how do I get our office cleaner to stop talking to me while I’m working?

A reader writes:

We just had a change of staff in our cleaning contractors (I work in an office where that is handled outside of our organization, so we have no control of who they are or anything like that) and our new cleaner is driving me crazy. They assign one person to our building. We used to have a woman in her mid 30’s who was great and I had absolutely no complaints about her. She would make brief conversation, worked efficiently, and was always bright and cheery.

Our new cleaner is a man in his late 20’s and he wears way too much cologne despite our scent-free office policy. Sometimes, generally on Fridays (I think he might think it’s a casual day so it’s okay to not act professionally), he’ll carry his phone with him as he walks through the building and it will be playing loud music! This is as he’s walking in and out of our offices; he probably spends about 4 hours a day in our building. He also moves noticeably slower than our last cleaner.

He also makes a point to always chat with me, but he takes a long time to get his ideas out. It’s not just “I like that water bottle!” it’s “So, I’ve seen water bottles like that before, but where do you find something like that? You know what you could use that for? It would probably be good for mixing with fruit….” and it goes on and on. I’ve tried social cues like typing while he’s speaking, turning back to my work, acting busy, responding quickly/without detail, not saying “hello” or initiating any conversation, etc. but those don’t seem to work with him and I’m starting to feel rude. I’m often really busy and he’ll probably spend close to a half hour in my office over the course of the day and I just can’t afford to lose that much time. I’ve recently developed a habit of shutting my door when I know he’ll be in, but that means I miss out on the dusting/mopping/garbage change! I’ve brought it up with my manager and she’s laughed about it and said he’s always looking to waste time and that he’s difficult/awkward to deal with, but that’s it. Because of the nature of our business I have no idea how to contact his place of work (or if that would even be possible) but I don’t know what else to do about him.

I should also mention that I’m the most junior in our all-female office (early 20’s) and I feel like he spends extra time with me than he does with my older coworkers. I feel targetted in a creepy and uncomfortable way – to the point where if I see him in the parking lot I purposely wait in my car until he is out of conversation-reach and, like I said, close my door and sacrifice my cleaning services when I can. I don’t know if there’s something professional and direct I can say to him but, if there is such a thing, I would do whatever it takes to make this stop.

Say this: “Hey, I’m sorry but I really can’t talk while I’m working. Thanks for understanding” and then turn back to your work.

You might feel a little rude, but it’s actually not at all rude to explain that you need work while you’re, you know, at work. It’s not rude to be direct and straightforward about that.

Repeat this a couple of times, and I bet the point will be made. He might stop talking to you altogether because now you’re The Snooty Woman Who Refuses to Talk While She Works (not that I know anything about this happening with an overly friendly security guard at one job or anything like that), but that’s okay. He can label you that way in his mind if he wants.

Also, who in your office is in charge of liaising with the building management, who presumably in turn contracts with the cleaning service? If the problem continues after you do the above — which it shouldn’t, but in case it does — you should talk to that person and ask them to raise this with the building management. It’s actually not reasonable to have to fend off unwanted attention from one of their workers, and it’s reasonable to ask them to get it to stop, particularly after you’ve already tried addressing it directly yourself.

{ 242 comments… read them below }

  1. That Lady*

    I’ve dealt with this exact situation (and the overly friendly security guard also!). Go ahead and be The Snooty Woman Who Refuses to Talk While She Works! What are you losing? Young women have the idea that they need to be nice to everybody ingrained in them from birth, but you can be rude! I promise! Especially if he’s making you uncomfortable.

    I used to leave my office when the guy came around to clean. That got me away from his talking and time-wasting and unwanted attention. If you can leave your office open for him to clean and then come back, you’ll get the benefits of a clean office without the downsides.

    1. nk*

      Nice and rude aren’t opposites, either. People generally shouldn’t be rude (with a few exceptions), but politely and firmly telling someone you can’t talk and need to focus on your work while at work isn’t rude.

      1. Manders*

        I think That Lady meant that OP shouldn’t worry about being *perceived* as rude, because this guy is going to perceive anything less than “OP drops everything and gives me her full attention for as long as I want it” as rudeness. There are some people who will read any attempt to assert a boundary as rudeness, and OP shouldn’t worry about being The Snooty Woman if that’s how he decides to treat her. He’s the one making it weird, not her.

    2. Concerned Citizen*

      Hi there That Lady! are you THAT LADY who had to deal with the overly friendly chatty security guard? What finally happened? It is an interesting thing about people who want to pursue Law as a career. The hierarchy is as follows:
      1. Those who graduate college and go to law school, study hard and become lawyers.
      2. Those who graduate college but can’t, or don’t go to law school become paralegals.
      3. Those who graduate high school, but do not want to go to a four year college become police officers.
      4. those who barely make it out, or drop out of, high school, become security guards, or mall cops.

      1. Liz in a Library*

        I know this is meant in a joking manner, but it’s actually really offensive to assume that career choices, particularly blue-collar ones, necessarily tie to academic ability. If you didn’t mean it to sound that way, keep in mind that things can read differently on the internet where tone is not always clear.

        -Daughter of a 40-year security guard who held two master’s degrees and genuinely enjoyed his work. After three tours of duty and several years in social work, he found it the one that let him help people most directly and help keep people safe.

        1. Liz in a Library*

          And, since tone isn’t available, I want to make clear that when those choices are tied to academic ability, it still doesn’t make them lesser.

          1. Judy*

            Two of my cousins who are police officers have psychology degrees from a university. I know that doesn’t have to be the path for police officers, but I’ve certainly have firsthand knowledge that that is one not entirely unusual path.

            1. Blurgle*

              I don’t think our police service even accepts applications from recruits who don’t have a university degree, except from the military.

        2. BananaPants*

          Yeah, I know several cops with bachelor’s degrees and one with two master’s degrees. Our building’s security guards are nice, capable people, especially the one at our test facility – and their boss is a retired FBI agent. Security is taken quite seriously due to our parent company being a defense contractor.

        3. Michelle*

          Yep, my husband worked as a security guard for a while. Before we were married, he used to take high-paying, short-term contracts in IT (his chosen field), and then take a few months off between contracts to pursue other work he found interesting. He rode bulls on the rodeo circuit, worked as a tattoo artist / piercer, did security at concert venues and night security for high priced condos, tended bar, waited tables, assisted at a veterinary clinic, etc. After we married, he went back to IT full-time and is now working in a particular, highly specialized part of that field.

          But, he was a high school drop out, so I guess Concerned is right. :/

      2. Coach Devie*

        Definitely a societal issue we have where we tie peoples worth to their education / job. Let’s not judge people based on what they do for a living. You don’t really KNOW their story or their background or why they are working where they are. You don’t know if they’ve faced certain hardships, or made certain choices because of a work/life balance they’ve felt was better for them/their family etc.

        We should work really hard to respect everyone as people and exclude thinking public servants, wait staff, janitorial staff, gardeners, or tradespeople are beneath someone who sits in an office, or holds a certain title.

        1. Rana*


          I really loathe the notion that people with degrees are harder working and smarter than people without them. It’s just not true.

          And it’s also not true that service workers lack skills, ambition, etc.

          And even if they were, it doesn’t give you a reason to treat them like crap.

        2. peanut butter kisses*


          I used to have a boss who had his doctorate but just wanted to have a job he loved so he worked at a job where you just had to have a high school diploma to get in. Stereotyping people and occupations is useless.

        3. madge*


          Plus, in my city, a four-year degree is required to apply for any law enforcement position.

          I know this was meant as a joke, and I’m a huuuge fan of inappropriate humor, but there are plenty of people for whom college is simply not an option. Scholarship assistance is tighter than many people would like to believe, and we’re not even touching on the issue of learning disabilities.

      3. Omne*

        #3 wouldn’t work in my state. A four year degree is mandatory for being licensed as a peace officer (LEO).

  2. Sadsack*

    I agree with Alison about just tellign him you can’t talk, and would add that you also might want to contact the building management regarding the playing of music and wearing cologne in a scent free office (I’ve never heard of the latter, but that must be a nice thing to have.). They can tell the cleaning person or tell the company he works for, either way someone will tell him to stop.

    1. MegEB*

      I work in a hospital and most of our buildings are fragrance-free (especially my department, since many of our patients have respiratory issues). It’s wonderful, actually. I’m not especially sensitive to smell, but not having to worry about overbearing scents in a crowded office is a great feeling.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Agreed, and I’m not sensitive to it either. But sometimes I get on our elevator and wonder, “Does this unknown person who last used the elevator need to go home and apply more cologne? I don’t think one bottle is enough.” >_<

        1. Magda*

          My sister is like this with her perfume use. You knew she’d gone out for the evening because the scent lingered in the hallway for hours afterward. I love her and we have a generally awesome sisterly relationship, but this is the one area where I’m like “…how are you related to me?”

        2. SerfinUSA*

          My term for that is ‘vapor trails’. I’ve been in a closed stairwell and had to follow someone’s whole-bottle vapor trail too many times.

          1. Cath in Canada*

            Ha! I’m stealing that.

            We have a scent-free policy (we’re part of a healthcare agency, although no patients are ever on-site), but the company with which we share a building does not. There are often vapour trails in the elevator, stairwell, lobby, and other shared spaces. Mind you I’ve smelled worse things when stepping into an elevator.

            1. RG*

              If only the “worse things” were confined to the elevator. As someone who works in the hottest and least well ventilated classroom in my building, the hierarchy of worse is thus:

              1. Unwashed middle schooler doused in Axe body spray in an 80-degree classroom.
              2. Unwashed middle schooler doused in Axe body spray
              3. Unwashed middle schooler
              4. Washed middle schooler doused in Axe body spray
              5. Washed middle schooler who stood anywhere within a 20-locker radius of the kid who just doused himself in Axe body spray
              6. Anyone else in the building at the time of dousing

              What is this magical unicorn known as a scent-free environment and how can I get it to co-teach algebra?

          2. Hlyssande*

            Some people in my building leave horrible vapor trails of cigarette smoke in the elevators. I’m still not sure which one I hate more.

          3. Windchime*

            Love the term “vapor trails”. There is a lovely woman at work who is normally scent-free, but once in awhile, she will douse on a really strong-smelling fragrance that leaves a vapor trail. I can’t distinguish between most perfumes; if it’s not vanilla or lemon, then it smells like Off insect repellant to me. I know this is just something weird about my nose, but I can hardly stand to be in the same room with people who smell like insecticide.

        3. MegEB*

          Hah! “More is better” is not advice that should be applied to perfume/cologne.

          1. Rebecca*

            Haha, years ago I had a pin that said, “Nice perfume. Must you marinate in it?” Some fragrances are a migraine trigger for me, I wish we had a scent-free policy in our building! Luckily, it seems like in the last few years the trend of wearing a lot of fragrance has gone away. Or maybe I just don’t notice it as much.

          2. Stemmie*

            I sat across a table from a guy soaked in Axe or something. My eyes were watering in under a minute. A friend of his wandered past. “Hey man,” she said, “You smell good! Keep wearing that stuff!” No hint of sarcasm.

            She was a good 15+ feet away from him when she said this.

          3. Anonymous for this one*

            My ex-boss used to immerse herself in Tabu (the “forbidden fragrance”) every afternoon just before leaving work. Indescribable.

          4. SerfinUSA*

            I recently walked by a store display (the one with a logo that looks like a target) and caught a whiff that gave me instant 80’s high school flashbacks. Yup, it was Obsession. I had no idea that it was still in production, and had fallen from it’s original department store high horse to the depths of mass merchandising.

          5. Rana*

            My theory is that the people who wear strong perfume have deadened their noses from wearing it too much, and can’t smell it on themselves unless they put a lot of it on.

      2. The Bimmer Guy*

        Short of B.O., nothing really bothers me. But I don’t myself wear cologne, either…and certainly wouldn’t over-apply it if I did.

    2. INTP*

      Agree with contacting building management. It seems likely that they just haven’t informed him of the scent free policy. It’s the company’s job to be aware of policies for any employees they send onsite.

    3. Rita*

      We have a scent free policy, but that’s probably mostly because one of the former owners is extremely sensitive of strong scents.

  3. Adam*

    Sometimes people are thick enough that the only approach that works is the direct approach. I don’t think he means anything overtly bad by it. He’s just too dense to take the hint and isn’t really interested in focusing on his own job. So if you spell it out for him (and repeat as necessary since it could take a few times) he should start leaving you alone. Then bring it up with building management if he refuses to get a clue.

    1. Adam*

      This might have sounded a bit harsher on my part than was necessary. The coffee hasn’t kicked in yet…

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        ha! It didn’t sound harsh to me but I also have not had my caffeine kick in yet. Hopefully cup number 4 can do it.

    2. Thomas W*

      Agreed. It’s perfectly reasonable to be subtle on first attempt, but if it doesn’t work, that doesn’t immediately signify something creepy or malicious. Some people just need to hear it very directly. (Also agree with previous commenters that being blunt and honest does not necessarily equal being rude)

  4. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

    Oh lord, I read the title and thought I’d sleep-written to AAM! The details don’t line up, and unfortunately our cleaner is an established worker who has been here far longer than I have and has that chatty rapport with my officemates, so trying to shut him down feels extra rude/awkward because it doesn’t seem to match with the office culture. That said I don’t care to discuss politics, racism, or the contents of my trash/recycling with this man, even if everyone else does, and my refusal to engage seems to go unnoticed.

      1. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*


        Seriously though, I never would have expected a netflix sitcom to drop one of the best pieces of life advice I’ve ever received.

        1. lionelrichiesclayhead*

          Agreed. I wasn’t sure if I was going to reply with that comment because I didn’t want to go off topic but I have legitimately used it as a coping mechanism at work!

    1. Jane Alex*

      Lol at wondering if you’d sleep-written to AAM. I sometimes look at titles and wonder if someone in my office sent it in. One was so similar to a problem a co-worker was having that I asked her if she had written it. (She hadn’t, but she did appreciate the advice!) I sometimes worry I’ll see a topic and realize it was written about me.

      1. Nervous Accountant*

        Omg I am so paranoid about that!!! I try my best not to post anything identifying or specific but the consciousness is always there. I usually post in the open thread but I try (keyword TRY) to keep it professional and not sound like a nasty person..

    2. Allison*

      oh man, if someone started commenting on the contents of my trash I’d be so mad! at our old office I had my own trash bin, and have a tendency to nosh on junk food during the day, so often at the end of the day my trash would be a lot of candy wrappers and/or empty Cheez-it, Smartfood, or Popcorners bags. And discussing the contents would probably mean giving me a hard time about my eating habits, which I hate, even if it’s “all in good fun.” As it was, I cringed at the thought of someone emptying my trash and seeing all the wrappers, and thinking I was a fat pig.

      1. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

        I work in an archive and if I’m doing a lot of weeding or photocopying, or if we’ve gotten a lot of files that need shredding, my recycling bin can fill up FAST. And he always has something snarky to say about how much stuff is in it (I always make sure it’s actually sorted and liftable). It is so obnoxious! Yes, I can produce a lot of recycling, would you rather I throw these un-shredded SSNs in the trash? Today his comment was “always with the lean cuisines.” Sorry I like microwave lunches? And I’m lucky, because unlike the LW I don’t feel targeted, but it is super annoying.

        1. Rana*

          I’d be tempted to retort, “Always with the annoying comments,” but perhaps that’s just me. ;)

  5. kristinyc*

    Could you just step out of your office (maybe with a notebook or laptop) and say you have a meeting when he’s there, and go work somewhere else for a bit? Or, if you know when he’ll be there in advance, actually schedule a meeting somewhere else so you’re just not in the office when he’s cleaning.

    (I realize this doesn’t actually solve the problem, and you shouldn’t be exiled from your office, but as someone who really likes to avoid confrontation, this is probably what I’d do for a while).

    1. Judy*

      We had a custodian who would make endless chitchat at one of my jobs 20 years ago. Generally, if you noticed he was talking to someone for longer than a few minutes, you might call their number and say “Hey, weren’t you going to be meeting me somewhere sometime?” Usually the person answering the phone would say “Oh, I forgot about that meeting” and pick up their notebook and hurry out the door. A co-worker had access to a computer in the lab with a modem, and was known to remotely log in from his desk and then call his own number through the modem while the custodian was talking to him, and then “run off to a meeting he forgot”.

      Can you get a buddy to notice and send you a lifeline?

        1. LJL*

          I have only had to do this a few times, but it really was necessary. Somehow a ringing phone or an audible presence in the office helps to get the idea across.

          1. Dana*

            When I worked in a pharmacy we had a customer like this. He had some issues and really seemed like he didn’t have a friend in the world, but my sympathy would run thin when he would see my necklace, comment on it, then drone on and on about how he mail-ordered replicates of sunken treasure jewelry from whatever century and whatever shipwrecks (I think he even offered to give me the company’s phone number!). Some of his “favorites” would hide in the back room if they saw him coming. He would monopolize the cashier/tech’s time so badly that we started inventing phone calls for people…until he caught on. He wouldn’t leave the counter when someone said you had a phone call–he would just wait! Somehow it never occurred to us in our customer-is-always-right store to just up and say “I have to get back to work now, excuse me.”

            1. fposte*

              This is especially a problem with front-desk jobs, where you frequently don’t have the option of removing yourself. As you indicate, It’s really good to learn that “I have to get back to work now,” because otherwise the droner takes your being at your desk as being a rapt audience.

              1. FormerEditor*

                This definitely happened at my first job out of college, and still happens to my librarian friends when working the reference desk. In my case, an older gentleman came in at least once a week to see me (our store was combined office/retail, and I didn’t even work retail) to help him out with something. This ended up being at least 45 minutes, every single time.

                I was really young then, and didn’t understand how to shut down questions like, “is there a Mr. FormerEditor” or statements that I should be a face model (?!?!?!). We needed business and never looked busy, so no one helped.

                It’s a bit of a power play, isn’t it? You can’t go anywhere, and the customer is always right?

                1. fposte*

                  I was thinking of librarians, in fact, though of course there are a lot of those jobs. And I think this has kind of a circular relationship to the OP’s post and the whole subject–so many young women are at these front desk jobs where they can’t leave, and that just enhances the view that young women at work are there to listen when people talk.

      1. Happy Lurker*

        Or just excuse yourself to a long ladies room break followed by a water fill up and tea, or a quick check in with a coworker. It might be a good time to take 10 for yourself.
        I have been the young gal in the office that was mistakenly nice to someone (who later showed up at my MailBoxes, etc. address because he read it off the magazine he borrowed – yikes).

    2. Sadsack*

      I don’t think it needs to be a confrontation to nicely say, “Sorry, I really can’t talk right now.”

  6. Magda*

    Nth-ing the suggestion to talk to your operations and/or building manager if addressing it directly doesn’t work. If the cleaning service is contracted out to a company, this is the kind of thing a lot of companies are going to want to know about (that their representative is being disruptive to the customer). That goes double if the guy gets weird and rude with you after you ask him to take it down a notch.

    My sympathies OP! I haven’t had to deal with this kind of attention in a while, but it always frustrated me so much when I had to expend extra mental energy on stuff like this when I was already trying to give full focus to my actual job duties.

    1. M-C*

      It seems to me there are actually 2 issues here. One is the time-wasting chitchat, which indeed the OP must be direct about if she wishes to avoid it. One of the reasons why men target young women for this kind of thing is that they know they’re less likely to be brushed off because younger women are still paralyzed by unrealistic standards of politeness. Shake off those chains OP :-)!

      But the second issue is more serious – it’s the underlying creepiness of being targeted as a young woman for this attention. If the cleaner doesn’t respond to a direct request to stop chatting, I’d take that up with the manager again, but framing it as a harassment issue this time. Try to waste a bit more time next Friday (before giving him a direct order to stop) timing how much chat gets aimed at younger women vs the rest of the staff. Presenting the issue as ‘this cleaner spends 3 times more time harassing young women than others, and this has to stop’ is a lot more effective than nitpicking about how long it takes him to do the actual work or do it at all. It’s your company’s legal responsibility to see that you’re not sexually harassed at work. Now we know things can be very not-simple when this comes from the company president or such, but it’s not an issue here – it’s a contractor being creepy, and an unskilled one at that. A single phone call to his company should suffice to get him swiftly replaced by someone more suitable. Mentioning that he’s in fact doing the job very badly is gravy. You can be sure he’ll behave better at the next company he’s placed with if you complain. Please do it to protect everyone, not just yourself.

      Finally, let me recommend that you read ‘the gift of fear’ (ignoring the domestic violence chapter, which is sadly inadequate). But this situation you’re in isn’t unusual, and you could use being able to recognize things like this sooner, strategies to deal with them, and reassurance that when you feel creeped out you should listen to your gut about it. Good for you for reaching out for help OP!

      1. TootsNYC*

        This guy is also young-ish–late 20s. So he may simply be chatting with people who are closer to his age. And since we are all (OK, most of us) programmed to believe “women are friendlier,” it -may- be just friendliness. Or sounding her out for an honorably intentioned romantic overture.

        All interactions between men and women occur in a framework that pairs men and women sexually or romantically, of course. Which is why it’s perfectly natural that it feels a bit creepy and extra uncomfortable.

        And I would say that even if his intentions are honorable, the creepiness she’s feeling should be honored, and she should be direct now. Especially since he’s been ignoring her signals. That means she shouldn’t worry about being abrupt, blunt, rude, or “making it weird.” As A. D. Kay says below, he is not the one making it weird. Make it weird back.

        1. fposte*

          Yes, I think sometimes creepiness can just be the result of feeling stuck in this situation.

        2. Looby*

          “All interactions between men and women occur in a framework that pairs men and women sexually or romantically, of course.”

          Um…what? Maybe in your mind all these guys are hitting on you, but a male co-worker saying hi and chatting does not always mean they want to sleep with you.

          1. TalleySueNYC*

            Of course it doesn’t, Looby.

            But reproductive biology–and social biology–lurks in the background always.

            Whenever an interaction becomes prolonged, or repeated, the “men and women pair off” idea is going to float out there. It simply frames our world.

      2. SystemsLady*

        I had this happen to me once (thankfully I was only at this place for a day) while hurriedly walking somewhere and back to grab something and wrap up my computer work for the day. A painter who had been watching me pass him by all day walked right up to me and followed me all the way there and back to his work area. The whole way he asked me personal questions and talked about his life and career aspirations. It was on the surface friendly and he said or asked nothing inappropriate, but it still made me feel really uncomfortable. I tried to shake him off and tell him I was in a hurry, but it just didn’t work (“I’m just curious what you do here!”)

        There is a special kind of, arguably societally reinforced, entitlement behind harassment of this nature. It could be as simple as “this really good-looking person is in my sight, so I must talk to them and learn about them regardless of context or what they’re/I’m supposed to be doing!”. You are right that you are under no obligation to indulge it, OP.

        Some people may do things like this completely unaware that it’s harassment, but that’s all the more reason to directly shut people who do this down and report them if they don’t listen! I regret not being more direct when it happened to me.

        (This goes regardless of job “class” and gender, by the way. Flip them or equate them however you want and it is still inappropriate.)

        1. SystemsLady*

          And yes I realize my situation was a bit more obviously harassment, but I’d argue it is along much the same lines.

        2. Tau*

          Oh god, this is reminding me of the time it was pouring rain and I was walking down a street under an umbrella and a random guy decided this *obviously* meant he could share my umbrella and start yattering about his life. So uncomfortable! So creepy! So wish I’d been confident enough to say “um, strange dude I’ve never met before who is now breaching my personal space bubble, GO AWAY!”

  7. A. D. Kay*

    YOU’RE not the one being rude and making it weird. HE is. Alison’s advice turns the weirdness back on him, where it belongs.

    1. Dasha*

      Hm, I think this sort of thing is hard to explain in writing. I agree with the other comment that women have been raised to be nice since early childhood and it is hard for some women (young women especially) to be “rude.” I think part of this is also because they don’t have a lot of experience dealing with which makes it worse.

      I don’t blame OP for being creeped out and while in writing it may sound mildly annoying and tame we aren’t there to see the interaction. Maybe he is flirting and some guys just don’t take no as an answer- but I don’t think we have enough information to go that far.

      Bottom line is don’t let this guy make you feel uncomfortable. He is in the wrong, not you.

      OP trust your instincts and use whichever suggestion you are most comfortable with to let this guy know it’s not OK to continue this behavior with you.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        I think it’s not a coincidence that the LW is a young woman. Young women are targeted for this kind of thing ALL THE TIME, because we’re raised to avoid being “rude” at all costs. It might be a flirting or sex thing, or he might just enjoy a captive audience listening to him. Who knows, who cares. Five’ll get you ten that the first time the LW tells him she needs to focus on her work and can’t talk, it’ll turn into “oh LOOOOOK, it’s LW, who’s too BUSY and IMPORTANT to even say HELLOOOOOO!!!” But she does have the power to shut it down, using Alison’s advice.

        Long-term, as you get older, you’re not targeted for this kind of nonsense as much. Either it’s not as enchanting to force a 40-year-old to listen to you as a 22-year-old, or the people who do this know the 40-year-olds will not be afraid to shut it down.

        Good thing it’s a cleaning guy and not a co-worker, so LW is much less likely to get the dreaded Not A Team Player in her review for not sitting still for this.

        1. fposte*

          I think also it’s more rewarding to get attention from somebody your own age, and most people grow out of this after a while. Not all of them, unfortunately, but most of them.

  8. kac*

    The music & cologne issue is something I would definitely bring up with whoever manages the cleaning services–perhaps an office manager?

    1. Folklorist*

      It seems like the cologne might be tied to the lingering in the younger women’s offices. He probably thinks he’s being suave and chatting up the ladies <>, when he’s really being an obnoxious tool. It all needs to be addressed!

      1. Folklorist*

        Hah…I forgot about the HTML formatting here. Those carats were supposed to say, ::insert eyewaggle here::. It’s less fun when you have to explain the joke afterward…

        1. Folklorist*

          Also, there should be an eyebrow waggle code that you can insert.

          And, aaagh! Eyewaggle not a thing unless you have detached retinas. Commenting fail today. Folklorist out.

          1. Kyrielle*

            The joke got a weak smile, the corrections got a full-on laugh, for what it’s worth. Detached retinas indeed! Or a glass eye and a penchant for pulling it out and wiggling it around, maybe. Hee.

          2. ThursdaysGeek*

            No, I know someone who can make her eyes vibrate quickly back and forth. Eyewaggle is just a special skill.

  9. Allison*

    “Nice” isn’t the word to use here. I agree that people should be courteous and respectful to others, regardless of rank, but you don’t need to be open and accommodating in order to show respect. You don’t need to be friendly with this guy, just show him a baseline level of respect.

    When you tell this guy you don’t want to talk while you work, he may push back, so I’d try one of the following strategies:

    – tell him you just got a ton of new work dumped on you, like a new project or new responsibilities, and since you have more to do you need to manage your time better, and that means refraining from conversation.

    – tell him you realize your productivity isn’t where it should be these days, and you’re making an effort to be more focused and efficient at work.

    In any case, whoever manages this guy needs to know there are issues with his performance. He’s being disruptive and clearly slacking off. Your coworkers said it themselves, he’s having these conversations as a way to put off his actual work.

      1. bridget*

        Nobody said she did. Allison presented it as a strategy which may increase the effectiveness of her direct statement that she can’t talk.

        1. neverjaunty*

          But it actually decreases the effectiveness. It gives him an opening to talk more about the whys and wherefores.

          1. M-C*

            +1 ‘This must stop now’ is all you have to say. Or as they say ‘no is a complete sentence’ :-).

          2. Allison*

            Typically I’d say that turning someone down without giving an explanation is the thing to do. But in this case, even saying “I’d rather not talk right now” will open the door to him demanding why not, possibly throwing a massive hissy fit, and then I really wouldn’t be able to work.

          3. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’m a big fan of anything that gives people mental permission to say what they need to say. Yes, in theory, it should be fine to just say “I’m busy and can’t talk to you” but the reality is that that’s awfully uncomfortable for a lot of people and they can’t bring themselves to say it. I like anything that gives them mental permission to do it.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              +1000000000 It *should* be ok to be direct, but it’s very hard for a lot of people. To give them a way to ease into it is better than just saying “no, just be direct,” because they *won’t* be direct, not at first. Some people can jump in, some people need to wade in slowly. As long as they wind up in the pool, it doesn’t matter which way they go.

            2. nonegiven*

              How about, “It isn’t my job to tell you to stop wearing cologne in a scent free office or to tell you to stop playing music that disrupts the office or to tell you to quit f***ing around and get your cleaning done without interrupting business, but if you don’t stop, I will find out whose job it is.

        2. Observer*

          I agree with neverjaunty. be clear and direct – and do not give him any excuses, reasons to argue, or reasons to think (or claim to think) that another time might be better.

        3. Lynn Whitehat*

          Explaining that she just got this big project dumped on her etc etc. sounds like “but maybe next week will be a good time to talk!” She wants this to stop forever, not for one week.

    1. Magda*

      I don’t disagree with you, but I would caution that if this guy has issues with boundaries, he may try to argue OP out of her stated reasoning for not talking. Or engage in prying (“What’s the big project? You’re moving up in the world, aren’t you? Bla bla bla…”) .

      She needs to be able to stick to the explanation like a broken record, and not get sucked into justifying or elaborating on her explanation, if she gives one at all.

      1. RVA Cat*

        Magda, that’s what I was getting out. She needs to be firm in her boundaries and refuse to engage.

        Sadly, a lot of people in their age bracket have trouble understanding that “no” is a complete sentence.

        1. RVA Cat*

          …at, even.

          (and boundary issues/creepy gender dynamics are in no way limited to 20-somethings)

        2. Magda*

          Totally agree… I’ve had so many experiences where people treated “I can’t because X” like an opening to negotiate about X. I kinda don’t bother anymore, which I’m sure wins me lots of popularity points!

      2. SerfinUSA*

        I’ve done the longer ‘polite’ explaining thing before, and when it doesn’t hit the mark, interrupted with ‘oh, that was actually my polite way of saying I can’t chat while I work, sorry’. Then disengaging and focusing on work until the person left.

        1. Allison*

          I wouldn’t be able to keep my cool after that. If I’d given him a reason why I can’t talk right now, and he used that as a conversation topic, I’d probably snap and say “was I not clear? I *just said* I need to focus on work.”

          1. SerfinUSA*

            I work in academia (which was a huge culture change for me) and anything more stern and effective will sometimes be taken as ‘bullying’ and get you a stint in HR’s workshop hell if the ‘victim’ complains. If need be I state my piece with my trusty inner-city stink eye, which generally works. Otherwise they get “I need you to leave now so I can work” then I make a fuss upstream and get the issue dealt with more permanently (as in not reoccurring, not in the concrete shoes sense).

              1. SerfinUSA*

                Oh yeah. Washington state. It continues to amaze me, what some people consider bullying, and the reactions from badmin on high. Our entire department once had to do an all-day seminar because one sub-group felt that upcoming job changes (logical, incremental, and unavoidable) amounted to being bullied.

                We’re kind of an island though, maybe 100 miles from any major cities, and when people latch on here they never let go. It can lead to some very interesting personality expressions.

                1. anon for this one too*

                  yup- in my academic environment, I was accused of bullying behavior because I stated that lying was unacceptable behavior and would not be tolerated. The employee filed a complaint that she felt unsafe around me and bullied. It was suggested that when we had a “miscommunication” issue and I have documented the discrepancy between realities (hers and mine) that I should use the word prefabricate and support her “inaccuracy” in language with documentation. For example- you stated in an email to me on Friday that those boxes were shipped last Thursday but this morning, (Monday) I found them unlabeled and still sitting in office suite. A PIP and a year and half later said employee is gone but I still had to sit through a 2.5 hour seminar on bullying in the workplace.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I don’t think you should even use excuses.

      I suggest you say, “I don’t want to have a conversation when you come in to clean my office. Please don’t interrupt me. I need you to just do your tasks and move on to the next person.”

      OK, OK, throw in a “sorry” there. And maybe a brief, distant, fleeting smile (“see, I’m friendly”).

      I wouldn’t want to wait for him to “eventually clue in.”

      And yes, you are getting hit on.
      I might also suggest you figure out who in your company would be the Office Services person, and go to them with this:
      “I feel like he spends extra time with me than he does with my older coworkers. I feel targetted in a creepy and uncomfortable way – to the point where if I see him in the parking lot I purposely wait in my car until he is out of conversation-reach and, like I said, close my door and sacrifice my cleaning services when I can.

      Say, “It doesn’t matter to me that he hasn’t done something I can clearly point to. What he -has- done is not take a pretty clear hint. So before it gets to some other point, where I do have to deal with a direct approach, would you get the info up the food chain to him that he needs to stop chatting people up? I’m going to tell him to stop chatting with me, but I’d like for this to be on the radar screen with other people.”

      1. TootsNYC*

        Oh, and the reason I say this is because of my own “direct hit” from a Creepy Security Guy.

        I mentioned it a few weeks later to my friend who was the assistant to the Office Services person, and he nearly hit the roof that I hadn’t brought it up. “I know she would want to get him out–even if he was just sort of generally flirty, she would want to know.” Lord knows *I* would. I’d want to stop him -before- it got to the point where he was asking you out.

        1. SerfinUSA*

          Thanks for mentioning this. We have a daily courier that is overly friendly, to the point of asking out a coworker who then felt compelled to avoid dealing with him, even though it impacted workflow. I didn’t butt in, thinking she could shut him down on her own, but she’s a massively backwards-bending person and maybe me sharing my concern with appropriate parties can be helpful.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          This. We had a uniform guy at a previous job who would flirt with me and my coworker, and one time he asked me to go to a Matchbox Twenty concert with him. I liked the band, and if it were anyone else I might have said yes, but NOT this guy. He was creep central. Later, we had a different dude come in on the route and after some prodding, he told us Creep had been fired for some very inappropriate remarks to another client. We shared our misgivings about him and that it wasn’t an isolated occurrence.

          1. RVA Cat*

            One thing we may want to keep in mind in all these interactions is that there are some class dynamics in play. Blue collar guys certainly haven’t cornered the market on being creepy — though it probably comes across as more “obvious”. At least these guys are not in a position for the quid pro quo elements of sexual harassment like so many bosses are…

            1. Observer*

              Huh? I see no evidence whatsoever that class dynamics are in play here. I admit that it’s possible that I overlooked something. But one thing I am SURE I did not overlook is any hint that “blue collar guy have cornered the market on being creepy”.

              As for your “at least”, allow me to point out that if you have any reason to worry about physical assault, lack of quid pro quo power is not much of a comfort.

          2. Lurker*

            At a previous job we had weekly armored car service and I had to escort the guard to my floor, which you needed key card access to/had to be escorted by staff. I was always friendly and he would frequently ask me about my weekends and did I like to “party”; I would usually deflect or give vague answers but one time in the elevator, when he asked how my weekend was, I said, “oh it was my birthday so I did blah blah blah” and he tried to give me a hug! I put up my hands and said, “I’m not a hug-type person.”

            After he left, I walked straight into my supervisor’s office and told him what happened, then I called the armored car company and told them what happened and that that guard was no longer allowed in our building. Going forward, my male co-worker had to either go with me in the elevator to escort them, or do it for me.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        See, that’s an example of wording that I think is perfectly legit but a lot of people wouldn’t be able to bring themselves to say. (I don’t think I’d be able to!) For many people, if they have softer wording to use, they’ll actually use it — whereas they won’t use the wording that feels tougher to them.

        1. Vin Packer*

          This is a great point. So maybe the best thing to say is, the OP should use whatever wording or excuse makes her feel comfortable, but also continue to do her best to recognize, in her own mind at least, that she doesn’t actually -owe- the dude anything.

        2. Thomas W*

          Agree. I think you can use softer wording and still be quite direct. We have a similar fellow at our office, and I have said (a few times): “I’m sorry, I’m generally quite busy and don’t have time to talk while I’m at work. Have a good one!” My tone is neutral, and I have a smile on my face, and it works. He doesn’t take it badly, and I get my peace and quiet.

          1. Mabel*

            The thing that keeps sticking in my mind is that the OP is trying to work, and the cleaner is making it difficult for her to do that. And he’s taking forever to do his work. She should use wording that is comfortable for her, but it might help for her to keep in mind that she has every right to continue to work – in her office – without having to explain or make nice to anyone. I’ve had to do this before (keep in mind that I’m not being rude when I need someone to change what they’re doing, and that it’s completely reasonable) in order to make myself tell the person what I needed to tell them.

    3. SJP*

      I can see these opening up a new line of communication though like “Oh im sorry to hear that, it must be hard having all these responsibility huh? etc etc

      1. LibrarianJ*

        This, unfortunately.

        I’m in the same situation, and for awhile I’d just tried being really distant and untalkative — which has been an uphill battle because it feels incredibly rude, but I have legitimately been too busy and his longest visits always happen when I am at my busiest. When he commented on my behavior and I gave the (100% true) “too many responsibilities” excuse, it opened up a new conversation about how much work I’m doing and how he could tell because he noticed I have been a “sourpuss” lately. If anything, it has just made the situation more uncomfortable.

      2. fposte*

        Sure, but often they don’t open up a new line of conversation, and that’s no reason not to try this wording. You don’t have to go in armed against all possible contingencies before you can take action.

    4. Jessa*

      Explanations are a bad idea, they just encourage the person to argue about them “Oh you have the rest of the afternoon for that after I leave.” It’s a bad idea. You don’t want to talk whilst working, you say that, you don’t have to be nasty and use foul language but “Sorry, I need to get back to work,” and then NOT responding to anything they say, except to repeat that if they don’t leave immediately. And if that doesn’t work “I need to get back to work, so you need to stop interrupting me. Thank you.” Do not engage beyond “I need to get back to work,” as an answer to every thing the person says. “Hi I like your dress,” gets “Thank you, I need to get back to work.” “But…” “I need to get back to work,” then start ignoring them. “Oh, were you still talking? I need to get back to work now.”

      1. Anonymous Librarian*

        One must be careful about language and tone. If he’s a creep, he will escalate if he thinks he’s being rebuffed. If he gets fired later guess who he might blame. I say this with 25 years of front line desk experience and 10 years of waitressing before that and I was also a pretty young woman once upon a time. Super friendly: “Hi, Bob!” 20 seonds of him talking, “lots to do today” or whatever good excuses AAM listed above, still super friendly, “so I have to stop talking now. Bye!” Saying ‘why are you still here’ could set him off. The whole office needs to get together and get him gone over the poor work ethic and the cologne stink. Only use harassment threats if you must, IMO. Maybe I’m jaded, but my 2 cents.

  10. Malissa*

    It really sucks when you lose a efficient effective cleaning person. The ones that come after just pale in comparison. I still miss Chuck–the best guy ever for the job. Sadly he retired and nothing really ever got dusted again.
    But your new guy sounds awful. I second the idea of an errand to run or a meeting to get to when he enters your office to clean. If he’s hanging around after he’s done in an attempt to talk just say, “Looks good, Thanks.” If he persists, “I’ve got work to do. Have a good day.”

    1. the gold digger*

      You had a cleaning person who dusted? In your office? Even in my luxury days of the 8th-floor window office with the door I could shut when the person outside of my office started chewing ice again, I had to do all my own dusting.

      1. GOG11*

        As long as I pick up my stuff and tell or signal the cleaning person that I want my surfaces dusted, they’ll dust. They don’t regularly because they don’t want to be messing with everything out on the desk, for efficiency and liability reasons, I think.

      2. Malissa*

        Technically the cleaning people weren’t supposed to touch anything on a desk, but Chuck was not a normal cleaning person. He asked for and was given permission to dust off any equipment (computers, phones, etc.) that was on the desk tops. He was also the only one to dust the window sills daily and the chair rails–which were part of the job.
        Chuck had a passion for his job. The office got him the biggest basket of stuff when we heard he was retiring.
        After Chuck we had the lady that somehow always got distracted when refilling toilet paper rolls in the bathroom. I spent many a morning locking the dispensers back in their upright position. She’d also leave empty trash cans with no bags on top of desks. She really didn’t last long. Then we had the guy that was afraid of the dark. Every light in the building was on when he cleaned. The my Christmas cactus stopped blooming while he was there. He was also the guy that killed a coworker’s plant. The excuse was that her ex-husband did something to this guy and this is how he was getting revenge. Said guy was never allowed back into our building again.
        After that the next two cleaning people were rather boring.

  11. Kaz*

    You are getting hit on…make a point of looking away from him when he talks…just ignore him completely and make sure he sees you ignoring him…a dissatisfied look on your face may also help. He will eventually clue in and then start behaving as if he didn’t want to talk to you anyway. Don’t establish eye contact, don’t talk, pretend he’s not there, even if you have to do this for half an hour per day. If this doesn’t work, talk to management to hire a new cleaner because this one is interfering with your ability to do your work. Make sure you can trust that management will not reveal you as the source of this information to him or his company.

    1. Mephyle*

      I’m afraid this is not good advice. OP’s is already doing this. She says, “I’ve tried social cues like typing while he’s speaking, turning back to my work, acting busy, responding quickly/without detail, not saying “hello” or initiating any conversation, etc. but those don’t seem to work with him.” Except that she was still responding to him with short answers, she is already doing everything you suggest and it doesn’t work on him.

      How much longer should she sacrifice a half hour a day of annoyance and interrupted work before he gets it eventually when there is no reason to believe that “eventually” will every happen at all.

  12. squids*

    I also could have written this! The creepy has dropped off considerably as I just keep working and refuse to engage, but there’s consensus in the office that buddy is still ineffective & not getting the work done properly. Unfortunately, our manager doesn’t want to bring it up with the cleaning company as he doesn’t want the guy to lose his job.

  13. Christy*

    Related: The guy who gave out the Express (local free paper for commuters) at my old metro station would flirt with me EVERY TIME. And like, weird stuff like calling me “my queen” and stuff like that.

    How do you get that to stop? I moved, eventually and for unrelated reasons, to a different apartment with a different metro stop. I’ve prevented it with this metro stop because I’m less friendly with the Express guy (just a quick smile, never chatting), but how do you stop it without actually moving away?

    1. Allison*

      Oh my god, I would have been so creeped out if I had to deal with that every day. It would be the worst part of the commute.

    2. Sydney Bristow*

      My method is headphones in and quickly saying “thanks.” Never stop walking in the process.

    3. ScottySmalls*

      I’don’t say if you were friendly to him at first and then one day he called you my queen, you could call him out in the moment like “Eww I can’t believe you called me that, how cheesy ” laugh and be on your way. If he did it again say ” That makes me uncomfortable, don’t say those type of things” and walk away. If he insisted, avoid him as much as possible and if you couldn’t, just don’t respond, not even a facial expression, act like you didn’t hear him. Hopefully, neither a positive nor negative reaction would bore him.

      1. Christy*

        That’s a lot of confrontation. I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying either of those things. The second one, in particular, makes the speaker vulnerable by admitting she’s uncomfortable.

        1. Sadsack*

          Yeah, I have learned to just completely ignore remarks like that from random strange guys. Say thanks for the paper without even looking at him and keep moving.

        2. Zillah*

          Especially for dealing with a stranger in a public place… I wouldn’t be comfortable with that approach, either.

    4. fposte*

      I’m afraid I don’t think you’re likely to get that to stop. He’s almost certainly saying that to a number of women, and it’s quite likely he doesn’t even remember you from day to day, so he’d probably have to stop flirting with everybody to stop flirting with you.

    5. Happy Lurker*

      Years ago I had a big CZ ring (engagement ring style) and picked up a cheap band. It only helped a little, but when I was young and smiling a lot I needed it. I grew up with special needs in my family and was always extra kind to people who seemed to need it. So every weirdo asked me for a date for my first 2 or 3 years or working.
      Now I half smile, nod and walk away. Quickly.

    6. FD*

      I am personally a fan of an icy raised eyebrow. I’ve found a cool look and a raised eyebrow will cut off a lot of annoyance.

  14. kt (lowercase)*

    That’s a good way to deal with the chattiness — would it change the advice any if she also wanted to take on his other obnoxious behaviors (can’t tell if she does or not)? I feel like “address it directly with the person” is obviously the way to go when there’s one problem, but how do you address basically a litany of problems with someone you have no authority over? “One, you need to lay off the cologne. Two, the music? You can get a decent pair of headphones for like four dollars. Three, SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP. Oh yeah, and the gum snapping!…”

    This does not seem like it would go over too well with most people (especially people inconsiderate enough for it to be an issue in the first place), but going over their head with the same litany of complaints doesn’t seem any better, and bringing up one thing at a time seems like it would make them feel like you were just sitting on an endless list of grievances.

    tl;dr how do you deal with people so obnoxious they’re in “bitch eating crackers” territory as soon as you have the misfortune of making their acquaintance?

    Also I may be a little irritable…

    1. Colette*

      I think the music and conversation can both be addressed by saying you need quiet to work. I wouldn’t address the cologne unless it was a problem for me (e.g. Allergies).

      1. kt (lowercase)*

        I’m not the OP and I’m not specifically asking about the cologne; I’m asking generally how do you deal with someone who is obnoxious in a whole host of ways. (And the cologne would be a problem for me, and obviously it’s enough of a problem for enough people at OP’s workplace that they have a scent-free policy.)

        1. Rana*

          I think you basically have to treat the person themselves as the problem, rather than a walking assortment of problems to be solved one at a time. It’s also not your job to solve them. Instead it should be put back on the problem person. Something like, “Bob, when you come in to clean my office, I would appreciate it if you could be as quick about it as possible. Your being here is distracting as it is, and I really don’t have time to chat with you.” That doesn’t get at the details, but it does get Bob (and all his annoying habits) away from you as quickly as possible.

          But I think ideally you’d go up the responsibility tree and have Bob’s boss deal with him.

    2. Sadsack*

      I would not address the music and cologne with him, I’d contact the services manager and tell them. They’ll tell him to stop doing those things.

      1. fposte*

        That’s what I was thinking–there’s somebody at the OP’s office in charge of the contract and in the contractor’s office in charge of the staff. Those are the relevant people here.

    3. Rebecca*

      LOL I need to know, too! My cube-mate is driving me insane and it’s definitely in “bitch eating crackers” territory. The constant personal phone calls, loudly updating us all on whichever tv show she watched the night before, the gum-chewing, being an idiot… I wouldn’t know where to start!

  15. Adam*

    Kinda sorta related, but this post reminded me of a story when I was in college. I lived in the campus dorms for two years and we had an older gentleman who cleaned our common areas during the day while classes were going on. Sometimes I’d be studying in the lounge by myself and he’d come in to take a break and would start “talking” with me.

    I say “talking” because we didn’t so much converse as he regaled me with stories of his youth for HOURS sometimes. He had immigrated from what I believe was Pacific Island nation and oh the stories he would tell. He used to be in that nation’s military and even their version of the secret service and he had story after story of all these intense things he got to do. I have no idea if any of it was actually true or not, but even if it wasn’t I didn’t care because his storytelling was so incredibly riveting. I think maybe only once or twice did it even occur to me that “Hey, aren’t you on the clock right now?” but I didn’t care, nor did I care he was technically interrupting my studying.

    The last time we met he told me stories for two straight hours and that at the end he said goodbye and gave me a hug after saying he was retiring. I don’t think he even knew what my name was, but he will always be part of college to me.

    1. Anna*

      This reminds me of something my best friend told me about her time in college on Hawaii. She worked on campus as grounds crew and when she ran out of things to do, her supervisor, on older Pacific Islander, would tell her to go do homework or “talk story” to her friends, but don’t clock out because he would get in to trouble if she did. I’m pretty sure this guy was “talking story” to you. It’s so apt!

      1. Cath in Canada*

        I once had a lovely long chat with an older guy from Fiji when I was travelling by myself during university, and was feeling a bit lonely and far from home in a cafe in Seattle. We shared a love of rugby, and he told me all about playing rugby on the beach using a coconut as a ball, and other adventures. I love that this is A Thing!

      2. Adam*

        I’m betting that was it. Everyone loved the guy and had no complaints about his work, and I’m certain his position was a union one so he likely did have a set time to be on the clock but ended up with regular stretches with not much to do except “story time.”

    2. BananaPants*

      My college dorm housekeeper was an amazing woman. She had been a dorm housekeeper for around 10 years when I was a freshman. The residence life staff didn’t clean dorm rooms of course, but took care of the bathrooms and common areas. She was responsible for 5 dorms’ worth, but it didn’t stop her from getting to know each and every one of the students in residence. Seriously – she knew my name within a week! My parents met her at move in and my mom said later that knowing she was there keeping an eye on everything made her feel good. She was not a highly educated person and had led a bit of a hard life but she knew how to make everyone feel at home. She told great stories and usually had good advice about everything from dating to laundry tips. She worked there largely because her children would have significantly-discounted tuition and it was a way for her to make sure they got to go to college. And some of the stuff she had to deal with cleaning up? She earned every penny!

      At the end of my junior year she said there would be a new housekeeper the following fall (I lived in the same dorm all 4 years) – because she was being promoted to head of housekeeping services for the entire campus. We were SO happy for her!

    3. blackcat*

      I also had a fantastic cleaning person in my dorm. She actually did the first pass of cleaning relatively early, generally 6/6:30am. I’d often be up and studying in the common room because I was a morning person, and this meant I got to know her pretty well over those three years I lived there. I helped edit her kids’ college applications (she had only finished 8th grade), and she made sure to keep an eye out for me. After a short hospital stay one year, she greeted me back with the biggest hug. She was really great.

      Now I’m at an institution where basically none of the cleaning staff speak English. There’s not a culture of the support staff interacting with the students, which I think is a huge negative. One day, I polled something like 40 undergrads (two classes worth), and not a single student said that they new the name of their regular cleaning person. It made me sad–while I don’t want to get in the way of a cleaning person doing their job, I do think having some type of relationship, even if it’s just to say “hi” each day, is nice.

  16. Partly Cloudy*

    “I’ve brought it up with my manager and she’s laughed about it and said he’s always looking to waste time and that he’s difficult/awkward to deal with, but that’s it. Because of the nature of our business I have no idea how to contact his place of work (or if that would even be possible) but I don’t know what else to do about him.

    I should also mention that I’m the most junior in our all-female office (early 20’s) and I feel like he spends extra time with me than he does with my older coworkers. I feel targetted [sic] in a creepy and uncomfortable way – to the point where if I see him in the parking lot I purposely wait in my car until he is out of conversation-reach and, like I said, close my door and sacrifice my cleaning services when I can.”

    So the OP has brought this up to her manager, and the manager’s reaction was a weird combination of acknowledging the problem and blowing it off. News flash, manager: if the office cleaner is always looking to waste time, he’s wasting YOUR employees’ time also by chatting with/at them.

    Another point I want to make–somewhat hesitantly, because I’m far from the type to cry harassment–is that it is legally possible to be sexually harassed by vendors or clients. The second paragraph I quoted above makes it sound like the OP is more than just annoyed, but truly uncomfortable being around this guy.

    It would be in the company’s best interest to deal with this.

  17. Katie the Fed*

    I don’t know if it’s unique to federal employment, but the contractors we use for cleaning often hire people with various developmental/cognitive disabilities (my apologies if I’m using the wrong terms there) so they tend to have varying levels of social skills and sense of appropriateness. I wonder if that might be part of what’s going on here, since he seems to not be picking up on social cues? In any case, the strategy is the same, be polite and direct.

    1. De Minimis*

      Katie, does your facility have the rule about the vending machine contracts having to go to companies that are involved in services to the blind? Always wondered if that was government wide….

      On our facility, the local Indian tribe [on whose land we’re located] gets first dibs at any contracts. They handle the housecleaning services and are about to being a parking lot expansion project.

    2. Kelly*

      That was my thought as well, especially the with the overuse of scent. It’s not federal jobs – many private employers practice the same, often for tax breaks for hiring disabled people.

  18. Jaune Desprez*

    This guy is probably just a minor-league creep and not a dangerous creep, but I would avoid working late and being the last person in the office if he’s still in the building.

    1. caraytid*

      that’s just it, though, isn’t it? Schroedinger’s Creep is harmless until he isn’t.

      LW – please definitely listen to your spidey sense about this guy. if he makes you uncomfortable, make sure you are never alone with him.

      1. KT*

        THIS. So many women don’t listen to their gut because they don’t want someone to be rude, but intuition and that spidey sense are there for a reason. If someone gives you the creeps or makes you nervous, don’t beat yourself up or force yourself to be “polite” and deal with that person. Avoid them at all costs!

      2. JMegan*

        Love “Schroedinger’s Creep!” Not the guy, obviously, but the concept definitely rings true.

      3. Jaune Desprez*

        “Schroedinger’s Creep” is a fabulous phrase that I’m going to steal from you!

  19. BadPlanning*

    If after Alison’s statement, he keeps chatting, dial up a phone conference. Or get on the phone and fake joining a meeting. Or get up and go to another person’s office to ask them a question (preferably one that’s already cleaned). Then he can’t talk to you — well, certainly he can, but either he has to talk to you while you are on the phone or follow you around, which turns things up to extra weird. It could train him out of conversations so you don’t have to do it forever.

    Sometimes you have to be “rude” — it’s okay! Because even being civil is an invitation for some people. And he’s triggering your internal alarm. It’s okay to stick with “thanks!” in regard to cleaning and leave the office. I always know my RBF is slipping when random guys at work say hello to me in the hallways (I have polled my male coworkers, random men at work do not greet them in the hallway).

  20. cheeky*

    If all else fails, put your trash bins outside of your office door and close the door when he’s around.

    1. MaryMary*

      I’ve done this. Not to avoid awkward conversations, necessarily, but if I’m on the phone or having a confidential conversation when the cleaning staff comes around.

  21. Kimmy*

    This happened to me too! He would even comment on things in my trash can. I tried the avoidance route, but he learned to lie in wait. Eventually I brought it up with my (useless, incompetent) manager, who defended him as “just being friendly”! After escalating the issue above my manager, he was spoken to and then vandalized my belongings and refused to empty my trash. If you have a manager that sucks, complaining may not help. Yet one more reason to leave a bad manager. (This janitor eventually quit.)

    1. Allison*

      Somewhat off-topic, but your comment reminds me of a dream I had, where some random dude had taken a shine to me and wanted me to let him up to my apartment. When I refused he said “fine, then I’m gonna pick ALL OF THESE FLOWERS” and proceeded to ruin the flower bed that ran along the side of the building. It was so weird, but sadly not that removed from reality. They say women are crazy, but a lot of men seem to think it’s okay to throw a hissy fit and/or break things if they don’t get their way.

      1. eee*

        the other day while I was waiting for my bus, a guy hit on me while I was obviously reading. I asked him very politely whether I could get back to my book. He said yes, walked away, and proceeded to knock over a bunch of trash cans on purpose. I think a lot of people forget this when they tell women to be more assertive–sometimes we’re not assertive because it is SENSIBLE (albeit sexist and annoying) to be overly apologetic. Knocking over trashcans was his response to me politely and sweetly saying I was really interested in my novel and wanted to keep reading it, imagine what his reaction would have been if I’d just said “I’m busy, please don’t speak to me”

        1. Windchime*

          This is such a good point. I’m a big fan of being direct, but often there are harsh consequences when we women are direct. Depending on how he was knocking over the trash cans (kicking them violently?), I would find that kind of scary, especially if I was sitting alone at a bus stop with him.

        2. Zillah*

          Yep. It sucks and I hate that I have to do this, but if I feel threatened, I’m generally going to look to deescalate the situation and reduce tension. Sometimes that means being annoyingly apologetic when you wish you could be blunt and tell the person to get leave you alone, because… well, some men are very erratic when they’re dealing with women, and if you’ve approached me in the first place, you’re much, much more likely to be one of them.


        3. fposte*

          I’m not convinced it’s that simple, though. The guy was responding to the rejection, not the phraseology. And in workplace conversations, you lose something by underselling your authority, so there are risks when you engage in that behavior that have to be factored in.

          I don’t think that’s as much as a factor with a boundary-impaired rando at a bus stop, and heaven knows we’ve all had the moments where placating a BIR is the shortest way out. But I think there are too many doubtful reasons behind our desire to placate that don’t hold up under scrutiny.

        4. Allison*

          Oh Jesus, that reminds me of another story. This one actually happened. I was working at a movie theater and some guy walked by, looked me up and down, said I was beautiful and asked for my number. I declined, he naturally demanded to know why not, and I forget what my explanation was (probably “I don’t like giving that to strangers” or something). He walked away, but later as I was putting a bag of trash in a hall closet I heard the guy stomping down the hallway going “bitch! . . . BITCH!” and decided to stay in the closet for a little while, until the coast sounded clear. It was terrifying.

          Guys are always whining about how the world is so unfair because they can’t approach random women and hit on them. How are they supposed to meet anyone, they ask. Honestly, no one’s saying you should never take a risk and approach a stranger, but you need to do it respectfully, and if they turn you down (or don’t respond at all), move on. Getting upset, or getting aggressive, isn’t going to do you any favors.

          1. KT*

            Or my favorite, when you turn them down, and they respond with “You’re ugly anyway”

            It’s amazing how quickly beautiful can turn into ugly when faced with rejection!

            1. A Dispatcher*

              Or fat. Jerks when turned down looove to call you ugly and fat (see byefelipe and tindernightmares on instagram for way too many examples of this). Which I’ve never really understood. I guess on a baseline level insulting someone who hurt you makes you feel good for a minute or two, but really, if you’re so shallow that ugly and fat are your go to insults, shouldn’t it hurt your ego more to be turned down by someone not attractive? All you’re doing is hurting yourself there bud…

              1. Artemesia*

                At my former job, an employee of a contractor tied a scale to the office door of a somewhat overweight colleague. She was a new hire and one important to us and it was heartbreaking that one of the first thing that happened to her was this ugly insult from workmen. The Contractor pulled that crew and was put on notice that any further incidents of harassment would result in the company having the contract pulled. It was really awful. To make matters worse she was a minority group member in a largely white environment.

    2. Magda*

      Ugh, what a douche!! That’s exactly the kind of thing I was alluding to when I mentioned having to expend mental energy on dealing with that kind of attention. Is this person going to flip out and make my life more difficult than if I’d just said nothing at all?

  22. Cath in Canada*

    OK, now I don’t feel anywhere near as bad about the recent change in our cleaners’ schedule. They used to come in at around 6, but now it’s closer to 5, when lots of people are still in the office, and we’re all getting in each others’ way now. Their carts block the aisles when we’re trying to get to the printer, we’re using the bathrooms when they want to clean them (and vice versa), and it’s been weeks since I was able to get changed for my bike ride home without a cleaner walking in on me. I appreciate that an earlier schedule is much more convenient for them, but I still get annoyed (privately – I always smile and nod and say “no worries” when I see them in person!) At least they play their music through headphones, and the only scents are cleaning products…

  23. Elizabeth West*

    At one old job, we had the greatest cleaning crew in the world. I loved them and we always chatted when they came in, but their visits usually came toward the end of the workday, and not in the morning or after lunch when we were somewhat busy.

    Then they got better jobs and we got a new cleaning guy who suddenly appeared to be transitioning from male to female. She was really nice and we would chat–she told me she wanted to do a full transition, but the cost was out of her reach. Then she disappeared and I assumed she got another job too.

    Nope; a month or so later, I opened the newspaper and saw an article about a bank that had been robbed–by this exact person (they caught her fairly quickly). I felt horrible about it–I’m pretty sure I know exactly why she did it. I wonder if maybe some asshole client complained about her appearance and she got fired (there was nothing wrong with her work) and then hit the bank out of desperation. :(

      1. Sadsack*

        I agree that it is sad. Now I feel bad for immediately thinking of something kind of funny.

    1. I'm a Little Teapot*

      Or maybe she stole stuff from your employer and that’s why she disappeared….

  24. HRish Dude*

    We had a bizarre one where the cleaning crew kept coming to us to complain about their boss, their hours, etc. They were contracted through the building, did not work for us and outside of the rent, we did not pay for them. Our only guess was that someone told them to go to Human Resources and they saw our sign and felt that one company’s HR was as good as any other. It got to a point where they would come in and we would spend 2 or 3 hours a day on cleaning crew drama and we could not get the building to do anything about it. Finally, building management attempted to schedule a meeting with one of the employees to discuss an issue with us where we had to be like – YOU pay them, we are not the only tenant in the building, they do not work for us, we are not their Human Resources department, please stop interrupting our work.

  25. Bee Eye LL*

    Here’s what you need to do.

    Next time he starts talking, wait until you get a moment to get a word in, then ask, “Hey guess what?”

    When he says, “What?”

    Say, “Chicken butt.”

    Then turn around and start typing without saying another word. Play the crazy card. :)

  26. Joey*

    Oh god. Why do some people have to be direct to the point that it’s frequently taken as rude and why can’t others say anything for fear of being rude?

    Why not just keep it light and low key and say “hey man, sorry, but could you keep it quiet when you come in my office? I’ve got work to do. Thanks.”

    1. nona*

      Because people are different?

      +1 for what you suggest saying, though I’m not really seeing a difference from Alison’s suggestion or most commenters’.

      1. Joey*

        Its not different. It just continues to baffle me how so many folks lose their brains and all rational thinking when faced with even a benign problem. I mean didn’t people ever learn as kids to be kind and that if you have a problem with someone you need to try and work it out with the other person.

        It just bothers me that so many people don’t do that and then start assuming a man must be a creep out to do harm because hes not recognizing your supposed social cues.

        Rant over

        1. fposte*

          As I think you and I have discussed before, no, a lot of us didn’t learn that as kids. But it’s good we’re learning it at some point, right?

          1. Joey*

            I’m waiting for the day Alison responds to a long letter with simply “ask her not to do that.”

            1. Marmoset*

              That would be a totally useless response, though. People aren’t stupid, they’ve thought of that. If they’re taking the trouble to write in it’s because there’s a reason they’re stuck. Maybe being direct feels uncomfortable for them and they need encouragement. Maybe they’ve internalized social rules saying they Must Be Polite At All Costs and need some guidance in unpacking that and learning to assert themselves.

              Maybe you could try assuming the letter writers are thoughtful, intelligent people who are being vulnerable and trusting by asking for help.

              Alternatively, start your own blog where you answer questions that way and see how many people’s lives you change.

            1. nona*

              You didn’t make a point. You vented about people who grew up differently than you or who learned different social skills than you being crazy, stupid, etc.

              1. Joey*

                You must not realize that a huge number of questions on this blog can be answered with “go tell the person that bothers you.”

                1. nona*

                  It’s obvious to anyone who’s read any advice column ever. People write in because they want advice on how to do this.

        2. Magda*

          I mean… are you just not reading the stories upthread about men vandalizing offices and kicking trash cans in response to being *directly* told no? Those aren’t representative of all men, but they’re not total outliers either. If you’re frustrated and ranting, think about the frustration levels of women who have to deal with that kind of crap directly just because some dude decided to foist his attentions on her, and then maybe it’s a little more understandable why some err on the side of the “smile and back away” approach.

          1. Joey*

            No I still don’t understand. I might get killed in an auto accident driving home. I still drive. I might fire someone who flips out and tries to harm me. I still do it when necessary. The point is we cant let the off chance that something bad happens paralyze us into not taking the appropriate actions.

            Of course I’m not talking about taking reasonable everyday precautions or someone who exhibits real signs of violence. Thats totally different.

            1. Jaune Desprez*

              It’s not an off chance. The overlap between “men who fail to recognize obvious — not supposed! — social cues that a woman would rather be left alone” and “men who will threaten or hurt women who reject them” is not insignificant. There’s probably not a single woman reading this thread who hasn’t been insulted, threatened, or physically harmed by a man who didn’t want to take no for an answer. Even “just” being called a bitch is a surprisingly unpleasant experience, and it often doesn’t stop there. Women keep trying to find pleasant, oblique, non-confrontational ways to tell men to go away because they are very reasonably afraid of the response they will get if they are direct.

              1. Joey*

                What! i don’t think I’ve ever met a man who didn’t misinterpret social cues from a woman. And I know tons who have interpreted them in the exact opposite way they’re intended. Sorry, but men just aren’t good at interpreting every woman’s social cues.

                1. A Dispatcher*

                  Okay, so I will concede that men often do miss women’s hints and social cues, particularly in a social and/or romantic setting, however this is neither, this is a workplace and a professional situation.
                  “I’ve tried social cues like typing while he’s speaking, turning back to my work, acting busy, responding quickly/without detail, not saying “hello” or initiating any conversation, etc.”
                  Those are pretty clear behaviors. Why does the fact that a woman is doing them make them less valid than they would be if a man were? Oh she must be playing coy/hard to get and couldn’t possibly actually want me to go away… That’s not misunderstanding social cues, that’s delusional wishful thinking and shouldn’t just be explained away a la men are from Mars…

                2. fposte*

                  Though to be fair we have a lot of letter writers who have tried similar indirect tactics with female co-workers and found them similarly unsuccessful.

                  I mean, yes, the guy’s an annoyance and a crap worker for not defaulting to “converse when invited,” but it seems like plenty of people of both sexes don’t read hints.

                3. Joey*

                  That’s absolutely true fposte. No one is great at reading anyone’s social cues.thats why I think it’s a bit ridiculous that people are expected to pick up on them and if they arent they must be ignoring them intentionally.

                4. Magda*

                  Joey, if you are upset that women use social cues, you should really be venting your frustration at those who penalize them for being direct.

                  I would LOVE to live in a world where I could freely say “Please leave me alone” and keep it moving without worrying if I’m going to have the word “bitch” yelled at me, be threatened with rape or followed down the street. (All of which I have actually experienced.) But we do not live in that world.

                5. Marmoset*

                  I know I said I’d drop it but I cannot let this stand. The idea that women are just sooooo confusing and men just caaan’t possibly understand their Mysterious Signals of Mystery is a) a tired, pathetic stereotype that insults both genders and b) closely tied to consent issues and women being victim-blamed for not expressing themselves in exactly the right way so the poor confused man could understand what he was doing wrong. It does actual harm to perpetuate this idea that men can’t understand women. It contributes directly to rape culture and I don’t say that lightly. When you get all fake indignant and start talking about how every guy you know is just so confused by women and their signals, you contribute directly to a system that doubts women’s voices while giving men endless benefit of the doubt. It’s unfair and wrong and you should stop perpetuating the nonsense stereotypes that support it.

                6. Marmoset*

                  I think my comment about the ‘women are so mysterious and confusing, men can’t possibly be expected to understand them’ stereotype and its connection to consent issues and rape culture got eaten. Which might be for the best. Suffice to say: UGH. NO.

              2. fposte*

                And I’m a woman who thinks that that’s devoting a lot of effort to solving the wrong problem. Men who call me a bitch aren’t doing it because I didn’t reject them nicely enough; they call me a bitch because I rejected them. I think this is just reinforcing the destructive myth that being nice is the safest protection for a woman, and that bad things happen because you weren’t nice enough.

                1. Magda*

                  Sure. I’ve had men blow up even when I rejected them in the most nice, polite way possible. It’s a fallacy to think your safety is proportional to the amount of indirect niceness you exude.

                  At the same time, it’s also hard not to think “If he reacted that way when I was nice, imagine how much worse it would have been if I’d just bluntly told him to F off?”

                  If you’re one of the people who can say “F off” with no fear, that’s awesome, but not everybody is in that place psychologically.

                2. Joey*

                  it reminds me of the the minority who doesn’t want to befriend a white person because he might be racist. Or the white person who thinks the black guy is more dangerous. It’s a pretty depressing way to go through life always assuming the worst outcomes.

                3. nona*

                  Yes, Joey, the natural response to having been repeatedly harassed, threatened, or assaulted is to want to protect yourself from more of the same. It is depressing that this happens.

                4. Marmoset*

                  WTF, Joey. “Minority who doesn’t want to befriend a white person because he might be racist” ?? Now you’re just saying offensive shit for the fun of it.

                5. fposte*

                  @Magda–I think there’s plenty of room because the overly apologetic and telling people to fuck off, though. I’m talking about issues I see with the first–that’s not the same thing as advocating the second.

                6. Magda*

                  @fposte: Of course there’s a spectrum. But I don’t see how it helps women to, as Joey did, accuse them of “losing their brains” if they resort to a socially accepted means of evading potential negative consequences of rejecting a guy.

                  It’s one thing to say “lets try to be more active when this happens” (which you seem to be saying, and I agree with) but it’s another to say “women who behave passively have lost their brains and engage in the stupid practice of expecting me to read social cues! And are just like racists!!” (WT actual F, Joey?)

                  You can advocate for one thing without crapping on people who do another thing. And stating that women are socially conditioned to do a particular thing doesn’t mean stating “and therefore they should always do that and continue to do that.”

            2. Magda*

              I’m not saying that OP shouldn’t take action (in fact my earlier comments advocated escalating to the operations/building manager if necessary). And the OP’s question, in fact, is asking HOW she should broach this with the cleaning guy in a professional and direct way to get him to stop. Your “OMG why do people LOSE THEIR BRAINS?” attitude is unnecessary, rude, and frankly, ignorant of the reality women deal with when rejecting unwanted male attention.

              You take precautions when you drive. You put on your seatbelt, observe safe driving speeds and the rules of the road. You take precautions when you fire people — you confiscate keys, revoke computer access, and escort them off the property if necessary.

              If I sense that I’m in a situation where a dude might be interested and might not take it well when I tell him no, I’m going to take the precaution of trying to de-escalate the situation. It might end up not being necessary — just as your seatbelt isn’t “necessary” for the 99% of times when you drive and don’t get into a crash. But that doesn’t mean people are wimpy fools for taking a precaution.

            3. Marmoset*

              So glad we have a man around to explain what does and doesn’t constitute ‘reasonable everyday precautions’ in response to situations that are faced by women every day and by men almost never! Terrific! So fun! Please Joey, tell me more about ‘the off chance that something bad happens’. I’m riveted.

              1. Marmoset*

                Also, auto accidents /= gendered violence, and treating them as equivalent is misogynistic BS. I know we’re not here to debate gender issues so I’ll drop this now, but I want to register my disappointment that remarks like Joey’s are tolerated here. Makes me mad, but I guess if I’m mad I can leave. Just, ugh.

                1. Liz in a Library*

                  I agree with Marmoset 100%. I feel like this particular line of discussion happens every time gender issues come up in questions, and every time people try to explain their alternate points of view, every time those views are ignored, and it’s getting hard to believe that they aren’t getting ignored just because they are women’s points of view.

                2. Ellie H*

                  I don’t agree. I think it’s a fine comparison. They’re both something bad that happens to you; it’s just that one of them involves another person’s agency in a more obvious way. The majority of people behave reasonably, the majority of times you drive you don’t get in a car accident. I think that Joey’s points are reasonable, I agree with his perspective on this issue and I always appreciate his sharing his point of view here.

            4. VintageLydia USA*

              You might be killed in an auto accident, but you probably wear a seat belt, have a car with anywhere from 1-8 air bags, and special technology that crumples and minimize the applied forces and as a result reduce the chance of injury and death. Plus you may drive defensively, paying attention to traffic signs and signals, watch the drivers on the road, and many other things.

              The point is, you do things, both actively and passively, that may prevent death even if you’re in a car accident. Even if the chances of you getting into a fender bender, let alone a severe accident, is quite low, I guarantee you still wear that seat belt.

              The way a lot of women react to creepy behavior is much the same. Most of us, rightly or wrongly, have been taught from birth to at minimum be cautious around strangers, particularly men, and to deescalate as sweetly and nicely as possible if our boundaries are being crossed. Often we are punished, usually indirectly but sometimes directly, if we’re more direct, so excuse me if we don’t learn those skills until we’re full grown adults. It’s like we were taught to wear a seat belt and buy a car with all the latest safety features, but to always trust that no one will turn or merge without a turn signal or otherwise act irrationally on the road, but still being blamed for accidents even if we technically did nothing wrong because we should’ve seen the signs.

              Ugh, this is becoming a rant. I’m just really frustrated that again and again and again that when a woman even suggests she’s being creeped on as a slight possibility, she must be irrational or lying, and it’s always the same 3-5 people saying that, usually all men. Just trust us, ya know? Rarely is anything more at stake for the potential creeper in question than a bruised ego and maybe a conversation from their supervisor about not bothering people if we’re wrong. But if we’re right and ignore it anyway to save a dude’s fee-fees, well, we should’ve seen the signs. More subtle hints than slamming him with a clue by four give the guy an opportunity to save face. It ain’t our fault if he refuses to take those hints.

          2. Allison*

            And unless a guy is *overtly* sexually harassing you, or obviously stalking you, any concern that his attention may be inappropriate is usually dismissed pretty quickly. “He’s just trying to be nice,” they say. “He just wants to be your buddy!” “Why do you think every guy is hitting on you? Get over yourself!”

            We’re constantly told to ignore our instincts when someone gives us a bad feeling, and it’s only when something bad actually does happen that people say “well he was clearly interested in her, why didn’t she tell him she wan’t interested?” “see ladies, this is why you listen to your gut.” It’s a minefield, and no matter how you handle the situation, someone is going to call you paranoid; or a rude, man-hating bitch; or a weak little victim who can’t protect herself.

            1. So Very Anonymous*

              I’ve had someone tell me that it “made them sad” that I thought a creepy guy was creepy (neighbor guy who kept trying to get me to come into his apartment to use his washer/dryer). This was the apartment manager; it made her sad for the guy that I was skeeved out by him trying to get me into his apartment. He’s just friendly! …..

              1. So Very Anonymous*

                Oh, and I should add, I told him multiple times that I wasn’t going to do that. He persisted because he “just hated watching” me carry my laundry to the complex’s laundry room. I suppose I could have added that an easy solution to his problem was just not to watch, then.

        3. TootsNYC*

          Actually, “not recognizing your ‘supposed’ social cues” (extra quote marks mine) is a tactic some people deliberately use (even if not a clear, conscious choice) in order to pursue their own agenda. Then they can say (and they -know- this), “Jeez, all you had to do was say! I’m supposed to read your mind?!?!” And they get to make you the bad guy, and up until that point, they know that you know they have “deniability.

          Once someone is on the other side of the line of normal behavior, all bets are off.
          Someone made the point upstream from this post about how irrational some guys can be. And the thing is, if they’ve asked for your phone number while they’re walking past you–well, they’re already irrational.
          This guy may well be just clueless. But he’s been getting some pretty unequivocal “I’m not interested in engaging” clues, and he’s ignoring them. So whether he’s a creep or just relying on social convention to get to feed his ego by chatting with the female his age, or just clueless–what else is he clueless about? What else is he creepy about?

          So yeah, I’ll back off my more blunt wording, and endorse Joey’s
          “Why not just keep it light and low key and say “hey man, sorry, but could you keep it quiet when you come in my office? I’ve got work to do. Thanks.”

  27. Dr. Pepper Addict*

    Create a fake LinkedIn profile and find him on there and act like you’re a recruiter. Offer him a job that would be way above the range of money he’s making. He will then quit his new job and by the time he figures out it’s a hoax, he will be out of your life for good.

    Ok, I am totally joking, but I can’t be the only person who’s come up with a silly situation in their heads to get rid of the guy.

    OP – What time does he usually come around? Is there a chance you could take your lunch when he’s cleaning, or call a meeting?

    1. HR Generalist (OP today)*

      Sorry I’m late to the game everyone, I was off work yesterday so I missed publishing.

      He makes his own schedule and it varies. Sometimes he’ll be here in the morning, sometimes afternoon, sometimes right at lunch. That drives me crazy too since old cleaner was always here at set time (this is crackers mode).

      I noticed this morning he drew a sketch of a large flower on our bathroom log that he signs every day to show he has cleaned it. It drove me crazy. He must have spent at least 10 minutes on it.

  28. Steve*

    Go to lunch, work in a conference room or someone elses office, talk on the phone, so he can’t talk to you. Or if worse comes to worse, put on a pair of headphones and say you need to focus.

  29. Observer*

    I’m going to agree with all the people who say be direct and tell him you can’t talk. If he keeps doing it OR he reacts badly in any way (refusing to clean your office, vandalizing your stuff, or getting angry / rude with you) bring it up with whoever handles facilities AND with HR.

    Do NOT let them blow this off. Stick to the core issues: He is making it hard for you to get your work done and you feel harassed. You don’t need to prove ill intent or dangerousness. Just point out that he spends a disproportionate amount of time trying to talk to you, he’s managed to make you feel quite nervous and he has refused your direct request to knock it off. If he gets mad at you then, that should be emphasized. If they claim they cannot do anything / it’s not their responsibility, let them know that it is most definitely their responsibility and that they CAN do something.

  30. snuck*

    Ok, so I’m going to come at this from a different perspective, and I could be WAY off base. I am wondering from what you read whether the young man has some social skills issues (I’m thinking high functioning Autism specifically).

    Not our right to know… I am surrounded by Autism in my family (and probably carry some traits close to the line myself) and when I see what you said about the water bottle conversation it rings so close to home… he’s trying to socially connect but doing it in an odd way, with very concrete language.

    It isn’t our right to know… but it’s possible it could be something as simple as that. Autism isn’t contagious, it’s not dangerous… it’s just different wiring of the brain.

    Why not politely just say to him “Hey your music is loud and distracting us, why don’t you find some headphones mate so we don’t all need to listen to it?” and “I’m sorry, I can’t chat … I have a lot of work to finish… have a good afternoon though!” smile smile and you will probably find it resolves itself. If it doesn’t THEN you go chat to someone about it. Social cues like huffing, shuffling papers, even turning away mightn’t be picked up by someone with Autism, they don’t read those cues – if your young cleaner isn’t reading those cues at all then it might be worth considering… and act accordingly – be polite and clear, don’t hint, don’t assume they get it, politely state the truth and then there’s no opportunity for confusion.

  31. Dynamic Beige*

    I hate to bring this up… but he’s probably just trying to be all smoov and figure out if you like him/find some angle to ask you out. Which is still not cool but I think that if you find ways to bring up you have a boyfriend, he’ll stop. Such as “that water bottle… I’ve seen ones like that” “yeah, my Boyfriend bought it for me for my birthday” — even if that’s not true. Or “I had no idea it was so late, I’d better call my boyfriend to let him know I’m leaving soon” — something along those lines. It may be easier to communicate that you’re “taken” (especially if you are seeing someone) than confronting him directly about leaving you alone.

    1. Observer*


      I’m sure I’m not the only who is offended by the idea that a woman needs to be “taken” in order to get someone to back off.

      That’s not the biggest problem here. The real issue is that there is no reason to think that this will solve the problem. I recall one case where a guy was being similarly inappropriate with a young woman in the office. She got engaged and was quite public about it. It didn’t stop the guy in question – in fact it made things worse. He started questioning her decision to get engaged! “are you REALLY interested in marrying him?” Blah, blah blah. It was gross and creepy.

      1. HR Generalist (OP today)*

        I work at an abused women’s shelter on the side and the whole premise behind saying “I have a boyfriend” skeeves me out. I’m also going through a breakup right now so it would be entirely too weird for me, ideology aside.

  32. Dakota*

    id close my door and clean my own office until the new office cleaner replaces him which will happen.

  33. Dave*

    I clean 2 units at a nearby office building at night, there’s generally nobody there by the time I arrive, but I generally stick to the old “speak only when spoken to” rule when it comes to the people there. It’s nice to acknowledge that I’m here, a quick head not or smile does the trick. The only time I’ll play a podcast of music out lout is if it’s empty or during off-hours (weekends). All of the clients have been very nice and I’m not much of a small talker, but I’ve been approached by some just to shoot the breeze as I’m local and people seem drawn to me somehow. I’ll often joke that I’m “whitest cleaner they’ve ever met.”

    I have seen the other side of the coin on different jobs. I was at a dental lab and the Plant Lady (the person who took care of the foliage) would draw people into these long conversations while others were trying to work. A day porter at another place was close to stalking territory, always singling certain girls.

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