does the admin in my new office have boundary issues?

A reader writes:

My company last year acquired another company in the same industry, and we’ve finally merged offices. As it happens, the acquired companies offices were larger and less expensive, so we moved in with them. As a senior team member in our old place, I had my own office. But we went from 10 team members to 60 when we moved, so now I have a little cubicle. I’m not bothered at all by the change. As long as I have an electrical outlet and wifi, I can work from anywhere.

In our new office, one of the perks is that we have an administrative assistant who is amazing. She makes coffee, orders food, sets up for meetings, cleans common areas, orders supplies, liaises with the building manager, and makes sure things like cable and phones stay on. At my old office, all of those responsibilities were divided up among my few colleagues and me, in addition to our client work, so I feel especially grateful to have this woman around in our new space.

However, I’ve noticed she may have some boundary issues. I came in earlier this week to find she had added a lamp to my area (lamps aren’t standard issue, this one was just sitting around unused). She said when she saw me, “I left a gift on your desk.” I just let it go. Things on my shelves have been moved, and I have a space heater that automatically turns off for safety and energy efficiency and I came in to find a company-wide email from this admin demanding space heaters be turned off, and mine had been unplugged, presumably by her.

In fact, this company-wide email approach is common with her. The other day I was in a hurry to get a client settled into a meeting and I grabbed two used glasses off the conference table, ran to put them in the kitchen sink and ran back to welcome the client. When our meeting was done, there was a company-wide email in my inbox demanding that glasses not be left in the sink.

I try to be very direct with people, so I can’t help feeling like this approach of email blasting every time you don’t like something is both distracting and unprofessional. First, it doesn’t solve anything (if it did, she wouldn’t have to send so many of them repeatedly). Second, it creates an environment of suspicion and uncertainty, and opens the door for gossip (Coworker 1: “Do you know who she was talking about?” Coworker 2: “I bet it was _____, she’s so messy.”). Also, she’s not anyone’s supervisor, so she really has no business asserting authority over people via email.

Am I off base? How should I approach her about it without making her feel like I don’t appreciate her?

Yeah, a little off-base, I think. A lot of this is standard stuff for admins.

Giving you a lamp isn’t really a boundary violation. If you don’t want it there, say no thanks and that you’re not a lamp person, but you appreciate her thinking of you.

The space heater — well, some companies have space heater policies that they take very seriously because they can start fires. You can debate whether or not that’s reasonable, but in places where this is serious business, it’s not uncommon that they’d unplug yours — and that the office admin would be the face of that policy (or its executioner).

Rearranging your stuff? Yeah, that’s legitimately annoying. But you could simply say, “Hey Jane, I appreciate how much work you do to make our space look nice. Would you not rearrange the stuff on my shelves though, since it makes it harder for me to find things?”

As for the company-wide emails … sure, they’re annoying if they’re generated every other day. But in the scheme of things, they’re pretty minor. If this woman is otherwise pleasant, efficient, helpful, and good at her job — and it sounds like she’s all of these things — I would write this off to “no one is 100% perfect, but she’s pretty damn good” and just let it go. (And I don’t think your coworkers are really going to get into heavy gossip about who prompted the email about the glasses in the sink. If they do, it’s kind of about them, because that is one boring topic for gossip. Perhaps get them an US Weekly subscription.)

More broadly, it’s appropriate — in most offices, at least — for admins to to assert authority over the general office area. Not over the people in it, but over the space itself. Within reason, of course, and not in such a way that process becomes an obstacle to people getting their jobs done, and certainly it’s appropriate for people to push back if the admin’s governance of the space causes issues for them.  But when you question whether it’s appropriate for her to be issuing edicts on the kitchen sink in the first place, the answer is: Yeah, it’s probably part of her job.

Of course, if you ever feel like the company-wide emails are being spurred by you (like you did with the glasses you moved to the sink from the conference table), there’s no reason you can’t just address it with her straightforwardly. For instance, right after receiving that “no glasses in the sink” email, say something like, “I think I might be the cause of that email about leaving things in the sink. I left some glasses there earlier today because they were in a conference room I needed to quickly prepare for clients. Sorry about that!” (Note that in this case, you can say “sorry about that” and still do the exact same thing again if you need to in similar circumstances, because it was reasonable in that context.) In other words, be direct, be cheerful, and be unbothered.

Overall, though, it sounds like you have an awesome admin, and that’s where I’d focus. That’s not to say that you can’t ever ask a generally awesome person to do something different — you absolutely can — but you should pay them the respect of being straightforward about it and not stewing. And conveniently, part of being a generally awesome person is that they’ll usually strongly prefer that.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 120 comments… read them below }

  1. some1*

    As the admin who indeed has to send these emails, I always chuckle when people complain about the ones I send that have to do with policies, but they don’t mind them so much when the email says the company has sold-out event tickets available or your engagement ring was found on the ladies rooom sink.

    1. some1*

      ETA: I guarantee you the email about the glasses was not to sent to shame or embarrass you. It was just letting everyone know that glasses should not be left there if it can be helped. Considering how many new people are in the space, it was as good a time as any to throw out an FYI to everyone who maybe wouldn’t know that.

  2. some1 else*

    I submitted this question and Alison’s answer has completely changed my thinking. Also, some1, very good point!

    1. Yup*

      I also wondered if you’re partly experiencing a culture clash as a result of the merger/acquisition.

      The admin’s company of origin may expect her to handle things in a certain way that’s different to how your original company handled them (re the emails & whatnot). So she might also be learning that your team is more self-sufficient than what she’s used to, and she’s getting used to how you all operate. Eventually you’ll probably meet in the middle with a new shared culture that blends all the different elements from the two groups.

  3. Elkay*

    I’m curious to know whether you’ve inherited this admin or if she’s new to the company. If she was inherited it could be that she’s sending the company wide emails because she (rightly or wrongly) assumes that the new people joining the company aren’t aware of how the office runs and the emails will tail off as you all bed into working in the same place.

    I’d give her the benefit of the doubt but if you’re being bombarded with emails it might be worth chatting with her supervisor to see if she can reduce the frequency of the mails, because frequent mails become noise and one could argue, less effective.

    Also, as Alison says for the ones that have affected you shoot her an email (or go and speak to her) so you can explain why those things happened.

  4. Calla*

    “Also, she’s not anyone’s supervisor, so she really has no business asserting authority over people via email.”

    I see the OP has already commented and their mind has been changed but I feel like this definitely needs a perspective adjustment on what admins do and how to treat them. Like Alison said, admins usually DO have the authority to do this — either because it’s something they are allowed to take the initiative on, or they’ve been specifically directed to do so. IE in my last job, fridge clean-up wasn’t something I’d normally think of if left on my own, so I was specifically told to send out those emails. But it probably would have been within my realm of duty even if I hadn’t been directed to.

    Also, think of it this way: if people aren’t reminded not to leave their dishes in the sink, who do you think has to clean up after you? And unless that’s specifically in her job description, which I’m guessing it’s not, the admin probably has better things to do!

    1. The Clerk*

      About the glass thing, though, it’s really annoying to get called out on something before you even get a chance to get out of your meeting and fix it. It feels weird to have every single incident reacted to immediately instead of in response to a trend.

      Plus, in this case the email definitely didn’t fix the problem because whoever left the dirty glasses in the conference room in the first place probably heard “sink” and dismissed it in his/her mind.

      I can see why all the incidents together, particularly when you add in actually rearranging the OP’s stuff, made her feel like her space was being invaded.

      1. Nonprofit Office Manager*

        “It feels weird to have every single incident reacted to immediately instead of in response to a trend.”

        Chances are, there is a breaking point involved when an admin sends an all-team email. I know people feel targeted by triggering all-teams, but in the case of the glasses in the sink, for example, I can almost promise that that instance was preceded by numerous other people dropping off their glasses with no intention of washing them, putting them in the dishwasher, or doing whatever the procedure is for OP’s particular office.

        1. some1*

          Exactly. I don’t get why people think it’s about calling people out. It’s just “Dear Team, You are doing X, and I need you to Y instead, thanks.” It’s not, “If you just did X, your a bad person making my life harder.”

      2. Admin*

        ” it’s really annoying to get called out on something before you even get a chance to get out of your meeting and fix it”

        That’s the problem though – the admin didn’t know it was going to be fixed. Had OP sent a quick note explaining why they were there and that they would be cleaned up, then yes, I see your point, but from the admins perspective, all she saw were dirty dishes left in the sink.

        I’m an Admin and part of my responsibility is making sure people follow the rules of the kitchen. We have gone through a major hiring phase and have a lot of new employees who come from offices where “self-service” was not a thing that happened in the kitchen. As a result, I’ve had to send out emails reminding people that they are responsible for their own dishes.

        If dishes are left in the sink and I don’t clean them up, 2 things happen. 1) Other people see dishes left in the sink, add theirs on, and the pile grows 2) I get in trouble because there are dishes in the sink and I didn’t manage the situation.

        1. Kara*

          While I agree with most of your response, I think that if the OP didn’t have time to wash the glasses, he/she probably didn’t have time to write a note explaining that he’d wash them later. Additionally, if everyone started writing notes that they’d wash their dishes later, I assume that there would still be a growing pile of dishes. I think that some times people just need to take one for the team, especially if its as minor as washing two glasses. The OP moved them from the conference room – he didn’t say that they were HIS glasses, so technically it wasn’t his responsibility to clean them in the first place. Someone else obviously made the bigger mistake of leaving them out where clients could see the dirty dishes, and the OP was preventing that. Which matters more – clients seeing dirty dishes in the conference room, or co-workers seeing them in a sink?

          1. Admin*

            To clarify, I’m thinking in the context of my company, where everyone has a company paid smart phone and could easily send a quick email. (which is what most people do)

            Also, if they admin knew about the glasses being left in the conference room, they could address that as a root problem.

            As an admin the biggest barrier that I’ve run into is communication. We’re not mind readers, but if you keep us in the loop about what has actually happened, we have a better shot at fixing it.

            The biggest problem with “taking one for the team” and not addressing it, is that “taking one for the team” can quickly become an expectation. Especially since this is an office full of new people, her emails explaining expectations around the office and how things work makes total sense to me.

            1. Anonymous*

              If I am in a meeting with the offender, and they take time out to send an email about dishes rather than focusing on me, the client, I’d be annoyed. In other words, it’s not always about how the office runs, but it is always all about the client.

              1. Not an Admin*

                Before you go into a meeting, you should always check the space to make sure it’s suitable. Luckily, it was only glasses on the table and not trash everywhere.

                Personally, I find it ridiculous that anyone does not clean up after themselves and expects someone else to do it. This is not your house and no one here is your wife or mother, so wash your own dishes, throw away your own old food in the fridge, and clean up when you spill something, etc. In no way should that be an admin’s job or should they even have to resort to an email blast or memo. If there’s no cleaning crew/janitor, then it’s clean up after yourself, why is everyone so lazy?

                1. fposte*

                  Unfortunately, this is one of those situations where it doesn’t matter what people *should* do–the reality is that they don’t, and you have to run an office to the reality.

                2. Anonymous*

                  It appears I was not very clear. I was responding to the idea that the OP should have texted the AA why the dishes were in the sink and that they would take care of it later. I just don’t think that it’s a great idea to be texting while meeting with clients.

                3. IronMaiden*

                  This is not your house and no one here is your wife or mother, so wash your own dishes, throw away your own old food in the fridge, and clean up when you spill something, etc.

                  I take exception to people who say “your wife/mother/any random female doesn’t work here”. Why is it a woman’s job to clean up everyone else’s crap?

              2. Lacey*

                Agreed – its pretty weird to me that you’d expect someone to take time out to send an email, in front of a client, to say they’d left two dirty glasses in the sink. This is not what client-facing time is for.

      3. Artemesia*

        well she could respond and then a blast email could go out “we often need to meet with clients in the conference rooms with little notice, so please do not leave dirty glasses or other things lying about.”

      4. T*

        If she didn’t know who had left unwashed glasses in the sink, how could she have addressed the person directly? Wouldn’t it have been weirder for her to have asked around about who left them? And if you ‘fess up, maybe she’ll send a blanket email reminding people not to leave glasses in the conference room. I’d try to just laugh off all the emails (while still paying attention to what she says) rather than letting yourself get annoyed over something small–except for moving stuff around in your cubicle. I’d also try to develop a rapport with her because then she might feel more comfortable being direct with you rather than resorting to office-wide emails.

        By the way, I just unplugged my work spaceheater because I was taught that they are fire hazards. I would rather err on the side of caution.

    2. class factotum*

      But they weren’t even her glasses!

      I agree that everyone should clean up after themselves, but going on the least-cost theory, it might be more cost efficient for the admin to do the dishes than a manager.

      1. Calla*

        True, but the admin and no way of knowing that and the general idea of her email applies — though maybe she did send it too early (if it was a 30 min meeting absolutely, if it was 3 hours maybe not).

        I’m assuming that the admin has been told she does not need to do the dishes. Is a manager’s 30 seconds to wash their own glass worth more than the time it would take someone else to wash *all* the dishes that have piled up? I just don’t see that. I wouldn’t be surprised if they even have a dishwasher — at my last office we had a dishwasher and unloading the clean dishes was part of the receptionist’s job, but loading it with everyone else’s dirty dishes absolutely was not, and yet people would still leave their oatmeal-crusted dishes in the sink all day.

        1. some1*

          “though maybe she did send it too early (if it was a 30 min meeting absolutely, if it was 3 hours maybe not).”

          I don’t think you need to read into the timing. The admin saw glasses in the sink and took it as an opportunity to let the new people know they shouldn’t leave glasses there as an FYI. It wasn’t a “Come get your glasses out of the sink, lazybutt” email

          1. Calla*

            Ha! You’re right. I was looking it as the latter, which I don’t even see anything wrong with, but given all the other info (the merge) she probably just took it as a good time to let people know.

        2. ellex42*

          I work for a very small business – at our busiest point, we still only had about 10 employees – and we have a full kitchen with two sinks, garbage disposal, and dishwasher. Responsibility for loading the dishwasher was incumbent upon everyone; responsibility for unloading was shared, and was usually not a problem. We still had problems with people leaving dirty dishes in the sink, people putting dirty dishes in the dish drainer, and leaving hand-washed dishes in the dish drainer.

          While I’m technically not an admin and not the office manager, as the oldest employee both in age and time spent in the company, it generally falls to me to keep everything running smoothly. I got fed up with sending emails and talking to people individually and called a meeting, and told everyone that – since I was the first person in the office every morning – anything found in the sink or the dish drainer when I arrived would go in the trash.

          One person asked what authority I had to do this – to which I replied, “Do you really want me to go to the boss about this?” Apart from some occasional forgetfulness, we didn’t have any more problems.

          On the other hand, at my prior job, the boss himself had to give a similar speech multiple times, to no effect.

          1. Former Admin*


            When I was a receptionist it was my job to make sure the kitchen was generally clean, but it was everyone’s responsibility to wash their own coffee cups. We had two repeat offenders who would get a clean cup every time they filled up and would just leave the old cups in the sink for me to deal with.

            I put up a note (because this was the dark ages) that all coffee cups left in the sink would be tossed. I tossed about 5 of them before the offenders got the hint and it never happened again.

            BTW – I would LOVE it if the admins at my company would send company wide emails asking people to clean up after themselves. It’s amazing how an office full of smart capable grownups can’t wash out a dish after they eat or at the end of the day. Or even at the beginning of the next day! A reminder would be much more welcome than dirty dishes in the sink for a week.

      2. AB*

        I work in a satellite office. In our satellite office, we have cleaning staff that puts the cups in the dishwasher. We are supposed to put our dishes in the sink. If we put them in the dishwasher, our cleaning crew get mad because they have a specific system for how the cups go. In our head office, the cleaning crew doesn’t take care of the dishes. One kitchen area might be share by 100 people. Each person is responsible for their own dishes. Admins can’t be responsible for the dishes because they would not be able to do anything else (when you think that most people use both a coffee mug (or two) and a cup). When people from the satellite office visit the head office and vice-versa, it can be confusing. The admin probably didn’t even know who left the cups in the sink, and therefore couldn’t directly respond to that person. However, she does know that there are a bunch of new people and wants to make sure that things run smoothly (and hey, a quick impersonal e-mail is waaay better than a snarky sign that some offices do)

      3. some1*

        It’s not just about the admin thinking the glasses were left for her to wash. The sink is for everyone and if people leave dishes in it, it’s harder for people to use it.

        1. Admin*

          Thank you!

          That’s it exactly. This is not a power play over who has to wash dishes. I can’t sit in the kitchen all day waiting for people to bring in dirty dishes and if the sink piles up with dirty stuff, we end up with a shortage of dishes (a lot of people refuse to reuse their coffee mugs and get a fresh one for every cup) and an unusable sink.

          The dish issue is one that effects everyone in the office, and a lot of times when I send out emails like the one OP is describing, it’s because several people have come to me to complain about the problem (or because my boss has gotten annoyed and told me to send the message out). Being office spokesperson is just one of many joys of being an admin.

          1. Cunning Cupper*

            My office is a long way away from the kitchen, and I can’t always return my coffee cup promptly. So I bring a cup from home and only use that one (washing it before refilling it).

            No clutter in the communal sink, no misplacement in the dishwasher, no shortage of company cups for others, and there’s always a cup available when I want one. Wins all round.

        2. Windchime*

          At our office, there are no company-owned dishes. There is a sign over the sink showing a picture of a dog licking a plate, with the reminder, “Wash your own dishes; you might not like how we clean them.” That wasn’t so effective; people kept leaving dishes in the sink to “soak”. So now the policy is that any dishes found in the sink at the end of the day are thrown out. It didn’t take too many days of that before people started washing their own dishes.

      4. FiveNine*

        I have never worked in a professional office where the administrative assistant is expected to do dishes and am kind of shocked at the suggestion, frankly.

        1. class factotum*

          I am not saying that it should be a standard part of the job duties. I am just saying that if you are going to look at it on a strict cost basis, it is cheaper to have an admin wash the dishes than to have the manager do it.

          1. Anonymous*

            The manager washing their own cup should take less than a minute, an admin washing the whole office’s cups will be at the sink all day.

            1. some1*

              This. I’m the sole admin on my floor who needs to sit by my boss’s office. Her office happens to be as far away from the break room as it can be.

              So the reason I am not the Only One Who Makes Coffee is due to practicality, not because I think I’m above it.

          2. Admin2*

            …until the managers have to do their own admin support work b/c the admin is too busy doing dishes.

          3. Lily in NYC*

            I had to laugh at this. People really have no clue what some admins make. I am paid at the same level as our Assistant Vice Presidents and it would be a cold day in hell before I washed someone else’s dishes. My boss was furious when he overheard an entry level project manager tell me to clean the microwave. He stormed out of his office holding a paper towel and handed it to the guy and told him to go clean it himself. I love my boss.

        2. Ella*

          #As for the glasses/mugs.
          A good way to have everyone (old & news) *following the rules* could be to place a nice INSTRUCTIONS note – maybe written in a witty tone – on the kitchen cupboard door.

        3. Admin*

          Yup – I’m an admin and it is NOT part of my job description. Exactly as Anonymous says, I’d be in the kitchen all day.
          (Also, many managers at my company stand in the kitchen chatting for 15 minutes every time they go in there, why can’t they wash a mug while they do it?)

          I will, on occasion, take one for the team if needed, but my job has so many other duties, that it’s actually way better for the company for each person to take a few minutes each day and wash their own stuff, than for me to ignore my other duties and do it for them. It all depends on how your company has structured things.

          I do find it funny that people complain about admins thinking they’re “too good” to wash dishes. A lot of times I think people advocate for admins to be the dish washers because then it means they don’t have to.

          1. class factotum*

            I wash my own dishes. I don’t expect anyone else to wash them. But if there were a big meeting that generated a lot of dishes, yes, I would advocate for the washing to flow to the lowest cost per hour. (Actually, I would advocate for disposable dishes and glasses, as that is easiest for everyone.) (And I would really advocate for no food in the conference room because it makes it smell like fried catfish and hushpuppies all day.)

        4. Nonprofit Office Manager*

          This isn’t uncommon, if you can believe it. I would never, ever take a job, though, that required me to wash other people’s dishes on a regular basis. And I don’t buy the whole “well, it’s cheaper for the admin to do it” mentality. While I agree with statement generally (e.g., it makes no sense to pay someone $100/hr to perform basic data entry), there has to be a line somewhere. Otherwise admins would be responsible for tying people’s shoes.

          1. class factotum*

            I think the key is defining what is work-related dishwashing and what is personal. I would never ask someone else (except my husband) to wash the dishes I use myself. But as I mentioned above, if I host a big meeting and there are dishes, then yes, I want help cleaning up.

            I do not expect someone who is paid by my company to do my personal chores.

            1. Nonprofit Office Manager*

              That’s a good point. When it comes to cleaning up after large-ish client meetings, back when I was doing junior level admin work, I definitely would have pitched in without being asked, especially if I saw that the person who had hosted the meeting was making an effort as well. But for meetings with only a client or two, I don’t think it’s too much for the host—regardless of their billable rate—to take care of a few dishes generated by his or her clients. I say this generally and not in response to the OP. Still, my main gripe is with people who eat a bowl of oatmeal and then leave the dish behind for someone else to deal with. Why is it always oatmeal?!

              1. teclatwig*

                Hm, oatmeal is really hard to get off without a soaking (something about the slime factor). I always soak my oatmeal dishes at home. I haven’t eaten it at the office, but I am pretty sure that if there were a “wash your own dishes” rule, I would feel comfortable leaving a bowl to soak until my mid-morning break. After all the rule is “wash your own dishes,” not “no dishes in the sink, ever.” And yes, sadly, that latter would probably need to be spelled out for me. (Please note, from a distance I can now see that keeping the sink empty is the ideal, but I probably would miss that nuance without explicit wording.)

                1. ellex42*

                  Leaving your oatmeal bowl to soak for an hour or two is fine. Leaving it until the next day – or for several days, piling up more bowls to “soak” – is absolutely unacceptable. And yet, I and many others have seen exactly that happen.

                  At my former job, I had a coworker who would leave every dish and food container to “soak” on the tiny counter beside the sink from Monday until Friday, piling up more dishes/containers every day. On Friday – just before she left work – she’d finally wash them and take them home. And sometimes she’d leave Friday’s stuff until Monday, where they’d sit with the rest of the pile-up all week long until the next Friday.

                  It wasn’t until the boss not only told everyone that any dishes/containers he found by the sink in the morning would be thrown out, but actually *did* throw some stuff out, that she quit doing it. And not before complaining bitterly to everyone, and arguing with the boss about it.

            2. Artemesia*

              For a meeting I would expect the admin to manage the refreshments and then whatever cleanup is necessary. I worked in an office where staff would never think of leaving dishes for the admin — but when there was an event, the admins took care of set up and clean up.

            3. fposte*

              Except we all kind of do, don’t we? We don’t clean the bathroom after ourselves at most workplaces–somebody’s hired to do that. Can’t get much more personal than that. And there’s plenty of other stuff that counts as personal chores at home but has a convention of outsourcing at the office. I think it’s really convention that drives the difference, and one thing AAM makes clear is that there are a lot of different workplace conventions.

            4. Anonymous*

              I think that if this is an “issue” at a company that merits any amount of discussion, then it is an issue that merits the purchase and installation of a dishwasher. Loading and unloading the office dishwasher is,perhaps, a reasonable use of employee time. Hand-washing is insane.

              1. Poe*

                We have a dishwasher at work, and even when it is EMPTY (so no clean/dirty dilemma) people still put dirty dishes in the sink or in piles on the counter above the dishwasher. I do not understand people.

        5. LondonI*

          Same here. I would be deeply unimpressed by an office who landed these tasks with an administrator.

        6. Elizabeth West*

          Common in smaller offices. I had to do it at one job, but at Exjob, they expected everyone to do their own. I was, however, expected to clean up after meetings in the conference room, especially if we had visitors. And play waitress with their sandwiches, coffee, and the water pitcher.

          At Newjob, we have a dishwasher but the cleaning people do the dishes at night. I usually wash my own, but every once in a while, I’ll leave my cup in the sink because the tea stains come off better in the dishwasher.

  5. Anonymous*

    This admin sounds great, except for rearranging your stuff. The other complaints are just her doing her job. Not being allowed to use a space heater is annoying (I’m always cold too) but one place I worked, somebody left their space heater on all weekend and we were lucky the whole place didn’t burn down.

    1. Payroll Lady*

      Another issue with the space heater is the electrical in the building, with all the new employees it could put a burden on the breakers and blow a circuit. At my EXJob this use to happen all the time to the point, they took all our space heaters away

    2. tango*

      Well nowhere do I see in OPs letter where she has definite proof it was the AA who moved her stuff. Now maybe if it was moved to make way for the lamp, ok. But the OP comes in and some things have been moved, it’s not necessarily fair to assume it was the AA every time. I know papers on my desk have been moved – it’s the cleaning crew who every so often dust our desks. So it’s possible that’s whats going on here or a coworker was looking for something specific such as a policy binder or a report.

      1. ChristineSW*

        Good point about the cleaning people, but I still would appreciate it if they try to put stuff back as it was. But that’s just me being my overly nitpicky self :)

    3. ChristineSW*

      Ooh I forgot about the space heater.

      While the admin probably wasn’t aware that your space heater shuts off on its own, the admin was probably correct in demanding that they be shut off. However, I’m not sure I’d take too kindly to someone actually unplugging it (unless, of course, there was an immediate threat, like it was sparking or overheating).

      Also, out of curiosity, did the email explain why they want heaters shut off? I know it probably should go without saying why (safety, electricity costs), but I personally respond better to directives when a valid reason is given .

      1. Michele*

        In one of my old offices we were required to unplug our space heaters every night. Security did come around at night and if they saw that your space heater was still plugged in they would leave you a reminder and unplug it. If it happened 3 times in a short period of time they would alert your manager. It really wasn’t a big deal.

        1. Judy*

          Our office has the rule that if you leave your desk, you turn off the space heater, and if you leave the building, you unplug it. You also have to plug the space heater into a wall outlet, not a power strip or extension cord.

          I do that mostly, but if I leave my desk to run to ladies room or printer, I don’t turn it off, only if I leave my desk to go to a meeting.

          I’ve never worked anywhere where space heaters didn’t have to be unplugged overnight, and one place didn’t allow space heaters.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            That is pretty much what we should be doing at home, too.
            So many house fires start from space heaters.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            I don’t know if we are allowed heaters (don’t think so), so I brought a small blanket. I put it inside the storage ottoman I bought to put my feet up at my desk. :D

  6. ChristineSW*

    I know the OP already replied, but…

    I can certainly understand the OP’s feelings. I was temping somewhere a few years ago, and I saw a note posted about cleaning up the microwave after using it (it was a relatively small office); I remember feeling embarrassed because I knew it was very likely my food that prompted the note. Oops.

    But really, Alison and everyone else make valid points. Yes we are adults and maybe some people feel they should be treated as such. But even otherwise-awesome adults need these little reminders on occasion. lol. Also, excellent point about addressing the admin (or whoever sends the email/posts the note) directly and kindly if you think you were the one who prompted the note.

    The only mistake this admin made was rearranging your shelf. IMO, it is never appropriate to touch or move things on another person’s desk unless given express permission to do so. Okay, I’ll admit to taking small items like a pen or stapler, but it’s never for long, and I always put it back where I found it.

  7. BadPlanning*

    My work area had a space heater witch hunt a couple years ago. They had people walk around the site (which is sizable) looking for evil space heaters. Since we are in a big and older building, the heat can be quite variable. I get that they can be dangerous — especially since people are bringing them in from home and you can’t control the safety factor. It did seem a little absurd at the time. I am fortunate that my offices have always been decent on the temp. Sometimes I put on my jacket or some mitts for chilly hands, but that’s about it.

    RE: moving stuff on your desk. Is your admin dusting/cleaning work areas? Given the other attention to details that the OP described, maybe she also tries to clean people’s desks. If that’s the case, you could say you appreciate the thought, but she can skip you and you’ll spot clean when needed. Otherwise, she’s a bad snooper. If you’re going to snoop, leave no evidence!

    1. BadPlanning*

      The snooping was a joke — if she’s snooping around people’s stuff, that’s an issue, of course….

    2. BadPlanning*

      Now I’m amusing myself with thoughts of this admin running a tight ship. I bet the office fridge (if there is one) never has dubious stuff growing in it. “Yes, I threw out your fancy Tupperware. It was cleaning day and you left it in the fridge without a date on it.”

      1. Just me*

        Hate this, but I understand the reasoning. My glass container was thrown out one weekend. I had just brought it in that Friday. But policy us what it is, and people don’t have time to run around and try to find the culprit. I never forgot my lunch dish again (on a Friday).

        1. Ash #1*

          Wow, that’s rude. At my current job we never throw out people’s containers. We just chuck the food that’s in them, give them a good rinse, and send out an e-mail saying that there’s empty containers in the kitchen that need to be picked up. Throwing out a container someone bought (espceially a nice glass one that is potentially expensive) is unacceptable to me.

          1. KellyK*

            I don’t think it’s that bad if there’s a clear policy and plenty of warning. Unfortunately, sometimes the only way to get people to change their behavior is to make sure that the negative consequences of that behavior fall on them.

            The way your office handles it trains people that they can leave things as long as they want, and someone else will do their dishes for them. That may not be a problem if whoever’s washing them has time and the fridge doesn’t become a biohazard in between cleanings, but it’s definitely enabling messiness.

  8. Nonprofit Office Manager*

    Well, crap. I have twenty things to do this morning, but I can’t NOT respond to this post. From what the OP described, I used to have a very similar job as the admin assistant. She should not have rearranged OP’s stuff. That’s a little odd. But the lamp-giving? The space heater thing? The all team emails? Those sound like things I used to do. It’s possible that others sitting in your general area have complained about insufficient lighting, and she took it upon herself to give you a lamp. Or, maybe no one else complained, but she herself noticed your workspace might be too dim and proactively offered a solution. There’s nothing wrong with declining the lamp, but I think it’s safe to assume that the admin was trying to be helpful as opposed to trying to control your workspace. Space heaters can and do catch on fire, and it’s not unreasonable for a company to want them unplugged when people are not at their desks. All-team emails are an efficient way to communicate messages that apply to all people. Also, admins often do not witness “offenses” (for lack of a better word) that take place and therefore can’t always speak to the “offenders” one-on-one. Besides, I guarantee that for every person who temporarily leaves a mug in the sink with the intention of coming back for it, there are five people who leave dishes in the sink hoping the dish-washing fairy will deal with it for them. There’s no shortage of truly awful admins out there, OP. Sounds like you have a good one!

  9. Melissa*

    As an Admin, I’m confused. Where would someone leave the dishes? I mean no disrespect by asking … because as an Admin, I am responsible for doing the dishes, along with all my other duties. Perhaps in this office you are expected to do your own dishes? Well, that’s completely fine, but if you need to move glasses out of a conference room because the Admin didn’t go into the conference room after the last meeting and pick up the dishes, push in the chairs and clean off the table (also part of my Admin job), then where is the employee supposed to put the glasses? I realize I’m nitpicking here, but it’s an honest question. The employee can’t tell the clients, “Excuse me, before we have our meeting, I have to go wash these glasses because I’m not allowed to leave them in the sink …” As an Admin, I’m expected to (a) police the conference room after every meeting and re-set it for the next user; and (b) do the dishes. Perhaps not every Admin does the dishes, and that’s fine, but in the meantime, where are the dishes supposed to go when the employee needs to use a dirty conference room?

      1. fposte*

        I’m thinking next to the sink would have been better, yes. We’re a self-washing crew around here, and stuff in the sink is both annoying and gross, because everybody else’s runoff piles into them, and the sink is not a storage location.

        If the office policy officially is leave your dishes in the sink for the admin to wash or the cleaning crew to load the dishwasher, that’s fine, but otherwise the sink is a place for doing stuff, not leaving stuff.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m assuming that the admin didn’t know they came from the conference room and probably assumed someone just put them there after drinking from them. That’s why it’s useful for the OP to mention it to her.

      1. ac*

        … which then alerts the Admin to the fact that people aren’t picking up after themselves after meetings and that may be an area that needs attention. I think this is a very good way of dealing with it, as you are apologizing for the inconvenience/policy violation while explaining why it occurred. Great advice, AAM!

    2. Calla*

      This was an issue at my last job. We had a dishwasher, but people would still leave their dirty dishes in the sink all day. There were definitely one or two “Do not leave your dirty dishes in the sink” emails during my time there.

      I don’t know if that’s the case here, but it’s a possibility.

      1. LizNYC*

        OMG, we have a dishwasher right next to the sink, but it must be rocket science to actually open the darn thing and place your glass / plate / utensil inside, based on how many people leave their stuff in the sink. *signed, the person who is an obsessive user of the dishwasher

        1. Jen in RO*

          I never put the plates inside the dishwasher at home :( I don’t know why, but I just pile them up on the counter until it starts overflowing. (In the pre-dishwasher days, I used to have huge arguments with my boyfriend because I just piled everything in the sink. I have a very high level of tolerance for messiness…)

          1. hamster*

            God, me too. What is worst my husband is the same. We run like 3 dishwasher cycles per week. On saturdays :(
            This makes me really grateful that at my job , there is a cleaning crew that does the dishes ( even for personal casseroles, not only for company plates and mugs). They even take your mug of your desk if you leave it there. They also dust/wipe all desks all the time/every night.
            At a previous place, the cleaning lady would cut up lemons and leave them in a pot by the water machine, if you wanted to flavor your water ( oh memories…)

            1. Ash #1*

              Do what my ex and I did when we started to get too messy: Limit yourselves to one type of utensil and plate/bowl each; pack all of the rest of the dishes away (of course you can pull them out for company). Then you can’t make huge messes because you run out of dishes too quickly. It was really helpful and helped us both get into a better routine of cleaning up after ourselves faster.

          2. Windchime*

            I do this, too. And it’s because I don’t like unloading the dishwasher. I don’t know why; it’s just putting a bunch of clean things away in the cupboards and it takes 2 minutes but I don’t like doing it. I’m trying to be better about it this week and at this time, there are zero dishes in my sink (at home).

            1. VintageLydia*

              I hate that chore. When UFYH admonishes it’s followers that there are THREE steps to washing dishes and clothes: wash, dry, and PUT AWAY I feel like she’s writing to me specifically!

              1. Jen in RO*

                That “put away” part is the worst! I use dishes straight out of the dishwasher and put on clothes straight from the dryer rack, to minimize the hassle! Which, of course, leads to annoyed boyfriend who is pissed off that my dryer rack is taking up his space (it’s too cold to put it outside, and dryers, as in the big appliances, are extremely uncommon here).

            1. Jen in RO*

              I’ve only had a dishwasher for a year (they are more common here than dryers, but still rare) and it’s amaaaazing, I can’t believe I didn’t buy one earlier. However I’ve never heard of an office with a dishwasher – the mentality is very much “you can wash your own plates”. I hate doing dishes, so I try to go out at lunch or eat out of a Tupperware dish and take it home to wash in the dishwasher.

            2. Poe*

              I bought one of those countertop ones for my last apartment and it was worth every penny. I would leave dirty dishes piled everywhere if I had to wash them by hand, but if I could just stick them in the dishwasher and put it on “short/quick” right after dinner? AMAZING! Then in the morning while my coffee cooled enough to drink I would put them away. Changed my standard of living considerably.

    3. AnonHR*

      We have a dishwasher at our office, so at least here, we’re just expected to put them in the dishwasher instead of the sink. Even if that’s not the case here, as others have said, the admin had probably just had one too many instances of people who put them in there without washing them who were not necessarily in a time-crunch situation like the OP. I think Alison’s advice on this subject is spot on.

  10. Christine*

    Our building administrator sends an email blast every Friday afternoon with a list of reminders about things like leaving conference rooms in good shape for the next meeting, clearing your stuff out of the refrigerator before the weekend (everything is tossed every weekend for the most part, except things like condiments), no using visitor parking if you’re not a visitor and no inventing your own creative parking spaces (we have plenty of parking but some of it is inconveniently far), and putting your dirty dishes in the dishwasher, or the bussing tub under the sink if the dishwasher happens to be running. Since it’s virtually the same email every week, no one feels like a finger is being pointed at them.

    1. Anonymous*

      It’s sad that you need to send the exact same email every week. How hard is it for adults to put their dishes in the dishwasher and their car in a proper parking spot?!

      1. tesyaa*

        Also, if I got *virtually* the same email every week, I can guarantee you I wouldn’t read it… even if there were tiny changes that I would want to be aware of.

      2. V*

        I can see how this would be useful. It’s not that people should need to be told weekly, but it’s one of those things that is easy to forget when focusing on more important things, and it can be helpful to do a mental check on whether you left food in the fridge (or whatever) and in many cases I’m sure that is prompted by the email. Kind of like when I’m leaving my house and right before I walk out the door I have to say to myself “keys, phone, lunch, gym clothes….”

        I forget stuff all the time. :)

    2. Cassie*

      If we got these weekly emails in my office, I bet no one would read them. I probably would skim them, to see if anything new has changed, but my coworkers rarely read email blasts.

  11. Lori*

    I don’t know… we had an admin that sounds so much like this, I kind of wondered if it’s the same one. And yes, ours had boundary issues and sent passive-aggressive emails like the ones you mentioned all the time. It was a weird superiority/inferiority complex she had about the position. She finally got fired because the bosses got tired of her attitude. She would do nice things (like bake cupcakes for the office) then get in a huff when people didn’t appreciate them/her enough. Anyway, her attitude became pretty transparent pretty quickly, so if yours is anything like ours was, take comfort in that you surely aren’t the only one to feel this way.

  12. Rin*

    The only problem with sending office-wide emails is that people don’t always think it’s referring to them, so nothing gets fixed. If you know that a certain person is not doing something correctly, talk to that person. If it becomes an office-wide problem, or you think it might, then send an email. In this case, the admin might not have known who left the dishes, but she knew whose space heater was still on, and she should have addressed the OP directly or had a manager do it.

    1. some1*

      “but she knew whose space heater was still on, and she should have addressed the OP directly or had a manager do it.”

      The problem with this is if the LW was the only one addressed about the space heater the message (which is a safety issue), then another Employee who brings in a space heater next week might do the same thing, and she has to start all over again.

      Sometimes All Office emails are the most effecient ways to relay information that everyone needs to know. Just because they are often prompted by a specific person violating a policy, doesn’t mean the admin needs to walk on egg shells so people don’t feel like they are being reprimanded.

      1. Judy*

        And how does the OP know it was only her space heater? It might have been all 10 space heaters from everyone who moved from the other office.

        1. Anonymous*

          Good point! Whenever I get office wide emails I’m like “oh no! They’re on to me!” but it was actually about someone else.

  13. Lanya*

    I had an admin who kept trying to put a potted plant on my desk. The first time it happened, I moved it back to its original location without saying anything. The next morning when it was there again, I had a brief chat with her about why I don’t want plants in my area – I am allergic to them – and it wasn’t a problem again. She had only been trying to “pretty up” my area, but it’s very easy to feel like someone has boundary issues when they keep trying to change your space without asking first.

  14. Lamington*

    I love our admin, she even was the one that rearranged all the fridge leftovers for potluck, made sure I had a plate since I was not there and is always taking care of us. If she would request no glasses at sink, I would do it. She saves me time, I would do the same for her. Former admin we had to share with another group and when we will ask her for something she will always say “A is my boss, not B” or “I’m in A’s group” she was always our last resort.

    1. Jen in RO*

      Our cleaning lady sometimes tidies up my desk and I love it. We used to get breakfast catered by the company and one week I ordered two kilos of oranges…. that’s a lot of oranges piled up on my desk. The next day, I come to work and the cleaning lady had found me a box and put all the oranges in there <3 I'm a naturally messy person so I appreciate any help in getting my space decluttered. This lady has been with the company for 10+ years and treats us all like we were her kids, so we always know that she means well.

  15. glg*

    Oh god, the dishes. At my old job I was in charge of cleaning up or bringing in a cleaning person (depending on the state of the office, my workload that week/month, and if clients were due in) and it was fine; I would give people a joking eyebrow at the number of coffee cups they collected on their desks and I would grown when the dishwasher stopped working and the sink clogged and then roll up my sleeves and deal with it. Or call someone else to deal with it. Or let my boss shirk his work and try to deal with it because he would do that on occasion.

    But my current job. My current job. We don’t have a dishwasher or hot water and my one co-worker likes to put her dirty dishes in the bathroom sink and leave them there. At which point I would get fed up and wash them because gross. Except for 5 months this fall/winter we also didn’t have working heat, in addition to not having hot water, so I refused to wash her dishes and they built up in the bathroom and it was terrrrrrible. Finally once we got working heat I washed them because it was serious disgusting, but anyway, yeah. DO YOUR OWN DISHES.

    I say this not to the LW who herself inherited those dirty cups from someone else’s meeting, but, just, in general, to people. Because as an admin I will do them, but only to a point. And my point is no heat, no hot water, no dishwasher, co-worker I have no respect for. Other admins will probably have different points. (I should say, we were the only two people who used that bathroom and eventually I started using the other bathroom; we also don’t get clients coming in. If either of those things had been different I wouldn’t have gotten into a game of chicken over the dishes; especially because I honestly don’t think she noticed that they were an issue.)

    1. glg*

      (I should also say that “dishes” at my current job was really just silverware; no plates or glasses. So it was a sink full of forks.)

    2. Anonymous*

      This is the exact situation which calls for the circular file solution. First, tell co-worker to knock it off. Then, just throw the dishes away instead of cleaning them. It is justice; it is tough-love time. Your co-worker will learn the lesson faster. You will be happier. It is a win-win solution, really.

      1. glg*

        I would mention it to her and it would go completely over her head. But I couldn’t really throw it out because then I wouldn’t have silverware either. I should say that they didn’t build up for an entire 5 months while we were without heat; on days when it wasn’t that cold outside the office would sometimes stay in the 65 degree range I would do dishes then. I don’t mind doing dishes! It was the combination of cleaning up after someone I hate + having to do it with freezing cold water in an office that was 50 degrees that was an issue.

        1. Judy*

          If you’re in the US, you might check the OSHA requirements. There is a requirement for bathrooms in work spaces to have either cold + hot (warmer than a given temperature) or warm (warmer than another temperature) running water. We had to use that to get the owner of this building to fix the water heater once.

  16. Jack the Brit*

    “…it’s not uncommon that they’d unplug yours — and that the office admin would be the face of that policy (or its executioner).”

    Alison, do you mean ‘executor’?

    I’m an admin assistant myself, and though I try and be flexible, I’m not sure my skills would stretch to ‘executioner’!

    1. AB*

      As in execute the policy… although as a former admin, there were definitely times when I would have liked the power to make heads roll (usually in reference to whatever person was not following policy and thus making my job harder).

  17. dustycrown*

    Reminds me of the company-wide emails (and morning meeting scoldings) we used to get about people not turning off the coffee pot at the end of the day. I didn’t drink coffee, and I was part-time, so I wasn’t there at the end of the day, but I still got included in the owner’s frequent emails and scoldings. And the coffee pot got left on, day after day. I thought it was ridiculous that we were burning so much energy over an issue that was easily solved, so I replied to the email and suggested we buy a coffee pot that fills an insulated carafe–hot coffee for hours, no heating element to get left on. The owner thought that suggestion was RIDICULOUS. Her word. She was determined that people should “grow up” and learn to turn off the coffee pot. That proved to me she was more interested in bitching at people than she was in fixing the problem. And I couldn’t help her with that.

  18. Stivee*

    As an admin who is not the maid, I say put on your big boy pants and put your dishes in the dishwasher. It’s my job to make sure the space looks professional, but I draw the line at being your wife/mother.

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