely suggest asking about additional duties and responsibilities in interviews, but I wouldn’t advise using kitchen duty as a deal-breaker if everything else seems like a good fit.

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