why should I have to help clean the office kitchen when I never use it?

Two letters, same theme.

The first:

The directors at my workplace have introduced a policy that each week two people are responsible for cleaning the kitchen every afternoon before leaving. I find it unfair to have to clean other’s mess, given that the only use I make of the kitchen is for a coffee or tea during the day, and I always clean up before and after myself.

Is there a way you would recommend dealing with this? I have already refused to clean but thought there might be a better way of dealing with the situation.

The second:

I work in a nonprofit legal center where we are expected to each volunteer to clean the refrigerator. The refrigerator in my office is super gross and I can ALWAYS smell it when it’s open from my office. I have chronic migraines and it tends to be an issue, but I ignore it. For this reason, I opt out of bringing food I need to store in it and I have not used it once since I’ve worked here. I don’t feel like it’s fair that I should have to clean the refrigerator when I don’t use it. Is there any reason I need to be cleaning it? Can I speak up and say that I don’t want to because I don’t use it?

I’m pretty sure that the issue of how to keep the office kitchen clean will still be unresolved on the day that our dying sun goes red giant and consumes the earth.

Offices are notoriously bad at this.

The most obvious solution is to hire a cleaning person to handle it, but in smaller offices, it’s not always practical or even possible to hire someone to clean as frequently as would be needed.

The next most obvious solution — and, I’d argue, the right one if the first one won’t work — is to make it an explicit part of a junior person’s job (that you disclose to them during the hiring process so that they can opt out if they have a problem with it). But lots of offices don’t do this because they worry that it’s unfair to put it all on one person.

You might think that the next most obvious solution after that is some kind of rotation system shared among the users of the kitchen. But then you get people complaining that they only use the kitchen twice a year or not at all and so you take them off the roster, and then they’re spotted heating up coffee in the microwave and people complain and now your rotation is causing all sorts of drama, so you decide that everyone needs to be on it, and you end up with the exact problem that these letter-writers are having.

(Actually, you might think that the most obvious solution is to have everyone clean up after themselves, but so often it doesn’t work.)

So … where does that leave you, letter-writers?

Well, if you’re fairly junior, you probably need to just suck it up and do it. (Although letter-writer #2, if cleaning the refrigerator triggers migraines, you absolutely should explain that and ask to be exempted for that reason.) But if you’re not junior, it’s reasonable to push back on this. You could try saying something like, “I get the need to have a clean kitchen, but I never use it and I’m not contributing to any of the mess there. I don’t want to be taken away from high-priority projects to clean up a fridge that I don’t use, so I’m planning to keep myself out of the kitchen rotation.”

If you’re dealing with a reasonable person, they should get that it’s not a good use of the company’s payroll to have senior/specialized people cleaning up other people’s food messes.

But again, kitchen issues are a constant plague in office life, so it could go either way.

{ 411 comments… read them below }

  1. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Given the rigidity and resentment that go hand in hand on this subject matter, you have to be black and white about your use of these resources. Either you literally never, EVER use them or you honestly admit to using them and therefore put yourself on the list of people responsible for maintenance.

    I’m like both of you. I intentionally never use the kitchen because I don’t want the responsibility, and I, as a woman in a male dominated field, don’t want to be seen cleaning at work. So even though I enjoy the occasional bag of popcorn, it’s not enough for me to use the microwave and risk getting put on a cleaning schedule.

    You have to be able to look your employer in the eye and mean it seen you say you never use the kitchen and therefore should be exempt.

    1. Christine*

      Agree with you. Tea and coffee counts as using the kitchen and many say that doesn’t count. But If I knew someone wasn’t on the rotation and I saw them using the coffee maker or heating up tea I would be pissed. I would take it as they thought they were too good to clean.

      If it’s part of a job description, it should be part of the evaluation if they shirk the duty on a regular basis also. So you do not deal with one person completely forgetting it when it was their turn.

      1. INTP*

        Same. A considerable amount of the mess in our kitchen comes from beverages – mainly people leaving mugs in the sink and never returning for them. I wouldn’t consider “only” drinking coffee to be not using the kitchen.

      2. designbot*

        +1 to this. Isn’t coffee and tea like 90% of what office kitchens are for?
        Cleaning duty isn’t about whether you’ve cleaned up after yourself or not, which usually means having put your mug in the dishwasher and wiped up any spills. It’s about actually running that dishwasher and emptying it, and cleaning out the coffee maker, and wiping general dust and grime off of things that would still accumulate even if everyone cleaned up after themselves.

        1. Collarbone High*

          This is a really good point. Even if everyone cleans up the specific mess they make, the kitchen will still get dirty and need to be cleaned.

          1. HoVertical*

            +1 to Collarbone’s comment, also. I did precisely this sort of work for several years; I was the sole cleaning person for two non-profits and a law office, which all had office space in the same building. The staff of the larger non-profit were, to put it bluntly, utter slobs. Coffee grounds on the countertop, dirty mugs in the sinks, food left on the countertops (especially in the summer, GROSS), spills not wiped, filthy trash cans, etc, etc. But, interestingly enough, I was expressly forbidden from cleaning their refrigerator! It was “their responsibility”. Until the day someone’s forgotten salad became sentient, they cleaned it out, and some idiot managed to pierce a hole in the bin liner…resulting in over an inch of foul sludge in the bottom of the actual trash can, and a ruined pair of shoes for me.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      Yep. And if you use the microwave once a year to heat a cup of water, someone is going to notice.

    3. Kathleen Adams*

      Yes. Because the thing is that (at least in my experience) when most people say “I never use the kitchen,” even if they say it very firmly and categorically and militantly, the actual truth is “OK, I don’t use the kitchen very often.” And that if they say – firmly, categorically and militantly – “I always clean up after myself,” odds are about 50-50 that the actual truth is “I usually clean up after myself.” And don’t think your co-workers won’t notice if there are lapses in your “I never use the kitchen” and “I always clean up after myself” policies because they will.

      So definitely don’t say those things unless you can be absolutely accurate when you say them.

      1. Misc*

        Hahaha, I just had flashbacks to a job where a kitchen roster was implemented. One person was adamant that they were not going to help because they never ever used the kitchen. That person was also spotted sneaking a stack of mugs out of their office a couple of weeks later…

              1. Kathleen Adams*

                I am not sure why that makes it even funnier, but it does. Thank you *so* much for correcting me.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah… I know that some people who say “I don’t use the kitchen” really do mean it, but so so so often I find that there’s an unspoken corollary of “…except for X thing, which doesn’t count.” And what can fall in the ‘doesn’t count’ category varies so much. (A lot of people think that making tea/coffee doesn’t count as using the kitchen, but I’ve encountered people who thought that using the fridge to store leftovers or creamer doesn’t count too–after all, you’re not messing up dishes or using the sink or microwave!)

        And some cleaning tasks have to be done even if you clean up after yourself. I am a clean-as-you-go person in my own kitchen, but I still have to intermittently scrub out the sink, wipe down the microwave, and sweep errant crumbs out of the corners, because entropy.

        There is often a more efficient solution to this than “everyone takes a turn cleaning the kitchen,” but if I were stuck in a situation where that was the rule, I’d expect “I never use the kitchen” to mean “I literally do not set foot in there.” Otherwise you’re in this bizarre bean-counting place where you’re figuring out whose kitchen use is “enough” to “count,” and, aaaaaaaaargh.

        1. DM*

          Ah I hate this, and it was a policy in my other job. We had to be on rotation, and I have a genuine back issue, so unloading and loading a dish washer is problematic — in fact, I hire house cleaners at my own home and tell them dishes are a deal breaker. They have to at least load and / unload for me :) It saves my back. But, I felt like if I used the “I have a bad back” excuse, I’d get the eye roll, so I did it for a while (then I found a new job). But I resented the heck out of it because YES, I did use the kitchen to make tea, but here’s the thing. I have my own cup. It stays at my desk. I wash it out in the sink in the morning before I make the tea, then I make the tea, grab a paper towel and wipe up any water that might have gotten on the counter, and go back to my desk. I’m literally not leaving any mess, and I never put my cup in the dishwasher. It stays on my desk all the time except when I’m making tea. So, I didn’t understand why if I could clean up completely after myself when making a simple cup of tea, other grown professional adults were incapable of doing that.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            Well, if you have a bad back, then that should be enough to exempt you–I’m not saying that people for whom it would be a medical hardship to clean the kitchen should do so. But I know people who “just make tea” in the kitchen who put sugar in the tea, then slosh it, then vaguely swipe at it with a paper towel and leave a sticky mess behind, and leave their teabag in the drain, and whatever, and I mean–what, are we supposed to audit peoples’ level of mess to determine who should clean up? (Not to mention that some people are just indifferent to grunge and genuinely think they cleaned up totally after themselves when in fact they sloshed coffee everywhere.)

            If taking people at their word and trusting them to tidy up after themselves worked, this wouldn’t be the perennial, intractable problem that it is.

            1. Kobayashi*

              The idea is not that it wouldn’t exempt me. I could’ve brought in a doctor’s note. I just knew that I would get the “yeah, right” side eye because that was the kind of place it was, and so I opted to do it. But, yes, I left no mess behind. I don’t actually even use sugar in my tea. It literally was a tea bag and hot water, and maybe a touch of splenda that I kept at my desk. And the hot water came from the water cooler. It felt ridiculous t have to empty out an entire dishwasher full of cups, bowls, and silverwhere and put them up in a cabinet because I wanted hot water, but yes I did it.

              1. Turtle Candle*

                I believe you, because you have no particular reason to lie to me in an anonymous forum! But that’s beside the point of the problem, which is that there are a lot, a lot, a lot of workplaces where everyone swears up and down and backwards and sideways that they do not leave messes, and yet somehow there are still crumbs and gunk. I mean, that being the case, what are we supposed to do? Put in spy cameras to see who it is? Polygraph tests?

            2. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

              We had an office Fergus who every day opened a large soft drink bottle and sprayed the counter with soda. He then filled a large glass with ice and added soda, leaving a sticky mess behind. I believe some people simply can’t see their messes. In his mind, there was nothing to wipe up.

          2. AthenaC*

            The only suggestion I have for next time – ally with someone. If they do whichever task is painful for you when it’s your turn to clean, you will help them out with something when it’s their turn to clean. I know if you were to ask me, I would happily help you out.

            Unfortunately, I can’t see an easier, more equitable solution to The Kitchen Problem than everyone takes a turn to clean, no exceptions. Otherwise you run the risk of a workplace that spends more time administering the chore chart than getting actual work done.

            1. AthenaC*

              Meant to say – chore chart plus deciding who’s exempt from what … it’s just not what companies are in business to do and yet it still needs to get done.

            2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              Yep. When I lived with a roommate, we split dishwashing duty — her skin reacted reeeeeeeally badly to spending too much time in water, and my back hated me trying to bend down repeatedly, so I’d rinse a dish and hand it to her to put in the dishwasher. It actually went way faster than either of us doing dishes alone (since I could be working on the next dish while she arranged things in the rack) and neither of us ended up in pain afterward.

          3. Not your maid*

            I’m with you DM. I use my own mug that stays at my desk, using only hot water from the kitchen, don’t use the refrigerator. My office always has various uneaten lunches that become disgusting and smelly (you can smell the fridge even when closed some days), used mugs and Tupperware containers tossed onto the counters other than cleaned, spilled sugar and cream on the counters, used tea bags in the sink rather than the trash…Just disgusting messes made by professionals who should know better. There isn’t a chance that I would take a rotation in cleaning the kitchen simply because I used hot water.

        2. ZuKeeper*

          When I said I didn’t use the kitchen at my last job, I meant it, 100%. I could barely walk past it without having dry heaves, I sure wasn’t going to consume anything that got near it. Lucky for me, I could keep snacks in my desk and a water bottle. I went home for lunch and to refill my water bottle. If I couldn’t get away from work, (which happened all to frequently towards the end) I just skipped lunch. It was just that gross. Just one of the many dysfunctional things about that job.

    4. Imaginary Number*

      My thought exactly. It’s one thing to be the writer who never ever ever uses the fridge. But for the LW using the kitchen to make coffee and tea, even if you always clean up after yourself, gets you lumped in with the other kitchen users, in my opinion.

      And, frankly, cleaning up the kitchen is usually much much less gross than cleaning out the fridge.

    5. Rebel without a cause*

      We have a relatively small office, about 15 people. The GM, if he sees ANYTHING in the sink, on the counters, or on the sponge, will literally walk around to each person and ask them if they were the ones responsible for it. I had unknowingly left some chia seeds on the sponge when I cleaned out my breakfast bowl, so that become the mystery of the morning – “What the hell ARE these??” I didn’t fess up, but did go and pick them out later. So now we all do a decent job of cleaning up since we don’t want him to track us down! We jokingly call him Mother. He’s right though, we should all be doing this on our own, and he shouldn’t have to chase people down to clean up after themselves.

      1. Marisol*

        This is funny. At first, I was thinking your GM was a jerk, but then as I continued reading I came to the conclusion that he is actually awesome…

      2. Bellatrix*

        At the end of the day though, you have to wonder whether you really want knowledge workers obsessing over chia seeds and the most expensive person in the office spending his time walking around with a sponge. Sure, adults should clean up after themselves but this level of enforcement seems ineffective.

  2. AndersonDarling*

    The other option is to make it clear that everyone cleans up after themselves. And if there is an individual who is leaving messes, then they get called out on it.
    There may be times when someone needs to be assigned to do a major clean, but grown ups should be able to wipe out the microwave when their soup explodes, or mop up the fridge when their creamer spills.
    I’ve worked in places where people leave their messes, and I’ve worked in places where everyone cleans up after themselves. If there is a culture to tidy up, then you won’t have gross, smelly fridges.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Often doesn’t work. There will be a couple people who won’t clean up after themselves, and you won’t necessarily know who they are; you’ll just see evidence of them in the form of coffee spills and congealed cheese in the microwave. And then you end up where these letter-writers are.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        Oh, we’ve found them. :) The gal who kept throwing egg shells in the sink- uncovered! The guy who would leave gross oatmeal dishes in the sink- revealed!
        But I’ve worked in smaller (less than 150) employee companies, where it is easy to track down the culprits. When you have 1,000 employees, you may see someone once and never again.
        In one case, the OP’s scenario went down- where everyone was told they would have to wash dishes and deep clean, and suddenly everyone was being called out on their kitchen shenanigans. “Don’t leave that dish in the sink. Do you think I’m going to wash it for you?” “Is your mom coming in later to clean the microwave after you?” I don’t like public humiliation, but it really worked in this case, mainly because it was a group effort.

        1. 2 Cents*

          I’m glad your sleuthing led to apprehending the culprits. I work in an office with fewer than 50 people, and I still don’t know who keeps using the same knife and leaving it unwashed in the sink everyday or the person who washes stuff with a paper towel, then leaves that gross towel in the sink (as if anyone else would even touch it!).

          I often clean out the fridge, even though the contracted cleaning crew is supposed to. Once found a nearly used salad dressing that had expired 3 years before. Another time, found the frozen lunch of an employee who’d been let go 18 months prior.

          1. Temperance*

            I would complain to their manager rather than do it myself. Your company is wasting so much money on this, both on the lazy cleaning crew and you wasting your time on it.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I worked in an office of 5 people, and we couldn’t figure out who was leaving certain things around, and that’s when we all affirmatively were acting in the highest good faith and trying to ensure we cleaned up after ourselves (and usually did). Unfortunately, there’s a real “tragedy of the commons”-esque risk when folks are asked to clean up after themselves. And in my experience, this encourages people with high thresholds for messiness/grossness to just wait out the cleaning until people with low-thresholds for dirtiness get fed up and clean everything.

          But I would also hope that in a 150+ company, someone’s job duties include kitchen maintenance.

      2. INTP*

        Yeah, it doesn’t work at any office where I’ve ever worked. Most of those people probably do think of themselves as people who clean up after themselves, but have a rationalization for leaving the occasional mess – “I’m really busy today and if I clean up that cheese I won’t have time to eat lunch.” Then they forget to go back for it. I am a fan of strict policies forcing people to clean up after themselves where practicable, though – like all the food left in the fridge at the end of the week or dirty dishes left in the sink after 6pm get thrown away, no questions asked. I can see why management would fear backlash, but it’s my experience that people appreciate these rules and like that management is finally doing something about the mess.

        1. Alienor*

          My company has a cleaning crew who throws away everything in the fridges at 4 pm on Friday. I think of them as the Langoliers, after the Stephen King novella. I’ve rushed in there at 4:05 pm to rescue my leftovers and found that they’ve already been and gone. They won’t throw out your lunch box/containers, but they’ll empty them and leave them next to the sink in the Pile of Shame.

          1. Sci-fi_worker_girl*

            I like it, I’ll be starting the Friday Langoliers in our fridge with the pile of shame….. (After heads ups).

          2. Jessica*

            We have Friday Langoliers as well, with the cut-off at 5pm. And they very well MAY throw out your lunch box or nice thermos, so people are careful not to leave it to chance. If you’re working late on a Friday, then you go to the break room at 4:30 and bring your lunch box back to your desk. To draw a picture, this is a big campus, with 4 buildings of 6-8 floors each, couple hundred people per floor, one big break room on each floor with vending, microwaves, fridges, a sink, and there are a few Keurigs around but no coffee pot. (There are also two coffee shops on campus, and a cafeteria with a coffee bar, so that takes care of the coffee situation.)

            TBH, we haven’t had much of a mess issue. Some people are better at cleaning up after themselves than others, to be sure, but overall the kitchen stays pretty clean. If someone starts leaving their oatmeal bowl or whatever in the sink for a few days in a row, then the admin will send an email out reminding people not to leave dishes in the sink. There’s no dishwasher or communal mug stash, so nobody gets stuck with a pile of dishes that other people used.

      3. Jady*

        Considering our office kitchen has a camera in it (along with everywhere else in the office for ‘security’), I think it’s easily doable.

      4. paul*

        It gets worse in a communal kitchen in a building that’s shared by multiple agencies too. We used to have 7-8 different non profits in the same building we’re in, all of us sharing 2 bathrooms and a kitchen. Of course with that many agencies, no one knew which one any particular person worked in, and no agency thought it was their job to make sure people picked up after themselves…I just didn’t use the kitchen because I have standards and it was disgusting beyond belief.

      5. AvonLady Barksdale*

        At my last company, we had someone who wouldn’t clean up after herself. There were only 7 of us, so we knew exactly who it was. She would leave dishes in the sink, or she would do them and leave them in the (tiny, easily crowded dish rack) for weeks. She once left a bottle of milk in the fridge, spilled it, and went to a meeting. I cleaned that one up, with help, because it stank to high heaven. In fact, I used to go through and clean out the fridge because it would make me insane. In this woman’s case, it was indicative of her overall attitude towards our workplace, namely that she was better than everyone else, so why should she clean when junior people could do it? Well, I was not junior– I was her peer, and slightly senior to her. She also complained that we weren’t a “real office” all the time, so I’m guessing she thought we should have cleaners. We had cleaners, but they only came once every two weeks.

        My boss knew about this and other issues, and he would talk a big game and then do absolutely nothing, not even, “Hey, you just got stuff all over the microwave, wipe it up.” I got stuck in the same pattern that befalls a lot of people– I could no longer deal with the mess or the smell, so I just pushed up my sleeves and cleaned. I resented the hell out of her, and this was just one reason of many.

      6. ReanaZ*

        Also you have major cleaning tasks that need doing and also sometime stuff just happens!

        Once I was at one of our regional sites, and I packed a lunch. The meeting I was in ended up catering lunch. I 100% forgot about my lunch I stashed in the fridge. 2 months later a manager at that site was in the head office saw me heating up lunch and said “Oh, man, I think one of your tupperware is in our fridge. We’ve been trying to figure out whose it is for ages.” I was mortified and asked him to please just throw it away. (They didn’t! Someone washed out the moldy meatballs and returned it to me! *dying of embarrassment*)

        I also once left a bunch of fruit in the fridge before unexpected medical leave. The head office does monthly dumps and I assume it got cleaned up in that.

        Even with good intentions and being someone who generally tries to clean up after myself in the kitchen, you still need people to take care of situations like these (which happen more often than you might think).

      7. The Other Liz*

        I saw this really work ONCE – when I worked in a Christian community. Nothing more effective as a guilt trip than reminding folks of the principles of being in community together.

        Another habit I picked up there: I actually like putting away clean dishes. And whenever someone else walked into the kitchen while I did that I’d say, cheerily, “Oh good! You’re just in time to help me get this done!” And it worked EVERY SINGLE TIME.

    2. Government Worker*

      It also doesn’t work in larger offices. Even with good intentions, people occasionally leave a couple of crumbs or a small drip here and there and don’t notice, and that adds up to grossness if you’ve got a couple of dozen people using the same kitchen. In that case you need someone to at least wipe down the counter and re-stock the paper towels pretty often.

      1. BadPlanning*

        This is what I was thinking. Even if I don’t spot big bits of food in the microwave when I’m done, over time, stuff just builds up. And crumbs end up on the floor, etc, etc.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah. I worked in an office where people really genuinely did do their best to clean up after themselves, and while it meant that a full-fledged kitchen cleaning was required less often, it still had to be done from time to time. Unnoticed crumbs, wiping up a spill and not realizing that you’ve left a little bit of sticky residue behind, using a sponge that probably should have been swapped out a while back, almost-imperceptable microwave splatter that nevertheless builds up over time… given enough traffic or enough time, the kitchen needed a proper cleaning even when everyone was in fact trying hard to clean up after themselves. We called it “catching up with kitchen entropy” and it was rotated between the most junior employees. (I grant you, the fact that people really did make an effort to tidy after themselves made the task less onerous–it was a matter of swapping out the sponges, washing away invisible stickiness, and going on a crumb hunt, rather than dealing with someone’s decaying science project in the fridge–but it still had to be done.)

        1. Rainy, PI*

          I work in a large office, full of people of genuine good will who face their issues like adults and are very team-oriented, but 50 people’s worth of use in a small office “kitchen” means that things get grotty quickly. The cleaning rota is on a volunteer basis, and people volunteer with good will, and do what they volunteer to do, which is great. Our big issue is with the fridge. No one wants to step on anyone else’s toes, and so if food has a name on it, most volunteers do not want to trash it even if it is obviously antique to the point of desiccation (think leftovers in marked takeout containers from restaurants that closed 6 months ago and the like). I’m fridge volunteer for March and I announced in staff meeting today that at the end of March everything is getting trashed, period.

          1. Katie-Pie*

            I just did this, too, at the new year. I put a stack of orange post-its on the fridge and emailed everyone, “If there’s something in there you actually want to keep, put a sticky on it. Everything else is going in the trash at 3pm!” Very effective. I EMPTIED that thing, save for a few marked items.

            The freezer was trickier because it’s tighter and harder to keep a sticky on something cold, so I emailed that if they had something in the freezer they intended to keep, take it home now, or hold it at your desk for the 20 minutes surrounding 9am tomorrow. At 9am the freezer gets emptied, period. You can put your food back in when I’m done. Again, very effective. I threw away so.much.junk.

          2. Drew*

            “Here is your deadline. It is a hard deadline. I will not be sorry if you miss it and I throw away your treasures. I may even smirk.”

            In my experience, that is the ONLY policy that works, and you MUST stick to it. I once cleaned a small co-op house’s kitchen that way, and I learned in the process that I was the only person to be that dogmatic about it for a very long time, if the dates on the takeout containers I was tossing were anything to go by. I happened to ask one of the long-time residents at one point, “Do you know who Fergus is? I keep running across stuff he has labeled, but there’s no date and I don’t recognize the name or handwriting.” The resident said, “Oh, he got sick and died several years ago.” The fridge got a VERY thorough scrubbing after that news.

            1. Polka Dot Bird*

              SEVERAL YEARS AGO :(
              I do know what you mean about being ruthless though. I cleaned out the fridge and the number of people who wanted to keep plastic containers full of rotten food was surprising. I was of the firm opinion that they had been warned, and tossed without mercy.

      3. Not your maid*

        I tend to think it’s an issue of respect, quite frankly. I described earlier the office kitchen at an investment firm where I used to work that was beyond disgusting. In my opinion, the kitchen reflected the self important attitude of those working there. Yet the firm where I worked previously was a very respectful environment (dictated from the top down) and we rarely had kitchen issues.
        I now work for a non-profit; my floor has a refrigerator and a microwave. Everyone covers their food before putting in the microwave and I’ve never heard complaints about it being dirty. The refrigerator is used by the VP and thus kept pretty clean with only the occasional item spoiling.

      4. Zombii*

        Wiping down the counter, swapping sponges, replacing paper towels and unloading a dishwasher are totally fair to put on a rota. Loading the dishwasher should happen as dishes are dirtied, everyone should clean up their own crumbs and spills and if something explodes in the microwave (even just a little bit) be an adult and handle it.

        Everything is easier to clean when the mess is fresh and if the company can’t afford a cleaning crew, everyone needs to clean up after themselves, with a backup system for the spill-over—but the spot-cleaning should never involve wiping up something that’s been pooled on the counter for hours, attacking the microwave residue with a squeegee or handwashing other people’s dishes. (I’ve never worked at an office with a dishwasher and it seriously annoyed me at ExJob when a group of new hires got it into their heads that they could leave their dirty dishes in the one sink all day for the cleaning crew to handle at night; that was explicitly not their job and there wasn’t even a dish rack, so the dishes just ended up stacked in the sink again, except clean, because the cleaning crew was nice and did the dishes even though company policy was do it your damn self.)

    3. TootsNYC*

      There’s also the possibility that someone won’t realize they’d knocked something over in the fridge.

    4. Abby*

      +1 The office really needs to maintain a culture of prompt cleanliness

      We have a a dedicated janitor coming in every evening and morning to clean up the kitchen area, but pretty much all the employees clean up after themselves (about 50 of us in the building). Those that don’t get some stinkeye.

      1. Michelle*

        We have a housekeeping staff that cleans out the fridge once a month. We also have a sign that states if you don’t put your name & date on your food (we provide pens & labels) then it’s going to get thrown out. If food smells or is out of date, it gets thrown out. If you leave an empty container with no name, it gets thrown out. If you leave unwashed dishes in the sink, at 5:15 pm, they get thrown out. If you can’t take 3 minutes to wash your stuff and put it away in the cabinets, it’s going to get thrown out.

        Our boss sent a memo about 6 years ago stating the above and he will absolutely call you out if you are a repeat offender.

        1. Whats In A Name*

          Story time! We used to do this & it worked magnificantly. The one Friday our VP was bored and decided that instead of cleaning out the fridge at the end of the day they would do it at 10 a.m. POOF! 12 people’s lunches – gonzo! She just shrugged and said – “well, there name wasn’t on it.”

          1. AnitaJ*

            AGH! The worst! One day I put a frozen meal in the freezer at 9am, with my initials on it. 12pm? Where was it? I have no idea. PEOPLE TAKING MY FOOD IS THE WORST. I am the only person with my initials on this floor! Hope you enjoyed my chicken marsala, jerk.

          2. AthenaC*

            Similarly, I was at a client site (so all-company emails didn’t go to me) and there was a notification that the fridge was going to be cleaned out that afternoon. At the end of the day, when I excitedly went to go collect my lunch leftovers to eat them for dinner …. they were gone. Someone who worked there looked at me quizzically, “Didn’t you get the email?” No, Sherlock, I didn’t. I’m one of the auditors and I don’t actually work here. I’m a little ashamed to admit just how angry I was – I was out-of-town, so yes I would get reimbursed for dinner, but: 1) my leftovers were delicious; and 2) I was looking forward to not having to procure dinner that night.

            People, for the love of all that is holy, put up signage regarding your fridge purges!!

            1. Ann Furthermore*

              I’m having a visual of Friends, when Ross went ballistic when someone ate his turkey leftover sandwich. Hee. Just yanking your chain. I’ve had food disappear out of the work refrigerator before. It is beyond infuriating.

              Had someone once take my food out of the microwave partway through and then put their food in there to heat up. I was so ticked off..I know I wasn’t gone longer than the time I entered…I had it down to a science for how long it would take to run and get my lunchtime soda and cup of ice and be back to get my food.

              1. AthenaC*

                Yeah, that visual is kinda spot-on. I’m aware I over-reacted! Much to the amusement of the Sherlock I mentioned above. Would it be illuminating at all if I mentioned the client was a state government?

                Anyway, one of my other clients does it correctly: perpetual sign on the fridge announcing that on the last Friday of every month at 4:30, the fridge will be cleaned and it goes on to describe the broad methodological strokes. So the last time I accidently left my uneaten lunch in the fridge over the weekend (because the partner had taken us to lunch and I didn’t need the lunch I brought that day), I wasn’t mad because the info was right there in full view.

            2. Chem Teacher*

              When I was a chemistry teacher, we made ice cream every year. The milk (which my school didn’t pay for, it came out of my pocket) was carefully purchased so I had just enough for every student to make a small bowl of ice cream. Despite my name being on it, people took enough for their coffee and tea all day that I ran out by my afternoon classes. So the next time, I put it in sealed plastic bags labeled “Mrs. Chem Teacher – for period X chemistry class – DO NOT USE OR REMOVE FROM FRIDGE” No one dared touch it…they all assumed I had some crazy chemicals in it! (Obviously, I wouldn’t have put chemicals in the food fridge. That’s why the ice cream milk was in the food fridge and not in the mini fridge that I occasionally used for cooling experiments! But I didn’t go out of my way to correct the assumptions either.)

          3. Murphy*

            This happened to me the last day before Christmas break. In their defense, they did give notice that this was happening. One of their emails said they’d just be throwing out old/expired/fuzzy things, and another said anything not labeled. I hadn’t brought lunch, but I had some pregnant lady snacks in there (a string cheese and a pudding). Nobody else had labeled anything, so I figured my stuff was safe. They wouldn’t clean out the fridge before lunch, right? Nope! I tried to go out and early lunch, but the food schedule was wrong, so I had no lunch. When I’d gone back for my snacks (before noon) they’d been tossed!

            1. Whats In A Name*

              Right, who cleans the fridge before lunch?!? Especially when the note says “anything left no marked after 4:00 p.m. Friday”. UGH.

              I felt really bad for all the people whose lunches got tossed, especially with such a flippant attitude from our VP. These are people who brought lunch because they couldn’t afford the pricey nearby options.

            2. AthenaC*

              Oh my gosh – if this had happened to me while pregnant … let’s just say there would have been a mushroom cloud. Even when not pregnant I’m pretty sensitive to needing certain types of nutrition on a regular basis or I get grouchy. When I’m pregnant I go from kinda hungry to my-vision-is-blacking-out-and-I’m-dizzy very suddenly. I’m aware of this so I plan for it. Woe to the person who interferes with my efforts to be responsible and not be an angry, hormonal burden on others!

              1. Murphy*

                Totally. The only reason I didn’t have more snacks is because it was the last day before break. I just left. Half the office was gone, and I didn’t have much to do anyway.

          4. Captain Oblivious*

            Haven’t you heard?

            They’ve started a new custom at work. People are naming the food in the refrigerator.

            Today I ate a sandwich named Ross!

          5. Zombii*

            Not cool to clean out the fridge before end of day, but why weren’t people labeling their food?

            The only place I’ve worked where things in the fridge weren’t always labeled was somewhere that had banned pens/paper for “security reasons” and any sharpies helpfully left in the kitchen to label containers were just as helpfully discarded for “security.” When I worked at a bookstore that had between 5-10 people at work each day, we still labeled our food in the kitchen, and it was a respectful, trusting environment.

    5. J-nonymous*

      It also doesn’t entirely matter if people clean up after themselves. There are other, larger tasks in cleaning the kitchen that are required on a regular basis and these are things that need doing even if every person in the offfice is meticulous in cleaning up after themselves.

    6. Purest Green*

      Our department has two sort of sub-groups separated on two floors. The floor I’m on uses the kitchen like adults and by and large clean up after themselves (there’s the occasional salt or crumbs on the table) so we don’t have a rotation. But apparently the other floor are bad at that and require kitchen duty rotation.

    7. Bwmn*

      I think an inevitable problem with this kind of a method is that it requires a system that allows for a very aggressive reprimand – and also a kitchen where there are ultimately no “communal” cleaning tasks. For most kitchens where I’ve worked (and shared apartments for that matter), the biggest creator of greater kitchen messes has been issues around unloading a dishwasher/drying rack. Because if the dishwasher/drying rack is completely full – then were do new need to washed/recently cleaned dishes go? Often they remain in the sink, and then that leads to larger messes and disgruntled cleaning requests. Because while everyone I know is quick to say they clean up – very few (including myself) quickly say “I regularly put dry/clean dishes away”.

      1. Zombii*

        This is blowing my mind. I despise handwashing dishes with a white-hot passion (if it’s more than one meal’s worth of dishes overflowing the sink), I but put the dry dishes away within 24 hours because I’m grateful my s/o weirdly likes doing dishes so I don’t have to—and when I lived in a house with a dishwasher, I had no issues loading or unloading because that doesn’t even register to my brain as “doing dishes.”

      2. Karen*

        I design offices professionally, and more often than not, our clients specifically ask for no dishwasher, because they’ve had drama about loading/unloading them.

    8. Larina*

      Or, if you work in my office, the CFO is the one who leaves all his dirty dishes in the sink, and your department keeps getting blamed for not cleaning up after themselves. And it’s very hard to have contract workers tell the CFO “hey, you need to clean your dishes. “

    9. Imaginary Number*

      I think part of the problem with that is it’s hard to pinpoint all messes to an individual. As someone else pointed out: entropy. A missed spot here, a fallen crumb there … it all adds up to quite a nasty mess.

    10. Fafaflunkie*

      Definitely doesn’t work. Here we have who I like to call “Hurricane Andrew.” You know exactly where he’s been by the mess he leaves behind. Whenever I call him out on it, he either gives me an eye-roll, shrugs his shoulders, or quirks “don’t you have anything better to do?” Yes, I do, and it doesn’t involve cleaning up after you, nor does it involve telling you over and over and over again about your messy habits. Personally, I’d hate to see his apartment!

      1. Drew*

        As another holder of that name, I apologize on behalf of the brotherhood.

        But please don’t come look at my house. I should hire a service.

    11. Smiling*

      Count yourself lucky if you’ve experienced a culture of tidiness. Our small group is so messy, our office walls look like Times Square with the number of notices everywhere (throw you’re trash in the can, not on the floor, please don’t throw food down the sink drain; clean up after yourself; don’t feed the bears).

      For the fridge, we have a simple policy. Everyone is given a 3-4 day notice of fridge cleaning day. Anything that is suspect and not marked with a person’s name is tossed into the trash (container and all), regardless of whether it’s a plastic bag, Tupperware, or fine china. I recently cleaned out a soft lunch box out of the fridge with someone’s chicken salad that had expired 8 months prior.

  3. Zillinith*

    One possible solution: My office has a volunteer sign-up sheet for kitchen cleanup: cleanup is on Fridays and if it’s your week you get to leave for the day two hours early. The sign up sheet is usually filled up three months out!

      1. Kyrielle*

        I love this solution too.

        And I’m kind of assuming that by Friday, the person cleaning it for the week really *earns* those two hours….

          1. OG OM*

            As an OM my biggest challenge in the kitchen is getting staff to understand that most people only use the kitchen to make coffee or lightly use the microwave, so usage as the letter writer describes is using the kitchen just as much as most people. Assuming that the majority of people at least try to keep clean and at least report bigger accidental messes, this system is great at preventing dozens of tiny messes from adding up and creates a culture of keeping it clean.

          2. Zillinith*

            We operate on a ‘clean up your own mess’ system the rest of the week. It works well enough, the once-a-week cleanup seems to keep things from ever reaching critical mass grossness.

          3. Formica Dinette*

            It probably depends on the number of people using the kitchen and how much they clean up after themselves. In my suite, there are about 20 generally tidy people, so every other week is sufficient.

        1. Hotstreak*

          I guess it depends how many people you have and what kind of mess they make. In my office, 4-5 people per day will microwave their lunch and 4-5 people per day will bring take-out back to eat. Our biggest problem is people leaving 80% finished take-out in the fridge, which takes up space, but isn’t gross or particularly hard to deal with. The rule is, if you leave your take-out in the fridge past 3pm on Friday it’s fair game for the garbage, unless you write your name and date it for the following week.

          I once cleaned a fridge and found an 8 year old cheese stick behind the drawer. That was gross, but not as bad as the time I found an entire bag of groceries with receipt dated 5 years old. I felt bad that those groceries were just instantly forgotten! (yes they were in the fridge)

      2. orchidsandtea*

        This is BRILLIANT and I love it.

        Our kitchen doesn’t get disgusting over the course of 5 days, just a little unkempt. Crumbs, a coffee spill, etc. A problem if it adds up all month, but not a big deal after a week. Microwave some vinegar-water to release the stuck-on gunk in the microwave, then use that warm solution to wipe out the sink and fridge and counter. Take out the trash, sweep, and you’re done. Maybe other office kitchens get grosser than ours, though.

      3. Jessesgirl72*

        The kitchen won’t be pristine T-Th, but it won’t be all out gross either. Things don’t start growing in a week! And if it were me, knowing I was signed up for Friday, I might take some quick passes to get the worst of it every day.

        1. Corky's wife Bonnie*

          Me too, a canister of those anti-bacterial wipes on the counter can work well in a pinch.

      4. TootsNYC*

        My experience is that the smaller things (coffee grounds on the counter) get swept up as you go along by the neatniks who are standing there waiting for their coffee to drip or the microwave to finish. And most of the really gross things are cleaned up by the person who made the mess, and maybe by the person who would otherwise have to clean them on Friday (when they’re dried and harder to clean up).

          1. TootsNYC*

            I suddenly realized that I was doing this at home. And then I saw my mom do it at her house, and I knew where I got it. I think her philosophy was that the floor was so very dirty anyway. But I stopped doing it.

        1. Whats In A Name*

          This is the complete opposite of what I have observed. I have seen people spill coffee and then move something on the counter in front of it to “hide” the mess instead of just getting a few paper towels and wiping it up.

          I think the overarching point is different offices have different dynamics and as someone else stated above it’s really just how a mentality is fostered in that environment. I don’t know that it’s ever “fixable”, at least not easily.

    1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

      Perhaps I’m naive, but I’d hope that everyone would keep it reasonably tidy given that they don’t want people to be slobs when it’s their week. And this assumes that everyone takes a week since they’d want to leave early occasionally.

      1. chocolate lover*

        I wouldn’t want to clean the office fridge even for the sake of leaving two weeks early. I’d rather do my job those 2 hours (but I also hate cleaning in general, and I’m not going to clean the office fridge more than my own fridge.)

        Many people in my office suite have mini fridges in their own offices and avoid the large central fridge all together. Yet somehow the central fridge still gets so bad that you can smell it down the hall.

        1. NK*

          I think the idea with this system is that the people who feel as you do won’t ever sign up, and the people who value leaving two hours early on a Friday will sign up more than their proportional share. I love this idea.

          1. Cam*

            This is genius! At my job, they would probably have to set limits on how often you signed up, because we would all be fighting for the chance to leave early on Fridays, especially on a holiday weekend.

    2. TL -*

      We have a shared kitchen on our floor and each month a different group cleans it. It’s assigned at the beginning of the year, there’s a set task list, and the groups are small enough that everyone pitches in and large enough that it takes 15 minutes. ( and people aren’t slobs). It works.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, my job is like that, too. It works pretty well! And even as a manager, I’m happy to spend 30 minutes three times a year on a Friday afternoon cleaning the fridge for the greater good.

    3. Spoonie*

      My office does a full fridge clean out (signs posted 24/7/365 about the Friday clean out at 5 p.m.) and a daily counter wipe down while restocking the Keurig-esque coffee pods/sugar packets/etc. On Fridays, lovely people (I’ve only seen in passing) toss the remaining fridge items and do a thorough scrub down.

      From what I’ve seen, people seem to do a fairly decent job of cleaning up the microwave explosions/coffee spills that occur. It’s extremely pleasant after Old Job’s…noxious fridge/microwave encounters.

    4. Joie De Vivre*

      If anyone else gets their office to implement something like this, I’d like to hear updates of how well it worked – or didn’t.

    5. kms1025*

      Wow…better than the security camera mentioned above…proactive and people want to do it…love it : )

  4. k*

    I always assume that if there isn’t a dedicated cleaning staff that cleaning the kitchen/break room is part of a junior employees duties. As an intern and receptionist I had the tasks of loading the breakroom dishwasher, making coffee, wiping down the counters, etc. When my husband worked in a mail room he had those tasks. Unless it’s a very small office, such as a 3 person team with no clear junior employee, it seems like the clear solution.

    1. Sara*

      I agree, in fact my very first job in high school was as an “office clerk” at a real estate office. I worked something like 2 afternoons a week after school and most of my tasks were things like light cleaning in the kitchen (wipe down micriwave, fridge, spot clean floor), trash collection, copying things, running the occasional errand. No formal responsibilities or customer/client interaction. It wasn’t a glamorous job but it beat the heck out of fast food and paid slightly over minimum wage so I was happy with it. If a company can afford such an employee I think it probably helps with the harmonious office flow.

  5. Alexandra*

    We’ve come up with a way that has been working in our office. We have a group of people who have all volunteered to do this task on a rotating basis, and for each cleaning they contribute, they receive a small amount of extra PTO.

    This way, no one is forced to do it if they don’t want to, and we all know that at regular intervals the kitchen mess will be addressed.

    1. Rincat*

      I think that’s a great idea. I’d probably volunteer if there was some incentive, and a little bit of PTO doesn’t seem like a hardship to implement; I can always use a bit of comp time just for running errands or when you need an afternoon off.

  6. TL -*

    LW1, it sounds like you do use the kitchen every day and you should probably pitch in and clean it. If you’re being asked to do others dishes or clean up giant food messes, that’s one thing, but if the rotation is wipe down surfaces, general cleaning, throw out expired things, you use the kitchen and if that’s the culture, you should help.

    1. Government Worker*

      I noticed this, too. You may only use the kitchen for coffee and tea, but can you swear that you’ve never accidentally left drips on the counter or a little spilled sugar that you failed to wipe up?

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Not just that—almost EVERYONE primarily uses the kitchen for coffee/tea, with some using it for microwaving, and a small minority (usually) using it for full-on food assembly/prep. So trying to exempt yourself because you only use it for coffee/tea doesn’t make you the exception—it makes you the most common type of kitchen-user.

    2. Sadsack*

      Yes, I was kind of surprised when OP followed up to not using the kitchen with an example of how she uses the kitchen. Probably not the only one who uses the kitchen minimally, but still using it. If it is minimal cleanup, I’d say just go along with it.

      1. Chickaletta*

        It’s easy to think that just making coffee isn’t making a mess, and it usually isn’t, but multiply that by everyone in the office and a bunch of itty-bitty messes just became one much larger mess. 1 person making coffee = no biggie. 40 people making coffee = mess.

        1. Red*

          I make a huge mess every time I make coffee. Or at least I feel like it’s huge… coffee ground crumb trails, water dribbles, the occasional small coffee or cream spill, ring stains from the bottom of a mug… that stuff is still a mess, and has to get cleaned up! (I swear I’m real good about cleaning up after myself, especially since my office is at home these days.)

    3. MadGrad*

      Yuuuup. I kept reading that one and thinking of my sister trying to get out of cleaning when we were kids. Really? You haven’t left trace of your existence in the living room all week? Right.

      If you use it, you’re one of the people responsible for cleaning the shared space. You don’t have to like it for it to be reasonable.

    4. Grr*

      Yes, it’s funny how many people think they’re team players until they’re actually expected to contribute to the well-being of the office instead of just themselves.

      Additionally funny is #2, who basically said “The gross refrigerator gives me migraines but I’m not willing to do anything to help make it be less gross so it doesn’t give me migraines.”

      1. chocolate lover*

        #2 also said she doesn’t ever put anything in it, so it’s not like she’s contributing to the grossness. I wouldn’t want to clean it either.

        1. TL -*

          Right, but she could definitely bring it up and ask for it to be cleaned (especially if it gives her migraines!) – she could even be like, I can’t do the cleaning but I can organize and provide cleaning reagents.

    5. No, please*

      I agree. I had to state it as “Unless you don’t shed hair or skin cells, you have to help.” It got a chuckle and made a point.

  7. Zombeyonce*

    I have a mini fridge in my cubicle to avoid this type of thing, both having to clean other people’s messes (I clean mine out regularly) and having to use the super gross fridge where things get left for weeks, stolen, moved and god knows what else. It was worth the $100 investment.

    1. turquoisecow*

      Some offices don’t allow this – it can be a pretty big drain on electricity if everyone has their own fridge.

      1. k*

        An insulated lunch-bag with an ice pack is a very low cost alternative for this, which will suffice for many foods you bring to the office. I had my lunch stolen from an office fridge once and haven’t set foot in the kitchen since. My lunch is safe and properly chilled right at my desk.

        1. Zombeyonce*

          I’m super paranoid about having my lunch stolen as it’s happened before. Someone in the office even stole a coworker’s mug! He had left it on the counter while he went to the bathroom before he got his coffee and it was gone when he came back. TWO YEARS LATER he found it soaking in the sink after the thief had used it and promptly “stole” it back. He was very excited.

        2. AvonLady Barksdale*

          I don’t even use an ice pack. I pack my lunch at night and refrigerate it in the bag, which keeps it pretty cold, and I also don’t pack a lot of foods that spoil. (I am also kind of lax about that in general and I don’t like super cold food, go figure.) Avoids the fridge altogether and keeps my lunch and snacks very handy!

          1. Frrrrrosty*

            When I worked in a department full of engineers of various kinds we had a big discussion about this. We (well… they) came to the conclusion that the best possible way to keep your lunch cold was to refrigerate or freeze your food overnight, then put it in an insulated bag in the morning. Parallels were drawn to various facets of aerospace engineering and server-room climate control. I’ve used that method ever since.

            Maybe related: That was the cleanest kitchen I’ve ever seen in a male-dominated office. I didn’t go in there very often, and I don’t think we had a policy, so I’m not really sure how it got that way.

        3. Sarah in Boston*

          Check out PackIt’s bags! The cool packs are built into the bags, so you toss the whole bag in the freezer (which incidentally also makes sure that I clean out my tupperware). They come in a whole bunch of sizes. I have 3 different ones at this point. :) I’ve linked them in my name.

      2. chocolate lover*

        Thankfully that’s not the case (that I know of anyway!) in my office. Much of my suite has their own mini fridge.

    2. paul*

      I did the same thing for our group when we had tons of other agencies sharing the communal kitchen. Avoided food stealing and the disgusting fridge.

    3. Venus Supreme*

      Our 4-person department shares a mini fridge for the same reasons! It’s fairly clean, except for the one tupperware that’s transformed from a salad into a science project… But at least we all know who it belongs to!

  8. orchidsandtea*

    The fairness aspect doesn’t resonate with me at all. We all benefit from having a clean kitchen, so we can all chip in a bit to make it happen. Even if Lucinda doesn’t use the fridge to store food, if she can smell it from her desk, she’s being affected by it. Or contrariwise, say Rolando did use the fridge, but the cleaning products trigger a migraine, so he should be exempt from cleaning it.
    (Note: Deliberately separating the issues of not using it and getting migraines from it, where in the letter it’s the same person.)

    On the other hand, I agree strongly that it’s not a great use of company resources if a director making $55/hr is scrubbing the sink. Cheaper to hire a cleaning crew to scrub monthly. Even if that won’t accomplish “sparkling fresh”, it’ll prevent “wretched & hazardous”.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I am Lucinda, and I disagree. I’m not going to clean something I never use and didn’t make dirty/stinky. It would be unfair to ask me. I haven’t cleaned up messes I didn’t make since I lived at home, and I don’t want to start doing it now because other so-called adults can’t or won’t pick up after themselves.

      If something stinks and it bothers me, I’ll complain to the right people, but I won’t clean it.

      1. Corky's wife Bonnie*

        I stand by this with the coffee as well. I don’t drink it (I bring my own awesome coffee from home in a travel mug or thermos), so I shouldn’t have to make it or clean it up at the end of the day.

        1. Mookie*

          Same. I hate the expectation that I should be making my team’s coffee for them (if I’m among the first to arrive for a shift) when I never partake and, honestly, don’t know how to use their coffee-maker. Ditto asking to chip in for the (considerably upmarked) sugar, cream, and stirrers. Nope and absolutely not.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yup. I certainly benefit from an un-smelly fridge, but I am not contributing to the smell, and I don’t think I should have to clean up after other adults so I can work in a sanitary, non-funky environment when I am diligently cleaning up after myself and never put anything into the fridge. (I admittedly have a gag-triggering aversion to molded/rotten food, and that colors my opinion of the task a lot. My husband handles fridge cleaning responsibilities at home, and, in turn, I handle spider/insect disposal or relocation.)

        I really, really do not understand why organizations won’t simply hire a cleaning service once a week, if they are not willing to task the job to a specific employee. Assigning undesirable tasks to a community as a whole rarely ends in good results.

      3. AnonAnalyst*

        Cosign. I only went in the kitchen in my last workplace because that’s where the water cooler was. Other than getting water (into my own personal water bottles that I washed at home), I never did anything else there. I guess I could maybe be convinced to help clean the floor since I was walking on it, but I felt zero responsibility to help clean the microwave, clean out the fridge, wash the coffee maker, wash dishes, or clean anything else that I could not possibly have contributed to messing up.

        Fortunately, my last company had a cleaning crew that came through weekly that took care of most of those tasks so they didn’t have to try to get employees to do them.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      We all benefit from having clean floors too, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to volunteer to vacuum.

    3. JB*

      I disagree. My preferred leadership model is leading by example, so if I were a director I’d visibly take an occasional turn cleaning and see if anyone junior to me dared skip their turn.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        In rare cases, sure, pitching in like that can send a nice symbolic message that you’re all in the
        work together.

        But I’m wary of applying that more broadly to things outside the kitchen, because in general the behavior to model is keeping your focus on the areas where you bring the most value and not spending time on the areas where you don’t, and using resources responsibly. (This is why CEOs should not stuff envelopes, for example.)

        1. mskyle*

          Yeah, I’ve had bosses who did this kind of thing and honestly it drove me crazy. Why are you de-icing the front steps when we need you to manage my difficult coworker/demonstrate the value of our unit to the larger organization/etc.?

          1. the gold digger*

            I had a VP who made a point of making her own copies. You know – instead of focusing on the strategic direction of the company and trying to figure out how to keep the business viable so it wouldn’t be necessary to lay off thousands of employees or outsource their work to Poland (hello, commenter in previous post about GlobalPaperCompany).

          2. nofelix*

            Yeah agreed, maybe they think it comes across as humble, but really it says they aren’t confident in their position and don’t have their eye on the ball.

        2. Turtle Candle*

          Yep. There’s an economic factor here. This came up at my last workplace where everyone was supposed to help fold a certain brochure for the conference, and, well, we realized that some of our senior developers were being paid something like $60/hour to fold brochures. It can be a valuable symbolic gesture (especially if it’s limited in scope–one hour yes, ten hours no) but at $60/hour it rapidly became a poor financial decision.

          1. Frrrrrosty*

            A former co-worker explained this to me one time–his point was that after a certain point, researching some product exhaustively at his salary could be more expensive than buying the wrong product initially and having to buy something else later, so he goes with the best thing he finds in a reasonable amount of time (say, an hour or two). Now, at *my* salary, I could have researched all day and still saved the department money, but at *his* salary, he was really onto something. :-)

        3. JB*

          The line I’d draw is “Is this someone else’s job?” If you don’t have a cleaning service, then cleaning the kitchen is in that category, so senior leadership should pitch in (if cleaning the kitchen is sufficient work so that doing so would excessively cut into them doing their high-value jobs, then maybe that’s a sign you need a cleaning service). Making copies, stuffing envelopes, etc is, or ought to be, someone’s job.

          At my company, some locations have cleaning services, others don’t, and at the ones that don’t the senior leadership does take cleaning rotations, and it does help morale.

          1. Zombii*

            Agreed 100%. Bringing salary into something that should take like 15 minutes tops, once a week or month (depending on company size) is not a valid argument if the task is intended to be shared across the organization.

            If everyone working at Hypothetical Teapots, LLC is so gross that every clean-up is a disgusting timesuck, hire a service—or just hire adults to work at the company.

    4. AnotherAlison*

      I do use the fridge, but storing my sealed Diet Coke can in there makes no mess. I still object to shared cleaning.

      Why don’t I just clean the men’s restroom, too?

      I don’t really get *not* springing for periodic cleaning and just asking everyone clean up after themselves daily. There will be people who don’t, but there will be people who wipe down the counter for everyone, too. Sometimes it seems institutions draw strange lines about the cost of doing business. Like my son’s school district provides paper towels, napkins, and toilet paper, but not tissues.

      1. calonkat*

        Every teacher my daughter had would give a bit of extra credit for bringing in tissues. That made a difference in her grades sometimes!! (Turning in her homework would have made a bigger difference, but there are limits to what I could do (note: it was done, she took it to school, just didn’t hand it in).)

        1. Marillenbaum*

          This sounds remarkably like me as a child. Second grade math homework was a torment to my mother.

      2. AnotherHRPro*

        The reality is businesses have budgets and you have to prioritize where you spend your money. If you can’t afford someone to clean the kitchen and employees refuse to step up and clean it, then the next best solution is to remove the kitchen. After all, it does not say anywhere that employers have to provide refrigerators and microwaves.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I agree. It’s just my opinion, but if the company isn’t able to dedicate the resources to have kitchen maintained, then it should be closed.* If we can’t afford to maintain a copier, we will use FedEx printing services. Don’t half ass it.

          *I worked in a 3,000 person office building that didn’t have fridges. I still ate lunch at my desk there everyday.

  9. 2horseygirls*

    I don’t see it as women’s or men’s work. I see it as slobs vs. neatniks. ;)

    I am the office manager for a 6 person firm. One of our employees is just ridiculously messy. It’s almost like Pigpen, leaving dishevelment and just . . . residue in his wake. Drips, crumbs, half-filled coffee cups, . . . . we won’t even get into the bathrooms (which yes, I have to clean).

    But he is 72, and brilliant in his field. Yes, I will remind him to close the cookie bag (35 seconds after I said “We’re keeping the cookie bag closed so they don’t dry out”), but wiping up coffee drips and rinsing coffee grounds out of the sink is not the sword I’m willing to die on.

    1. Temperance*

      That’s really disgusting. I would give him a lot of pushback, because all of that behavior is uncalled for. Being older and male is no excuse to pee on the floor, FFS.

      1. F.*

        I second that. My husband is 85 years old, and in the rare event he does miss the toilet a little, he cleans up after himself. Age and gender are no excuse.

      2. sstabeler*

        while true, I think in this case, it was “yes, he’s a pain, however, he’s just *that* good”- in other words, they are so good at their job that they are willing to overlook the employee being a disgusting slob. (possibly because they are good enough that it would be easier to replace the manager than replace them)

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      You personally not seeing it that way doesn’t mean that the dynamic doesn’t exist.

    3. AnonAnalyst*

      I see it as slobs vs. neatniks.

      I think this is partially the issue, although I will disagree about the gender dynamic (at least, that has been my experience in most of the places I have worked).

      I have this problem with my SO. Not to the extent you describe, thankfully. But like, he’ll cook something when I’m not home and “clean up” the kitchen. While I am sure he has done some cleaning, I’ll often find drips on the counters or cabinets, crumbs, grease, etc. He just doesn’t notice those things. He notices it if I say something, but the response is, “oh, I didn’t see that.”

      I’ll also sometimes come home from a trip and find that our apartment is a complete disaster, but it hasn’t risen to the level of “messy” for him yet so he hasn’t done anything to clean it up.

      He will clean something once it reaches the appropriate “dirty” or “messy” threshold for him, but his threshold is a lot higher than mine. This is an ongoing issue, although we are both trying to meet in the middle… but I can see how this would contribute to kitchen drama in an office!

      1. chocolate lover*

        Sounds like me and my husband, except I’m the messy one. I’m honestly surprised (and grateful) at how much he tolerates.

      2. Trig*

        Oh hi, are you me?

        Once my partner is done with a thing, it ceases to exist. Cupboards left open, jackets and socks left strewn about, screwdrivers or flashlights left wherever they were used. And then he has an enviable ability to just… step over things as though they’re not there.

        He also prefers to just clean things all in one go. I tidy as I pass through a room, and I clean as I cook, putting away or wiping down things as I’m done with them. Whoever cooks doesn’t have to clean, so when I do the cooking, half the cleaning is already done. When he does the cooking, there’s a lot more cleaning for me!

        I have mostly accepted that this is how he is. So sometimes I’ll sigh and do it myself. And other times, I will ask him to help, and he’s happy to do it, because he knows he should, it just doesn’t occur to him in the moment.

        I don’t know if the different thresholds of ‘messy’ are gendered or not, though the assumption that women will clean up certainly is. I do wonder how much of it comes from him having a fastidiously tidy mother all his young life, so never really needing to clean much. But to the point of the post, gendered or not, it can be SUPER annoying, especially if you’re not sleeping with the person making the mess!

        1. AnonAnalyst*

          Ha, I can totally relate to the “it ceases to exist” phenomenon. My SO just steps over that stuff or shoves it out of the way too… whereas I would just, you know, pick it up. He will always do it “later.”

          In our case, I don’t think our ideas of what counts as clean are related to gender (I worded that first sentence badly in my original post!) Rather, I think our environments growing up strongly influenced our different perceptions of “clean.” My parents were pretty fastidious cleaners, whereas his were more relaxed – their home is generally clean, but you will definitely find crumbs somewhere in the kitchen and random stuff scattered around the house.

          Having said that, I do think there is a gendered view as far as cleaning in the workplace is concerned. Not in an overt “we should assign this to a woman” kind of way. More like “well, eventually someone will get sick of the mess and clean it up,” where the someone is usually assumed to be a female employee. But my perspective might be skewed since I work in a male-dominated industry and am usually one of only a few women on the team.

        2. Aurion*

          For me, I differentiate between dirty and untidy. I’m not particularly tidy; my desk naturally gets overtaken by entropy in a week, I will leave socks on the ground, etc. But I draw the line at dirty–used plates goes into the sink, dirty dishes gets washed after every meal and once every 24 hours at most, etc. My father (and several other people I know) will put used dishes back into the @#^!*& cupboard, let food spawn its own penicillin colony in the fridge, and other actions that set my teeth on edge. The usual response I hear is “oh, I didn’t notice” or “it doesn’t matter” and I’d write him a checklist if I thought it would help (it wouldn’t, because of the “it doesn’t matter” phrase).

          My father has the weakest stomach in the family and somehow it never inspires him to clean up his habits around food. I do not understand.

      3. Whats In A Name*

        I get what you are saying. I had a roommate in college like your SO; dirty to her and dirty to me were 2 very different things. We are the same gender, just different thresholds for messy.

    4. Lissa*

      Yeah… I get this. I am a walking disaster, and it’s not like I don’t care, but things I use/wear get dirty/messier faster than when other people do. I try to be conscious of it and I am honestly very embarrassed about it and hate it, but it is just harder for me to keep myself/work area “neat”. But I try! and would never expect someone else to pick up my slack.

    5. 2horseygirls*

      Oh my stars! I worded that really poorly, in the wrong sequence. Eek! Sorry all….

      As far as I know, no one is peeing on the floor! Ack! That’s why God invented the Swiffer steam wet mop, as far as I’m concerned.

      The drips are coffee on the counter, sometimes on the floor, crumb and coffee ground trails, etc. A trail of crumpled (not snotty) tissues, more discarded pen caps than I cared to count (yes, retractable pens were on the next order), bent snd useless paper clips, etc.

      I recognize that I have always had the first desk in any office (affectionately known as “the fishbowl”), so it is automatic for me personally to not only tidy-to-clear at the end of the day, but also to operate at all times in as neat and tidy a manner as possible. Fortunately, everyone else is further back behind walls, etc.

      There’s always one in every office.

  10. Temperance*

    We have a cleaning person who handles the refrigerator, but it’s generally expected here that everyone will make the coffee. For some reason, it works.

    Male partners will make it a point to make coffee, so no one is degraded for doing in. My workplace is fairly progressive, though, FWIW, although as a woman, I would otherwise be reticent to do visible low-level assistant-type tasks.

    At my last job, we had to clean the refrigerator on a weekly rotation. My JerkBoss expected us to handwash other people’s dishes after emptying them. It did not work well, because my coworker would find ways to weasel out of it, leaving the responsibility to me. He managed to find other tasks that just “had” to be done at scheduled refrigerator cleaning time. I don’t necessarily recommend this, but I started doing the same. My boss pushed back only on me, to which I asked why Male Counterpart wasn’t getting pushback. After that, she would just make him clean whenever he finished the other tasks. (I had more technical knowledge and skills than he did, so there was literally nothing else he needed to do.)

  11. Turtlewings*

    The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that making it one person’s job is such the better idea, if you choose the right person. Not only does it actually get done, but that one person becomes invested in the cleanliness of the kitchen because it reflects on *them,* and it gets done even better, becoming a point of pride and a chance for an employee to excel. You also now have one employee who will notice and make the proper AHEM noises if one person steals the whole box of creamer or consistently leaves their foot to rot in the fridge. The key might be to ask for a volunteer, and offer some kind of reward to whoever takes the job.

    1. Temperance*

      I really, really disagree with this. Unless the employee is a caterer or cleaner, there is really no professional benefit to doing a good job cleaning. You just become the person who is good at cleaning, rather than the person who gets really interesting projects.

      1. Rat in the Sugar*

        That only matters for some employees. An administrative assistant is going to get the same amount of professional benefit from cleaning the kitchen as he/she will from shipping the packages and getting coffee ready for the meetings–if they keep on top of it and do it in a skilled, efficient, and pleasant way, it reflects well on them.

        1. Morning Glory*

          I don’t 100% agree with that, as an assistant.

          When I make coffee for a meeting or conference, it’s usually one piece of my event planning responsibilities that I manage, which can also include booking travel, hiring a caterer, meeting guests etc., and that is how I could position that in a future interview.
          When I ship packages, it’s usually been a piece of my program coordination responsibilities that has included direct communication with clients on their needs, getting contracts signed, etc. And again, that’s how I could describe it on my resume.
          When I’ve cleaned the kitchen cheerfully and without complaint, I have gotten a reputation as a team player, and a dedicated employee. But it’s not a piece of anything bigger, and it’s a skill everyone has. It doesn’t help me get anywhere.

        2. Christine*

          As an admin assistant I do not agree that it’s my responsibility to clean up after slops. I have no problem wiping something down, etc. It depends on how it’s approached, when it’s done as I am better than you, my back will get back up and I’ll resent it. If it’s part of my duties, and explained during the interview process no problem. But do not hire me than ask me to clean the bathrooms (happened when I was a temp once — refused to do it).

          1. Artemesia*

            I agree. The admin might be tasked to wipe down counters and empty the dishwasher each day but having to deal with dirty dishes in the sink, gunk in the microwave etc seems abusive. And the only thing that works with office refrigerators is to throw everything out Friday afternoons so that you don’t have a major science experiment stinking up the joint. Refrigerators are the worst. Heck my home refrigerator is often the worst in spite of our vow when we moved in that we would never let it get out of control — we are so so with that vow. Every work refrigerator I have ever seen stank and was filled with unidentifiable rotting things.

      2. turquoisecow*

        Agreed. If I was hired to be [insert office position here], I don’t want to suddenly be made into the janitor/cleaning person. Now I’m known as the person who cleans up, not the person who does [insert office task here] really well. And is cleaning up well really going to get the VP or whatever supervisor to look on me favorably and think of me as a person in line for a promotion? They might think “she does a great job cleaning,” but it’s not going to help me move up the ladder.

        Either hire a person to do the cleaning *and nothing else* or have it rotated between all the office workers fairly. Don’t give it to one person.

      3. Been There, Done That*

        Hear, hear. All noises to the contrary, in my experience in a more than one office, even if everyone really really appreciates it when a staff person takes on being the Designated Cleaner, DC doesn’t get the same respect as an equivalent staff member who doesn’t wield the dish mop (and that “proper AHEM” often gets ignored). It certainly doesn’t show off DC as promotable to one of those highly-paid positions where your time is too valuable to wash dishes, scrub sinks, and sponge out fridges. I agree 100% about cleaning up after yourself, but if one is hired as teapot inspector, then that’s the best, most cost efficient use of one’s time.

      1. Emily*

        Mine, too. I am a junior employee and have excelled greatly in my position. I want to be seen as someone who has the potential to do greater things, and can be given more important responsibilities. I certainly would not want to be seen as an employee who doubles as the office janitor just because I am a young, fresh college grad who happens to be in a junior position. That does not make me liable to clean up after grown adults.

    2. Aphrodite*

      Guess what gender the person who does this will be. Go on, guess.

      A woman, right? And then she’ll end up being viewed as them maid and left even more frequent and bigger messes because, hey, she’s the maid.

  12. Morning Glory*

    In most of the workplaces I’ve been at, I feel like a small monetary incentive would have gone a long way toward people’s feelings on kitchen cleanup or other chores.

    Like, a $25 gift card to the person who cleans the kitchen every day for a given week. Or even something like a free salad/sandwich/pizza to the nearest cafe, which would cost the organization $10 a week but go a long way toward establishing goodwill. Maybe I’m just really easy to please, but that would be enough to make actively like cleaning the kitchen instead of feeling resentful, or over-analyzing potential gender-standards in having to do the task.

    1. nofelix*

      If cash is being paid out then essentially it’s wages for a job and should be approached like any other role. If you offer an employee $25 or a sandwich to clean the kitchen they know it would cost $40 to hire a cleaner for the same work then it’d likely harbour resentment.

      1. Morning Glory*

        Well maybe the company could make it an opt-in system, instead :)

        That way employees like you would be free to pass it up, and employees like me would be free to volunteer. It would most likely be the most junior employees and interns volunteering, regardless, because $25 extra a week (or yes, a free meal) would mean the most to them.

  13. F.*

    Having been the one to clean the offices, restrooms and kitchen in a place where employees go out of their way to leave things a gawdawful, unsanitary mess, I have to strongly disagree with the idea of assigning the chore to a junior employee.

    We no longer have an outside cleaning service at our company. Approximately 15-20 people use three restrooms and two kitchens on a daily basis, in addition to the offices, conference room, copier room and other common areas. I cleaned it once, over four months ago, when I could no longer take the filth. I will not do it again until everyone else takes a turn at cleaning at least the portions of the building that they use.

    While I was cleaning, someone else had to cover the phones. It took me FIVE HOURS. That was also time not spent doing my actual job duties. There were complaints that I was making too much noise vacuuming. By the end of the next day, the men’s room used by management had toilet paper and paper towel pieces all over the floor and tracked out into the hallway. The unisex restroom in our lab was a poop-spattered mess with urine on the floor. People eat in the conference room and leave their mess. Food is encrusted all over the interior of the managers’ microwave. Right now, the only relatively clean room is the ladies’ restroom, which I maintain because I use it (there are only two women at our location). I am also a manager. I refuse to clean up after the rest of the slobs!

    I would also like to add that assigning cleaning chores to most junior person nearly always results in the chores being assigned to the most junior (or in my case, only) *administrative* person, who is highly likely to be female. Assigning this chore also results in the behavior above, where other employees don’t even make an attempt to clean up after themselves. There is absolutely no reason why the rest of the employees in our office can’t take a turn cleaning. After all, we *are* supposed to be adults.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There is absolutely no reason why the rest of the employees in our office can’t take a turn cleaning. After all, we *are* supposed to be adults.

      Well, the reason is that it doesn’t make sense for your highly compensated CFO to spend an hour cleaning the kitchen because her time should be used on highly skilled work that only she can do. That’s especially true if she’s already spending well over 40 hours a week dealing with that highly skilled work, as senior people often are.

      It’s not demeaning to acknowledge that some tasks are low-level tasks, and it makes sense to assign them to the most junior person, and that people with more senior jobs and/or getting paid more should stay focused on work that only they can do well. It’s just sensible use of the employer’s resources. That’s why the CFO doesn’t order office supplies; an admin does.

      1. F.*

        In my case, I am more highly paid than two of our managers and nearly everyone in our lab (who are sitting around doing absolutely nothing this time of year). I have also been here longer than they have. Ordering office supplies is not a filthy, thankless task. Oh, the CEO? He works at a building where they DO have a cleaning service that comes in daily.

        I have already let my manager know that if I am to clean the building on a regular basis, then they will have to pay me overtime to come in on the weekend, in my grungy clothes. Trust me, my OT is far more expensive than the cleaning crew was. Yes, this IS a hill I would die on!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Oh, then, yeah, you were probably the wrong person to be doing it then (not because you’ve been there longer though; that shouldn’t be a factor). But in general, it often makes sense for a low-level admin person to handle it.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            I have to say that it doesn’t make sense to me to have a low-level admin clean two kitchens and three restrooms, unless that person was hired knowing janitorial duties are part of the position. This is nuts. A company has 15-20 people but can’t afford to have a cleaning company EVER? I mean, you make budget cuts, but at a certain point you’re out of business. We can’t afford building heat? We can’t afford internet? Why do they think having no one clean is okay?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              In small companies, it’s typical to pay to have someone come into clean periodically (like weekly) but there’s still stuff that needs to happen on a day-to-day basis.

              1. AnotherAlison*

                Right, I understand they can’t necessarily afford daily cleaning, but a weekly person would ensure it wasn’t too gross. Sometimes you have that unflushed, smeared bathroom stall that no one will touch. Maybe it sits there nasty for a week, but at least it finally gets taken care of. F.’s company isn’t even doing that. You can’t expect professional employees to go do that. At least at McDonald’s you know it’s part of your job going in.

                1. Observer*

                  Well, as Alison says, this particular company sounds like a mess. With 15-20 people, there should be at least a bi-monthly cleaning done anyway. If you don’t have money for that, you probably don’t have money to maintain the site, to be honest.

                  Besides, there is simply no reason for the kind of filth F. describes. Some of it is stuff that even a regular cleaning service would object to!

            2. F.*

              I’m not even a low-level admin. I am the office manager and have over 9 years with this company. This has never been part of my duties.

              As for no heat, nope, I don’t get heat either in the lobby (the rest of the building does), except for an ancient space heater. With a front door that opens directly into my lobby, I end up wearing long underwear and gloves and shivering my way through most of the day. In the summer, with no A/C, the temperature is as high as 90° in here. The HVAC unit for the lobby died a couple of years ago and is not going to be replaced any time soon. I’m told there is no money.

              1. Observer*

                Your company sounds like a mess. If they don’t have the money for the basics, why is the site even open?

              2. esra*

                Man, I’d be looking around at what else is out there. If they can’t afford to keep the place warm or clean, that’s pretty bad.

              3. Graflex*

                I’m assuming the company doesn’t want to splurge for a new space heater or a fan?

                If you have a computer, small USB-powered fans are cheap, and do a lot to at least provide a breeze. (Its small, and quiet enough, that it’s not intrusive to anyone else, but it keeps me cooler. I just run warm compared to the rest of my office…) It’s small enough to take home at night so it doesn’t disappear.

                Might it be possible to get a heated chair cover? I’ve often found direct heat like that is the best way to combat extreme temperatures for long periods of time. (I know it’s not fair its on your dime, but…)

                That setup just sounds all around terrible.

            3. Parenthetically*

              We have a cleaning service at my workplace that has 6 full-time employees. We’re hardly raking it in, but we shell out for once-a-week cleaning.

          2. Been There, Done That*

            Good point from F. There are most-junior employees who aren’t necessarily “admin” and nowadays administrative people are highly skilled and educated and do a lot more than lick stamps and run photocopies. Expecting them to do janitorial sounds like a misuse of their time and abilities as well. This sounds like another way to differentiate “admin” and ancillary to “the team.”

      2. Emily*

        I know this isn’t always the case, but I am a junior employee and do highly skilled work that I only I know how to complete. I also have a supervisor who does many of the same tasks as me, but does not do them as quickly or efficiently as I do. I understand your reasoning, but a higher title is not always equivalent to completing more important, or more difficult tasks (in my case, my supervisor does less work, and works less hard in general than many lower-level employees BECAUSE she is a manager, and knows she can get away with it.)

        1. fposte*

          It’s not just about the delicacy of the task load but the monetary value of the time. If your manager is paid $25 per hour and you’re paid $15 per hour, it’s cheaper for the company to have you do an hour of cleaning.

    2. orchidsandtea*

      That’s straight up horrifying. It doesn’t get that messy at our office, and never that unhygienic! I don’t think that your office’s problem lies in “who’s cleaning up when it gets untidy?”, but in “why the caramel spout are they making such an unholy MESS?” Crumbs and coffee spills are to be expected, even the occasional bit of moldy bread in the fridge. But poop and filth is way too far. It shouldn’t be happening like that to begin with.

      1. F.*

        They (and that includes the most senior manager at our location) do it because they can get away with it because THEY do not have to clean it up!

        1. Observer*

          No, that’s not why they do it. Normal people do NOT do that kind of thing, even when they don’t have to clean up after themselves – and EVEN WHEN THE MESS GETS CLEANED UP.

          I’ve worked almost all of my life in office spaces with cleaning services, and I can remember only on occasion of a really gross mess. I recall a few occasions of people not cleaning the toilet set. But this kind of grossness? No.

          Honestly, I think you need to start looking for a new job. Your job sounds toxic, and it’s apparently messed with your sense of what is normal.

    3. Jesmlet*

      It really isn’t that expensive to have an outside person clean the office once a week. We have 4 offices, with anywhere from 3-5 people working in each at any one time and each office has a dedicated cleaning person that does it every 1-2 weeks. Market rate in our area for a good housekeeper is around $20/hr but ranges from $15-30 depending on who you find. Even if it’s just once a month, I’m sure you could find somebody to do it and it really is worth the money if the office is that disgusting, especially factoring in any loss in productivity.

    4. Otter box*

      Yes yes yes. As the junior administrative person in my office, I completely disagree with the idea of assigning all the kitchen responsibility to me. I do have more responsibility for the kitchen than everyone else (run dishwasher, generally keep it tidy, etc.). I also manage a weekly rotation where two people on staff have to do a deeper clean and fridge purge on Friday. As a result, all our employees feel like they share ownership for how the kitchen looks and smells, and it doesn’t usually become a stinky mess. People are pretty good at cleaning up after themselves. If I were to suddenly be the only one who had to clean the kitchen, my strong suspicion is that people would stop caring how messy they leave it because “Otter box will take care of it, it’s her job.” Never mind that I have a ton of other responsibilities, and the 15 minutes a day I spend on the kitchen now would turn into an hour.

      I firmly believe that no one, from the CEO on down, is too important or rich to do their own damn dishes.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I firmly believe that no one, from the CEO on down, is too important or rich to do their own damn dishes.

        Assuming that you’re using that as shorthand for cleaning the kitchen more generally: Why? We don’t apply that same standard to other things and insist that the CEO clean the office bathroom, or order her own supplies, or call in the catering order for a lunch meeting. It’s a pretty normal part of office life that it’s considered appropriate for some tasks to be handled by lower-level staff.

        1. Tableau Wizard*

          I see a difference between “cleaning up after yourself” and doing those lower level admin tasks. I completely agree that the CEO shouldn’t be on the rotation for cleaning the kitchen, but surely she should still be expected to clean up after herself if she’s choosing to use the office kitchen for her personal lunch. Right?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes — that’s what I meant when I said “assuming that you’re using that as shorthand for cleaning the kitchen more generally.” That said, if she’s running between meetings with funders, I’m not going to have a big issue with it if she leaves her mug in the sink on the way to the one she’s about to be late for.

            1. Gaara*

              A problem our small office runs into with some regularity is that the dishwasher is full — either with dirty dishes, or clean dishes that haven’t been put away yet. So I want to rinse out my mug, or plate, or whatever, and put it in the dishwasher, but sometimes I can’t do that. And I’m too high level to spend a half hour unloading the dishwasher.

        2. Anna*

          I think because it contributes to an overall sense of being part of better morale. I’m struggling because on a logical level, it makes sense for higher level employees to avoid cleaning duties, but on an emotional/American cultural level it smacks of saying we are beneath those CEOs/they are better than us. No matter what, we think we live in a meritocracy and the CEO is not better than and is already highly compensated for their work, so why shouldn’t they get their hands dirty? Is what my “raised in American culture” is saying right now.

            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              Or even, IDK, scheduling her meetings (we don’t object to EAs) or managing interns (we don’t object to middle management) or answering the front desk phone (we don’t object to receptionists). This is weird.

              1. Zombii*

                It’s not weird. EAs and middle management and receptionists were hired to do those tasks. Those things aren’t “other duties as assigned,” those are the things they were explicitly hired to do.

                The objection is because putting cleaning duties on a junior employee instead of hiring professional cleaners telegraphs the message that “it makes sense for you to do this because we pay you less than we would spend on a janitor.” Having everyone help makes it less about hierarchy and can help morale, as long as people are basically tidy, and not turning the kitchen into a hellscape in revenge for the last time they had to clean. (If it’s that bad, realize that your company is a toxic mess, and hire professional cleaners.)

          1. Whats In A Name*

            We had a system where everyone was responsible for a conference room for a month, making sure pen holders, kleenex and scratch paper trays were stocked, chairs were in order, people took trash out with them. We had cleaning crew 2 nights a week but this person was responsible for the surface cleanliness. Every single person in the office was in the rotation, including the Owner, VP of Ops, VP of Sales and CEO.

            It bled over into other areas. Ironically we never had a kitchen issue but I think it was a byproduct of the culture that everyone was expected to chip in. I went to work for that company after it had been in business for 20 years but that was the expectation up front and everyone knew it – and appreciated/respected it.

          2. Turtle Candle*

            I do think that cleaning is a particularly thorny area for emotional reasons–I mean, a lot of people feel shame in paying someone to clean their house when they wouldn’t feel shame for, say, paying someone to make and then deliver them a pizza or an order of kung pao chicken. There’s a lot of emotions tangled up in there, many of them completely irrational, and dismantling them is tricky.

            1. fposte*

              Yes, and there are a lot of class assumptions involved, which Americans aren’t always good at noticing since it’s not part of the discussion in the way it is in some countries.

          3. Vaca*

            This drives me crazy. I bring in business. I pay people to do the things I shouldn’t be spending time on. It’s better for morale? No, it’s better for MY morale to spend time with customers, getting the staff paid.

      2. Jesmlet*

        It’s not about being too important or rich to do that type of work, it’s about whose time is more valuable both from a value add point of view and from a cost POV. Tasks that could be done by anyone should be given to more junior people so they don’t take up the time of people who should be focusing on higher level stuff that only they can do.

        That’s not to say that they shouldn’t wipe off the counter when they spill something or rinse off dishes, but IMO common area cleaning shouldn’t be done by the CEO unless he wants to and has nothing better to do.

      3. Joseph*

        “I firmly believe that no one, from the CEO on down, is too important or rich to do their own damn dishes.”
        The theory here is that the CEO is more valuable to the company bringing in new business or persuading investors or whatever than as a dishwasher or kitchen cleaner. It’s not really a “too important” thing, it’s a “your time can be better spent elsewhere” thing.
        Economists use an exaggeration to describe this concept: Imagine that LeBron James is secretly the best tax accountant in the world. Even so, it would *still* be dumb for him to spend time doing his own taxes, because his time is so much more valuable that he’s better off financially paying someone else to do it so he can focus on basketball.

        1. Joseph*

          Though to be clear, the amount of time involved plays a role. Spending an extra 30 seconds to rinse a mug or put it in the dishwasher rather than the sink, yeah, even the CEO should do that. Spending 30 minutes cleaning the kitchen? Nope, not a smart way for the business to use CEO time.

  14. Nan*

    We tried a rotation, and it didn’t work. Our poor local HR lady usually gets stuck with it. She normally sends out an email a few days before that says when she’ll be cleaning the kitchen. Anything left in the fridge gets tossed. Once people get their stuff tossed a few times, they learn not to leave food in the fridge. And they get mad when she tosses expired dairy and moldy lord-knows-what. People confuse me.

    1. Hallway Feline*

      We have that here. Why do people get so mad when you’ve given advance warning and the food is going bad? (I’m rolling my eyes at how strange people can be)

      1. Kyrielle*

        One of my coworkers was irate that all the perishable food in the refrigerator was thrown out without warning one Monday.

        After the refrigerator failed over the weekend and _all the food in it was room temperature_.

        Of course they threw out everything but the bottled water and soda…milk doesn’t store well at room temperature.

        I don’t get the outrage. I mean, frustration, sure. It was annoying that the refrigerator failed! But…outrage? Like, what would you have done with that milk if they hadn’t tossed it? No, actually, don’t tell me…I’m going to try not to think about it at all now…. :P

    2. Interviewer*

      If you’re into expired Greek yogurt, our fridges are the motherlode. I think people intend to eat it, and then when it’s snack time, they think ugh, it’s Greek yogurt. Then they forget about it, and on Clean Out Day, I’m tossing roughly 25 containers of the stuff.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          You’re probably not, but I personally much prefer it to regular yogurt. To keep the thread from derailing, we can probably safely say that some people love it and others, like you, do not care for it.

        2. paul*

          are you kidding? The stuff’s great. I get those little yoplait ones that are like 100 calories and have between 12 and 15 grams of protein depending on flavor. They’re a great snack or light lunch

        3. WellRed*

          I find it very therapeutic to occasionally toss out whatever i feel lke from the fridge. No warning. What do i toss the most of? Expired yogurt. People: just admit you don’t really like the crap and save your $.

    3. Zoe Karvoupsina*

      I gave the fridge a deep clean before Christmas, and am now regularly binning out of date and danger zone stuff. I have warned everyone that I intend to err on the side of caution.

      And hoarder coworker complained mightily, then didn’t reclaim her drinks, which ended up in the bin.

    4. Liz T*

      Our CEO had a peach rotting in his office for more than a week. He wouldn’t let anyone touch it. No one could say anything even when we got a minor fruit fly infestation and everyone had discreet traps at their desks. Finally it was reported that he brought it into a meeting, scooped it into some yogurt, and ate it like it was nothing.

          1. Mookie*

            Is / was he known for eating rotten / spoiled / excessively ripened food in general? I knew someone like this, who really enjoyed fermented, sickly sweet, and bitter tastes and soft, slimy textures. It was an adventure eating with them and their steel trap-like intestinal tract.

            1. Liz T*

              We have no knowledge of any similar cravings. I order his lunch when he doesn’t have a meeting and it is always, every time, chicken vegetable soup.

              1. Mookie*

                Ah. Sounds like an unrefined palate then, maybe, or someone pathologically uninterested in food. The peach reminds me of David Sedaris’s father, who actively pursued rotten food, cultivated the ripe into the rotten, and sometimes, in his quest for something black and shriveled-looking, ate part of a hat.

      1. Parenthetically*

        My former boss’s assistant had to put her foot down HARD after the third or fourth time she had to pick up a pile of his used milky tea bags from the floor next to his desk. He would make his tea and then just drop the bag on the floor. In his head he was going to pick them up later and put them in the trash, but he always got busy with something. The smell was what put her over the limit, in addition to the fact that he was ruining the antique wood floor.

    5. Anon for this*

      One time when I cleaned the fridge (we use the voluntary sign-up rotation method), I sent out three emails announcing I would be cleaning the fridge, anything unlabeled would be thrown away, containers and all. I sent an email a few days before, the day before and about 2 hours before I cleaned it, plus left post-its and pens next to the fridge so people could label as needed. I got an incredibly rude email from a guy who had just put his lunch in the fridge that morning about how I threw away his lunch. More rudeness when I very matter-of-factly stated that I had sent out three separate warning emails about it. I absolutely forwarded those to his manager and told her I didn’t appreciate his attitude. And yes, she did follow through and he was reprimanded for it.

    6. H.C.*

      Same here about the fridge purge outrage ridiculousness; there’s a calendar of the purge dates & an reminder 2 days before to bring your food/bio experiments home.

    7. Liane*

      That’s how it was at Famed Retailer. I would sometimes help her in the early half of holiday layaway season (Mid-August to late October) because I felt bad for her and was bored-bored-bored.
      Also the “Cleaned & Everything Tossed Every Friday at X PM” signs on the 3 fridges should have gotten the store in trouble for false advertising. It didn’t happen nearly so often.

    8. AnonAnalyst*

      One of the executives at my previous company used to get really aggravated about all the garbage people would leave sitting in the fridge forever, so she started doing a complete purge 4-5 times per year. We had a cleaning crew that would come through weekly and get rid of obviously expired stuff, but they were hesitant to throw away anything else because they didn’t want people to be mad.

      She would have her assistant post a notice on the fridge a week in advance, and she would also send an email to everyone in the office that she was cleaning out the fridge on the following Friday at 4:00 and would be throwing away anything inside. Period. She also sent out a reminder a few days in advance. After a few rounds of this, people learned to clear out their stuff if they didn’t want it to be tossed.

      Since she was pretty high up in the company, I got the sense that there were few complainers, although her assistant might have heard about it from people whose stuff got thrown away. But some people were really weird about making sure they claimed their expired coffee creamer and salad dressing before she came through so she didn’t throw it out.

    9. Aphrodite*

      I once worked for several weeks as a temp at the DA’s office. There was a refrigerator in which people had left numerous items so old some had mold and others hard hardened into rock-solid substances. I told the office manager I’d be happy to completely clean out–throw out stuff and clean it thoroughly with vinegar–the refrigerator the next Friday and she was thrilled. At least a dozen announcements via inter-office email and over the com were made repeatedly during the ten or so days leading up to the Friday including a final one 30 minutes before I started.

      And … yup, there were people there who complained bitterly to me and to the office manager.

  15. Amber Rose*

    I somewhat successfully shamed people into cleaning up after themselves. But it involved a meeting, group shaming and threats, which you may not have the authority/culture for.

    Alison, as usual, probably has the best advice here.

  16. Roscoe*

    To me this is one of those “suck it up and deal” things you do for the greater good of harmony in the office. The only “fair” way to do it would be to somehow gauge how much each person uses the kitchen, and then make a proportional rotation based on that. But its just not realistic. Working in an office, i deal with a lot of things I don’t want to. But as part of getting along, I do it.

    I do think that unless you NEVER use the kitchen for anything (no coffee, no dishes if you forget something at home, any of that) then you should just be a team player and go along with it. No one likes cleaning other people’s mess, but it happens.

    1. Jennifer*

      As someone who never uses the kitchen, it is not worth the arguments that come with trying to say you never use the kitchen. Just suck it up and do it unless it makes you physically ill, in which case you may be able to argue it.

    2. Lissa*

      Yeah, the problem with “I only use it for . . ” Is that a huge percentage of people probably feel that their use is “minor” or “occasional”. So if you get to opt out I think it really needs to be *literally never*.

    3. Evergreen*

      Couldn’t agree more, except to add that I’d also have a friendly word with anyone who was being particularly messy or not cleaning up after themselves (exploded soups etc)

  17. Rincat*

    At my workplace, the admin assistants are responsible for these types of tasks – they will set up/tear down catered lunches, do minimal cleaning, etc. I’m at a university so we have janitorial staff for regular cleaning, but if it’s something small, typically it falls to the admins. Most of us pitch in where we can to help them, and try to always clean up our own messes, but it’s nice to know there is a designated person for clearing out a catered lunch, for example, so we don’t have to stop a meeting or whatever to clean up.

    Except for my executive director, that guy will never ever clean his damn dishes in the sink. I know it’s him, I know he gets away with it cuz he’s the ED, but I’m so annoyed! :) (I don’t know if he’s made an arrangement with someone to clean his dishes for him, but I have noticed that every time he leaves dishes in the sink, the next day the office manager sends out a very pointed mass email telling everyone they need to clean their dishes in the sink.)

    1. Anon for this*

      This can be kind of a bummer, as an admin assistant, when you end up cleaning up the birthday party stuff that was thrown for you! LOL!

      1. Parenthetically*

        Planning (including getting catering and budget approval for said catering), finding front desk coverage for, setting up for, missing a day of work for, and cleaning up after a “Staff Appreciation Retreat.” I strangely did not feel appreciated.

    2. Nan*

      One of our previous owners used to put his coffee cup in the sink, turn on the faucet and leave it running into the cup and leave the room. And not come back. Just water running forever. Someone else always had to turn it off. Ugh!!! Dude, you are one of the owners. Cutting down on the water bill increases your profit.

    3. zora*

      Oy, that last story is annoying, bc the office manager or someone should just talk to him DIRECTLY and make a plan for how do deal with his dishes if he is really unable to do it. Instead of a mass email which accomplishes nothing. Ugh, that is such a pet peeve.

      1. zora*

        but this is making me love my boss, because even though she is one of the owners, she never leaves dishes or food for me to clean up. she can handle getting her own coffee and putting her cup in the dishwasher like a grownup. And we have a cleaning staff that handles the dishwasher.

      2. Rincat*

        Defensive mass emails are the office manager’s method of choice for conflict resolution (or rather, avoidance).

    4. caledonia*

      Well, what if you are all admins? Everyone is either an admin assistant or a higher level admin.

  18. Crystal*

    This is, indeed, the never-ending issue. Our office has a rotation for refrigerator cleaning and a janitor for all other cleaning.

    The refrigerator cleaning approach:
    Step 1: You must put your name and the expiration date of the item on every item in the fridge.
    Step 2: Once a week, all un-labled and expired food is put out on the table. A cell phone photo is circulated to the office mailing list and you have a couple of hours to reclaim your Tupperware, then everything that’s left goes in the trash.
    Step 3: Profit! Oh, ah, I mean… clean refrigerator!

    (Step 3 always makes me channel South Park underpants gnomes just for a second.)

  19. Marzipan*

    Thank you for the timely reminder that today is my day on the office washing-up rota.

    None of it’s my washing up, because I bring lunch in in a plastic tub (which gets washed at home) and basically use the same mug forever, but I take participating in a certain amount of cleaning as one of those things that you just do in order to have a pleasant office environment. So, I’d only really get irritated if I a) literally never, ever used the facilities at all, not even to set foot in AND b) none of the other people on the cleaning rota did their turn at cleaning.

  20. Former Retail Manager*

    Other than the fabulous volunteer opportunity mentioned above, which allows the volunteer to leave early on Friday, would it be possible to solicit a volunteer (maybe there’s a neat freak among your offices that actually likes to clean?) If not, I don’t think it would be outside management’s scope to be able to assign this duty to a junior person as part of their duties even if it wasn’t disclosed when they were hired. Everything can’t be disclosed in the hiring process and duties often change. Also, I find that when people know that a single person is responsible and it’s someone they see every day, they are less inclined to leave things as messy as they otherwise might, especially if that person posts a sign detailing what is expected in terms of cleanliness and then holds people to it. Ideally, if it’s assigned to a junior employee, that junior employee would figure out who the messier people are and give them a hard time about it in a quasi joking manner and maybe try to get them to be neater over time…..might work, might not, but worth a try.

    And personally, I just remain utterly baffled at the inability of adults to maintain a clean kitchen. We don’t have a designated person that does this in our office of 150, but I have no problem telling someone I don’t know that it looks like they spilled a bit of coffee while handing them some paper towels. They have always taken the paper towels and wiped up as I stare at them. If someone takes the last cup of coffee in the afternoon, I’ll also tell them it looks like it’s time to clean out the pot and tell them I’ll wash the decanter while handing them the grounds to dump out, rinse, and replace the filter. Again, no one has ever not helped. But I am someone that doesn’t mind this sort of interaction….not everyone’s style I realize.

    1. zora*

      meh, I don’t think anyone likes cleaning enough to volunteer for nothing. I think if you really can’t afford to have a cleaning staff, you need to offer some kind of incentive. It can be way cheaper for the company than minimum wage for a cleaner, a couple of hours of PTO doesn’t cost much.

      I love making things clean, but I would not be interested in ‘volunteering’ for an endless cleaning job, if it wasn’t part of my job description, and if I wasn’t getting anything in return.

    2. Been There, Done That*

      Do you really think a junior person would give high-ups even a “joking” hard time? That can put them between a rock and a hard place, or outright get them into trouble.

  21. Christine*

    OP — management should see if housekeeping would do it once a or twice a month for a fee would be best. It would cause less harsh feelings among the staff. They may even have staff member that might be willing to do it for $30 – 40 once a month (after hours or weekend). But I believe it staff should be taken out of the equation after my experience with it. As I’ve shared below:

    I had to deal with the opposite in one incident. We were moving into a new location, larger suite down the hall. I notified everyone to get everything out by 5:00 p.m. on Thursday that I would be cleaning the refrigerator before the move on Friday. Items remaining would go into the trash. I scrubbed it, pulled the shelves and drawers out bleached everything, defrosted it and I never heard so much complaining. One of the managers (not mine) informed me that I should have put a bungee cord on it, and have them roll it out. (it was gross)

    I was 1/2 admin and 1/2 clinical trial assistant. I had one of the managers (not mine) inform me one that it was my responsibly to clean the kitchen on a daily basis (he was the worse offender). He would spill stuff, not cover food items in the microwave. Than he started complaining because I used a cleaning product that smelled. I would do this at the end of the day, etc. I got so many complaints about (not my manager) how I did it, when I did it when it wasn’t really part of my job description but because I was 1/2 admin they passed it onto me. I got so frustrated I went to my supervisor, at that time I was under the Executive Assistant for the HR Director. She made arrangements with building management to clean the frig, sink, tables the last Friday of the month for $30.00. It made my life easier and if they didn’t like it they were free to call the building manager and complain.

    1. Natalie*

      This is absolutely worth looking into if you already have a cleaning service – they can probably add on kitchen & fridge cleaning for a small fee. Even if you rent and don’t hire the cleaning service, check with your landlord.

  22. rubyrose*

    I really like what I read above about extra time off or monetary perks.

    One place I worked had cafeteria staff do the kitchen cleaning on each floor. Each floor had its own refrigerator. Company policy was that every fridge had everything it in at 6:00 pm on Friday tossed. And I mean everything. People working second shift Friday night had to explicitly mark their items, including their extension number. It worked.

    Another place just started throwing away anything left in the sink overnight. People did not get the hint. Amazing.

  23. Lia*

    At one job, there were signs posted that anything left in the fridge after 3 pm Friday would be tossed, apart from sealed sodas or coffee creamers (which got tossed when expired). Usually, it only took one instance of someone losing a Tupperware container for them to quit leaving stuff. A junior staff member then was responsible for wiping down the kitchen and cleaning up as part of her duties (just happened to be a female in that role when I was there, it’s a male now).

    Currently, our admin assistant cleans the microwave, we use a Keurig so no nasty coffee pot (I don’t like the waste, but I think it is basically impossible to get scorched coffee smell with this), and we have biweekly trash and restroom cleanup.

  24. Pup Seal*

    I work in a building that has multiple tenants and has a couple of shared kitchen spaces. The main kitchen has the most disgusting fridge (though it did get cleaned a few weeks ago), though luckily, the building owners are the ones who clean it. They only clean it once a year though. When they do clean it out, they tell everyone a few days in advance to take out whatever is theirs, and I think that helps a bit. There have been times when the building manager sends an email out to everyone to clean after themselves too.

    The other problem with the shared kitchen spaces is theft. I have had my food stolen four times. The first time it happened, I thought someone may have accidentally thrown out, but the second time I knew someone was stealing. My boyfriend lives in another city, and I often go spend the weekend there. One Friday I got food during my lunch hour so I could cook him dinner the next night. One of the ingredients was a bag of shredded cheese, and I put it in the main fridge so it wouldn’t spoil. When I got to my boyfriend’s, I discovered someone had opened my new bag and took half a cup of the cheese.

    The last straw was when someone stole my new container of strawberry cream cheese. I told the building intern about the thefts, but she didn’t do anything about it. She didn’t even report it to her supervisors (who are rarely at the building). So I resorted to putting a note on the fridge calling out the thief and telling him/her to stop stealing my food. When the building manager saw this, she was not happy at all and sent out a nasty email to everyone to “stop stealing right now. We’re all adults and we don’t take each other’s food. It’s rude and obnoxious.” I haven’t had a problem since then.

  25. Leatherwings*

    In my last office, the “clean up after yourself” AND rotating responsibilities things never worked, and it ended up being a handful of employees (all women) doing the work. On one of the men’s days, everyone in the office would leave crap everywhere and the man would never actually load and start the dishwasher like he was supposed to so one of the senior women would walk in, get disgusted and do it herself leaving man to think he never has to do it. It was a vicious cycle (and one that doesn’t have to be gendered, it just ended up being that way in that office.

    In my current office it’s a junior employee’s job duty and it’s so much better this way.

    1. Liane*

      If I were that senior, regardless of my gender, I would see the mess, consult the roster, tell the lower-level person to do it right now, and then talk to their immediate boss (if it wasn’t me) about how it was part of their job to make sure their direct report did the cleaning per the roster.

    2. Temperance*

      I think it ends up being gendered pretty often, unfortunately. I developed a push-back policy on any task that wasn’t related to my job and/or going to benefit me in some way. Running Daffodil Days and cleaning the kitchen isn’t how you get a corner office.

    3. Sherry*

      Yeah, I’m a woman in a male-dominated office, and a bit of a neatnik. I’d *love* to clean the kitchen, as well as the boardroom and supply room. But I know “cleaning person” is not what I’m paid to do, or a skill that will help me professionally, so I hold off.

  26. Master Bean Counter*

    The last placed I worked we had a rotation of people to clean the kitchen. They all had different definitions of clean. Really wasn’t my problem. I’d wipe out the microwave on occasion when I was afraid whatever was in there might get into my food and generally clean up after myself. But I ate at my desk and avoided the general mess.
    Then one day policy changed and I was told that there was no more eating at desks. I sat down at the table to eat my meal. Goodness it was disgusting. I laid out the paper and ate my lunch on that. After lunch was over, I scrubbed the table. 3 hours later and 15 years of filth removed, a person could eat there with out worry of contracting a disease.
    The next day at lunch I heated up my food and sat down. The table was sticky again. Took the current paper, which nobody had read, used it as my place mat. Threw it away when I was done.
    After that I took cold lunches I could eat in my car or went out to lunch. I never sat in the kitchen again. Shortly after that I found a new job. Here we have two people that trade off keeping the kitchen clean as aprt of their job.

  27. NotAnotherManager!*

    Ugh. I don’t mind cleaning my own kitchen at home, and I am diligent about cleaning up after myself in our office kitchen (because I am an adult and the group responsible for keeping the work kitchens clean has enough to do without me spilling shit everywhere and leaving 2-week-old food leaking in the fridge). I would probably quit if expected to clean out an office refrigerator or clean up after other people (or, dear lord, a bathroom, just NO). I hate cleaning, and I have a very, VERY strong aversion to bad food, and I will throw Tupperware away rather than open it if remotely questionable.

    I think the only reasonable ways to handle kitchen duties are to pay for a cleaning service, offer a really good carrot for it, or to make it part of someone’s job duties from the get-go (and advertised in the job description and discussed specifically at the interview).

  28. moss*

    I am a person who has said, NOPE. I didn’t use the fridge and declined to participate in the cleaning rotation. I didn’t get penalized for that, that I’m aware of.

  29. Delta Delta*

    I once spent an entire day defrosting an office freezer because the door didn’t shut anymore. This made a bit of a mess and took all day. I’m a lawyer; the boss didn’t like that I spent a billable day doing this. He didn’t have an answer for why it had gotten to where it did, or why the office manager – who offered to defrost the freezer 5 years earlier but never did – should not be responsible.

    I also once cleaned several furry foods out of the fridge and took photos. I sent out the photos, along with witty captions, to the whole office.

    I don’t work there anymore, but I have friends who do. I hear the fridge is no better than when I was there.

    1. BadPlanning*

      I must know — was everyone amused by the witty captions? Or did someone freak out that you insulted their fuzzy food from 5 years ago?

      1. Delta Delta*

        The people who replied thought it was funny. Some people didn’t reply or say anything, which I take to mean either they didn’t think it was funny or didn’t care.

    2. Gaara*

      I agree with your boss that it’s not a good use of all that potentially billable time, but that’s on him. He needs to step up and manage. Tell the office manager to make sure it gets handled! They can do it, or give it to a lower level admin, but if there are no requirements and no consequences, the most conscientious person (here, you) will wind up doing it instead.

  30. Take it away!*

    My company simply is not providing any dishes for “communal” use at our corporate office. Branch offices still have them, but it is easier to track who is leaving the mess with less people there.

    There are napkins, plastic spoons and small paper plates. Everyone has their own coffee cup, water bottle, utensils, etc. that they keep at their desk so there is no issue of dirty dishes being left behind anymore: nobody wants to risk their personal items getting lost. And the cleaning company cleans up the general spills and crumbs as part of the building cleaning and cleans the refrigerators twice a month (throwing away everything that is not labeled with a recent date and owner’s name). Seems a bit harsh, but it works and there is no pettiness about it nor issues with mold in the fridge.

  31. BadPlanning*

    I have a mini fridge in my office and even though I’m the only one using it and I don’t spill stuff in it and I only keep a few things in it at any given time, it gets gross somehow. And I sometimes I forget/leave stuff in it depending on how often I’m bringing lunch from home. If I can fail on the microcosm, a group of people will make a messy kitchen.

  32. Hallway Feline*

    I guess I just don’t understand how people can be so messy. For me, if it was my own kitchen at home, I may not be as quick to clean it (ex: spills while cooking can wait until after the dish is in the oven). But in a communal office space with a kitchen? I clean immediately because this affects everyone. Not that I am a messy person by any stretch. I always cover my food in the microwave, I wipe up any spills as they occur, etc.

    Over here we have a departmental rotation for cleaning the kitchen: Operations/IT does one month, Administration/Accounting does the next, then Sales, and repeat for the year. Once a month we have a fridge clean out (everything gets tossed unless clearly labeled with your name and expiration date). I don’t mind wiping down counters/microwaves in the afternoon before I leave, but doing other people’s dishes upsets me. Thankfully upper management feels the same and has said people have to do their own dishes or they’re tossed.

    The worst is the communal ranch bowl. Someone pours ranch into a bowl to have with vegetables and leaves it there all day. I gag every time I see it (the smell bothers me, and the thought of having to wash it by hand makes everything worse). I wonder if I can get Upper Management to put a ban on that…

    1. Emily*

      Ugh. Thinking about a communal ranch bowl makes me want to gag, too! Also, totally agree with your first paragraph!

  33. Coldbrewinacup*

    I firmly believe in a rotation schedule, unless you get migraines or something. That way everyone knows what it’s like to have to clean up after someone else, and with luck, once they’ve seen how gross it can get, they will change their ways.

    The optimist in me, probably… :-)

    But everyone should have a turn, because otherwise, who is going to take the time to figure out who does or doesn’t use the kitchen? I say suck it up and help out your co-workers.

  34. Cici the EA*

    At our office, it is part of our receptionist’s required list of responsibilities to maintain the kitchen and common areas t and we want to ensure a certain level of presentation when guests arrive. We once had a receptionist that after passing her probation, flat out refused to do anything she considered “menial tasks”, and presented a rewritten job description to her manager that took out every task she did not want to do. She assumed that she couldn’t be fired after she passed probation. She did not last a full month after probation.

    In my experience as a career admin, it is very common that if you are the most junior staff member, you are expected to do those types of tasks, especially in a smaller office setting.

  35. Spoonie*

    It has occurred to me that the work kitchen cleaning conundrum is what the my college roomie cleaning situation was.

    Apparently it’s the neverending story.

    1. Marillenbaum*

      Side note about terrible filthy roommates: I had a roommate once who simply did not clean. Ever. I once left the country for TWO WEEKS on a business trip, and the only reason we didn’t have moldy trash everywhere was because our landlady smelled it (she lived in the basement apartment) and took it out herself. He was impossible, and disgusting.

      1. zora*

        I once had a roommate who moved an entire box of dirty dishes between multiple houses, for YEARS. He was my boyfriend-at-the-time’s best friend, and it was his idea to have him move in when we had an empty room in our house. But I made a fuss about that box of dishes so many times, and it did nothing. Luckily we had a garage, and the box lived in there until he moved out and took it with him(!!!) I seriously can’t even believe that actually happened, but I saw it with my own eyes.

  36. Emi.*

    This reminds me of what my other always said, which is that cleaning up messes is not a punishment for making them–it’s a contribution you make to the community that is your family. Obviously an office is less of a community than a family, so it doesn’t apply as strongly, but I do think that people need to be less uptight about cleaning up after each other in general. Consider it your contribution to public health. (Well, a contribution. You should still get your shots!)

  37. whistlewhileyouwork*

    The office where I work (mid-size and VERY young) finally had a straw that broke the camel’s back and they decided to take away the reasons that cause a messy kitchen. All community plates, bowls, cups and silverware were removed. We had to bring in our own dishes if we needed them. If someone leaves a dish in the sink and doesn’t retrieve it by EOD, it gets tossed. The area has seen a huge improvement.

    Stuff always goes into the fridge to die, so we still have “clean out” days every other week, but a team of 5 volunteers knock it out in 30 minutes (and we have 4 fridges).

  38. Government Worker*

    The second letter is giving me flashbacks to grad school, when the fridge in the student common room got to the point where the whole room smelled any time it was opened. I ended up posting some signs and sending out some emails announcing a fridge cleanout at the end of the semester, and a couple of other students volunteered to help. From the expiration dates on the packaged stuff in the freezer it had been over a year since it had been cleaned out, and we threw out multiple trash bags of moldy tupperware. Super-gross, but then the following semester the smell was gone, the fridge stayed decently clean without much effort, and you could actually find a place to put your stuff.

    At my current office people are mostly pretty respectful, but there’s no regular fridge cleanout. Someone got fed up and did it a few months ago, but I’ve been here almost a year and that’s the only time. Before the last cleanout it had started to smell a little, though not badly enough to be detectable from the offices nearby.

    The point being, if the second OP is having migraine trouble, maybe being supportive of any system that gets the fridge cleaned more often would help with the smell and migraine triggers. Any fridge that’s cleaned weekly or even monthly and the shelved wiped down as needed shouldn’t have the kind of smell problems she’s describing.

    1. Blossom*

      Or maybe there’s something wrong with the fridge. If it’s that gross, maybe it needs actual maintenance beyond cleaning… hopefully there is a Facilities department or janitor who could get that looked into?

  39. boop the first*

    I just don’t understand how people leave messes in the first place. If I am a guest in someone’s house, I would be embarrassed if I left a mess in their microwave, or dumped water all over their bathroom countertop, etc. Why is the workplace any different? Maybe that’s why the public humiliation works to an extent.

    My workplace hires night workers to clean up the communal spaces, but they’re not very good. They’ll wipe surfaces and floors, but never touch the fridge or the microwave. What’s the point???

    1. Purest Green*

      I think it’s a public vs. private area that they’re cleaning. Sure a fridge is communal, but people’s “private” containers are in there.

    2. the gold digger*

      At a friend’s house for Easter, I discovered that her father in law had vomited in her bathroom sink.

      He had

      1. vomited in the sink
      2. left it there
      3. and had not told anyone

      She told me he got migraines, but – I get migraines and a migraine would never stop me from at least telling someone I had vomited in her sink. I would hope I would at least make it to the toilet, which was, conveniently, right next to the sink, and if not, that I would clean the sink myself.

      1. Liane*

        Same here.
        I’ve been too sick once or twice and I asked a family member to do the clean up (luckily happened at home and was a minimal mess) and I was very, very good to that person for *days*.

  40. NotNewtoAdminButConfused*

    Do you have a health and safety committee? Flag kitchen cleanliness as a health and safety issue and a place to inspect on the monthly inspections. That and bathroom issues were on my monthly checklist.

    There is no one perfect solution but ideally, everyone should come together mutually to find one. Get creative.

    It also really depends on the culture and field of the office staff. I once worked in an office of engineers: well paid, educated, minor god complexes and several of which thought it was beneath them, one declared the kitchen a pig sty (it most certainly was not) and one told me that “she was not paid” to unload the dishwasher. I replied that no one was paid to do so and if she felt that way, then I had most certainly better not see her using the dishes, which she used daily. That altercation was in front of her interim manager and her attitude changed slightly shortly thereafter (I suspect he called her on it).

    A different branch of the same company had an office of young turks (mostly engineers) who would just not clean up after themselves after shaming, guilt emails, threats, etc. so all dishes and utensils were actually locked away; the result was, sadly, that the administrative assistant who was fed up was called a severe killjoy.

    I’ve worked in other places where the expectation was to clean up after ourselves so we all did – and managed to keep it that way! Another place had a duty roster and no one complained or fobbed it off.

    At the engineering company, no one was assigned but we had enough neatniks to keep it clean until the cleaner arrived at night. I took responsibility for the fridge: once a month (usually before a stat holiday), I ruthlessly purged the fridge after reminding everyone. Unclaimed plastic containers were claimed by the cleaner (me). I then asked the nightly cleaner to wipe down the fridge twice a year.

      1. Liz T*

        One could easily say, “If you have a job at all consider yourself lucky” to any person who writes in. “If you have the resources to comment on a blog consider yourself lucky” could then be said to the unemployed. It’s an advice blog; we’ll be out of things to read if we only abide letters from the Absolutely Unlucky.

      2. Radio Girl*

        I never said they weren’t. But given some if the other concerns addressed here, it’s really small potatoes. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and do the work. As long as that work is spread around and not falling on one person.

  41. ThatGirl*

    I’m so grateful I work for a big enough company that the cleaning staff cleans the fridge out for us monthly.

    But in the meantime today I find myself seriously irritated that in an already-crowded fridge there are now three two-liter bottles of soda, two of which are mostly empty.

    1. MashaKasha*

      Right? I worked at exactly one place where the owner only hired the cleaning team to come out once or twice a week, and put all the lowest-level managers and their subordinates on a cleaning rotation for the rest of the week. We had to surface-clean the kitchen, wipe the bathroom counters, collect the trash from all containers around the office, in cubicles, kitchen, bathrooms etc and take it out. There may have been some mopping and vacuuming involved. I don’t remember fridge cleaning being involved. This policy only lasted a few months because the managers kept pushing back and asking to make it go away, and eventually it did. I always thought that place was an exception. The owner was notoriously stingy and to this day, I honestly thought no one else did that. We had about a hundred people in the office and more in the field, though, so not exactly the smallest company.

      I also had a weird incident at an old job where ten of us shared a tiny office that did not have a microwave. Wanting to be a team player, I brought an old microwave in from home. Never used it myself, because I went out for lunch a lot back in those days. Apparently though, when you give your coworkers a microwave that used to be yours, it somehow continues to be yours in their minds, because one day I came back to the office after lunch and was immediately told by a coworker to clean the microwave “because it was dirty”. (It indeed was.)

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      But in the meantime today I find myself seriously irritated that in an already-crowded fridge there are now three two-liter bottles of soda, two of which are mostly empty.

      Bread is the issue in my office’s fridge. Whole loaves of bread in a crowded fridge. Which is particularly annoying because it’s not even a good place to store bread.

  42. memyselfandi*

    Is anyone else humming “Whistle While You Work” in their heads? I have visions of Snow White and the 7 Dwarves dancing in front of me.

  43. KP84*

    My company seems to be full of entitled, self absorbed people who think just because we have a cleaning staff that they do not have to clean up after themselves. People will leave dirty mugs in the sink, dirty dishes and trays outside on the cafeteria patio, half empty soda bottles on top of the trash cans, dirty towels on the floor of the building’s locker room, etc. The cleaning crew is there to keep the building and work space clean, not to clean your Tupperware. It is amazing how sloppy people are and how inconsiderate they can be to those they work with. (Don’t even get me started on those who eat others’ clearly labelled food…)

  44. TheBeetsMotel*

    You now what one contributing factor to kitchen mess might be? Length of lunch breaks. If you only get a half hour for lunch, and your microwave meal explodes, I think you’re more likely to give it only a cursory wipe down at best because “I only get a measly half-hour, I’m not wasting 10 minutes of it cleaning”.

    Give people an hour, and cleanup time might not be seen as such an imposition. Just a thought!

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      Yeah, that’s a good theory. It’s not true.

      The mess happens even in places where everyone is salaried and on flexible schedules

    2. Temperance*

      I don’t think this is the reason why. I’ve worked at places with hour-long lunches, and places where many of us were exempt, and it doesn’t matter. Gross people are gross.

  45. Office Elf*

    At my last job (small office of about 15 people), the instituted the Office Elf program. Each week, someone was designated Office Elf. The Elf’s job was not to clean up after people. Instead, the Office Elf was given authority to harass people into cleaning up after themselves. If dishes were left in the sink, a photo would be sent to everyone via IM. Memes were also used. Fridays, the Elf would go around to make sure that everyone had dusted their desk and removed food from the fridge. This was very effective, and the most junior Elf would often have the CEO running to take his coffee cup out of the sink to wash it.

    The only cleaning-related task for the Elf was to wipe off the counters and waiting area tables every Friday.

    1. Hallway Feline*

      This sounds like an amazing system! Maybe I should push for this one to be implemented here instead.

  46. Tris Prior*

    Also, if you’re going to set up a rotation and require that people take part of their workday to clean, then do NOT reprimand them when you see them cleaning (like you told them to!) rather than doing their actual jobs. Why yes, that DID happen to me.

  47. Kathleen Adams*

    For a few months at my office, the office administrator and the president’s executive secretary (who seems to consider herself co-office manager, for some reason) had installed in the kitchen one of those little digital video cameras to film employees when they used the kitchen so they could catch backsliders – the ones who left dirty dishes in the sink, the ones who didn’t clean up their spills, etc.

    There was a notice posted in the kitchen to that effect but…come on. Still creepy. And ridiculous. “Big Sister is Watching,” as we used to say. Eventually enough people complained that it was pulled down, but I’m pretty sure neither the office manager nor the executive secretary ever understood why people found it so disquieting. But then, I have a hard time explaining why I found it disquieting even though I never leave dirty dishes in the sink and always clean up my spills.

    It just *was*. You know?

    1. fposte*

      I’ve heard that just a picture of eyes tends to make people behave better. Though that would also be creepy, if not as invasive.

      It’s kind of amusing, because I’m a slob at home, and yet by merely raising my behavior a little I become a comparative neatnik in the work kitchen.

    2. Been There, Done That*

      Ooooh, maybe they’ll get drones to fly in and take away the dirty dishes! (couldn’t resist that one.)

  48. Thefuture*

    Everyone should clean up after themselves. No one junior should be assigned these tasks. This sets a very entitled precedent and certain people start to believe that they are better than others. This happened at my last workplace where an already busy exec assistant (over 50) was told she needs to now clean the kitchen! She couldn’t get over it and was so upset. Of course most of us cleaned up after ourselves but there were some who took advantage of her. We pushed back and mocked messy colleagues. After a while humiliation has the habit of sinking in.

    A company should purchase cleaning supplies such as dish soap, brushes etc. And encourage a take care of your self environment. The cleaning team at night should put dried dishes away… or you can do that once you dry your own dish.

    Personally i believe it’s a waste of company money to have office workers assigned to 30 minute long cleaning sessions every day. Those resources should be used elsewhere.. like completing a project for example.

    Then what happens when that Jr. employee wants to progress? It would be so difficult to get past those assumptions people make. Oh she is the one that does the dishes… tell her to clean it up. Believe me this sucks when you’ve been promoted and you cannot let go of previous duties and take on your new ones.

    This also becomes dangerous when it comes to gender equality.

    We are all adults. It takes me 2 mins to scrub and wash dishes. Do you have a maid at home that washes up after you every day?

  49. caledonia*

    To answer the post’s question: why should you have to clean the kitchen? Well, if you just give a wipe down or put some stuff back in the cupboard – whilst you make your coffee or tea – I don’t see what the issue is. It’s basic decency. Even just 2 mins every other day would help.

  50. Rachael*

    I worked for a very small bank with a 10 person customer service/wire department. Well, the other departments had a genius idea, that since they were too important to do kitchen duty, to assign us junior level employees the job of cleaning the kitchen. Now, keep in mind that we had 1/2 hour lunch and were hourly. We also, as a group, usually only used the break room tables and rarely “prepared” our lunches. After this was implemented the other departments took advantage of this and left their dirty dishes in the sink and made huge messes which made the kitchen cleanup duty a time consuming task.

    Cue myself and knowledge of the labor laws. Since we were operations and our breaks/lunches were staggered we could not leave our desks to clean the kitchen while were were being paid. They suggested we did it on our lunch break or our paid 15 minute break. (we are required to have 1/2 hour for lunch and two 15 min paid breaks in our state). Yeah, for some weird reason the roster was expanded to to the other departments when I mentioned that it was illegal to make us clean on our breaks. What a bunch of maroons.

  51. MegaMoose, Esq*

    It seems like the “assign a junior person” might work better when the job is shared by a class of junior people rather than just one person. The courthouses I’ve worked in assign the law clerks to rotating kitchen duty and it’s never become anything personal – unless one of the clerks was a slacker. I get the “the bosses aren’t better than anyone else!” issue, but honestly, the judges’ time WAS more valuable than ours. Heck, the judicial assistants’ time was more valuable than ours, too.

  52. I Herd the Cats*

    Our office (which contains conference spaces) has…. wait for it…. FOUR full-size refrigerators. Who cleans them? I do. I took it over because I’m willing to spend the time and as office manager it’s not outside my PD, although there are more junior people I could force to do it. Expecting senior people to rotate is ridiculous. It’s not a good use of time/money and in my opinion it will always be done better by one person or a small team who don’t view this particular duty as onerous.
    I guess we all have our limits? I’d probably quit if they told me to clean the bathrooms, but I don’t mind the fridge cleanup at all. The main reason is: I have carte blanche. I can throw away whatever I want. I don’t wash Tupperware. I don’t beg people to police their leftovers. I send one email, every few weeks, that I’m tossing things that don’t have a sticky note for me on them. And then I do it. So our fridges (and freezers) are always organized and reasonably clean, because I don’t wait for them to get disgusting.
    If I were CEO, I’d ask for volunteers among the rank and file, and offer some sort of compensation — you get a half day off? Gift certificate for lunch?

  53. Jersey's mom*

    A bit off-topic…..but you know how microwaves have buttons for pre-set food items, like “popcorn” or “thaw”?
    Our work computer has one that says “diet cook”. Does that mean that it somehow sucks out the calories?

    1. Kathleen Adams*


      So weird. I wonder if it’s a translation issue? But I really prefer to think that it’s a simple misspelling and that if you push it, you magically get a Diet *Coke*.

      1. Mookie*

        It is, sort of! It’s a setting for frozen meals and normally allows you to select for a certain number of ounces per package. The regular frozen food setting goes up to 18 oz, and the “diet” ones range from 7 – 12, usually. I don’t know why I know this. Also, I mildly resent the notion that small portions is “diet” food. I can and have eaten many, many small portions, microwave!

    2. lowercase holly*

      i googled. the samsung MS11K3000 has a “healthy cooking” button which will give you more specific options after you press it: 1-Broccoli, 2-Carrots, 3-Green Beans 4-Spinach, 5-Corn on the Cob, 6-Peeled Potatoes, 7-Brown Rice, 8-Wholemeal Macaroni, 9-Quinoa, and 10-Bulgur.

      so maybe it’s like that!

  54. Vancouver Reader*

    I temped at a place once where it was part of my job, as receptionist, to clean up the kitchen area every day. I didn’t mind, but I thought it would’ve been nice if people put their dirty dishes into the dishwasher when it was empty at least.

    I now work at a school and the principal has everyone who’s regular staff on a weekly kitchen clean up schedule, including herself and the vice principal. At the end of the year, the kitchen gets a deep clean by 2 staff members. Funnily enough, this is the only time as the admin assistant that I’m not involved in doing kitchen cleanup!

  55. Person of Interest*

    Our small (<10 people) actually has a pretty good hybrid system. Everyone signs up for a week of kitchen duty that rotates, but the expectations for "kitchen duty" are spelled out clearly: you wipe down the sink, counter, and microwave daily, you put away clean dishes in the rack, you check the ice tray. People are individually responsible for their own dirty dishes and major spills/messes. Once every couple of months the office manager gives warning that the refrigerator will be cleaned out and she takes care of that. So it's pretty reasonable for everyone regardless of their actual usage, which varies. I never use the microwave, but it's not a big deal to wipe it out a few times every couple of months.

  56. Z*

    At my firm, kitchen duty is part of the assistants’ tasks. We have a schedule and it’s your job for one week. But it’s not a huge time suck since the duty is basically empty the dishwasher, load the dishwasher, restock the beverage refrigerator. The refrigerators never get too bad and when they do, we assistants are empowered enough to just throw things away. B/c you seriously don’t need that quart of milk that went bad two years ago.

  57. Bonky*

    In shared offices as well as in shared homes, paying for a few hours’ cleaning every week (a pretty negligible outlay, in the grand scheme of keeping an office running – I say this as someone who has started more than one business) is worth it in spades. In domestic life, it’s a way to avoid corrosive arguments about who’s doing what – especially useful in relationships where people have differing standards. In business life, it’s more than worth it to avoid the horrible sucking void of morale that these letters demonstrate, and damage to working relationships.

  58. Statler von Waldorf*

    It’s funny how all the junior people are coming out of the woodwork to bitch about “assigning a junior person.” Workplaces are not communes, they are hierarchies. Some people’s time is more valuable than other peoples. Alison’s advice is spot-on.

    1. Kelly L.*

      Well, as long as it’s clearly stated, that’s one thing. But there are some workplaces that spring custodial chores on people as a surprise. I know, “other duties as assigned” means “up to and including swimming in the lava pit” to some folks, lol, but I think mentioning it upfront as an explicit part of the duties is the way to go.

    2. Morning Glory*

      I think this 100% depends on the workplace. In my last workplace, I had no issue handwashing dishes, cleaning the fridge, going to buy lunch for my boss, or even mailing my boss’s son socks for his birthday. But that was a workplace where I felt valued, and had ample opportunity for upward growth. It was the “dues paying” that went along with more exciting opportunities and work.

      In my current job, I don’t clean the kitchen, and I would resent it if this became one of my duties, even though I’m still quite junior. I also am in an organization where I cannot really move up from my current position, don’t get opportunities for professional growth and, in general, feel a bit stagnant and underappreciated.

      The junior people complaining about this may feel like they’re being taken advantage of, if “paying their dues” is not balanced out by respect in the workplace and opportunities to grow.

      1. Statler von Waldorf*

        As long as they are being paid for their time, I’m having a hard time seeing how paying someone to clean is taking advantage of them. I think this is a white-collar thing, as I haven’t seen the same attitude when working with blue-collar workers. I’ve seen a rig manager who made over 20K a month pushing a broom without any attitude.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes. By talking about these tasks as if they’re demeaning or degrading, we’re demeaning and degrading people who clean for a living, which is many, many people.

          1. Morning Glory*

            I apologize if that’s how I came across because you are right, it’s not degrading, and I did not feel degraded when I did it in my last job.

            I was talking about this could become symbolic for many people for a wider issue – if junior-level employees feel unsatisfied or disrespected in other areas of their job, they will feel more resentful of tasks like cleaning the kitchen. Or data entry, or taking minutes at a meeting, or a wide variety of other bottom-of-the-rung tasks that wouldn’t bother them if they felt more content with their workplace as a whole.

            I see this as more as a job-equivalent of b****-eating-crackers than about junior-level people feeling above junior-level tasks. And although I never worked on a factory floor, I also have seen this same kind of viewpoint when I was a waitress, and when I worked in a grocery store, and when I was a landscaper, so I don’t think this is specific to white collar positions.

          2. no one*

            Hahaha, no. By acting like it’s a job only for the lowest-paid employee, you’re degrading people. You’re promoting the whole classist culture of “I get paid more so I am better than you.”

            If you don’t want to do a task, hire someone to explicitly do that task and pay them a fair wage for it, don’t just turn around and find the most junior person beneath you and dump it on them.

    3. Nichole*

      So I definitely reacted badly to that suggestion and I think it’s because with these kinds of tasks ‘most junior’ often seems to mean in practice ‘a female person who is relatively junior’ which does get an automatic sort of response.

      Engineering at my job has a kitchen. Of the engineers, I’m not the lowest level, nor the most recently hired, but I am the ‘most recently hired of a relatively low level’ (I’ve been in this dept for two years, the company for four). There are tasks I get assigned that don’t have to do with anything I get reviewed or rated on that maybe it’s reasonable to give to me but when it’s every one it sure seems like they’re coming to me because I am the only female junior employee.

  59. Arielle*

    I once spent a Friday afternoon cleaning out the office fridge with two other women because the smell had gotten so bad that half the office was gagging every time the door opened. We cleaned a lot of horrifying stuff out from that fridge, and I think shamed the company into hiring a cleaning service and having the facilities guy clean out the fridge on a regular basis.

  60. Sparty*

    My worst was someone who took it upon themselves to clean the fridge, posted a sign saying it would happen Friday at 5, then proceeded to clean it at 3:00. He also helped himself to all of the beverages and yogurts in the fridge at 3:05 before some of us had a chance to grab our leftovers leaving at the end of the day.

  61. FiveWheels*

    Eek. Cleaning up after other people’s messes is a hill I would die on. It’s the unfairness of it – nobody will clean up my messes (as I don’t leave any) so I’m not going to clean other people’s.

    I have no advice though, other than to make sure you’re meticulously tidy at all times in all shared areas. You probably are anyway, but I can really see how “you forgot to put a fork away once” could get equated to Doris and Leander who coat every visible surface with the residue of burnt pasta every single day.

  62. Rotater*

    I just don’t see the issue with a rotation especially when it’s a group. I work in an office and we dropped house cleaning to save money and then we cleaned every Friday as a group. It really was not that bad and could be fun at times. Everyone pitched in for the various tasks. As a coffee drinker only it never crossed my mind to be annoyed to help clean out the fridge.

  63. Erin*

    My office invested in a dishwasher which seems to help a lot.

    But yeah. This is always going to be something of an issue. Every office. For all time.

  64. JC Denton*

    We solved this with a “gold key” system. In an office of 20-30 people, the kitchen was actually behind a locked door. Anyone on staff could ask for their own key. If you were a “key holder,” you were expected to help clean. Don’t want to clean? Turn your key back in. Worked remarkably well, but doesn’t necessarily scale.

  65. Cucumberzucchini*

    What I do at my small office where I prefer not to pay for a cleaning crew to come, is once a month we all spend an hour cleaning together including myself and the other owner. I’m paying the staff here anyway and with everyone helping it gets done very fast. This is probably too specialized an answer and we’re definitely not slobs by any means so it’s not a gross cleanup. We tidy up, clean out the fridge, clean the mircrowave, vacuum, dust surfaces and get rid of older papers and clutter etc… Everyone feels better at work when the office is orderly and clean. I just tell everyone XYZ Day is office cleaning day, wear something you don’t mind cleaning in. One person loves to vacuum so they get that task, which is great for me because I hate vacuuming. It’s really collaborative and gets done quick.

  66. commensally*

    This won’t work if there is a lot of people per fridge, but my office has one fridge for about a dozen employees, and we each have a basket with a name on it that is our fridge space. Anything in our basket is our responsibility (and we’re allowed to throw it out if it’s not ours). And if you don’t use a basket, or your basket is perpetually horrifying, you lose it. And if you don’t have a basket, the fridge isn’t your problem.

    It still needs a monthly or so cleanout of the condiments and creamer and so-on that accumulate in the door, and a general wipedown, but it doesn’t ever seem to get super gross.

  67. Observer*

    I didn’t finish reading all of the comments, but so far I have not seen anyone comment on “I have already refused to clean”.

    I find that a bit mind blowing. Even if you REALLY don’t ever use the kitchen, refusing to do something that your employer tells you to do is a pretty career limiting move, and one the should be reserved for issues that are illegal, immoral or dangerous. Cleaning the kitchen doesn’t fall into any of these categories. And, considering that you actually DO use the kitchen, it’s really just a very surprising move, to me.

    1. Jennifer*

      No, I’d agree. You should generally NOT say no unless you absolutely have to, in my experience. About something like this? Definitely makes you look like a petty jerk who doesn’t want to help.

    2. Statler von Waldorf*

      It all depends on how you refuse. Don’t say you won’t do it. Instead ask which part of your current job you should stop doing to make time to clean. If you are at a high enough level, the answer to that question will be none of them.

      Being able to say no is a valuable skill. I’ve had many employers who would walk all over people who can’t say no to anything. This doesn’t mean you should unleash your inner toddler and say no to everything, but being able to professionally set boundaries is a good thing.

        1. Statler von Waldorf*

          That depends on their role. If they are in a senior role, it makes sense to push back. If not, then probably not.

  68. lowercase holly*

    “The next most obvious solution — and, I’d argue, the right one if the first one won’t work — is to make it an explicit part of a junior person’s job…”

    i agree that this is the best solution although you have to put it into practice in a way that makes sense. the one place where i worked that did this, it was the receptionist who had the task. but if she worked the front desk from 9-5 with an half hour lunch, and they didn’t pay her for more hours than that, when on earth was she supposed to do this? you know?

  69. MWKate*

    Oh God – the never-ending kitchen/refrigerator/coffee machine office dilemma.

    My work place unfortunately seems to have a number of people that always seem to be the ones cleaning up messes and making coffee (I fall into this group).

    I have gone up to get more coffee, only to find both coffee carafes empty – and sitting open (as someone had opened to see if it was truly empty and neglected to even shut it much less make another pot.) I don’t care how petty it is, something about this situation enrages me. I have considered bringing my own carafe, making a pot, and keeping it on my desk for the use of myself and my two reports. However, I have held myself back because I fear it would seem petty. So I rage inside.

    Ultimately I have no advice, just commiseration. I agree with Alison that this issue will never be solved. We will all be living on space ships posting passive aggressive signs about cleaning up after yourself and throwing away your own expired yogurt.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      I know someone who has a long (10 minute! For real) walk to the break room, so he keeps a keurig on his desk, and anyone in his group who wants to use it keeps their own pods and creamer/sugar in their cubicles.

      I don’t drink coffee, and I worked someplace where I used to make it, rather than listen to the guys on either side of me bicker ALL.DAY.LONG over the strength of the pot that was made. One liked it stronger than the other. If I made it, no one complained. So I traded one of my own assigned menial tasks to them in exchange for coffee making. We were a small department in a tucked away corner, so it was only like 2 pots a day.

      Then I transferred to another group, and my assigned desk was next to the coffee area- which one of the people ran as a paid endeavor. The guy running it (senior to me in time worked there, but not position) tried to tell me that the person assigned to that work space was responsible to keep the coffee pots filled. I told them it wasn’t in my job description, I didn’t drink coffee, and I was not going to be making it! He knew that if he went to my Manager over it, it would get shut down entirely, since it was against corporate policy and the contract with the vendors who provided horrible vending machine coffee. So he managed to come by and keep the pots filled. He had actually convinced everyone else who had been assigned there to do it for him (male and female- not even sexism involved!), and was gobsmacked that I refused.

  70. Green Tea Pot*

    I once worked for an organization that fired its cleaning service. Staff could choose to handle basic cleaning tasks for a two-week period for $200 each stint. Admin assistants and program coordinators jumped at the opportunity. I was a poorly-paid mid-level manager and would have loved to get in the rotation. I never did, but at the time – 30 years ago – I was willing.

    I’m not certain this is relevant to our discussion, but it’s an idea companies should consider, I think.

  71. Horrified*

    We have cleaners that come in after hours to do things like empty the trash, vacuum etc. Sometimes, it can work if you call the cleaning company and ask if you can get kitchen clean-up included for an additional fee. In our case, our cleaning company said declined. Our workaround: someone offered the cleaner cash to clean our kitchen. Worked perfectly. Everyone was happy.

  72. Mickey Q*

    My boss once used the toilet plunger to unclog the sink in the kitchen. He couldn’t understand why that was inappropriate and disgusting. I never stepped foot in that room again because I couldn’t be sure what was safe to use. The paper towels and countertops could have had toilet residue splattered all over them. When they asked for help cleaning the fridge I refused and stood my ground.

    1. Radio Girl*

      One would hope there would be disinfectant wipes, or something else available! Otherwise, euw!

  73. Melissa*

    My work handles this by having every unit participate in a monthly rotation. If your unit is up, you participate (I imagine there are some concessions for things like medical or mobility concerns, but I’m not personally aware of them). Everyone from our trainees to our assistant director participates. It works out pretty well and doesn’t take that much time if for no other reason than if something is past expiration, looks gross, and/or has no label, it just gets tossed. We’re not in there washing each others’ tupperware or anything.

  74. Jesus*

    I find it frustrating that people are complaining over something that is so small. Get over it and clean it. I don’t use the kitchen at my work place and I don’t mind helping cleaning because it’s a unit that cleans it and it allows us time away from work and we get to chit chat, laugh and enjoy each other. All in all just get over it and clean it. There are more important battles to fight at work.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      “Get over it” is always such useful and helpful advice. But why not say “get over it” to those who don’t think they should have to clean the kitchen?

  75. AT*

    I work in a vet hospital, and we have a toilet cleaning roster. Every single human (so, the clinic cat is exempt!) uses the toilet with probably-equal frequency, and therefore should take an equal share in keeping the toilet clean, is the philosophy. Vets, nurses, techs, receptionists and manager alike – we all have the same bodily functions!

    Except that there’s one vet who absolutely refuses to be put on the roster. “I didn’t train for six years to clean toilets,” she says, and that it’s a “nurses’ job.” It’s not because of the higher pay-rate and saying she should be doing vet work rather than cleaning the loo – the boss (works elsewhere) has already addressed that, when the roster was implemented, with the fact that it takes a person five minutes out of their day, once every three months, so she’s not going to get into whose job is “higher priority” because we all have very different but essential tasks to perform while we’re at work. For this vet, it’s the principle of it – she sees it as beneath her.

    Meanwhile, the clinic cat regards us as all beneath her.

    1. Mrs. Fenris*

      That’s ridiculous. I was actually coming to comment on this thread and not specify what I do except that I’m a woman in a senior role. But since you posted this, I’m a veterinarian. And not a young one, either. I don’t mind doing my share of the scut work, not one bit, and that includes the kitchen. Or the toilet. Or whatever. I don’t think I’m above doing, well, much of anything.

  76. Grey*

    The kitchen isn’t the only thing that gets dirty. What about the restrooms? The office trash cans? The common-area floors? Employees use them and they get dirty so why stop at forcing them to clean the kitchen?

    Hire somebody to do it. It’s the cost of doing business. If you think it’s too expensive, consider what you’re paying per hour to have your employees do it at their current salary.

    1. Bananaphone*

      Does your cleaning crew come in daily? Ours don’t, they come in twice a week to take care of all the above mentioned tasks. However, if we left the kitchen until one of the two cleaning days, it would be a disaster. Our office assistant or receptionist is responsible for making sure the dishwasher is loaded at the end of the day and run, and all surfaces are wiped down. In the morning they unload the dishwasher and put everything away.

  77. MsCHX*

    As a young single mom working an office job, I took on the job of cleaning the fridge when the prior person left. They paid me $150/month to do so! It was gross but worth the extra money! I was ruthless too. Not dated or beyond the date mentioned in the WARNING email that was sent previously? Tossed in the trash. Made life way easier. And it never smelled.

  78. DevAssist*

    My mother is a teacher and has a cool coffee cup from her previous job. In the staff break room, none of the teachers or admin EVER wash and put away dishes, purchase dish soap to share, throw out food left in the fridge, empty the coffee pot, etc. All the usual problems. My mother always washed her mug and immediately put it away, but ONE TIME had oatmeal in the mug so she put it in the kitchen to soak while she was on parking lot duty at the end of the day (so the mug would be in the sink a total of like 40 minutes). Of course, this was the time that her boss got annoyed with the kitchen and threw her mug (as well as stuff in the fridge) directly into the trash. As someone who regularly cleans up after herself and voluntarily buys soap, sponges, etc. to share, she was sad that her mug was so carelessly tossed.

  79. Liz*

    I have to say – I disagree entirely with AAM’s response to this one. The staff kitchen is for ALL staff to use. Whether or not you actually use it is neither here nor there. It would be like saying “Well I only use the bathroom once a day so I didn’t replace the toilet paper,” or “I only print things every once in a while, so I didn’t replace the toner/paper.”
    For the OP with the migraines – I get it, but taking yourself out of cleaning duty just because?? Nope. It takes you 5 seconds – get over it and do it. (And, btw, if she has to clean up after herself when getting her own tea/coffee, why can’t she just clean it all up at once????)
    If there’s a designated office rotation, EVERYONE should partake (unless like the migraine person, they literally can’t).

    1. Statler von Waldorf*

      And I disagree with your response. It is extremely inefficient use of your companies resources to pay your most expensive employees to do a task that can be equally well done by your cheapest and most junior employees. My boss is not paying the six-figure earning salesman to clean stuff, he’s paying him because he is one of the best schmoozers in the business, and he brings in tons of revenue. Paying him to clean instead of schmooze is a waste of company resources. Same with me. I don’t clean, because there are several accounting and admin jobs that only I can do. The shop helper can’t do either of the jobs we can do, but he can clean the staff kitchen just as well as we can.

      I’m really struggling on why people seem to think that businesses, which are by their very nature hierarchies, need to turn into communes when it’s time to clean the kitchen. Everybody pitching in is a good policy for Sunday dinner with the family, but for a business is usually doesn’t make sense.

      1. Liz*

        You make a good point. I was thinking about it only from a smaller-office type of situation.

        I worked at a place that had the whole office on rotation, but it was only ~20 staff. It worked great, though!

        Where I am now, there’s no schedule or anything – it’s everyone cleans up after themselves (again, only ~20 staff). Of course this means that the kitchen is not always clean, and yes, there are definitely those of us who make more of a mess and clean up more often, but all-in-all, it evens out. We don’t have any public or clients in the office, and when we do have someone “special”, it’s actually our CFO (also acting HR) that ends up doing the most cleaning!

      2. AnonAnonAnonA BATMAN!*

        Do you not flush the toilet at work because it is beneath you as well and someone more junior could easily follow behind and flush it for you?

        I understand your point, but cleaning up after one’s self in the kitchen is a small task. Yes, it would be silly to expect a CEO to clean the kitchen every Friday, but if the CEO put sugar in their tea then they should at least wipe the counter for any sugar that might have spilled.

  80. Catastic*

    It’s disturbing how many people are stating that these tasks should be put on junior employees. Why should it end in the kitchen? What about forcing them to clean bathrooms, wipe down glass, sweep, etc.? Where does it end? Cleaning isn’t demeaning at all, but expecting me to wipe up after adults is just astonishing. Sure CEO’s have things to do, well then exclude them and make everyone rotate.

    1. Bananaphone*

      How is that disturbing if that is the expectation of the job? I had no issue early in my career that if I was told that part of my job is to clean the bathroom, or wipe down the kitchen. I even did that when I work for large retail organizations. It makes business sense to me to have the person that I am paying $20 an hour to take care of the office maintenance items such as making sure the kitchen is clean, rather than having one of my Department Managers who we are paying $100 an hour to clean when he could be focused on managing his staff and department.

  81. BAS*

    Our building thankfully includes cleaning the kitchens and communal fridges as part of our rent (bunch of small businesses renting from 1 office to multi office suites in a big building). However, we do have a larger mini-fridge in our office that we try to take ownership of what we stick in it. Once a month or so, though, during a lull, one of us will just open the fridge and pull stuff out and make people claim it or toss it and then wipe the fridge. We defrost it 3-4x a year over a weekend (stashing anything worth saving in the communal building fridge). It works well for us, but we also have a good enough rapport to call each other on old food or yogurt hoarding without it hurting anyone’s feelings and there are just five of us.

  82. Danielle*

    The best way I ever heard of addressing this issue was simply to say, “When you work here, you are part of a community. Therefore, everyone who works here is responsible for maintaining our community and our communal areas.”

  83. Lygeia*

    As a “junior person”, I take on some of the cleaning duties in the kitchen like running and unloading the dishwasher, cleaning out the fridge, etc. What is not ok, in my book, is that there are several people here who seem incapable of putting their dishes in the dishwasher. They will “soak” a bowl in the sink after their morning oatmeal, and it will still be there when I go to run the dishwasher at 6pm. There are usually a half dozen dishes in the sink every evening (only 12 people in the company so there’s a significant percentage doing this).

    So here’s a plea from that nice junior person that’s taking on duties like this, please clean up your own messes so people like me only have to deal with the overall stuff. We’re all adults so let’s act like it.

    Also, take home your tupperware.

  84. Allison*

    I work at an office where everyone rotates to clean the kitchen. I have a huge anxiety about cleaning other people’s mess so I chose to not use the kitchen. I bring my own lunch and place it in the fridge (bring my dirty Tupperware gime). I asked not to be placed on rotation. Management said it’s part of the corporate culture but no one in upper management is on the rotation. My anxiety is so high that I need to go and get a doctors note. Companies should recognize people’s anxiety and choose to get a cleaning service.

  85. Been there done that*

    No, the people KNOW they are not covering their food and are splattering junk all over. They DON’T CARE. This female attorney in our office does it every day, just like she leaves the first-stall bathroom door flung open WIDE on her self-important exit out of the toilet, so that the handicapped people trying to get to the rear where the handicapped stall is have to negotiate the door in the narrow space. She flung it IN MY FACE once when I was in the next stall. She likes doing things that show other people that she is above them and doesn’t care. It’s the equivalent of a pissing contest, where she wins. And goes on slamming counter doors and her office door every day no matter who is trying to get work done or is talking on the the phone with clients. People absolutely DO NOT DESERVE the benefit of the doubt. Most are lazy selfish louts who really do not care.

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