should we stop stocking the office kitchen if people won’t keep it clean?

A reader writes:

We have a smallish office of 10-12 employees. Our company provides groceries — as in pays for coffee, cereal, sandwich stuff, and snacks for the employees. We have a microwave, toaster oven, refrigerator, and dishwasher. I think it is an excellent benefit to provide to employees, as I don’t know of many employers that provide food to their employees on a consistent basis.

We developed a “kitchen duty” schedule that schedules someone to provide basic housekeeping for a week on a rotating basis. This includes trash removal, wiping counters, and loading/unloading the dishwasher. For the most part, everyone is compliant, but there are some who do not want to participate in “kitchen duty” yet still want to use the kitchen, eat the food, etc. One claims that bending/stooping aggravates a back injury. I don’t want to get into an ADA or workers comp situation, but at the same time, I firmly believe that if you use the kitchen, you should participate in keeping in clean and if there is a task that you cannot physically do, you should ask for assistance.

I am to the point where I want to just stop providing the groceries. It’s a rare benefit that does not appear to be appreciated. Your thoughts?

Well, it’s really, really normal. Kitchen issues like this are pretty much universal; no one has discovered a good way to keep office kitchens clean unless you hire someone specifically to do it.

In some ways, it’s understandable. If I just use the kitchen to make myself coffee or tea, I’m not going to be thrilled about spending my time wiping down sticky counters, scraping out other people’s dirty dishes, and generally putting in much more cleaning effort than the use I’m getting out of the kitchen.

You could certainly argue that pitching in, even if it means cleaning up messes that you didn’t make, is just part of being a civilized adult with a shared kitchen space. But you can also argue that your busy, well-paid employees didn’t sign up to be their coworkers’ janitor. Frankly, neither did your low-paid employees, probably, but this kind of duty is at least more par for the course when you’re more junior.

I don’t think it’s a good use of your time to have to police the kitchen clean-up, and it’s not a good use of your highest paid or busiest employees’ time to do everyone’s cleaning for a full week (versus wiping up their own messes when they make them, which is quite reasonable to expect). So I’d rather see you hire someone to do it, or make it an explicit part of someone’s job (that you disclose to them during the hiring process, not something you spring on them afterwards). I’ve never seen any other solution to this issue that worked consistently and fairly.

There is the option of just stopping providing groceries, as you suggest. But if it’s a perk that you felt good about offering and one that your employees like, it seems short-sighted to end it when most people are following the rules and only a few aren’t. Plus, even if you did that, you’re still going to have to deal with kitchen messes; it’ll just be with food people bring in on their own rather than with food you’re providing.

(Also, it’s totally plausible that bending and stooping aggravates someone’s back injury. You don’t want to get into deciding whose health claims are real and whose aren’t. Whatever you decide to do, you should excuse that person from those activities and not give them a hard time about it.)

{ 241 comments… read them below }

  1. Dawn*

    “This includes trash removal, wiping counters, and loading/unloading the dishwasher.”

    Do you not have a janitor who comes in every night? This seems like janitor-level stuff.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      We don’t. Also a small office. Trash duty is relegated to the person who tries to throw something away but the bag is full. We also don’t have a dishwasher, so it’s pretty clear that everyone is responsible for his or her own dishes. Therefore, we don’t have a schedule– and I would argue that being unscheduled makes it easier to maintain cleanliness, since no one grumbles about being obligated to do it. We just… do.

      I have one co-worker who balks at this a little, and frankly, it’s pretty irritating. It’s not hard to wash a dish right after you use it. I bring in Tupperware from home and take it home to wash it because I don’t have time to do it thoroughly (I rinse well, pat dry, take home, throw in dishwasher), so that’s the alternative.

      1. Jerzy*

        This is pretty much the set up in my office, which is also small. People are expected to clean up after themselves. There tends to be a stray utensil or two in the sink that may get forgotten by its user, but most people don’t mind washing off an extra spoon if they’re doing their dishes anyway.

        The biggest issue is the trash/recycling. It gets emptied once a week by the cleaning crew, but often by Thursday or Friday, it really needs to go out. I’m middle management, and the CEO was astonished (and maybe a little annoyed) when I answered the phone the other day when no one else was available. He thinks I should be spending my time on things billable to the clients. I don’t think emptying the trash would fall under that category, but it’s not part of anyone’s job, so we just deal with a day or two of overflowing trash.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          Agreed– I don’t mind cleaning up an extra spoon. I would DEFINITELY mind cleaning up after everyone else. Having a cleaning rotation means, “Oh, I’m not responsible this week, someone else will take care of it.” Nope. Uh-uh. Just… wash your coffee cups, people.

          I do say this as someone who occasionally decides to start putting stuff away in the kitchen because sometimes I get the urge to organize something. But if I ever found out that a co-worker expected me to do it? Hoo boy.

          1. afiendishthingy*

            Yes. We have one admin who’s responsible for running/unloading the dishwasher and another who throws out unclaimed stuff in the fridge periodically, but other than that we clean up our own dishes. There’s often a stray dish or two in the sink that I bet often get taken care of by the dishwasher-unloading admin, which shouldn’t be her job, but overall it works pretty well.

      2. Charlotte Collins*

        If everyone has to do it, can’t there be one day a week when everyone has a “cleaning meeting” and does the cleaning all at once? Wouldn’t this be faster all around, and take up less of everyone’s time per week? And there could be negotiation for the chores people do and don’t want to (or can and can’t) do. In places where cleaning is part of the job, this is generally the way it works. (As someone who is small and not afraid of heights, when I worked in a Disney Store, I pretty regularly dusted the animatronic figures that are near the ceiling in the store.)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The problem is that it’s super frustrating to be pulled into that when you’re busy with high-level client work or already worked 60 hours this week, and then add in if you don’t use the kitchen much at all — you’re going to be looking at some pretty annoyed senior people.

          1. Charlotte Collins*

            I think you’d get annoyed junior people, too, if you’re always cleaning up someone else’s messes but barely use the kitchen. Unless it’s a very small office where everyone is expected to pitch in in ways that doesn’t happen in larger places, it does sound like the best thing is to pay someone to do it (either a service or a particular employee).

            At the same time, it seems like there needs to be a strong culture of people cleaning up after themselves, which would make the weekly cleanup easier.

            1. Zillah*

              At the same time, it seems like there needs to be a strong culture of people cleaning up after themselves, which would make the weekly cleanup easier.

              In an ideal situation, absolutely – but I’m not convinced that it’s a realistic aim for the OP.

          2. Undercover*

            Yep. I don’t use the kitchen at all. Not even for a cup of coffee, and I now have to participate in “cleaning schedules” when we all know damn well who the messy people are. I barely have enough time to get what I need to get done at work, and now they want me to spend a chunk of that time washing up after my messy adult coworkers? Not okay.

            1. Florida*

              Agree. I never use the kitchen, so I would be annoyed too. I would probably show up to the cleaning party and tell stories about the terrible teacher I remember from grade school who used to punish the whole class when one person misbehaved.

            2. WildLandLover*

              Totally agree. I don’t use the refrigerators at work at all. I bring my lunch in an insulated lunch bag and keep it at my desk. I won’t clean out the refrigerators because I don’t use them. I also don’t use the coffee pots. I have instant coffee and tea at my desk. When I want a cup, I use my own cup in the microwave to heat the water. Whenever I use the microwave to heat anything I always wipe it out afterwards, including the sides and ceiling of the device. When I rinse my recyclables, I also clean up the sink and counter nearby. I am an adult. I clean up after myself. I refuse to clean up after other adults who should be responsible for their own messes.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        I also was going to suggest the Op change the policy to everyone does their own dishes, wipes the microwave if they splatter, etc. But every office has their slobs that’s for sure. I wonder who cleans the bathroom though if they don’t have a cleaning company coming in?

        1. Kyrielle*

          If they’re like my first job out of college, they’re an office in a larger building and the bathroom’s not in the suite – the building/complex’s staff handled cleaning it, since every company on that floor used it.

      4. Callie*

        Yeah, I don’t understand the dish thing. Wash your own, use disposables, or take your stuff home to wash. I’ve never worked anywhere where putting dirty dishes in the sink for someone else to do is the norm.

        1. Mickey Q*

          My mom said once she took all the dishes out of the work sink and put them in the trash. People complained but still didn’t get it that they should clean up after themselves.

          1. Sunshine*

            I do this all the time when people leave stuff to “soak” for days on end. I usually give at least 24 hours, and sometimes I’m even nice about it and dry them and put them in the cabinet, but that’s rare. Normally I’ll pitch them.

          2. ExceptionToTheRule*

            This is our preferred method of cleaning up kitchen/sink spaces. It generally comes with 24 hour notice, but if we need the kitchen set clean for something & the morning show left their dishes in the sink, they’re getting dumped.

            If people grumble, they have the common sense to not do it to me.

          3. Rubyrose*

            Yes, same experience. The owners of a company I worked for were so disgusted with people not cleaning the dishes that the company provided that they started throwing out anything in the sink at night. Withing two weeks there were no dishes left to use.

    2. themmases*

      I’ve been in several offices, and read here about many more, where for some reason the cleaning staff’s responsibilities didn’t extend to parts of the kitchen– i.e. the area most in need of cleaning after the bathrooms. I will never understand why not. It always ends up being a morale issue for someone, or even a political issue for a group of people, if not handled. The de facto division of labor often ends up being gendered too.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        I think it might be a safety/insurance issue. There are a lot of sharp and potentially dangerous things in a kitchen. Also, in some places, they might need to be specially licensed or have to meet specific food-safety rules to clean a food preparation area. (I’m just guessing here, but I could see this happening.)

        1. Anon On This One*

          That’s not usually the case unless the food is being sold/served to others. I would also think that if it’s a case of safety for people cleaning up it would probably also be a safety issue to even keep sharp objects in the kitchen.

          1. Blurgle*

            There are a lot of medical and religious accommodations involved in hiring people to clean kitchens as opposed to bathrooms, and expecting coworkers to clean up an office kitchen is the most fraught situation of all. You can’t expect observant Jews or Muslims to willingly clean up after Ms. Bacon Sandwich any more than you can expect the person with a peanut allergy to clean up after Ms. PBJ.

            In contrast it’s pretty easy to find someone who will clean a bathroom; there are some religious issues (mainly with members of certain Hindu denominations and castes) but not anything like a kitchen where the cleaner would be forced to touch food over which they have no control.

            1. neverjaunty*

              What? There’s nothing that prevents an observant Jew from cleaning up a kitchen for pay. They’re not snacking on the leftovers, after all.

                1. Panda Bandit*

                  Would an observant Jew choose a job that could put them in contact with pork products in the first place? I think if you’re going to hire someone to clean you would talk to them first and figure out what they can and can’t do.

                2. Leeza*

                  Yes, they can. They can’t eat it, but they can certainly sell it, touch it, clean up dishes dirty with it, etc. I’ve read about Muslims in the UK who work in supermarkets and won’t sell or touch pork products, but Jews need no such accommodations. One of my friends is a rabbis daughter who once had a summer job in a supermarket deli, and while she wasn’t thrilled about dealing with pork, she did it.

      2. Natalie*

        If you’re renting space in a larger building (rather than renting an entire building) it’s probably cost related. Your standard cleaning contract only covers vacuuming, trash, and spot cleaning in tenant spaces, maybe some dusting. Kitchens, assuming you have one in the first place, can differ substantially from office to office and tend to have larger, harder to clean messes. If you included kitchen cleaning, one or two tenants would likely incur a lot of cleaning expense, but the cost would be spread among other tenants that didn’t have kitchens or had very small kitchens.

      3. Leeza*

        Our company is the owner and sole tenant of our building. Each floor has a kitchen, and it’s part of the cleaning crews job to clean them. They do several rotations of all the kitchens throughout the day, doing dishes, wiping counters, replenishing supplies, taking out the garbage, etc. It’s wonderful, and I can’t imagine any of that being part of my job. Not that I’m too good to clean, but it’s not part of my job, and I’m very busy doing my actual job. I still wash my own dishes, though. I don’t know why, but I wouldn’t feel right leaving them in the sink for the cleaning crew.

      4. Rebecca in Dallas*

        Every office I’ve worked in had a cleaning staff that came in after business hours. The kitchen (especially the dish situation if there is one) needs to be taken care of during the day, especially lunch time.

      5. Racheon*

        Definitely agree about division of labour often being gendered. At a previous job the management arranged for a coffee machine nobody wanted, then when the woman whose idea it had been got fed up with refilling/cleaning said machine, she decided we should take it in turns. A rota appeared a few days later… With only female emoloyees names on it. Admittedly there were very few men working there, but even so. I think I left a cartoon dust trail I was in the office so quick asking why the men had been left off the list…

      6. Undercover*

        Yep. None of the men in my office are on our schedule. There are other “reasons” why not, but the reasons aren’t ones that wouldn’t apply to women there as well. Yet, women are on it. Odd that.

    3. AVP*

      I’m in a tiny office (~6 people) and we have a cleaner who comes in once a week for the big stuff (mopping, vacuuming, deep cleaning). The day-to-day stuff is handled by the people who make the messes, with some back-up from our most junior staff person, who knew that was part of the deal when she accepted the job. She takes the trash out a few times a week, occasionally throws out the fridge junk, etc. If a big client is coming in and the cleaner isn’t scheduled, we will all pitch in with the vacuuming to make sure the space they’ll see looks good. Considering that our competition have amenities like full time private chefs, a roof decks, and in-house basketball courts, we do consider it a good use of our time to at least make sure there’s toilet paper and the kitchen isn’t gross if someone is paying us to be there. But, I also tend to hire anally neat people who have the gene where their face starts twitching if there’s a dish in the sink, so that’s a part of it too.

    4. plain_jane*

      I’m in an office of 300, with 3 kitchens. The janitors don’t do clean up. I do it because I’m in early and I have low tolerance (people who leave things in the sink when the dishwasher is right there to be filled are a pet peeve).

      At my last office, we had 20 people, 1 kitchen. When the president’s EA left, they wrote up a rota for us to “volunteer” to do the dishwasher and the grocery shopping for sandwiches that was provided. I didn’t mind being a random person doing the dishwasher, but I really hated having it on a schedule, because sometimes work was really busy, and I resented that I was expected to do the dishes too.

      1. plain_jane*

        They are being better about having someone come in to clean the fridge monthly instead of quarterly. I wonder if it was me going in there and just trashing containers (if they were fuzzy/black/slime or more than a month past expiry date) and bags without warning that prompted the change.

      2. Lee Ann*

        We’ve got dishwashers and a cleaning staff to run them, but it’s not always obvious whether the washer is clean, dirty, or in a wash cycle (they’re quiet, and if your timing is right you could open it during a non-water step without realizing) – leaving dishes in the sink means not accidentally putting dirty dishes in with the clean.

    5. Adonday Veeah*

      At one company I worked at, any dishes left in the sink at the end of the day were tossed. Also, any food left in the fridge on Friday at the end of the workday. People started cleaning up after themselves pretty quickly.

    6. Natalie*

      In my market, at least, this is almost never part of a multi-tenant janitorial contract unless you pay extra for it, because not every office has a kitchen. They’ll generally empty kitchen trash but nothing else.

  2. Rebecca*

    I’m wondering if the office has a cleaning staff to vacuum, empty trash, clean the bathrooms, etc. Perhaps kitchen clean up could be added to their duties?

  3. J.B.*

    I am an otherwise healthy and active person with a nagging back injury and can confirm that yes, bending and stooping does aggravate it. I like Alison’s suggestion.

    1. J.B.*

      Also, when I was junior I tried to clean and then got yelled at for doing it wrong :) Now I don’t because I am more senior, do they really want to pay me to do that, and I don’t see anyone with a Y chromosome volunteering. If they assigned it to everyone it I’d do it but question that use of my time.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        “I don’t see anyone with a Y chromosome volunteering.”

        This. Always this.

        Former Fridge Cleaner

          1. TL -*

            Yeah, our fridges were gross and I just ignored it for the first two years because none of the men were bothered enough to clean. (Eventually several women organized a cleaning day but the only men who came were those who I went to and asked to come help during the actual cleaning.)

        1. Shell*

          Given all the stories I’ve heard on AAM I was very, very, very surprised to see the men cleaning the kitchen just as much–if not more so–than the women at my current job. In fact, the men vastly outnumber the women and somehow it still doesn’t fall to just the women. The female admin will do the deeper clean once in a while–like wipe down the microwave or throw out expired stuff in the fridge–but daily tidying up is everyone’s job. There are no leftover disasters in the microwave; anyone who makes an explosion is right there cleaning it up. And the guys make the coffee.

          It’s actually kind of amazing.

          1. Ella*

            At my job, cleaning grossness out of the fridge is generally done by me (female) or by my coworker (male), just because we’re the ones who are most bothered by fridge grossness. People do their own counter-wiping and coffee making, though, as it should be in the world.

          2. CM*

            Yay for enlightened and egalitarian men. Boo to having kitchen duties be part of a professional job that otherwise has nothing to do with cleaning up. I’ll wash my own mug, of course, but yuck. I don’t like cleaning my own kitchen, let alone a communal one.

      2. afiendishthingy*

        Also, when I was junior I tried to clean and then got yelled at for doing it wrong :)

        This has always been my strategy to never get asked to clean stuff.

      3. Kelly L.*

        An addition problem I’ve run into is that some offices don’t have, and won’t buy, the supplies you need to actually do a good job of cleaning. I don’t want to wash the dishes with my bare hand or with a horrible gray scrubbie that’s probably been there since Poppy Bush was president, yet I’ve seen both setups. I’ve seen no dish soap and people resorting to the hand soap from the bathroom. You get the idea. So people end up either buying stuff out of their own pocket (I know it’s not expensive. It’s the principle, and the annoyance, and the feeling of being nickel-and-dimed) or ignoring the mess because it’s such a PITA to clean without supplies.

        CurrentJob has no kitchen facilities whatsoever. Not even a sink anywhere near us. It’s annoying to have to cart my dirty mugs home, but at least I only have to wash my own!

        1. Bibliovore*

          This aligns with my love of COSTCO. I buy in bulk and bring in cleaning supplies, coffee, and snacks for our kitchen. I throw out stinky sponges. When I first arrived I bought a microwave and announced that if people didn’t wipe up their own spatter, I would move it to my office. I only had to warn once. Mugs and dishes left to soak so long that when I arrived on Monday morning they were still in the sink, “disappeared” Everything in the fridge is either personally marked (marker hanging on the fridge door) or communal.

      4. Y chromosoer*

        I volunteered to clean up when I was a junior staffer; I had no qualms about it since I was the new guy.

        1. stiveee*

          It’s less insulting when you’re not expected to do it by virtue of your gender. I’m always a little irked when my boss gives me housekeeping duties, as I want to be seen as professional and not a “den mother. Women who are seen doing traditionally feminine jobs in the office are not taken seriously, while men who do them are treated like saints.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Oops sorry you have the back problem, how do you do your dishes at home is what I should have said. Not trying to be mean.

          1. dawbs*

            that and I dish conserve.

            If I’m dong the dishes, I can make dinner dirtying 3 things. If I’m doing the dishes, my better half can make dinner dirtying 35 things.

            And I rise “properly” and put them how I like in the sink as far as order of washing –I’m picky about that (chunky food stuff doesn’t get washed until everything else is washed, so the water doesn’t have floaties. There’s a different order if it’s the dishwasher being loaded, but still specific)

            Definitely different when it’s mine/home vs. office.

        1. J.B.*

          Assuming this question is one of curiousity, I’ll explain. I have a hypermobile low back which means my ligaments will let me twist myself into a pretzel but then my muscles try to pull back and hold everything in. Gradually improving with serious physical therapy, but my PT warns me that I’m at much higher risk of damaging spinal disks.

          The household division of labor is that I cook and my husband does the dishes. This issue is a serious crimp in my style as I cannot do anything without repercussions: no twisting (means no raking leaves), no extension (means no reaching up high), will have to hire a house cleaner.

          1. Bibliovore*

            I have similar issues. I can wash a mug and a dish but cannot stand at a sink for a length of time. I cannot lift or reach above my head. Every once in a while, I forget or think “oh this is no big deal” and live to regret my cavalier attitude.

        2. nicolefromqueens*

          Washing dishes requires standing, not bending and squatting. And unless you’re cooking for a large group, it’s pretty easy to stay on top of the dishes. Even then, you could still take breaks from washing dishes.

          1. katamia*

            Washing dishes (the standing at the sink part) often makes my back ache, and I don’t even have back problems.

          2. simonthegrey*

            The angle I have to lean at to do dishes is exactly the angle that aggravates my back injury. Slightly bent forward but only barely. I can bend over just fine, but there’s something about that angle. Washing dishes and setting up displays for my small business require standing at that angle and both can send shooting pain down my legs.

            At my house, that means I cook and someone else does the dishes. I can do them if we get behind, but not for long and afterwards I am in a fair bit of pain.

      2. Kelly L.*

        Doesn’t matter. Maybe they have a countertop dishwasher, maybe their spouse does it, maybe they use disposables, but it doesn’t matter in terms of whether to force them to do it at work.

      3. Elsajeni*

        There’s a million possible answers to that — maybe they only use paper plates, maybe their roommate/spouse/kid/housekeeper does it, maybe they wash one or two dishes at a time and then take a long break (which would be tougher to do in an office), maybe they suffer through doing the dishes at home because they must but don’t think they should have to suffer at work when there are other people who could do it. Regardless, the only way I can imagine it being relevant is if you’re asking as part of working out an accommodation — “Of course we want to help with your back pain. Do you have your workspace at home set up in a way that doesn’t bother it? Maybe we can mimic that here.” — and in this case the simplest accommodation is “quit making Wakeen do the dishes, it hurts his back,” so who cares what he does at home.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Or they have the spoons to do it once per day, but not twice, which ties in with your “maybe they suffer through” part.

  4. AdAgencyChick*

    I would bloody HATE doing this, and I would not consider free food enough to make me want to do it.

    1. Dot Warner*

      +1. I would rather have the free food gone than be expected to clean up everybody else’s messes regularly.

      1. Beti*

        Agreed. Also, I’m wondering if *everyone* take advantage of the free food? I’m pretty particular about food and very rarely eat communal food. I would have no interest in cleaning up after grown ass people in return for nothing.

    2. katamia*

      Same, especially if there are only a couple coworkers who always make a big mess and I, like Alison mentioned, never used the kitchen for much anyway.

    3. MK*

      Eh, if you don’t like/need/want/can use the perk, or not enough to accept cleaning up after everyone every once in return, I think the reasonable thing to do would be to say upfront that aren’t using the kitchen and so won’t be doing any clean-up. Not use it and expect everyone else to clean up after you.

    4. Ad Astra*

      Yeah, it doesn’t really feel like a perk if it comes with a week of kitchen duty. A true perk would be free food without the responsibility of cleaning up, except for normal stuff like throwing your own trash away and wiping up your own spills.

  5. Kat*

    I would hate this so much. I had to do this one of my first jobs–each person had a 2 week rotation where they would clean the kitchen, and it was akin to torture to me.

    It just seemed like a weird twist on “other duties as assigned”. You hired me to be a publicist, not to me the maid. It was super annoying to be on deadline, but have to ditch my work to go scrub the counters or else people would complain I wasn’t doing my chores (like I was 6). And I only ever had a soda from the fridge, and yet I would be stuck scrubbing the microwave which was covered with exploded pea soup or god knows what every day.

    It seems like if you’re company has a kitchen and this benefit, having a cleaning person is just a natural part of business.

    1. Tris Prior*

      +1. It was AWESOME when I was on a huge deadline, but I had to go clean the kitchen because it was my week or else my manager would bitch about that. Meanwhile, my manager would bitch at me for not being at my desk working, because I was cleaning the kitchen. ??? I could not win! I’m honestly not certain what I was supposed to do. Clone myself and be in 2 places at once?

  6. cheeky*

    My company moved my whole organization into a new office complex that provides excellent janitorial services, including stocking and cleaning our break rooms. They purge and wash the fridges every month. It is HEAVENLY.

  7. Bend & Snap*

    NOPE. I clean up enough messes that I don’t make at home. I’m not picking up my coworkers’ nasty food messes because someone wrote my name on a schedule.

    1. Sally-O*

      Agreed. Why can’t everyone in a 10-12 person office just clean up after themselves, and hold each other accountable? A little guilt goes a long way. I wouldn’t want to be the one seen leaving my dishes in the sink all day.

    2. Green*

      Absolutely. You need individual buy-in on this before you “create a schedule” like this. I would rather never walk into a kitchen than clean up people’s microwave splatters.

    3. Worker Bee*

      In a prefect world everyone would clean up after themselves. But in reality everybody complains about the dirty kitchen and claims it wasn’t them. At least that’s what is going on in our office kitchen. I am the youngest on the team and apparently the one with the lowest tolerance for messes. I ve sent about 10 emails regarding this in the last 5 months. With the above results. We will move offices soon and will have scheduled it because right now it is the same to people doing all of it. Sorry but I just needed to vent. It is just so frustrating. I sometimes wishes for a camera to find out how the mess monster is. This is how bad is that it has come down to me wanting this. Thanks for letting me vent.

      1. Green*

        If you’re a woman, I would recommend not sending emails to people regarding messes in the kitchen, and certainly not on a bi-weekly basis. You can wind up pigeon-holing yourself into a nagging, mothering role in the office that can reinforce gender stereotypes and limit your career. If you get to the point where you’re scheduling kitchen cleanings and nagging your colleagues every two weeks because of the frustration involved, it’s truly better for your career to just not use the kitchen at that point.

        1. Worker Bee*

          Thanks Green! Appreciate your advice and concerns. I totally agree with you. Thankfully or sadly we are 18 women and two men and I am already head of my department, so my career won’t grow anymore in this company. I think the most frustrating thing (besides everybody complaining and in the same breath saying it wasn’t them) is that I do have my bosses back kind of. She has already given up on the issue and loves my persistens about it.
          I know I can’t change people so that’s why One of my goals for this year is to just let it go and don’t bother anymore. I clean up after myself and that’s it. Two weeks in I ve kept my mouth shut.

      2. Wanna-Alp*

        Maybe that’s the solution?
        A kitchen-cam, visible to everyone any time they want, via their web browser.

        Instant accountability! Maybe the more-messers would think twice before messing.

  8. Student*

    Just hire a contractor to come in and clean it once every day or couple of days. Deduct the cost from the amount of groceries you buy. Ask your employees if they want you to buy them food vs. pay someone else to clean the kitchen regularly, and I bet you will hear a resounding chorus of “clean the kitchen!”

    1. Dan*

      Honestly, I wouldn’t be yelling about bringing back the free food.

      Free food = I’m going to eat. I’m going to eat it = it goes to my waist line. The best thing I can do for myself is keep away from free food.

    2. Dasha*

      I was kind of thinking the same thing. The post said they buy cereal, coffee, sandwich stuff, snacks, etc. Maybe they could cut cereal and sandwiches (never cut coffee, that will just cut productivity) and use that money for a cleaning person?

  9. Bwmn*

    “Plus, even if you did that, you’ll still going to deal with kitchen messes; it’ll just be with food people bring in on their own rather than the food you’re providing.”

    This. All day, every day. I’ve worked at offices that provided nothing other than refrigerator space, a sink, and microwave and those with more in the way of coffee/tea/occasional snacks. And this notion that a clean kitchen will “just happen” has never happened.

    In the office where I worked that I think had it best organized as that everyone was supposed to clean and rack their own dishes (no dishwasher)/leave nothing in the sink. Then the man who was hired to clean the office, part of his duties included wiping down kitchen counter spaces and floors, and emptying garbage and putting away dishes. If people got lax on leaving dirty dishes in the sink, we’d get the standard office scolding – but overall it worked pretty well. Where I am now, there remains a belief that a number of duties will “just happen” when in reality it now just means that a number of junior admin staff have been tasked with it.

  10. the_scientist*

    How does the rest of your office get cleaned? Surely someone is cleaning the bathrooms and vacuuming once in a while?

    The obvious solution would be that the company who cleans the rest of your office also cleans the kitchen. This is what happens at my office, which is a large company. People are responsible for their own dishes, and there’s no dishwasher- if you leave your dirty dishes lying around in the kitchen they get thrown out, or someone cleans them and claims them as their own.

    If you don’t have any sort of cleaning service (who, then, is cleaning your bathrooms?) it’s probably time to look into one. I think it’s reasonable to expect your employees to not act like animals in shared spaces, but they presumably weren’t really hired to clean the kitchen and/or bathrooms. I would probably quite a job where I was required to clean the bathrooms, to be honest.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think the issue with that solution is in smaller offices, where you may only have a cleaning company come in once or twice a week, while the kitchen gets grosser by the day.

      1. Ann*

        Also, I know we’ve asked our cleaning company to do this and they say it’s not a service they offer. Neither is window washing. I have no idea if this is normal for a small cleaning company.

      2. the_scientist*

        But then who is cleaning the bathrooms, and how frequently are they being cleaned? Like someone else said above, in most offices, the kitchen is #2 on the list of places needing to be cleaned frequently, right behind bathrooms. So whatever they’re doing for other areas of the office needs to be extended to the kitchen. I understand that it’s a significant chunk out of a small company’s budget, but I think a regular cleaning service and the expectation that people clean up their own messes goes a long way to contributing to a healthy, functioning office. I’ve never seen this work out when it’s left to employees- in practice, it’s nearly always someone female who ends up doing it, which is annoying.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I agree, but if that’s not possible (because the cleaning service won’t do it, or because they’re not set up to come in for only 15 minutes daily or whatever), then you assign it to the person whose job it most fits with (generally your receptionist) and you make it clear during hiring that it’s part of the job (so they can opt out of the hiring process if they don’t want to do it). Nothing else works.

    2. themmases*

      I agree. It’s not egregious to have a junior person cleaning, but it would definitely eat away at my morale over time and encourage me to leave.

      Also, I’m not sure how best to express this, but cleaning is not just paying your dues. If someone is really paying their dues at a job, that implies that the task is unpleasant but will benefit them in some way, like paying club or union dues. Paying your dues is a legitimate part of the path to being a professional. E.g. I might not want to take minutes at a meeting, but it could help me listen and learn more and at the end those present will see a good work product from me. A totally unrelated task like cleaning isn’t dues paying at all and it isn’t in the best interest of the junior employee. It takes away from their time learning; it puts them in the position of the office maid at a time they are trying to gain credibility.

      Some places with tiny staff and budgets might have to do it that way, but I certainly wouldn’t think such a place cared about my career (in my field where helping your career is how widespread low wages are justified). That and the unpleasantness would eventually push me out.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t think it’s about paying your dues exactly, but rather that some tasks are low-level tasks, and it makes sense to assign them to the most junior person. People with more senior jobs and/or getting paid more should stay focused on work that only they can do well; it’s just smarter use of the employer’s resources. That’s why VPs don’t order office supplies; an admin does. And lots of admin work isn’t about spending their time learning; it’s about doing work that needs to be done, and makes most sense to be done by them versus anyone else.

        1. themmases*

          Right, but I think that comes back to the distinction between someone whose role might include cleaning and someone being asked to do it just because they are junior. There is nothing inherently junior about having an admin or cleaning job (maybe they are the manager of that team or something), the expectation of cleaning is based on the role.

          I work in health science research and I would consider cleaning a poor use of the time of even the greenest research assistant. As someone who also mentored RAs, not just been one, they needed to spend their time building both expertise and a self-image as an expert so they would actually speak up and contribute their knowledge. Cleaning is totally counterproductive to that.

          1. Green*

            At least an office administrator or receptionist could conceivably be responsible for the appearance of the office space — the accountant, probably not. Again, transparency in the role is key.

        2. neverjaunty*

          Although that’s a whole nother problem in offices where the junior positions are disproportionately filled by women.

        3. Anna*

          I can’t really agree. We cut the janitor staff to make room for other positions. The highest paid person at our center will clean the bathroom where her office is, take out her trash, and sometimes clean the bathrooms in other buildings. For her it’s showing we’re all in this together and nobody is above doing the hard work.

          1. Green*

            That’s a fine choice if everyone is expected to participate. But if it’s ad hoc, it’s not going to work.

      2. the_scientist*

        Right, there’s a difference between taking a job that could legitimately require some cleaning (say a junior level admin job or a retail/fast food job- you gotta do what you gotta do), and taking a job that requires a particular skill set and then having someone tell you that you’re now required to “pitch in and help clean the kitchen regularly”. I didn’t accept a job that requires a masters degree in a specific discipline and pays me well to spend time cleaning up after other people (she says, having wiped down the kitchen counter at least once a day this week), and I think that’s where people start getting resentful, along with when “mandatory cleaning time” eats into “important work time” and when it somehow ends up being the same 2 or 3 women doing all the cleaning no matter who’s turn it is. I would honestly think that as long as people are reasonable and wipe up their small messes, that a full cleaning 1-2 times a week is sufficient for an office of 10-12 people. You make the receptionist (or the closest person to that job description) responsible for loading and unloading the dishwasher, and maybe cleaning out the fridge at the end of each month, and make it clear that all dishes left in the sink and food left in the fridge will be tossed without mercy, and that might make it sustainable. I would never make a cleaning rotation in an office environment.

  11. Poohbear McGriddles*

    This is why we can’t have nice things.

    If you can hire someone to clean it up, great, but I’d expect grown adults to be able to clean up their own messes. Forget KP duty, as that obviously (and understandably) isn’t working. If Fergus’ Lean Cuisine explodes in the microwave, he better wipe it down before Wakeen goes to heat up his smelly fish. And then he needs to do something about that smell. Otherwise Sansa ends up doing all the cleaning, and well that’s kinda sexist.

    It’s a small price to pay in exchange for this perk, and Intern Percival has better things to do – like get me coffee. But if he spills some, he’ll be expected to clean it up!

  12. Master Bean Counter*

    Oh I hate the kitchen wars. My last office I just started cleaning the kitchen because nobody would do it and I had to use it in conjunction with classes I set up. So it was easier to just go in and clean it every Friday. I also tossed any and all dishes left in the sink. I would not do others dishes. They learned I wasn’t bluffing and started doing their own dishes. I vowed never to be the kitchen person again after that job.
    Now in my new job we have a new rule requiring me to take lunch in the kitchen. Nobody has washed the table in years. I finally broke down and spent an hour scrubbing the table. I am now not the kitchen person, but I am the table person. But I’m okay with that. Because in a store with 6 sales people that are supposed to rotate cleaning the kitchen, the one female one is in there doing it everyday. I am really not okay with this. But she is, so I let it be.

  13. Meg Murry*

    This kind of perk often goes with a job where it is implied that it is being offered so the employees will spend more time at the office and therefore be more productive – i.e. instead of taking an hour long lunch, you can just grab a sandwich and get right back to work! Or even a more casual “every works so hard around here [often implied to mean long/late hours], its a nice perk for employees to not have to worry about packing a lunch.”

    If I am being pressured to produce a lot of work, I do not also want to get assigned to a “cleaning rotation”. Which do you want me to spend my hour on, my cleaning rotation or my report to the customer?

    In 2008 when the economy went south, the company did layoffs and was not re-hiring when people left. At one point that meant that the company went from 3 cleaning employees to 1 – so her duties were limited strictly to kitchens and bathrooms, and we were all assigned weeks to vacuum, etc. When work was slow and we were all desparately glad just to have jobs – ok, fine I’ll vacuum the floor and take out the garbage once a month. But once work started to pick up and hiring didn’t – we all got pretty grumpy about it. I’ll admit to snapping at one person “I have been in the building for 60 hours already this week and haven’t vacuumed my own darn living room in I don’t know how long. Do you want me to spend the next hour vacuuming the office or writing this report you promised to the customer? Because I’m only doing one of them, and then I’m leaving.”

    I don’t mean to be a brat, but I didn’t get my years of work experience so I could spend hours at work cleaning the kitchen, when I don’t have time to clean my kitchen at home. I’ll wipe up after myself. I’ll wash my own dishes. I’ll even empty the dish drainer if I notice it’s full and I’m waiting 3 minutes for my turn on the microwave. But it does not make sense to force your highest paid employees to clean the kitchen when you can instead pay the same people to clean the bathrooms to also clean the kitchen.

  14. AnotherAnon*

    I would find it super-obnoxious and insulting to be signed up for “kitchen duty” unless my job was in food service actually working in a kitchen. I think everyone should clean up their own messes, or if they are not willing to do so, hiring a contractor to clean up the common area once each week or two.

  15. Language Lover*

    From working in office environments with break rooms, it’s a good policy that one should clean up their own messes.

    Still, a good cleaning weekly is something that pretty much every kitchen needs. Some good solutions have been brought up but have you polled your office to see if there is one employee who absolutely LOVES cleaning? Who feels satisfied by it? Who even feels zen doing it? Who would appreciate being able to have some traditionally lower paid work being welcomed by the higher-ups as part of their jobs?

    I don’t understand it as someone who hates cleaning but these people exist. They find cleaning to be a stress release.

    1. KR*

      This. At my grocery store job, we need to clean every register at the end of the night, and most nights we dust the candy racks and do other light cleaning duties. We have an employee who also owns a cleaning company and has been a house cleaner for years. She’s very fast at cleaning the registers, does it well and doesn’t mind it at all so the cleaning duties naturally fall to her.

    2. EJ*

      I’m 100% that person who finds zen in cleaning and uses at as a stress release!

      However, cleaning up after people who are 100% capable, who choose to be lazy, or only ask if I need help after they see I’m pretty much done (so they can be like “Well, I tried!”)… is my downfall.

    3. Dot Warner*

      Yep! My husband is one such person – comes home from his white-collar job and does the dishes to relax. I don’t get it, but I’m extremely grateful!

    4. Brandy in TN*

      We moved now to where 2 depts. share office suites. But when we were on one big floor, the carpets didn’t seem to get vacuumed as much as now. I remember smushing a popcorn piece accidentally and thinking woefully for a vacuum as I picke it up with my hands. I now have a small vacuum at home, slightly larger then a dust buster and if that happened here, id bring it from home the next day, but the carpets are vacuumed weekly here. But I like clean and if I see a mess Im going to clean it.

  16. Leah the designer*

    We are a company of 50 with 2 break rooms with kitchens, and we have no kitchen issues (amazingly). The dishwasher is reserved for just company dishes. Everyone cleans up their dishes immediately after eating and brings home. Our secretary does do monthly cleaning of one of the fridges and wipes down the counters every few days, but honestly everyone just cleans up after themselves.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      Do you ride to work on a unicorn, too? Because what you describe seems almost magical to me… ;-)

      Jokes aside, I’m happy to hear that there’s at least one well-adjusted kitchen-managing office out there.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Color me impressed too.

        Although unless you have a team of house elves that show up at night, I am willing to bet that there are is one person (or a handful of people) who are putting more time into cleaning the kitchen than you realize – I’d be willing to be the secretary who cleans the fridge monthly probably scrubs more than you know, or there are other people that see a dirty kitchen and just can’t deal so they clean it. I worked at a place that appeared to have no kitchen problems – until the secretary went out on medical for a month unexpectedly and people found out how much more cleaning she had been doing than they realized.

        But hey, as long as its working, be happy and hope you keep hiring people willing to clean up after themselves!

    2. Chameleon*

      Yeah, my office of 100 or so has a full kitchen upstairs, and a sink/microwave/mini fridge downstairs. Downstairs sink does sometimes get full, and someone ends up angrily doing dishes, but upstairs always stays really nice. The keys are:
      -A truly excellent dishwasher. Like, you can stick a bowl with dried-on oatmeal and it will come out clean.
      -Written expectations (wipe out microwave if your food explodes, wash or machine your dishes, etc). Not always followed but at least everyone knows what is expected.
      -Janitorial service takes out trash daily, and cleans floors weekly.
      -Refrigerators are totally emptied once a month, no exceptions. So no Tupperware slowly decomposing in the back.

      Plus free unlimited coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. It is truly a paradise.

      1. Chameleon*

        Forgot a critical step: receptionist starts and empties the dishwasher at a predictable time every day. Seriously, I cannot overstate the importance of being able to simply chuck a dish in the machine and run.

        1. Anlyn*

          What is the brand of this amazing dishwasher? Because so far, I have not been able to find one that actually lives up to its hype. I would cook so much more if I knew I didn’t have to spend so much time cleaning up.

          1. Chameleon*

            Shoot, I meant to do this and forgot. I’ll try to post the brand in Friday’s open thread; just search for my user name. :)

      1. Shell*

        And my current job doesn’t even have a dishwasher! We wash by hand and everything is still tidy. It’s kind of magical.

        While I’m here sharing magical stories, at my last job I was the admin and there was a lot more leftover dishes in the sinks (generally by the partners–it was a very, very small firm of less than 10). So I’d start washing dishes because, hey, I’m the admin and the lowest on the ladder, and one of the partners came in and saw me washing dishes and asked if they were mine (because there were about five or six coffee cups and I don’t drink coffee). When I said they weren’t, he said “you don’t have to wash our dishes. That’s not part of your job.” (And then said partner went off to the partner who’d left the coffee cups and was all “hey, once you’re taking a break from your stuff, take care of your coffee cups!” and coffee cup partner was like “oops, sorry. Will do.”)


        I still washed dishes from time to time at that job, but I was given full permission to leave the partners’ dishes in the sink and they’ll get to it when they have time. (It was a very small firm and a lot more relaxed, and the partners could come in late/leave early for a soccer game/have dartboard and video game breaks during the day, so it wasn’t nose-to-the-grindstone, billable hours every second of the day atmosphere.) And I never had any blowback from not doing the dishes.

  17. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    So… you’re aware that someone’s physical condition prevents them from fulfilling certain duties, and you keep scheduling them to fulfill those duties anyway with the expectation that they will go ask a coworker for help Every Single Time? That’s a hell of a morale-killer, and as someone with limited mobility, I would be salty as all heck about it. You’re basically expecting them to make a big deal about their limitations by constantly saying “Hey Jane, can you please do the thing that I’ve been scheduled to do but can’t because it will injure me?” Instead of taking the respectful road of not asking them to do things they’ve told you they cannot do.

    1. Katie the Fed*


      My husband didn’t expect me to keep walking the dog after I had a nasty accident last year and couldn’t walk well. He just started doing it.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Oh, and more food for thought on the “one employee claims to have a back problem” front. It is extremely common for people, especially able-bodied people, to doubt those of us with handicaps, or to not believe us when we state our limits. You do not want to be the person going “but you don’t look disabled!” You really do not want to be that person when you’re the boss of the disabled individual.

      If I overheard my boss saying, “Well, Countess Boochie claims she can’t walk very far or climb stairs” it would put me immediately on high alert for potential disability discrimination, because what I would take away from that is that my boss didn’t believe that my disability is real. So consider your words, and how you’re framing this person’s physical issue in your thoughts.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Ok now I feel bad for asking how the person with back problems does their dishes at home. But I think the Op probably knows this persons character and maybe thinks they’re the type to make an excuse? Couldn’t this person do everything but bend down to load the dishwasher and then either do them by hand or have someone else help him or her with that part?

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Being the “type” to make an excuse and being actually disabled aren’t mutually exclusive, and like Alison said, it is not the office manger’s job to evaluate whose health claims are legitimate and whose aren’t. If an employee says “I cannot do X because I have a disability,” the response from management should never be to presume that the person is simply making excuses. Not ever. Please review what I said about able-bodied people assuming that disabled people aren’t “really” disabled. There’s a whole lot of history to this.

        2. misspiggy*

          It really will depend on them, and the extent to which everything hurts and some things hurt worse than others. When you hope to get through your job duties with only a medium level of pain, and then you’re expected to add something that will cause you more pain, it can be the last straw. Asking, ‘Is there anything you can do to help without worsening your condition?’ would be the way to go, rather than asking for particular duties to be done.

        3. Not me*

          IME “but can’t you do X and Y, if not Z?” turns into actually doing X, Y, and Z, -or- looking like a whiner when you have to ask for help with Z every single time. It’s also not great for whoever ends up helping with Z. Why not find something else the person can do to pitch in?

        4. J.B.*

          Oh, so my assumption that you were just curious earlier was not quite correct. Go back and read my response to your earlier comment if you care to see one possible way the human body can not function exactly as you expect it to. For me, things are fine until they’re not. The word for making assumptions about someone’s disability is ableism. (Says the mother of a neuroatypical kid who can mostly pass but has some real challenges. Doctors can get it wrong too.)

      2. Tau*

        Cannot +1 enough. Do you have a medical degree? If yes, are you this person’s actual doctor who is highly familiar with their specific history etc.? If the answer to either question is “no”, you have exactly zero business sitting in judgement here.

        And also agreed that hearing the word “claims” used in that context by my boss would put me on absolute red alert, do not pass go, considering looking into other jobs.

        1. JessaB*

          Do not pass go but DO pass HR immediately with discussion about “boss has issues with my medical needs, what do I need to do to get this fixed.”

      3. Katie the Fed*

        “You do not want to be the person going “but you don’t look disabled!” ”

        Yes. I VERY nearly reported one of the security guards who doubted my handicapped parking pass when going to the handicapped lot which is in a secured area. Despite the fact that I had submitted a doctor’s note to get the parking access, he said “wait, this is for you? You don’t look disabled! Do you have some kind of proof?” I ended up showing him my State-provided card that goes with my hang tag, but I shouldn’t have had to do any of it. All he had to do was wave me through.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Uuuuugh, what an absolute jerk. He’d better be careful with that — next person might be me, with the cane that doubles as a hittin’ stick!

          1. Katie the Fed*

            Yeah, I was really new to the whole thing so I didn’t have the presence of mind to respond the way I should have, which was that it was none of his business and that it had already been approved by the people whose job it is to approve such things, and all he had to do was open the damn gate.

    3. Observer*

      Instead of taking the respectful road of not asking them to do things they’ve told you they cannot do.

      Yes, indeed.

      Keep in mind, just because you don’t want to get into an ADA thing, it doesn’t mean that you can avoid that. Which means that if it does come to that, you are probably going to have a very hard time explaining why not scheduling her is an undue burden, and why putting her through a demeaning process is the best you can do at reasonable accommodation. What you firmly believe just doesn’t come into the picture.

      1. voyager1*

        I worked somewhere nobody bothered cleaning up the kitchen area, you can guess how gross things got till finally someone did it. I cleaned it a couple of times. I don’t fault the idea of “KP” duty. As for the “bad back” person, okay I can make an exception for him/her, but if they ever make a mess and not clean it, all hail is going to break….

  18. MousyNon*

    This sounds horribly entitled (especially coming from someone who has family in the housekeeping industry *wince*) but I would never, ever take a job that required me to clean up after my coworkers, and not just because this sort of work tends to default to women staffers. I’ll rinse out my own dishes (because carting home goopy plates is gross) and my own mugs (because I don’t want crap growing in it) but I hate doing dishes in my OWN house (dishwashing at home involves much procrastinating followed by “can I just buy new plates?” followed by much cursing and “omg what IS that”) much less a mandatory rotation in the office. Look at your budget and see if you can squeeze in a cleaning service, maybe someone who can come in an hour a day (or even every other day) after work to do this sort of stuff. You have someone coming in to clean the bathrooms already, right? Maybe they can do the kitchen as well for a small additional cost.

    1. nofelix*

      Our building has around 20 people in it and only needs an hour of cleaning twice a week. It doesn’t have to be expensive.

    2. katamia*

      Same. I also wouldn’t want to get someone else’s lunch leftovers on my office wardrobe, which is limited as it is.

      1. Callie*

        This! My work clothes are not clothes that I wear when cleaning up at home. I don’t want my clothes ruined by cleaner, food, whatever.

    3. new reader*

      This! I also hate doing my own dishes at home (that’s why there are such things as disposable plates, take-out and restaurant reservations). I had jobs in fast food as a teenager where I had to do dishes, but I now have a master’s degree and took employment in a role where the job description does not include any type of dish washing or other types of cleaning. I’m more than happy to clean up after myself (and do), but I’m not cleaning up after co-workers. They are adults and fully capable of acting as such.

    4. Leeza*

      Yeah, I can’t believe there are work environments where employees have to clean the kitchen! It seriously boggles my mind. Maybe because we have cleaning people that clean our kitchen every day (including washing dishes) – I just assumed every office is like that. I was hired to do a specific job, and cleaning is not part of that job. No way would I stay at a job where I was required to clean up after my messy coworkers.

  19. Macedon*

    There’s something very second-gradeish to me about an enforce kitchen cleaning rota. Let adults clean after themselves, or look into contracting a professional. If you have the budget for snacks, you have the budget for a janitor.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Or say “hey the good news is we’re hiring someone to clean the kitchen. The bad news is were scaling back the food a bit to compensate”.

      1. neverjaunty*

        +10000. The kitchen needs cleaning and garbage needs dumping regardless, so if employees would (understandably) prefer that be done by a service, there isn’t money for free sandwiches.

  20. Mockingjay*

    I used to be in a small office with only 5 other employees. A janitorial service was too expensive, so we did the cleaning ourselves.

    We set a recurring appointment on Friday afternoons for a 15-minute period, in which we all pitched in to vacuum and dust the common areas (reception, conference room), clean the kitchen, and take out the trash. We made it a goal to get everything done in that 15-minute window, and EVERYONE was required to participate, even the guy with the bad back. (He vacuumed – the handle was tall enough for him to push it around without straining.)

    You were responsible for cleaning your own desk / office. Whoever left last each day had to take out the kitchen trash. (It was an old building and we did our best to discourage pests, so we bagged that daily.)

    It worked pretty well. And as a small group, it was easy to call someone out: “Hey, Fred, your bowl has been soaking in the sink for a couple of days. Do you want to toss it into the dishwasher?”

    Kitchen cleaning is the kind of thing that no one wants to do at work. Sharing the work equally, quickly, and simultaneously as a team made it a lot more palatable.

    1. KR*

      I like the idea of doing it as a team. Chores always go much faster when you’re doing it with someone.
      Also, I’m imaging a cleaning montage set to upbeat music with everyone in your office jamming out while cleaning, FYI.

    2. ThursdaysGeek*

      Another idea is to have a rotation of a group of 2-3, instead of just one. If you have two people cleaning, one can do the tasks that don’t require bending and stooping. And if your rotation isn’t static (the same two people always), then you’re not always stuck with the eeyore, and you get to know that guy in accounting that you never really see otherwise.

      Although I like the team idea, and with everyone pitching in, it shouldn’t take very long at all.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Except then you get the Group Project Problem, where Fergus swipes the counter with a paper towel and declares it done, leaving Jane to do the actual work.

  21. EJ*

    Office kitchens are the worst. It’s well known that we have trash pick-up only, not kitchen clean-up. But people still always think it’s someone else’s job to clean up after their mess or restock items.

    A cleaning schedule isn’t fair to those who only ever use the fridge to keep a can of soda cold, while others leave sugar/creamer all over the counter top (creamer tends to drip down our cabinets too) and microwave food explosions. And it’s definitely not fair to someone who’s a responsible human being and always cleans up their mess.

    My only advice is to put up a sign “Please always clean up after yourself!” or gather everyone around to tell them to clean up after themselves or loose kitchen privileges. Leave containers of disinfectant wipes and paper towel on the counter top as a reminder.

    1. nofelix*

      “creamer tends to drip down our cabinets too”

      This sounds like a scene from a condiment-based horror movie. Does your fridge leak jam?

      1. katamia*

        You pre-rinse the dishes and put them in the dishwasher, then you turn your back for a second, and when you turn back, they’re all back in the sink again. :O

    2. the gold digger*

      I watched a guy in our work kitchen clean his toast crumbs off the counter one morning. There were two sinks with sponges and paper towels – but he just took his hand and wiped the crumbs onto the floor.

      I wanted to tell him, “That doesn’t really solve the problem.”

      1. Elizabeth*

        I’ve been known to ask “so did you hire a maid?” Or say “Oh, I didn’t realize that we’d hired your mother to clean up after you.”

  22. Ann Cognito*

    We had this at my last job and I absolutely hated and resented being expected to clean-up after others, as did a lot of others. There were about 30 of us in the building. Most people cleaned-up after themselves, but there were a few who never did. When it was my week to clean the kitchen, on a Friday afternoon as I wiped down the counters, I simply left their dirty dishes in the sink. Most of the time, they would be cleaned away by the end of the day, I guess by the offending party. In the end, so many of us complained, we hired our cleaning service for an additional couple of hours a week, and added the kitchen to their duties. Problem solved. Oh, and the company didn’t provide food apart from meeting left-overs or birthday celebrations, so this was all just cleaning-up after our own food.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      I would throw out dishes left behind. I did the same thing when I was the office fridge cleaner. Anything there on Friday was tossed. People got a lot more responsible about leaving stuff in there.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        This is posted in our kitchens and adhered to. Leave your stuff in the sink or fridge, it’s gone on Friday night. (If you leave a note on something indicating you know it’s there and will take care of it yourself, they’ll leave it — some people leave flavored coffee creamers and stuff in the fridge long-term, and they just label it with their name and the expiration date. But mystery take-out bag with no name gets pitched on Friday evening.

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          Yes, everywhere I’ve worked with communal kitchens has had the cleaners clear out the fridges completely, bar milk, on Friday evenings, and any dishes or mugs left out thrown out. If people don’t clean up after themselves, don’t expect to keep that tupperware/mug/bowl.

      2. afiendishthingy*

        oh, yeah, under no circumstances should anyone be washing their coworkers’ moldy tupperware! Unclaimed stuff gets tossed.

      3. fposte*

        I have been so, so tempted to do this but we actually have communal dishes. So the filthmongers just grab another plate without even realizing it, and all that happens is the supply slowly dwindles.

  23. RKB*

    Both of my jobs — a hospital clerk and a clerk for the municipal government — have the perk of an expansive kitchen.

    No one expects the nurses and doctors in the midst of their 12 hour L&D shifts to clean up the kitchen. No one expects me to do it, either, and I’m the most junior of the team. They haven’t even hired someone new — the orderly who cleans the ward has now been tasked with cleaning the kitchen. He even cleans out the fridge. He does it at night, he whistles the entire time, and there is 0 discord amongst the staff and it’s supervisors.

    Same thing for my municipal job. It was added to the custodian’s task list. It could easily be my job. But when I was recruited I didn’t sign up to be washing dishes and taking out the trash. I do that at home.

    Before it was the custodians, I found that my managers were more often up to their elbows in soap and water, doing the job. :)

  24. Lia*

    Nope, nope, nope to cleaning rotations. IME the junior people/women wind up doing the lions’ share of the work, and/or it gets left until someone gets ticked off enough to clean. I’ve never worked anywhere where one has worked out long-term. Sometimes, you get lucky and everyone who shares the kitchen is basically the same level of cleanliness, but there’s too many microwave-disaster-people and cement-oatmeal-bowl people out there.

    Either hire it out, or when you hire a new staffer, make it an implicit part of their duties. We had the latter at a former job and that worked out very well. Incidentally, we also had a “fridge is cleaned out at 3 p.m. every Friday” rule there that ensured no festering leftovers. All that was allowed to remain were condiments and coffee creamers, as long as they were non-expired. Our staffer said she’d only had to throw away a couple of Tupperware before people got the hint.

    1. Chameleon*

      Yeah, there is also the issue of people’s cleanliness levels. I’m the kind of person that just doesn’t notice dirt until things get filthy, so I’m pretty sure my turn would involve my co-workers getting angry that I hadn’t cleaned properly, and me getting mad that they were asking me to clean *again*.

  25. Elle*

    Agree with Alison. Hire someone to come in and clean or make it part of someone’s job duties (who knows that when they take the job). No professional wants to clean up other people’s mess. And don’t you want them to spend their time working instead of cleaning?

  26. NotAnotherManager!*

    I hate cleaning with a burning passion and deliberately did not go into a housekeeping profession because it’s not my thing. I am an adult and can clean my own dishes, wipe the counter off when I spill on it, clean the microwave when my lunch explodes in it, and take home my stuff from the fridge before it becomes a science experiment — everyone should be able to do this and not leave a mess for their coworkers to deal with. People should be individually responsible for cleaning up after themselves as messes are made, which should greatly reduce the need for major cleaning. The non-individual tasks (mopping the floor, periodically cleaning out the fridge) could be done by a cleaning service on a periodic basis if people are not crapping up the kitchen daily.

    Providing food IS a generous benefit (though, in my industry, it is often doneso that people can work more and not have an “excuse” to leave the office for lunch, as Meg Murry mentioned), but if providing it requires that you take people away from their actual jobs to do housework, I’d say cut it or at least reduce the office food spend by the cost of a weekly cleaning service.

    1. Observer*

      No, the messy kitchen has nothing to do with the food. As others have mentioned, plenty of kitchens get pretty dirty without any food being provided by the employer.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        The point is that if there is money in the budget to pay for that much food, there is money in the budget that can be reallocated to hire a cleaning service so that every employee don’t have to do housework (above and beyond cleaning up after themselves like a grown-up) at work. I cannot imaging 2 hours of kitchen cleaning per week is going to exceed the cost of the provision of this much food.

        Hiring a cleaning service alleviates the problem, and if it means the food budget takes a hit, so be it. Expecting the employees to do KP regularly (and to the point of complaining that someone’s health issue is an “excuse”) is going to burn more goodwill than scaling back on the Froot Loops.

  27. Pwyll*

    As much as I hate to say this, in a small office part of this should really fall on the office management/admin staff. When I worked at a 6-person consulting firm (with a bunch more admin/temp/intern staff seasonally), the Admin Director (and his assistant) had responsibility for the fridge, dishwasher and dishes, but senior management (CEO/COO) made it clear everyone was supposed to pitch in (put your own dishes into the dishwasher, etc.) When I was in that role, I would share the duties with my assistant, the CEO’s assistant and our interns in much the same way I’d share research or mailings or “all hands on deck” events or whatever other task we had. Framing was always the key here, though: I would explain that in a small workplace you need to pitch in, and the expectation is that everyone will work together on any reasonable task that was required. And I made sure that I followed through as well and ran/emptied the dishwasher myself. Leadership and all that. Really, we set the tone from the beginning to the point that even our senior consultants would help from time to time. From there, it was a performance metric: I had some folks who openly objected to emptying the dishwasher as demeaning, and it was dealt with in the same manner as the guy who refused to update our tracker or never did the tedious weekly research project, or who answered the main telephone “hello”.

    That said, we made it clear that cleaning up after yourself was required of absolutely everyone. None of our staff were scrubbing countertops on a weekly basis, and we absolutely did not have a rotation schedule, but if we caught someone not cleaning up after their spilled soup it was addressed as a performance issue. I didn’t care if you were the best consultant in the world, if you couldn’t follow simple instructions to clean up your own messes, you weren’t performing all the functions of your job. Period. That type of situation really needs to be established by your senior leadership, however. And they need to follow through on it being a serious disciplinary matter.

    But really, taking out the trash and sanitizing the office should be done by janitorial staff. I can’t imagine asking my entire office to wipe down counters or handle food trash. And certainly, if someone told me they couldn’t stoop down to the dishwasher’s level because of a bad back, they wouldn’t be asked to do so. But they’d still be responsible for bringing in their own dishes to the kitchen each day and cleaning their own messes up.

    1. JessaB*

      Thank you. I cannot understand why people insist that those who cannot follow the simple instructions to clean up if they make a mess are not failing at an important part of their jobs. How are you expected to know that they can follow complex job instructions if they cannot follow “wipe up if you spill your coffee?” Yet I have nearly never seen a job make a performance issue out of this.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’d argue there really isn’t any correlation between how well someone performs at their job and whether they clean up in the kitchen. Particularly as people get more and more senior and highly skilled, it would be pretty short-sighted to give someone outstanding at their work a hard time about not pitching in in the kitchen. I do think people should be expected to clean up after themselves, but if they don’t, I’m not going to lose an otherwise top tier person over it.

  28. BethRA*

    Yeah, we had the kitchen stupids, even without free food being provided, and had embarrassing number of meetings/discussions about it. And we had someone suggesting, and lobbying for, a rotating cleaning schedule – and I too, objected to the idea of cleaning up other people’s messes. Finally, our CEO decreed a “Leave No Trace” policy – that is, staff were responsible for washing dishes they used, and putting away (or throwing out) food, and letting people know she expected us to act like the responsible adults we were supposed to be. A few reminders, some more gently worded than other, and for the most part it’s stuck.

  29. Xarcady*

    The system that worked isn’t working any more. There’s one employee with a bad back, and others who just don’t want to clean. And they weren’t hired to clean, so I can’t blame them.

    The best solution is to use any existing cleaning service to clean the kitchen. When I worked in a small office with 20 employees, the cleaners came once a week, so obviously people still had to wash their own dishes and clean up small messes they made.

    If that can’t be done, assign the task to one or two positions. Not people, positions. Because that gives the people in those positions the hope that they can be promoted out of cleaning duties. If you assign the tasks to specific people, it will be much harder for them to shake off the cleaning duties as they advance in the organization.

    There’s a difference between, “Ted, you are the receptionist and we have decided that the receptionist will clean the kitchen on Wednesday afternoons,” and “Hey, Ted, you need to clean the kitchen on Wednesday afternoons.” The first gives Ted incentive to finish his degree and get a promotion, the second gives Ted the incentive to leave your company for a non-janitorial position.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Wow, no, both of those are terrible. Do you really want to tell Ted, in effect, “We think nobody in their right mind would be a receptionist if they had other options, so this will give you an incentive to get the hell out of that position until we find someone desperate enough to take it”?

    2. Not me*

      No, please don’t intentionally make being a receptionist unpleasant.

      I mean, I get it if the cleaning chores have to go to somebody, and that one person is the best choice for you. But please don’t do it to just make the job worse as “motivation.”

    3. Katie the Fed*

      “The first gives Ted incentive to finish his degree and get a promotion”

      Eep. There’s so very much wrong with this, I don’t know where to start.

  30. Stephanie*

    I worked in a small office with a similar set up. We made it clear that if you made the dish dirty, you put it in the dishwasher or cleaned it, you clean your own messes, then each department was assigned a week (so just a few rotations each year) to make sure everything was kept up (dishwasher was run and emptied, nothing was molding in the fridge, etc.) Assigning a whole department let people feel like they weren’t on the spot, and if they didn’t use the kitchen, they could work that out with their coworkers pretty easily. But again, this was a small office, everyone was pretty mature about it, so it probably wouldn’t work on a larger scale. We also had our cleaning company do the floors and garbage.

  31. Kiki*

    Honestly, I’d move the budget amount from snacks to a cleaning service. Explain to the employees what you are doing and why. Those who didn’t use the food service but had to clean up will be relieved, the neat eater will also be mostly happy, and those who ate and left a mess will know why.

  32. Chocolate lover*

    None of my offices have ever provided cleaning for kitchen-related tasks. Then again, I’ve rarely worked in any office that had a real kitchen – it was more like shove the microwave in this random corner near the photocopier, and here’s a small fridge in the mail room. There’s a tiny sink in the conference room in my unit, but since the conference room is usually in use, you can’t wash anything in there anyway. You wash it in the bathroom (which is used by the entire floor, not just my group) or take it home and wash it.

    I kid you not when I say half of the people in my unit have small fridges in their own office, rather than use the large, communal, disgusting one, or deal with cleaning it. I use one in my coworker’s office. I also bought a new insulated lunch container and freezer packs, so I just keep some things in there. The first year I was here, there was nearly a brawl between the administrative assistant and one of my other coworkers, because the admin insisted that everyone had to clean every appliance (microwave, fridge, toaster oven) when they used them or not. People flat out refused, and can’t say I blame them. I DESPISE cleaning, and dishes in particular. I don’t like doing it for myself, and I’m certainly not going to do it for a coworker.

  33. Gwen*

    I work in an office of about 40 and we have kitchen duty. Different departments are assigned to different weeks, and people from those departments are expected to sign up to fill each day. You clean out the coffee carafes, wipe down the counters/tables, and start the dishwasher (most people are good about putting their dishes in throughout the day), then come back the next morning to empty the dishwasher and put everything away. It is kind of a pain, and I’ll admit I’ve been putting off signing up lately after realizing that I’d done a day every week my team was assigned and my male team members often never ended up signing up, but that’s just kind of the way it goes. The cleaning company does do trash pickup every night.

    1. Brandy in Tn*

      We have the same system, but our trash is hauled out by the main cleaners later at night. We clean our own dishes but handle the rest like you. It takes maybe 10 minutes. Ive never thought it a hassle. Im surprised so many people are bothered. I get the benefit of a kitchen for maybe 50 minutes of cleaning every 3 or 4 months. Our kitchen stays spotless because we all just do this. There no pushback and if someone is to sore, pregnant, etc to do some bit, we help out.

  34. bridget*

    I agree that the best solution would be to explicitly hire someone for this, but if that’s not possible, I think the next best solution is to 1) have every individual person clean up their own mess within a reasonable time after making it. (Occasionally I’ll let my oatmeal bowl soak for 20 minutes or so before actually washing it, which as far as I can tell has not annoyed anyone in my 6-person office). If you have a dishwasher, that should include rinsing dishes and loading them in the machine. It should also include wiping any crumbs or stickiness off of counters or tables. 2) Unfortunately, that means there will be some more communal messes that aren’t anyone’s explicit responsibility, like taking out the trash and running and unloading the dishwasher. Honestly, I think that should probably fall to the person who is currently responsible for ordering and stocking the kitchen with food (which might be you OP, since you’re asking).

    The reason the kitchen-duty rotation isn’t an optimal situation is because it encourages messy people to not reign in their slobbiness when it isn’t their week, and disproportionately punishes people who are either naturally very neat/clean up after themselves or only use the kitchen for tea. I would really dislike it (and probably dislike it more than taking a job where ALWAYS cleaning the kitchen is my explicit responsibility).

  35. Rachael*

    I hate kitchen duty. I worked in the wire department of a small bank and they made a rotation with only the names of the the staff is what they felt were “lower” positions. Funny thing is, because we were in operations and had to be at our desks at all times, we rarely used the kitchen. Yes, we would eat at the tables, but we weren’t lounging in there and messing up the place like the employees that actually could go in there whenever they wanted.

    It got to be that they were leaving EVERYTHING in the sink and expecting us to do do their dishes and left horrible microwave and toaster messes. AND because we couldn’t leave our desks to clean it during the work day we ended up having to do it on our breaks or lunches. We rebelled and brought up that we were expected to perform work on our breaks (as non exempt it was a real no-no…lol). A rotation just is not fair. Some people are messier than others and there’s always the people who get the short end of the stick.

    The next job I interviewed for I stipulated that I DID NOT want a position that was expected to do kitchen duty. They responded that they did not have kitcken duty, however they did expect the position to do bathroom duty. NEXT! LOL.

  36. Cupcake*

    Do not assign this task to an existing employee. More than likely, that will fall to a woman and it will wind up being the receptionist or admin person on staff. I should know, as in past jobs that role somehow fell to me because the other higher level staff were “too important” to clean up after themselves: sauce slopped onto tables, drinks that had tipped over, etc. (i.e. all messes they themselves had made).

    Spend the money and hire someone to come in and do this. If you voluntell an admin person to do it, she (or he) will become mighty resentful and you could find this person quitting, as this falls outside of the job description.

  37. Roscoe*

    I think removing the perk is a very bad idea. I have a company that provides snacks and stuff. If they just for some reason, not budgeting related, just stopped doing it because they didn’t like what was and wasn’t getting done, that would be a problem. It would lower morale a ton and just piss people off. Its not even about the cost, its that you are literally removing a perk because of a couple of people.

    Could you make an incentive for volunteers it in some way? Maybe get like 5 people to volunteer and they get extra vacation days or can leave early?

    Also, the reason kitchen messes are always bad is that different people have different standards of when something NEEDS to be done. Same with roommates or cohabitation situation. When I had them, one person may think when the garbage 1 inch below the brim its time to empty it. One may play garbage jenga until nothing else falls out. Neither person is wrong, its just their opinion. Same with cleaning a microwave. Therefore the people with the lower tolerance will do it more and get angry, while the other person doesn’t get it.

  38. Rachel*

    Free food and kitchen cleanliness are separate issues. We offer free food at my office. Even when we scaled back to mints and prepackaged snacks, there were still dishes left in the sink and trash to take out. For years, we had a rotating cleaning schedule, but it caused so much resentment that we finally hired a once-a-week cleaning service. Our admin takes care of the day-to-day responsibilities (which was explained during her hiring process), but the weekly “deep clean” is left to the professionals.

  39. Interviewer*

    I’m with the crowd telling you to pay for a cleaner. The current system is broken and will continue to break down as people find reasons not to pitch in. The ones still doing the work will resent everyone else. Take away the snacks, if you need to free up the budget. But having this done right, cleaned nightly by someone who knows what they’re doing and can be held accountable for doing a good job, leaves a far more pleasant work environment and coworkers who are much happier. Even happier than getting free snacks at work, I guarantee it.

  40. Not Karen*

    It’s part of our junior admin’s job to keep the kitchens tidy on a daily basis. I think a janitor/cleaning service comes in twice a week at night to empty trash, clean the floor, etc.

  41. NJ Anon*

    Worked at a place where we did a rotating schedule by department which was kind of unfair since some departments were way bigger than others. I didn’t mind doing it though. The kicker was they then decided to rotate cleaning the fridge. Uh, no. Not happening. Everyone rebelled so they paid someone to do it.

    At current job, 12 people, the fridge was gross. I asked the office manager to organize a clean out day so the cleaning co could really get in there and scrub. She was too nice and didn’t throw anything out. I took over, emailed everyone each day for a week telling them that if they didn’t get their science experiments out of the fridge by 3 pm Friday, they were going in the garbage. Come 3 pm, everything went, the fridge got cleaned the way it needed to. Some people can be pigs!

  42. Dip-lo-mat*

    We have commandments: Wash your own dishes, clean up your own spills, and label your items in the fridge with initials and date. Once a month, a team is responsible for wiping down counters and tables, cleaning out items that have been in the fridge for more than a week, and cleaning microwaves. The janitorial staff does floors and trash.

    All 100+ of us on the floor adhere to the rules pretty well. Because a team is responsible for the monthly deeper clean, it gets done (the schedule is published one year at a time and cleaning is always done after 3:00 on a the last Thursday of the month). Sometimes not all team members can be present because of meetings or urgent work matters, but that ensures at least a few people can do the team clean and it doesn’t take more than 20 minutes or so. Works well.

    The one or two times folks have ignored the rules enough to affect the rest of us, the managing director sent an email reminder. None of us is going to ignore her and she doesn’t feel at all above being the muscle when folks are slacking on a universal requirement that affects morale.

    1. One of the Sarahs*

      It’s about office culture, and cultural expectations. It’s easier to do in a place with more staff, because people have the expectations drilled in when they start, and larger places have more staff turnover, but it also can be instituted. And if, as often happens, there are one or two bad apples who are the problem, that can be dealt with – even if it’s the big boss who’s the slob.

  43. CADMonkey007*

    Who does the purchasing of these snacks, and keeps the kitchen stocked? That’s the person that should be designated with emptying the trash and emptying the dishwasher.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Eh, careful with that – putting through a regular order for snacks or unloading an Amazon Fresh delivery really isn’t the same as cleaning up other adults’ messes, especially if that gets put into ‘office mom’ duties.

  44. DC*

    My last job had rotating kitchen duty and I thought it was absurd, especially since I got assigned, and I only used the kitchen for hot water to fill MY tea cup, that remained at my desk. Plus, yes, I do have a lower back issue, and unloading the dishwasher made my back unhappy. I mentioned it, and I got a reaction that told me they thought I was just making that up to get out of a duty. Yes, I wanted out of the duty because I hardly used the kitchen and I have housekeepers at my own place to do that most of the limit the aggravation to my back – why do I want to do be cleaning up other people’s messes at work? I was newer, so I just sucked it up and did it when I was assigned. Now, the kitchen duty is mostly relegated to our admins here (we have several) and then whoever pitches in and decides to empty the dishwasher (sometimes a couple of people — sometimes I tag team and one of us unloads and hands to a partner who puts it in the cabinet — which works out well and minimizes the bending and stooping for everyone). So, yes, assign it to one or two people or just hire a service that agrees to do it. For my own housekeepers, I’ve been told “we don’t do dishes” or “unload dishwashers” and I tell them, “that’s a deal breaker for me.” Many will make an exception and agree to do it, perhaps at an additional charge or they just roll it into the overall time and that means other things might not get done as well — all fine by me.

  45. Anon Accountant*

    Cut back the snacks budget and contract a cleaning service. But really you shouldn’t have to tell grown adults to clean up after themselves. It SHOULD be second nature to wipe off the counter you spilled coffee on and wash your own coffee cup out. The rest of it should be handled by a cleaning crew whether it’s company janitors or cleaning crew contracted.

    Why aren’t staff washing their own plates and cups? If those were from a meeting with clients that’s a separate issue but from the letter I’m reading that as the dishes in the dishwasher were from staff. Our maintenance worker comes in 3 times a week and empties all the garbage cans, including the kitchen area trash, and it works out fine. We’re a 20 person business.

    1. Koko*

      There are reasons you might not want staff to wash their own dishes. You could make an argument that someone who is earning $50-100 an hour shouldn’t be washing dishes when someone could be hired to wash them for significantly less cost to the company, freeing that employee up to do work that is actually worth $50-100 an hour.

  46. neverjaunty*

    OP, a big part of what’s going on here is differing expectations – and some of those are unspoken/unconscious expectations, which makes them very hard to negotiate. This doesn’t mean you are “wrong” or unfair; it means you have people approaching the issue from very different perspectives.

    With a cleaning rotation, the expectations are usually like this: Everybody shares equally in clean-up duty. You will be cleaning up other people’s messes, but they will also clean up yours when it is their turn. Because everybody is assigned, nobody is ‘stuck’ with the job.

    Other people see a cleaning rotation as unfair for various reasons: I don’t do messy things in the kitchen, so I’m cleaning up after other people but they’re not cleaning up after me. I clean up more thoroughly than some co-workers, so I’m doing more work than they are. When it’s not their turn, people leave bigger messes since they’re not doing clean-up, but everyone resents it when it’s their turn.

    And then there are those people who, consciously or unconsciously, aren’t playing fair: Fergus does a half-hearted job of cleanup when it’s his turn because he sort of feels like the secretary should be doing it; Sam always makes huge messes that she only has to clean up when it’s her rotation; Jane always is ‘too busy with client projects’ when it’s her week and so the next week, Wakeen gets stuck with twice as much clean-up.

    If it’s a small office, why not sit down with everybody and talk about the problem and see what the employees think is the best way to handle it? Maybe they’d prefer a cleaning service, even if that means less money in the company’s budget overall (i.e. for raises and perks). Maybe they’d be OK with getting rid of the food if that means less mess overall – sure, people will bring food from home, but there’s a little less opportunity to get snacks strewn around. (The only thing you want to avoid here is having certain employees voluntold or pressured to be Office Cleaning Task Person.)

  47. Umvue*

    Two anecdotes.

    At my previous job, my boss made it very clear right away that there were certain classes of work that were for less important people than herself, and that some of these were things I shouldn’t do either. She was a woman, and given her generation I expect some of this was a reaction to assumptions people had placed on her in the past; since I’m a woman too I felt I needed to take some cues from her about what she thought was an appropriate use of my time, and about how to be taken seriously in that environment. This boss never cleaned her own dishes, and she made it obvious, and I felt weird about every kitchen encounter.

    By contrast, early in my tenure at my current job, I saw the director (a man) unloading the dishwasher, and I breathed a sigh of relief: that was a cue that it would be safe for me to do the same. Now when I’m the first person in on a day after it’s been run, I do that chore, because I actually like to, and I know that I can.

    Incidentally the kitchen at the first job was always gross not only because of the weird culture (apparently) but also because they didn’t stock dish soap or sponges!! To my mind that’s like building a bathroom and expecting people to bring their own TP. I can’t think of a faster way to encourage moldy dishes.

  48. nicolefromqueens*

    If I was assigned kitchen cleanup against my will I would put a sign up that said “you have 24 hours to either remove your items or put your name and date on it. Otherwise it’s getting trashed after COB on Friday. xoxo nicolefromqueens, Teapot Design Archives” And follow through.

    Funny, I was about to ask a question about kitchen cleanup on Friday.

    1. Koko*

      Our office manager does this every couple of months with a few days’ notice. It’s a necessity, we have hundreds of people here and someone is bound to forget about something they left in the fridge or quit/have their contract end without taking their items, etc. If you don’t periodically do a purge you end up with strange life forms growing in the fridge and valuable fridge real estate unavailable for wanted items.

  49. MechE31*

    I worked at a medium size office, about 100-150 people, and they provided full meals, drinks and snacks. People were complete slobs with no respect at all. People would also leave food out for hours that should be refrigerated. It morphed from a part time job by the HR/office manager intern to a full time janitorial and prep position.

    The only two options for us were either to eliminate it completely or hire someone full time.

  50. Hannah*

    LW, if I worked in your office and I was told I had to participate in a cleaning rotation, I would honestly quit. I am paid for my specific job, not to clean up the office.

    “Everyone pitch in and take turns doing chores” is a lovely concept for a household/family. But this isn’t a family, it’s an office. The whole idea that you would take away the free food because it’s not appreciated (i.e. reciprocated for by doing chores) sounds like something you’d say to your naughty children, not employees of a company. The majority of people are there to work in their job functions, for paychecks. They’re not there to trade chores for free food, that’s insulting. They have their own households and families to run at HOME.

    Sure, if specific people are massive slobs, say something to them, but even if everyone is relatively neat, the coffee maker will drip, floors will need sweeping, things that aren’t one individual’s mess. It has to be someone’s job to look after the office space in support of the other employees who are working on whatever the company’s actual function is.

  51. Observer*

    So, a few thoughts.

    What makes you think that taking away the free food will do anything to resolve the problem. You really think people only eat lunch if the boss is paying for it?

    Please step back and think about the message you will be sending by discontinuing the free food because some people are slobs. Basically, you are saying “you are all one undifferentiated mass, and if some portion of you is misbehaving we will react to all of you in the same manner, regardless of your individual behavior.” That does not make for good morale. Far better, you would tell people to clean up after themselves and hire someone for the bigger items.

    If you really don’t want to get into an ADA or workers comp situation, then follow the rules and don’t schedule people to do work that is contra-indicated by their medical condition. “I told her to ask someone for help” is not going to help you at ALL, if something does come up. What you firmly believe makes no difference. And, I’d be willing to be that if someone ever does bring an ADA related suit, this would wind up in evidence about your attitude towards people with disabilities.

    Speaking of which, what’s with “One claims”? The implication there is that she’s making it up. Unless this is someone who has shown herself to be untrustworthy, that’s really out of line. (And if she is untrustworthy, the clean up issue is the least of your problems with her.)

  52. Dr. Doll*

    I am really bemused at all the resentment for occasionally cleaning up a communal office kitchen. Reminds me of the time lo these many years ago when I was newly married and my stepdaughter, whose sole household job it was to put the plates in the dishwasher, said, “I didn’t eat! I didn’t eat *on purpose* so I wouldn’t have to clean up! I thought that’s why we got Doll, so I wouldn’t have to clean up any more!” (Ah…no.)

    I am the boss of my department. *I* clean the kitchen regularly in my turn and welcome the short break from Thinking Great Thoughts. I also send the infrequent stern email when people leave the kitchen in a mess, and it doesn’t happen again for another 2 years. So I really, really don’t understand the huffiness.

    1. Green*

      If it’s initiated by you, and you’re the boss, then that’s fine. (I still don’t go to work to clean things, and wouldn’t accept a job that involved scraping other people’s dishes.) But it doesn’t work at a peer thing, and it isn’t helpful for women to be in the position of nagging their colleagues about cleanliness.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Except that adult employees aren’t children, and the workplace is not the same as one’s own home.

    3. neverjaunty*

      People have explained the huffiness, at length, in their comments. If you really don’t understand it at this point, I’m guessing it’s that you are unable to get past “Well I don’t feel that way, and you shouldn’t either”.

  53. Cath in Canada*

    We have a cleaning rota – everyone gets assigned a week of wiping the counters and microwave, making sure the dish rack’s relatively empty, buying dish / hand soap and scrubbers (with petty cash, not our own money) if we run out. We don’t have a dishwasher, but everyone’s really good about washing their own dishes. You do occasionally see a bowl of oatmeal getting left in the sink to soak, but never for very long. When it’s my turn I rarely have to do much more than wipe counters, and most of the counter mess is just from the coffee grinder.

    I think it works for us because:

    a) it’s a pretty big office with a lot of turnover (interns), so you only have to do it a couple of times per year
    b) everyone from professors down takes part
    c) the schedule’s posted publicly (on the fridge), so it’s obvious whose turn it is. This makes the cleaner more likely to do a good job, and everyone else more likely to clean up their own messes, because it’s not some faceless person who you’re affecting but a named colleague
    d) an admin assistant sends you a reminder email a week before it’s your turn – although I just put mine in my Outlook calendar as soon as the schedule’s posted

    I don’t know if anyone gets a medical exemption, but I’m sure we would find a way around it – e.g. sharing duties with someone else, so for two weeks one person wipes the counters or something else that doesn’t require stooping and bending, and the other person does the rest of the duties.

  54. Rachel B*

    We have a similar setup but we simply use a sign-up sheet for the cleaning of the area. It’s written up for several weeks or months out, and posted on the fridge for people to commit to a time slot. People are more than willing to take their turn helping out, knowing they’ve been using the accommodations, and people who don’t use the kitchen are in no way obligated to sign up.

  55. Tansy*

    We had this same issue in our small office (about 15 people). The schedule only lasted a few months before there was widescale rebellion.

    Luckily we needed to hire a new junior assistant. When we were hiring, we made it clear that she would be expected to do basic tidying up / cleaning up in the kitchen. Thankfully that meant that once she was hired, she did it without complaint! I really think that’s the only solution.

  56. Nelly*

    I worked in a school where the facilities manager was expected – by staff, not as a part of her job role – to clean the kitchen/do the washing up. Totally not an official part of her job role. After every avenue to get people to clean up after themselves was exhausted, she stood at the sink, picked up every single dish/cup/plate one by one and hurled them into the trash, making sure each and every dirty cup smashed so that all of the staff could hear it.

    It taught the staff nothing in the long run – they were scared clean for about a month, then bought themselves new dishes and went back to their slovenly ways – so in the end we just stopped supplying kitchen facilities other than hot and cold water. The boss removed the toaster, the kettle, the microwave, and if anyone left anything in the fridge, even Tupperware containers, she threw them away at 4pm every single day. I think it became her angry therapy.

    (Mind you, we worked for a boss who would have stopped supplying toilet paper if she could have got away with it!)

  57. Ultraviolet*

    What if….people who volunteer to clean the kitchen get to set the office thermostat that week? Two birds with one stone? (Kidding.)

  58. Grumpy bear*

    I haven’t read all of the comments yet, but had to post because we have kitchen rosters where I work and the idea that someone would suggest that they shouldn’t be on it is so odd to me. If you had a medical condition that meant you couldn’t, then sure, I get that. But otherwise, everyone here contributes except for the highest exec level staff.
    I work for a non-US government org, so I don’t know if it’s a culture thing or an our cleaning contract just doesn’t cover this thing, or even something to do with being a majority female workplace. No ideas. But I’never seen anyone so much as bat an eyelash at the kitchen roster.

  59. NewCommenterfromDaBronx*

    I work in a small office of 7 people. Office cleaner comes every other week for vacuuming, dusting, bathrooms, floor cleaning, etc. We take out the trash to the curb twice a week (whoever remembers, including the big boss). We have no dishwasher so everyone washes their own dishes & cleans up their own spills. If someone doesn’t clean up after themselves, no one has a problem calling that person out on it. Admin orders supplies for cleaning. Unidentified science experiments in the fridge get thrown out occasionally by whoever discovers it. System works well for us. I would have a very big problem cleaning someone’s dishes or microwave explosion.

  60. Cassie*

    I would suggest getting rid of the dishwasher (if possible) and only providing water and coffee. People can bring their own food and be messy, and you might still get dishes soaking in the sink, but it might cut down on it. And don’t provide plates and silverware – people can bring their own if they want and maybe they’d be more responsible about their own stuff.

    We have a break room with a fridge and a microwave. No sink or dishwasher, so there’s no dirty dishes to speak of. Even if there were, I wouldn’t leave my dishes in there – it just seems weird to me. And I’d be worried someone would take my stuff (I guess that speaks volumes about how much trust I have of others!). Just wash them out and take them back to your desk – they can dry there.

  61. Katie Diaz*

    We have about 100 people in our office. The rotation where 2 people cleaned the kitchen every Friday did not work (due to all of the reasons posted by others), so we asked if anyone was willing to make a little extra money and assembled a “clean team” to share the work. An email reminder goes out Friday around 1:00. The person assigned to clean that afternoon @ 4:00 cleans the appliances, counters, and sink and throws out everything in the sink or fridge, including the container/dish! Cartons of eggs, open soda cans, insulated lunch bags, more Tupperware and Rubber maid than you can imagine, even a crock pot insert have all been tossed! Condiments can stay until they’ve passed their “best by” dates. 1-The kitchen is now consistently being cleaned. 2- if a cleaning is missed, there is someone to hold accountable. 3-it gives these employees a chance to make a little extra money for about 15 minutes of their time. Besides having to remind everyone that they are still responsible for their own messes, this has worked well for us. People weren’t used to the consistency and grumbled at first. Anyone who complains about their dish or container being thrown away is asked if they received the reminder e-mail; that usually stops them in their tracks. It’s a bit harsh but necessary to prevent the science projects from taking over!

  62. Miles*

    One company in Canada actually got custom made plates for their entire office of about 15 people. If there’s a dirty plate, everyone knows whose it is, because it has that person’s name on it. Oh, and I think they also have a camera in the kitchen.

    1. Kenzie*

      I heard somewhere that a company got personalized silverware with the employees initials stamped on them.

  63. Jady*

    This is a damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t situation. The only way to make people happy is to hire a cleaning service or some kind of office assistant for this.

    I would be (and have been at a previous job) furious at being asked to clean up after my coworkers. It’s not a part of my job and I typically have way too many responsibilities for that to even be on my radar.

    But at the same time, if I had an expected perk taken away (ie the snacks/drinks), that would also make me furious. I clean up after myself, why am I being punished because other people are slobs? Punish the people who make a mess. Put a damn camera in the break room if you have to.

    You may feel like it’s an unappreciated perk, but it’s a perk people like and expect. Removing that perk results in a big drop in morale. Forcing people to clean results in a big drop in morale.

    Both of these results would be ‘last straw’ factors for me as an employee. Unless my job was awesome in pretty much every other way, I’d start a job hunt.

    So hire someone to do it.

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