my manager cleans and reorganizes our desks every day

A reader writes:

I work in an office that has staggered work times in order to serve customers for a longer than an eight-hour day, so the manager in our office arrives before some of us and/or leaves after some of us.

I recently moved into a position in this space from one across campus. I’ve noticed since moving that often times when I come in, my desk will be different, folders I’ve left on the desk will be stacked on a filing cabinet near the desk instead, sticky notes will all be stacked in one spot by the monitor instead of on the desk, pens will be moved from on the desk top to inside the top drawer, etc.

I initially thought this could be students who came into the office later, and since I’m one of the last to leave, I was just more careful to close the door, turn off lights, and lock up any of my personal items at closing time instead of leaving it to the custodians. However, after watching her do it to another employee who leaves before her, I realized it is our manger “tidying” up. She must tidy up my work space before I get in since she arrives earlier than me. She has on more than one occasion mentioned that she can’t stand any clutter and I completely understand the need for a clean looking workspace. However, my desk (and everyone else’s) is organized; it’s just not exactly the way she wants it, apparently. For example, recently I changed up the folders and inboxes on my desk to create a better work flow and came in to see that the boxes were re-stacked (they can stack or not) and the folders sorted by color instead of priority.

I asked one of my closest colleagues about this who has worked in the space longer and realized she’s been putting literally everything (except monitor, modem, and phone) in a drawer at night and locking it because of this very behavior. She’s been doing this for over a year! I find that an untenable solution for myself and need to find a way to stop the behavior but am concerned she’s going to tell me that I have to have my desk her way, which I’m not prepared to argue about. Is this something I should go to our shared supervisor with? To note, she also does it in their office, preparing/cleaning their space every morning, which should have been my first clue who it was “cleaning” my space.

That is super annoying and rude, and it’s such a weird thing for her to care about that I have to think she’s not a great manager in other ways. A manager who knows how to prioritize their time and how to give people appropriate amounts of autonomy would not be going around rearranging their desks every day. That is so controlling, and so controlling about something so minor, that I have to think there are other problems with her as a manager.

And to be clear, even if your work space were truly so messy as to be unacceptable, your manager still shouldn’t be going around cleaning up your desk. She should talk to you about the issue and ask you to handle it.

But it doesn’t even sound like that’s the problem here; it sounds like she just has really weird ideas about (a) tidyness and (b) boundaries. This isn’t kindergarten; you should get some amount of control over your work space, and should be able to organize things the way you find optimal for doing your work.

That said … it’s not an issue to escalate above her head. It’s just not at the level of seriousness for that. But you can certainly talk to her about it and ask her why she’s doing it and if she’ll stop.

I’d say something like this: “Jane, I’ve noticed that you re-organize my desk before I come in each morning. I organize my files in a particular way to make it easy for me to find things efficiently. Is there something I’m doing that you want me to change about the way I leave my desk at night?” Then, assuming she doesn’t have some compelling answer to that (like that you’ve been leaving out confidential files that need to be hidden away), say this: “It’s making me less efficient to find things rearranged from how I’ve left that. Can I ask you to leave things where they are so that my organizational systems remain intact?”

But if that doesn’t work, then you’re looking at either accepting that your manager is going to rearrange things or following your coworker’s lead and locking things up.

{ 330 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Putting this right up top.

    Please remember that the commenting rules here prohibit armchair diagnosing — because we can’t diagnose based on anecdotes on the internet, these statements often stigmatize people with those diagnoses, and it’s generally not useful to focus on disorders rather than practical advice for dealing with the person in question. I am going to be removing any comments that violate this rule.

  2. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Oh man, this would drive me nuts, OP.

    I hope that having a conversation with her will stop it.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yes. I do not like people touching my stuff. I have an organizational system, and not being able to find my things makes me furious. I also have short, cryptic notes that are meaningful to me but probably look like trash to others. If there is an extreme clean desk policy, that’s probably enough to get me to decline the job, but I will clean up my own crap, thank you very much.

      Ugh. I could not deal with this. I hope OP is able to have a reasonable conversation and get this to stop, but, candidly, I’m not optimistic because this behavior is so far outside the norm.

      1. JessaB*

        I can’t even, this is triggering to me just reading this, if a boss did this to me, we’d be in HR having an ADA conversation yesterday. I have processing issues, I’d have to spend at least an hour every single day putting everything exactly back as it was before I could start work and the rest of the day panicking that an important note or back up piece of information was missing. I would not be able to work even a little worrying that one of my multiple back ups is not there and I am forgetting something I MUST DO.

        This is. No for me, this is not talk to the boss. This is immediately talk to the boss’s boss. And make it clear that if they don’t want my immediate without further ado resignation, this needs to stop five minutes ago and must never, ever, ever happen again even if the boss thinks my desk is Fresh Kills Landfill, they are not to touch my stuff. I wouldn’t trust myself to talk to the boss directly without using language that would get me fired on the spot. I can barely type this. I do understand that there are people with far less issues than me, but how is this allowed? Ever. If the desks need to be cleared then you TELL people. You never, ever touch their stuff, what if you lose something? NO.

        1. ECHM*

          Yeah, seriously?! Today is the second time this month I’ve come in to find the papers on top of my desk rearranged. Let’s just say I’m NOT HAPPY.

    2. SarahKay*

      OP you have all my sympathy x 100.

      I hate, hate, hate people moving my stuff. I’m aware that my dislike of it is over-the-top and work very hard to keep it in check but to have someone re-arrange *my* system to suit their ideas would absolutely drive me to fury.

      Good luck with your manager, but it’s definitely sounding like a locked drawer is about to become your new best friend.

    3. JulieBulie*

      I am rabidly territorial. If I come to work in the morning and see something in my wastebasket that wasn’t there the night before, I feel a little twinge of irritation. I know it’s not rational or productive, and I can brush it off easily enough; it doesn’t matter what’s in my wastebasket, who put it there or why. But the prehistoric ancestor who lives in my psyche will feel threatened. She will want to track that intruder down and beat him with a stick.

      I don’t think I’d last very long in a place where my manager felt free to move my stuff around. It’s not cool to beat our manager with a stick.

      Also, keeping certain things in certain locations helps me remember things. You move my stuff, you might as well wipe out my hard disk too.

      1. cornflower blue*

        Recently I was made to move desks for about the millionth time, and my new desk is at the edge of where three hallways and a conference room meet. People are constantly standing around chatting (often so close that they actually back into my chair and shove me) and leaving their trash on my desk, like half-drunk bottles of soda. It makes me insane.

      2. Lookyloo*

        It’s heartening to read I’m not the only one.

        Like you, I know something very minor like the wastebasket thing is irrational but yes, it feels threatening. Similar to my home – there’s nothing in any way personal or private about the contents of my kitchen and I’m happy to have my mom help me cook when she’s visiting because we enjoy cooking together, so why do get a weird territorial twinge when she opens my cupboards and drawers looking for something? I don’t have a clear answer, I just know what I feel.

        At work, I too keep my desk and drawers organized a specific way and i would NOT be able to work somewhere where stuff got rifled through and/or moved. I’d likely end up with a nervous breakdown, and that’s not hyperbole.

        1. JessaB*

          no, you are so not the only one. I might be one of the worst of us here, but no, you are so not alone.

  3. Murphy*

    Ugh, that sounds horrible. It would be a really weird thing for her to do even if it weren’t actually messing up your workflow. But since it is, you do have a compelling reason to ask her to stop.

  4. Mike C.*

    SO how are you supposed to know where something is if it moves during the night?! What if something important or sensitive goes missing?

    Holy cow, this is insane.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      This. I usually have a very uncluttered desk, but during busy times I sometimes end up with a few random-looking pieces of paper with lists of numbers or chicken scratch notes to myself that I leave overnight before I process them into my organizational systems. If they went missing, I’d often have to go back and re-do work I’ve already done, or I’d forget to add something to my to-do list, or I wouldn’t have a necessary password (I don’t write down passwords, I’ll write down hints like “email + !” if I had to add an exclamation point to my work email password to meet the requirements of a different system.)

      If someone threw out these seemingly meaningless notes or tucked them neatly into folders I might not look in for weeks, it would seriously hurt my productivity.

      1. Mabel*

        This is what I was thinking, too. I remember where things are visually, so if they were moved, it would really mess me up.

        1. BenAdminGeek*

          Exactly- the visual reminder is like a sign indicating that something important needs to happen. It’s the reason Post-Its exist!

          1. JessaB*

            yes. and also position = work flow. You do not mess with the post it notes, the whole point of them is being able to POSITION them.

      2. Say what, now?*

        My life is random pieces of paper. I feel like she’d just have a meltdown if she were my boss. On the other hand…maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if I had her.

        1. LadyL*

          I’m the same way. In fact, clean desk = I’m procrastinating. I only get the urge to organize and clean my desk when I’m avoiding doing something that is stressing me out (aka something important). If it’s a sloppy mess of papers and clutter? I’m probably plugging away, and too busy to care/need my files where I can get at them. I understand why bosses need your desk to not be too unsightly, but the sad truth is, any boss of mine who sees a clean desk should probably be worried about my output…

      3. willow*

        Remember that old Sanra Bullock Movie The Net? Where her entire house had a foot-wide band of post-it notes on the walls? (And in the bathroom, the band was lower – at , say, sitting height.)

    2. Tuxedo Cat*

      That’s where my thoughts are. It seems like the manager would be opening herself up to being blamed for something going missing.

      Not to mention the amount of time this must take the OP and the other coworker to reorient themselves.

    3. Amy*

      Also doesn’t she have more important stuff she could be doing, I wonder how much of her time is spent reorganizing other people’s stuff.

      1. MassMatt*

        I came here to say this. This manager clearly has too much time on her hands! She should be supporting, coaching, and developing her team, instead she’s rearranging their file folders by color? What does this say about her priorities as a manager, let alone her sense of boundaries?

    4. Gen*

      The bank I worked for enforced a strict clean desk policy for precisely that security reason (what if something went missing)- if anything was on the desk at close of business it went in a locked filing cabinet and you were written up. That included pens and general organising materials because they were certain people would sneak data out any way they could. As a person who needs everything at hand to remember it exists I found it a massive PITA but after a month or two it became second nature.

      I’m no longer in that kind of business but unsecured business documents still make my fingers itch, I’ve had to make a concerted effort not to touch my spouses desk for example, so it may be the manager has previously worked in an environment where desk appearance was so well enforced that it’s turned into an uncomfortable habit.

      Honestly I’d just start securing all your stuff at night rather than trying to fight this because I can’t see any way this would end well

      1. MassMatt*

        I also worked in finance, so all documents with confidential or personal info had to be locked up, computers locked when away from the desk even for a minute, etc. But this doesn’t sound like it’s that environment, and the OP is not getting dinged for failure to secure info, the manager is re-arranging her files by color! Bizarre. But you may be right, locking everything up might be the best solution.

        1. JessaB*

          yes but if you have to deal with that kind of office, you plan your organisation around it. This OPs office doesn’t seem to require that. If I need to stuff everything in a desk I can make a piece of paper with notes on top of the drawer. This isn’t that. They’re not being told “your desk needs to look like x.” Boss is randomly moving stuff.

    5. Koko*

      I occasionally travel with a group of friends where we get a multi-room hotel suite, cabin, etc. One of them does something like this – he’s constantly going around “organizing” and “tidying” the common areas, AKA moving everyone’s stuff around so they can’t find it. He’s a sweet guy so we just accept the quirk and have learned he’s the person to ask when you can’t find something you know you left on this side table.

    6. Lora*

      Worked at three places that insisted on having your desk perfectly bare at the end of the day.

      Place 1: We didn’t have desks, only lab benches, and our notebooks were to be locked away at night as confidential data blah blah blah. Fine, there was a good chance that you’d leave at 3:30 and someone on second shift would spill something in your bench’s general direction. If you didn’t want your GMP paperwork soaked in buffer, you put it in the central file folder, which in practice was the controller’s file cabinets. She was pretty good about keeping the files where you left them, so that was OK. At least you knew where they were, and she never moved them without telling you where/why, and it was always a good reason like, “I separated them from the files that are getting audited.”

      Place 2: Practiced hoteling, where you don’t get a desk, you get wherever you can find to plug in your laptop and phone charger in the morning, so obviously you’re supposed to leave a clean desk for whomever beats you to the quiet spot the next day. In practice we all just lived in the lab anyway and rarely used our desks for anything. But you could see the point of tidying up for your colleagues’ benefit, even though hoteling as a practice is stupid.

      Plase 3: had a very warped notion of 5S, where everyone was supposed to have a sparkling clean desk at all times even though we worked at our desks 75% of the time and didn’t share space with anyone else. It’s a sort of Lean Manufacturing idea, but when applied to office jobs makes no sense. The argument given to us from On High was that clients come through our areas all the time and we should look nice for them…except they also had one guy take down a framed AutoCAD drawing of a prototype he had made that became commercialized, another guy had to take home all his textbooks that he used on a daily basis, and I was ordered to throw out a bouquet of flowers someone had sent me as condolences for a death in the family. When the orders were given, several of us thought it must be a joke because nobody could possibly be so utterly bat-crap insane…they have 50+% turnover annually.

  5. Trout 'Waver*

    Sorting files by color? Why even have files then? A huge unorganized pile is better than an arbitrary organizational system.

    1. Florida*

      I wonder if this manager is all about appearances in other ways. (For example, it’s more important to LOOK busy than to actually BE busy, etc.) Because you are right, it is crazy to organize by color unless you only care about things looking pretty.

      1. Very Anon for This One*

        Same situation here, both with the boss who likes to tidy up my work area (idiot MBA carelessly crashing delicate lab equipment into drawers and cabinets while I wince), and the prioritization of the appearance of being busy over actual productivity (which I’m happy to oblige if that’s what they want).

      2. Specialk9*

        What weird things for both of you to say. I always sort files by color, because that’s how it brain works. I also have color coded highlighters and pens. It’s fine for your brains and systems to be different, but gratuitous scorn for a perfectly valid system is bizarre, petty, and kind of pointlessly mean.

        1. nonegiven*

          I’m sure it’s ok to have different colors for different file types. It’s that OP had organized the files in order of priority, no matter what color folder or type of file they were. Now she has to go through all the files and put them back in order of priority.

    2. Color coder*

      I have files sorted by color; it’s not arbitrary at all. For example, green is a/r, red is a/p, blue are insurance policies, yellow are contracts, etc. They are all also labeled (with labels the same color as the folder) and filed alphabetically.
      Even when I use manila folders, the labels are still color coded — for example FY2018 vendor file labels are yellow, FY2017 were red.

            1. AvonLady Barksdale*

              This is a perfect example, because Amy’s fastidiousness is a running joke and is not supposed to fly in a real workplace. See also: (my personal heroine) Leslie Knope.

              1. Koko*

                Liam Bonneville actually used her project proposal binder to humiliate Department of Interior staffers, but he’s kind of a bad boy.

        1. Color coder*

          Right, me either. Trout ‘Waver and Florida’s comments imply that sorting files by color (regardless of who is doing it) doesn’t make sense/is “crazy.” It’s not, and I find it somewhat judgemental that they assume there is only one correct way to files things. I would be completely frazzled if I had to organize things by priority rather than _my_ system – that works for me. Priority filing wouldn’t make sense for what I do.

          1. k8*

            it’s arbitrary to put files in ROYGBIV order for no reason though– which it sounds like you’re not doing, so I’m not sure why you’re offended by the comment?

            1. Color coder*

              I never wrote that I was offended. I wrote that *I* found it judgemental to assume there is only one way to sort files that makes sense which, based on what was WRITTEN, is what they mean.

              Trout ‘Waver: “A huge unorganized pile is better than an arbitrary organizational system.”
              Florida: “…it is crazy to organize by color…”

              I was pointing out that organizing by color is neither crazy, nor arbitrary. I never wrote or implied it was okay to organizing other people’s files, period. By the same token, neither Trout ‘Waver nor Florida specified they meant their comments only for OPs situation. What they WROTE reads as broad, sweeping generalizations about how files should be organized.

              People should read what is actually written, not what they think is written.

                1. Color coder*

                  Contextually, what they WROTE reads as broad, sweeping generalizations about how files should be organized.

            2. Kali*

              I organise things and then colour-code them by ROYGBIV. I then organise by colour. For me, that makes sense; it gives me additional information at a glance.

          2. Beatrice*

            I didn’t read it that way at all – I read it as sorting them by color when there was another, more appropriate way to sort them (like topic, or priority). What you guys are describing is using color coding to help with a sorting system that actually has some logic behind it aside from color, which is completely different.

            I don’t use color coding in my filing system – I’m not allowed to pick my own office supplies, I have to stick with whatever is available in the supply closet when I need something, so my files are a random assortment of colors. I use labels and physical location to keep things straight. Organizing my files by color, as they are, would be madness and would make it hard for me to find things.

          3. JB (not in Houston)*

            No, you have a filing system in which categories are assigned a color, so they are still sorted by category, it’s just that by sorting by color, you are sorting by category. Trout ‘Waver and Florida are clearly reacting to the OP’s system, in which the manager is sorting files based on nothing but color–the color’s don’t reference anything, they are just colors in the OP’s situation. It seems pretty clear from their comments that that’s the kind of system they meant.

          4. Manders*

            I’m also a color coder, but it sounds like the letter writer has some kind of system going on where the file colors mean one thing that doesn’t necessarily correspond to priority (for instance, maybe all the undergraduates’ files are blue and the graduate students’ files are red, but the undergrads aren’t always prioritized about the grad students, it’s a case-by-case decision). I like to color code but switching out the contents of a whole folder every time the priority changes is a bit much.

          5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I think you may be reading too much into the comments. The color coding isn’t a problem; it’s reorganizing by color when those colors are not coded, which sounds like what happened to OP. I don’t think they’re saying that “all color coding” is crazy.

            1. Yvette*

              That is how I read it. To arbitrarily put all the red with the red, the blue with the blue, etc. regardless of what is contained inside is what is crazy.

              1. Arjay*

                Yes, it’s like organizing your library by color instead of topic or alphabetical order, or some system that actually lets you find common things in a common area. “Oh, yes, if I recall correctly, the collected works of Shakespeare has a blue dust jacket, so it’s with the blue books.”

                1. Em Too*

                  I did this for a while. It looked pretty on the shelf. Doesn’t mean I would recommend it to (or indeed force it on) anyone else.

                2. Detective Amy Santiago*

                  When I worked at a book store, I literally had this exchange:

                  Customer: I’m looking for a book
                  Me: Okay, what’s the title?
                  Customer: I don’t remember.
                  Me: Who wrote it?
                  Customer: I don’t know. I just know it has a green cover.
                  Me: … unfortunately cover color is not a searchable option in our database

                3. Koko*

                  I arrange my fiction books by color for aesthetic value…but I rarely re-read fiction and therefore make a habit of giving away fiction books about as often as I buy new ones, so I only have a few dozen across two shelves and don’t search through them often so it’s fine that they’re essentially unorganized. The bookshelf functions as decor more often than it functions as a library.

                  (I lay all my oversized, super-small, and odd-shaped books on their side in order of size to make pyramids of various shapes and sizes.)

                4. Marillenbaum*

                  I organize my books by color, because I have an easier time remembering what the cover looked like than the exact wording of the title or who wrote it. I once saw a picture of a display at a library that was titled “I don’t know what it’s called, but I remember it was blue” and I felt a sudden bolt of recognition.

          6. Jadelyn*

            When your organizational system is set up that way, based around color-coded files (my team’s is too, partly anyway – all the employee files are in manila, the payroll files in green, the benefits files in blue, etc.) then it makes sense. I think Trout ‘Waver and Florida are more commenting on someone coming into an established non-color-coded system and deciding to arbitrarily reorganize by color, without correspondingly resetting the entire filing system to work around that – not that literally any organization by color-coding is crazy, just that taking someone’s non-color-coded system and rearranging it to be based on color instead is crazy.

          7. Infinity Anon*

            I think that the comments meant that sorting the files by color (after things have been assigned colors for specific reasons) does not make sense. I used to have files color coded and then sorted by date. Resorting the files by colors would have really messed up my system.

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              Same here. I do have color coded files, but they’re not sorted by color when I have them out on my desk working with them. I have blue for travel, green for purchasing, etc. just so that I can see by the color of the folder what category of item is in there. But when I leave my desk for the evening, I stack the files in order of what I plan to work on first the next day. It would be irritating for someone to come and sort them by color, because I have them in an order that means something to me.

          8. Kathleen Adams*

            Sorting files just by color *is* wrong, no doubt about it. But if you, the file maker, uses color to help you categorize your files, you’re *not* sorting just by color. You have a categorization system that uses color, and that’s not at all like deciding, “All of the OP’s purple folders should be here.”

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            This comment actually made me LOL at work.

            Especially since your username is related to one of my other TV role models :)

      1. Doodle*

        Right, I think what they mean is not “using color as a sorting mechanism is bad” but “using arbitrary colors to re-group in a way that eliminates a sorting mechanism is bad.”

        That could mean something like putting files in “rainbow order” even when they don’t make sense that way, grouping all of the blue insurance folders together instead of keeping the Anderson account insurance folder next to the Anderson account contract folder, etc.

      2. Fiennes*

        It’s not arbitrary for you, but it sounds like whatever guidelines (if any) for colored folders are in LWs office, they’re not as useful to LW as sorting by priority.

      3. Observer*

        That’s fine when YOU color code them. But when your files go to someone else who is not color coding them the same way you are, it IS arbitrary for them. And it’s also possible that although the color coding is not arbitrary, that’s not how you need to sort them. Theoretically, you might want to sort by A/R, A/P, Contracts, but color code for Utilities, Service contracts, equipment vendors etc. If someone decided to sort by color, you’d still have a mess.

      4. Manager Mary*

        Color coding is great if that’s what you’re doing. I just use colored folders; the colors themselves have no meaning and are selected based solely on whatever color is at the top of the box when I need a folder. If someone rearranged my folders by color, they would still not be color-coded; they’d just be extra pretty and very out of order.

        1. Reorganized Desk OP*

          This is my situation, due to budget restraints I accumulate used colored folders as needed and then label them. So I’d have to take my labels off and rearrange them so they are also color coded.
          Ps. I think color coding is great! I’m just not quite that organized or able to do that with the materials provided.

      5. Ms. Annie*

        Yes, but your colors mean something. OP didn’t say hers did. We had multi colored files at one place I worked simply because the colored files were cheaper that purchasing cycle.

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            The folders were arranged by priority, irrespective of the color of the folder.

            For the OP, the colors were not meaningful. When the OP’s boss put them into color order, they were not in any meaningful order for the OP’s uses.

          2. Genevieve*

            It’s very possible that the priority arrangement is not related to the folder color–in a previous job, I had a variety of folder colors just because we reused folders; the only pertinent sorting info was on a tab I attached, and assigning any meaning to the color would have left someone looking at them very confused.

      6. Rusty Shackelford*

        But the manager is taking the OP’s files, which are organized in a logical way, and reorganizing them so that only the color is important. For example, if the OP has her most urgent projects in a red folder, and long-term projects in a purple folder, the manager is arranging them in ROYGBIV order and putting red on the bottom and purple on top.

        1. Drew*

          It could even be worse than that. At one job, every project lived in an accordion folder with various colored folders inside for different stages/pieces of the work. When the project was completed, all the colored folders were pulled and filed together. If this manager went through and regroups those folders by color, we would have to go to every pile to recover the history of a project if we needed it.

      7. J.*

        There’s a difference between color coding things and sorting them by color. Color codes mean things and there’s a reason they’re in that color folder. Sorting by color is just putting all the things in the same folder together regardless of how they’re labeled/what’s inside.

        Color coding is great and helpful for a lot of people. Sorting by color in the absence of a color coding system is absurd.

        1. J.*

          Putting all things in the same COLOR together, not folder. You get my point. I don’t think anyone is suggesting color coding is a dumb system, just sorting by color.

        2. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

          *Sorting someone ELSE’s files by color in the absence of color coding is absurd.
          Sorting your own files by color is just fine. Let people sort stuff whatever way they like, even if you think it’s stupid.

        3. Arjay*

          Right. Imagine sorting your groceries at home by color instead of by where the item should be stored based on its own properties. Milk, flour, vanilla ice cream, and my box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch are all white, so I” arbitrarily put them all in the pantry cupboard. That’s not going to work out so well.

      8. BethRA*

        Using color coding for your files is one thing, rearranging the order of those folders is another. I have a color-coding system as well, but if my manager moved my fy18 budget folders to the back of the riser because they’re purple and Roy G. Biv and all that – when I want them front and center because that’s currently my top priority, would drive me batty.

    3. Work Wardrobe*

      Everyone has her own system. Colors work, numbers work, alpha works…

      Not really the point here, is it?

    4. Cruciatus*

      This reminds me of The Durrells in Corfu when Margo gets a job at the local doctor’s office and organizes all the patient files by the patient’s height or something ridiculous like that. She did not last long.

    5. Matilda Jefferies*

      Disagree! I organize by colour all the time, because it helps me prioritize and work more effectively. But that’s *my* filing system, and it’s planned that way (ie, I deliberately choose folders for their specific colours, to match my system.)

      But even within that, there are still at least a couple of different ways of organizing by colour – you could do the colours of the rainbow, or red/yellow/green priorities, or project files vs case files vs admin files, etc. So organizing by colour is a thing, but you still can’t rearrange other people’s files. The colours are the way they are for a reason!

      1. J.*

        Right. Organizing by color only works if the colors mean something. Sorting by color when the folder colors are arbitrary doesn’t make sense.

      2. Kyrielle*

        Yes. And in some systems you might organize by one thing, and use color to denote another. (Organize by priority, color tells you category. So if the ‘purchasing’ system is down, you’d ignore the top three priority items because they’re all yellow, and that’s your color for purchasing; you’d flip right to the first *actionable* item in priority order.)

        There’s an almost infinite possible variety for this, and whatever works is awesome, but re-sorting someone’s files…ugh, no. Not by color, not just by picking them up and stacking them in arbitrary order, not at all. (If they really need to be organized in X way so that workflow with others / ability to cover when someone’s out is optimized, that’s a ‘we need to do this’ discussion to have with that person ASAP, of course. But just having them come in and find things rearranged without ever having had such a conversation? Yikes, no.)

    6. Jadelyn*

      “A huge unorganized pile is better than an arbitrary organizational system.” Can you do me a favor and tell my VP this? Anytime I’m out of the office for more than 2 days he “cleans” my desk, which for him just means stacking everything into a single or perhaps two neat piles. The problem is, I’m often using 90-degree rotation on sections of a single stack to distinguish what’s related and what’s not, or I have 4 or 5 smaller stacks that are sorted in various ways that make sense to me, or stuff like that, and when I come back to find all of my paper in a single neat stack I freak out, because now I have to go back through every single piece of paper to figure out what got put where in the stack and break it all back out into my way of organizing it again. He jokingly waves it off as his OCD, but I’m like…so reorganize your own damn desk and leave me out of it please.

      I’ve tried explaining that it just looks unorganized – I actually do have a method to my madness and I know where things are 99% of the time. It hasn’t stopped him yet. Argh!

      1. Victoria*

        Try binder clipping the smaller stacks. That way when VP “neatens” them they’ll still be separated.

      2. AKchic*

        I agree with Victoria. Binder clips are going to be your best friend. Or a drawer somewhere that your boss doesn’t open.

        1. Specialk9*

          Or a big note on your monitor that says “If you move anything on my desk I will break your @$&# fingers.”

          /Not actually advisable

          1. Jadelyn*

            LMAO, we have a very casual environment on my team so I could probably get away with that. Or maybe taped onto the window between my office and the VP’s office adjoining so only he sees it.

      3. Anon please today*

        I’m embarrassed to admit that I actually tidied up the desk of one of my subordinates one time. It had got to the point that I just couldn’t take it anymore — it was bothering my sense of order which may or may not be a mild case of OCD, it doesn’t really matter what we call it. Luckily she never commented on the changes and I never felt compelled to do that again.

      4. Jennifer Thneed*

        Do you have access to the REALLY BIG binder clips? They can hold together many folders. I’ve been known to use them in pairs at the top/bottom of the stack for extra secure holding. Another suggestion is rubber bands, if your office can get them. There are some heavy-duty ones that are like a foot in diameter.

        1. Jadelyn*

          I don’t think I’ve ever seen binder clips that could hold multiple folders together – I’ll have to see if I can find those. I think rubber bands might work better for my purposes though.

          I actually get to order/buy my own supplies, so…off to Amazon I go!

    7. AKchic*

      I color code things as well as organize alphabetically, numerically or by year (depending on what I’m filing).

      Example: my last job, I had my hands in a LOT of different projects. I spent a lot of time in meetings, taking notes, and generally trying to keep track of what was going on. Prison projects were assigned dark blue folders and binders (whenever possible, if not cost-effective, blue cover paper or dark blue border on the label of the binder). Women’s project was given purple (because the woman who started the project originally chose purple, and a purple flower for the logo, so we kept it). Another project/program was light green. Our flagship program was dark green (our company’s logo was the green). Another women’s program/project was lavender. Another project was orange. A once-yearly, time-sensitive project I worked on that required special handling was always red folders because I would need to shred the hard-copy research after I was done with the project (I could save what was on my computer, though).
      All folders were labeled appropriately, but the colors helped for anyone who needed to access my files if I was out of the office, or who might have been assisting me, or supervising me at that given time.

      Color-coding helps differentiate various projects when you’re working on multiple projects and they have to share the same drawer/filing cabinet/box. It’s not meant to be the only way to file, just a quick visual reference for faster finding.

    8. EvilQueenRegina*

      I’ve seen worse. When I worked in a housing department, they kept a list of recommended and registered contractors for carrying out works. The person who held the list filed them…by insurance expiry date. Seriously? Someone looking for a particular file would waste a lot of time looking for it because no one else knew that off the top of their heads. When she was out sick, someone else rearranged them into alphabetical order. She wasn’t happy when she came back and found out but everyone else found that order a lot better.

    9. cornflower blue*

      I’d be tempted to claim color blindness, and re-order them with the red and green ones all messed up.

  6. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    Whoa, wait a sec. She does it in your shared supervisor’s office? And they’re OKAY with that? That’s….alarming. My gut feeling is the conversation route won’t work, but it’s worth a shot. However, I’d still start locking everything up.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      This was shocking to me as well. I can’t imagine a boss who would stand for this…unless they’ve never noticed? My boss’s desk is piles and piles of clutter and crap, he’d probably never notice and keep creating new clutter.

      1. Red 5*

        It is possible the boss actually likes it. Most jobs, I quickly get the reputation for being the amusingly uptight and tidy person and being more organized than normal. I never touch anybody’s stuff without asking, but I’ve had multiple supervisors and co-workers ask me for help with their workspaces.

        Granted I’ve only had one that was actually thankful for the help and didn’t overreact and flip out because I suggested maybe they shouldn’t keep every receipt they’ve ever gotten in their life out on their desk, but it does happen.

        To be clear, as tempted as I am to come in and overhaul shared spaces and/or just put stuff away when I walk past people’s desks, this woman is crossing a line and shouldn’t be doing this. You don’t touch people’s stuff without asking. You just don’t. And even then, there’s a whole process of conversations about how to organize to be efficient for THE OTHER PERSON. I’m not going to organize my boss’ desk the same way I would mine, that’s useless and it creates more work for everybody. We don’t have the same job or the same brain, so my system will never completely work for someone else.

        1. Specialk9*

          Wait, so they ask for your help getting tidy and organized, but then get offended by suggestions like not keeping every receipt? That’s weird.

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            Hoarders gonna hoard.

            I know someone who used to work with hoarders to help them clear out their overwhelmed spaces. She quickly learned to insist that THEY actually put the thing in the trash, with THEIR hand. Otherwise they got all upset with her the next day and screamed and stuff. Yes, even when they knew they had an issue. (I suspect most of them would agree that they had an issue, but still didn’t really believe it. Really, they just didn’t have enough storage space.)

          2. Red 5*

            Yup, like Jennifer Thneed said, it’s just a thing people do. Sometimes a person asks me for help because they just honestly can’t decide the best way to organize their files. Sometimes they ask for help because they have some pretty deep issues they either don’t realize they have or won’t admit to. Lashing out at the helper is easier than admitting they have a problem. It’s a defensive reaction, and I’ve encountered it more often than not. Which is why 90% of the time now I turn down their request and say something like “oh, it’s all just so individual…”

      2. Jean Lamb*

        I had a supervisor whom I adored, who had boxes and boxes in her office (to be fair, when you capitalize a gold course, you are going to have a few invoices). We joked about getting her a smoke alarm. Sort of.

    2. Marthooh*

      Or maybe the shared supervisor counts on that manager to keep their desk organized. If rainbow files, stacked post-its, and pens in the drawer are the SS’s preference, that would explain a few things. But LW should still be allowed to use her own system in her own space.

      1. Reorganized Desk OP*

        It’s definitely more of this situation- I think the supervisor views it as nice to come in to a tidy, clean space and she keeps all of his paperwork and stuff filed etc. so when he needs it he just asks her. It’s a somewhat dependent situation at this point (and he is already very neat and has a very minimalistic office style).

        1. Jaydee*

          Oh, so shared supervisor is basically treating intensely organized manager as his assistant? I have a couple of questions (well, many questions really, but a couple that are relevant). 1) Was IOM ever SS’s assistant, or was that the type of role she held before becoming a manager? 2) How long has she been a manager and are there other signs that she is maybe not a good manager? 3) Like, does she maybe not really know *how* to manage, but she knows how to organize and how to support other employees, so she does those things because they are easy for her and appear helpful to outsiders looking in?

      2. Mabel*

        I can’t imagine stacking up post-it notes. The whole point of those is to have each note visible at a glance – at least that’s how I use them. Otherwise, I’d just use a notepad.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          Plus when you lift and re-position them, they lose a little stickiness each time. Boo, hiss.

  7. Helpful*

    OP, be sure to emphasize that your files are organized to maximize efficiency in your workflow.

    Organized by color instead of priority? Ughhhhh.

    1. JessB*

      That’s actually what I took that to mean- the file colours are related to priority and thus when organised ‘by colour’, the files are organised by priority as well.
      I agree that it would likely be better to emphasise the priority in the conversation!

  8. Anon today...and tomorrow*

    I would hate this!!!! I am fairly uptight about how things are on my desk and the idea that someone would touch my stuff makes my shoulders go up. I hope that talking to her works. If not…maybe you can really organize your desk drawer before you lock it?

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      So very much this. I’m not precious about my work space, but if someone reorganized it at night, I would be very close to murderous. In fact, I had an intern who took it upon herself to reorganize my case files, once. After spending 1.5 hours fixing the system, I had to have a tough love talk about why you don’t reorganize people’s files without their knowledge/request/input.

      But every night? Hell to the no.

      OP, I think it merits a frank discussion. Also, if a one-on-one conversation isn’t successful, would your coworkers be willing to confront her as a group?

      1. Specialk9*

        I really wouldn’t. This doesn’t seem like a hill to die on. Ask the manager to stop because it impacts efficiency, and then work around it. Don’t put them on the spot with a group complaint.

        1. Soon to be former fed*

          Nothing wrong with asking, coworkers can always refuse to participate.

          This would be a hill to die on for me. Too boundary violating and plain old disrespectful. Everybody’s hills are different.

    2. Red 5*

      Same. I work in an open office and my desk happens to be right on one of the edges where there’s a lot of foot traffic.

      I just like to have a clean desk at the end of the day anyway, so I would always file everything and put away stuff into my desk drawer anyway at the end of the day. It’s just part of my ideal workflow. But when I started to see signs that people were using my desk consistently while I was away and leaving THEIR stuff around, I almost flipped. Like, they would spill soda and not clean it up completely so it would leave a sticky puddle. Or leave their scribbled notes behind. It was all little things but it just really irritated me. I didn’t care so much that people might sit there to take a phone call or whatever they were doing, but just leave the place like you found it. Don’t touch my stuff.

      1. Mabel*

        I cannot stand to have someone else use my desk because they always leave “evidence,” and it’s very annoying! Now I work in an open area, and I don’t have a desk. I just find an empty area at the tall table and set up for the day. I don’t love having to carry everything with me when I come to the office, but it does remove the irritation I used to feel about others using my desk. :-)

    3. Emac*

      Not related to the OP, but in my last job, a coworker I was friendly with sat across the aisle and one cube behind me but who couldn’t get his chair out into the aisle (blocked by a filing cabinet). So when we were having longer work discussions (or it was slow and we were just chatting), he’d sometimes take the chair of the person directly across from me (who wasn’t at his desk a lot).

      He always thought my look of horror when he would completely change all of the settings on that guy’s chair was hilarious. The guy whose chair he took was too nice and wouldn’t really say anything when he’d come back to a chair that was six inches lower and a lot more reclined than before. But I know that my chair stealing coworker knew never to mess with my chair!

  9. Snark*

    Oooooookay, somebody needs to sit this person down and have a long, intense conversation about boundaries. Not OP, probably, but I have no idea how anybody thinks this is an okay way to behave around your reports’ stuff.

    1. RVA Cat*

      This letter puts my shoulders up around my ears. It also reminds me of a story from my parents about a couple at their church where the husband literally put numbered labels on everything in their house and the corresponding places those items “belonged”.
      Thankfully his wife divorced him.

        1. Lora*

          At the very least, she should have labeled his belongings #9875467 and put them in Trash Can # 9875467A, 9875467B and 9875467C.

      1. Specialk9*

        I’ll admit that I’ve considered that! My marriage is saved by the label maker. I do dishes and my hubby puts away clean dishes. But he has no idea where they go (even after years, and having been part of the decision in the first place of where they go) so they end up in random places (that I have to fix) or I have to direct his every move. Which makes the helpfulness of putting away dishes much less helpful, and makes it still really my job. So the label maker to the rescue! It works for us.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Some friends of mine made a diagram of where everything in their kitchen lived and just kept it hanging on a wall. Made everything a lot easier for them!

        2. Jean Lamb*

          My husband has chalk outlines on his pegboard in the shop where his tools are supposed to go, with Strong Hints of chalk outlines on the floor should someone screw up. To be fair, I know how my son likes to *not* organize things…

  10. Snarkus Aurelius*

    There will be probably be some mental health assessments in the comments so I’ll skip that part and get to the point: since your manager does this to people over her too, she probably can’t help this behavior. I’d wager that if you left your desk as she organized it, you’d come in the next day to have it re-organized again.

    I’m not trying to excuse her behavior but rather explain it. You can’t take this personally, and, no, it’s not enough to escalate.

    My sister has a similar nasty habit, and she still does it under the guise of “helping” rather than working out her control issues. After traveling to a big city I’d never been to before and not being able to find my cash and credit cards because she “reorganized” my purse, I started locking things up and keeping other things out of her reach.

    So I suggest you take a page from your coworker’s playbook and start locking up everything you can that will fit in a drawer.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      A mental health issue does not give a person carte blanche to do whatever they want and telling the OP to just live with it is not really helpful.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Oh of course not, but like AAM I don’t see much recourse here, especially if management doesn’t care when their stuff is reorganized.

          1. Observer*

            Which is?

            The issue is not mental health – maybe she can help, and is just being a petty jerk or maybe she can’t help it and has a raging mental health problem. Either way, what exactly can she do beyond the conversation Alison suggests?

              1. PhyllisB*

                Does she have a private office? Can she lock the door? Of course, if manager has a key also that won’t work. How about a note: “Jane, please do not move anything. I have everything in exact order to work on tomorrow. Thanks!! Getrude.” Maybe that would give her pause.

            1. Snark*

              Take it to the shared manager, for one. I think this is absolutely an issue to escalate above her head.

              1. paul*

                Didn’t the letter say she did this to their manager, who seemed OK with it? It’s worth a shot but I’m not sure I’d bet on it doing anything.

                1. Snark*

                  The manager may be personally okay with it or indifferent to it happening on his desk, but willing to intervene if someone is not indifferent to it.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, even if there were a mental health issue in play here (which we can’t know), it’s not useful to speculate on it because it wouldn’t change the advice for the OP. (Plus there’s a ban on armchair diagnosing here anyway!)

      3. Red 5*


        Part of my reputation for being almost too organized and tidy is because of a mental health issue that I don’t talk about at work that much. Sure, mine has never quite risen to the level of compulsion that many people with a more severe form of my disorder have, but at the same time it doesn’t give me a pass and it doesn’t give them one either. Part of living with a mental illness is learning the combination of coping mechanisms and accommodations that you need to not just live a better life yourself but also so that you aren’t doing things that are inappropriate.

        That’s hard work, but it’s the job of the person with the illness, not the people they work with. If this woman can’t help but touch other people’s stuff, then she needs to deal with that because it’s inappropriate for her to be touching other people’s things without permission. Full stop. The hows and whys of dealing with the problem might be a little different if she has a disorder, but the crux of the issue stays the same.

        1. Future Homesteader*

          As someone in an extremely similar situation, +1000 to absolutely every word. I was going to write a longer comment, but you nailed it perfectly and there really isn’t much to add.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Let me just tell you that the day they upgraded Windows to let you switch the order of icons on your task bar was almost the best day of my life. I have to have my programs/files open in a specific order and until that upgrade, if something froze or was accidentally closed, I would have to shut down everything and re-start it in the ‘right’ order.

          1. Red 5*

            I also almost had a party the day that changed. My solution up until that point was actually to pin almost every program I use regularly to my taskbar so they stayed in that order, but then I had a messy taskbar when I’d rather have an empty one.

            Just don’t ask me my feelings about how IT keeps putting extra “helpful” shortcuts on our desktops for us.

            1. Jean Lamb*

              Ah, the sins of IT–they tried to install Office 365 on my XP computer (which worked just fine, thank you) and destroyed it, including all my personal saved stuff (including a picture of a co-worker’s grandchild who passed away). I still try to think of evil things for that dude.

    2. neverjaun*

      Disagree that she “can’t help it” and the only solution is avoidance. There’s nothing wrong with the OP talking to her to find out what’s going on, and if it is some kind of anxiety or compulsion, there are ways to address that which don’t involve screwing up someone else’s work.

      1. Snark*

        What’s going on doesn’t matter. “Do not screw up my work, please and thank you” is where OP gets off the bus. It’s not necessary or desirable for her to get involved in whatever work Manager needs to do to honor that request.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Right – I mean that THE MANAGER can take steps to deal with whatever is motivating her to do this. “Can’t help it” simply isn’t true.

    3. Snark*

      I really hope nobody engages in mental health assessments, because they’re irrelevant. Nothing gives you the right to tread boundaries like this. She needs to rein it in, and whatever she needs to do on her end to make that happen is her business and no concern of ours or OP’s.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Yeah, it doesn’t matter WHY she’s doing it, just that it needs to stop. I would not be able to put up with this. My desk is relatively clean at work and I put things the way they work best for me.

        I used to have a manager who would work at my desk sometimes (he had his own, which was frustrating). He would sometimes move stuff around. I finally had to ask him to either leave my things alone or put them back when he was done, because I wasted time looking for them when I came in. It didn’t stop him using my desk, but the shuffling definitely improved after that.

    4. Blue*

      I can’t say I agree that’s not something to escalate. It’s just a matter of time before the manager “organizes” in such a way that something gets lost or a deadline gets missed. That’s very problematic. Depending on the office culture and my role, I might decide it’s easier to lock things up than fight it, but it’s not at all unreasonable for OP to expect coworkers to respect the organizational system she’s set up for her personal projects.

      1. Archie Goodwin*

        Well, if that’s the case – if a deadline is missed – I’d hope this is the sort of environment where pointing that out would be enough CYA for the OP.

        If that happens, maybe it would be enough to stop it. Although I tend to fall on the side of those who think it won’t stop – when someone has this much disregard for boundaries, I doubt that talking to them about it will make any difference.

        1. Temperance*

          I think that no one has pushed back on Captain Overstepper, though.

          In my experience, because no one has told Jane to get her grubby paws off of other people’s desks, if this happens, it will be the fault of the other person, because “everyone knows” that Jane does this, so LW should have prepared better by locking up the time-sensitive stuff.

    5. AKchic*

      LW can take this personally. We don’t know how much time LW has had to waste trying to figure out where their stuff is because it’s been magically re-organized every time they leave the office for the day. Even 30 minutes a day 5 days a week adds up, not counting the time the manager spends doing the re-organizing every day!
      We know that the manager re-organizes for not only the LW, but others. Let’s say the manager has re-organizing down to an art and spends 10 minutes per desk organizing. We’ll say she only organizes 3 desks per shift (we’ll be nice). That’s 30 minutes per shift of re-organizing. 2.5 hours per week of wasted time, just for her.
      Now, for the people she affects, let’s say it costs them at minimum, 30 minutes each. That’s 1.5 hours per day of time being wasted trying to undo all of that unnecessary unasked for re-organization. 7.5 hours per week. 10 hours total (roughly) for four people. That’s a lot of time lost that could have been put to better use, if only someone had just put the manager in her place and very matter-of-factly said “you are not to re-organize staff desks or files, regardless of how much you think it helps”.

  11. Drew*

    This would be a hell to the nope for me – I can understand things moving occasionally if someone is looking for a specific item, but someone tidying my space “for me” would frustrate me to no end.

    I think Alison’s approach is a good one, and if your boss doesn’t have a VERY good reason for wanting workspaces to be organized a certain way, this is something to push back on hard.

  12. Reinhardt*

    Wow! That would annoy the hell out of me, and I see where your coworker is coming from.

    Anyone else reminded of the letter writer who had to literally lock up their lunch to keep their boss from stealing it?

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I was actually thinking of the letter about the coworker who made people line up at the bus stop by gender and they weren’t allowed to wear anything asymmetrical.

            1. Specialk9*

              Oh my gosh. That’s so utterly preposterous that the company made those rules! What the even?!

  13. Maya Elena*

    It sounds like the rearranger is the office manager, not a supervisor manager? I don’t think she has authority over LW?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The OP calls her “our manager.” If she’s not the manager, but rather the office manager (i.e., the manager of the admin stuff for the office), that would change everything and the OP could much more directly tell her to stop.

      1. Maya Elena*

        Hmm, I inferred that to mean “our office manager”, since they have a “shared supervisor” rather than LW’s “grand-boss”. This would make LW and the compulsive organizer peers.

        A part of me wants to suggest LW come in early and organize the manager’s desk (“who will organize the organizers??), but that would be unprofessional.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I assumed “shared supervisor” is something like a grand-boss, since people don’t typically say “our manager” if they don’t mean “a person who manages me.”

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            Yes, that would be an unusual way to refer to someone who is not actually your manager. The more logical reading is that this is her manager, not the office manager who does not manage the OP.

      2. cataloger*

        She does ask: “Is this something I should go to our shared supervisor with?” so I was reading as office manager.

    2. lulu*

      I was confused about that, since the OP talks about “our shared supervisor”. I think you might be right upon re-reading.

      1. Reorganized Desk OP*

        Clairification- in our field maybe this is a little different but she’s probably closer to an office manager the way it’s described here in the comments. However she has significant seniority over my position and does act as an authority. She delegates and handles all day to day issues for our supervisor. I do not interact with him much, it is usually her first. But he is both of our actual evaluator. I think maybe after reading your comments and thinking about our roles I could potentially be more direct but like following the initial advice due to the level of authority/influence she has in day to day operations.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Hmmm, is she sort of like a team lead then?

          In any case, if she’s not your boss, that changes everything. In that case, you should be much more direct: “Jane, I organize my files in a particular way to make it easy for me to find things efficiently. Please stop rearranging my things.” And then if it continues, talk to your actual boss (and tell him she’s doing it to everyone).

          1. Hank*

            This HAS to fall under an HR issue of boundaries, violation of personal space and even harassment (if manager has been told to stop.)

            Especially if manager is not a technical supervisor but just the “leader” etc. I don’t see why a formal complaint to HR with a demanded remedy (that manager stops immediately, no exceptions) is not entertained.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Those aren’t legal violations. (Well, harassment is, but to be illegal, it would need to be sexual harassment or based on a protected characteristic like race, sex, religion, disability, etc.) It’s not illegal to be a boundary violator.

              But in my answer, I did indeed tell the OP to talk to HR if talking to the manager directly doesn’t work, because most HR departments would tell this manager to cut it out anyway.

      2. Reorganized Desk OP*

        I tried to comment this but it didn’t save sorry if this ends up being a repeat! She is more like an office manager as described in these comments, however she has significant seniority and authority over me. She delegates in the office and handles all day to day issues. I don’t interact with our supervisor much at all and she does regularly. Issues are usually brought to her and then escalated to him as needed. This may be an example of some of the other confusion or issues in the office (we as office staff seem to answer to her and him).

  14. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Please remember the the commenting rules here prohibit armchair diagnosing because we can’t diagnose based on anecdotes on the internet, these statements often stigmatize people with those diagnoses, and it’s generally not useful to focus on disorders rather than practical advice for dealing with the person in question.

    1. Maya Elena*

      Unrelated to the post, but the website your username links to doesn’t go anywhere. Don’t know if you meant to include a working link.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’ve actually noticed this with a handful of people. I’m not sure why it happens (although maybe people are putting spaces in that field or something, and that’s causing it?).

    2. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

      You can’t know that it’s a psychiatric problem just from reading the letter. Come on, you’re a doctor and should know not to diagnose without examining a patient, let alone from a letter.

      1. Frank Doyle*

        I mean, they SAY they’re a doctor. But you know. My email address says I’m a genius scientist, and I am neither.

      2. Statler von Waldorf*

        My drug dealer also calls himself the doctor, which actually doesn’t make him one. Most practicing doctors are very hesitant to diagnose or give out medical advice online due to significant liability issues, and I advise others to be very skeptical when someone claims to be a doctor (or a lawyer) when they don’t seem to be concerned about that liability.

      3. Temperance*

        In all fairness, I use the username of a genius forensic anthropologist. I can assure you that I am neither.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          …a genius *fictional* forensic anthropologist. Who works in a fictional museum. And has a fictional husband. And … okay, okay, I just really love your username and that you inhabit it as fully as you do. (Does your husband wear interesting socks to counter his boring suits?)

  15. Lady Jay*

    All I can think of is that this person seriously has too much time on her hands. I barely have enough time to clean & rearrange MY desk, let alone anyone else’s.

    1. mf*

      Yeah, this seems like a huge waste of the manager’s time. Either she’s mismanaging her own time or she doesn’t have enough work to do.

    2. fposte*

      I confess that part of me wanted to invite her to my office and let her clean my desk up. All my key organization is on my laptop, which she would not be invited to touch, but a little tornado cleaning on the physical desk would be welcome.

    3. Specialk9*

      I have a hard time *not* tidying at other people’s houses. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve transitioned from a slob to startlingly tidy – but much more so when I share space with someone. (Somehow my shoes left in the kitchen aren’t a problem, but theirs is – that was an important realization about how my tidying had elements of control to it, which I now watch for and call myself out mentally). But it’s so not my place to clean others’ spaces!

  16. Fiennes*

    Long shot idea: if you have this talk with the manager and she seems to understand where you’re coming from *but* still has some compulsion to organize your desk, could you deliberately leave her one thing to do? Like, let one group of papers remain unstacked, pens left out of their canister, whatever – a bit of busywork that you know she could do without it messing up your workflow. If she does have some compulsion about it, feels a need to just do *something,* maybe creating an obvious, low-damage task for her would keep her from looking for other things to reorganize.

    That wouldn’t work in every circumstance, of course, but I can imagine scenarios in which it would…

    1. Maya Elena*

      If OP is qilling to put in the time ans patience, he (or she) can start experimenting with the manager in various ways, and maybe even leaving secret messages encoded in the ordering of the desk folders.
      Not sure how ethical that is, but amusing certainly.

    2. NotVeryActiveHere*

      I had a boss who always wanted to “improve” anything I wrote, and got quite perturbed if he couldn’t find anything to change.

      It came to a head when I was writing a series of grant application letters, when I found him inserting, removing, inserting and removing the same comma in a letter – printed and amended by hand each time, for me to revise and re-send to him. Six times, in the same letter.

      I started putting a spelling mistake in the top row of every letter, he found and corrected those, and was happy.

  17. k.k*

    I had a boss that did this whenever you were out for the day (we all worked the same hours). She did it to everyone, and a coworker early on warned me to put anything important away if I was going to be out. She would throw out anything she didn’t think was important, which might include any hand written note like a post-it you wrote an important reminder on, a training manual that you frequently reference but she has memorized (after decades in the business), etc. It wasn’t worth bringing up since it was so occasional, but it would drive me batty to have to put everything away daily.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      One of the things I find most interesting about AAM is that a lot of our problems are not as unique as we sometimes think. No matter how bizarre the behaviour is, there is almost always a commenter who has experienced the same thing!

    2. Drew*

      We had that problem with a cleaning crew our office hired. After the first time I came in to discover that working project notes were gone, I went to our facilities manager and had a conversation.

      FM: Why were your working notes out on your desk instead of filed?
      Drew: Because I was working on them when I quit.
      FM: How was the cleaning crew supposed to know they weren’t trash?
      Drew: They weren’t in the trash. They were on my desk.
      FM: Well, the crew needs to tidy up desks.
      Drew: No, they damn well do not. Please instruct them that my desk is off-limits.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Oh wow.
        Cleaning crew at Exjob didn’t touch desks (well, they weren’t supposed to). They emptied the trash bins in cubes and that was it. We did a few things go missing, but it was a thief problem, not a clean-up-everything problem.

      2. oranges & lemons*

        Yep, my office used to have a cleaning person who would do the same thing. She would reorganize all of the paper on my desk, and arbitrarily throw things out, or inexplicably move them to other parts of the office, including my personal things. I had a photo in a frame that she would consistently lay face-down and move to a co-worker’s desk, for some reason.

      3. GumptionIndeed*

        We had cleaners that would change the daily calendar for you if you had one on your desk (think a daily inspirational quote, etc.)…but throw out the previous day’s page. One employee was keeping the pages since they were a collection of funny comic strips and we had to leave post-its with “Don’t touch” on the calendars.

      4. Dawn*

        Ugh we had a cleaning crew like this! I dealt with billing and had to have everything stacked in a certain order in piles on the empty part of my desk (huge L shape desk) and the cleaning crew would put everything in one stack and move it around, they also would put my water bottles in the fridge (I have sensitive teeth and can’t drink cold water). I finally had to just start locking my office and cleaning it myself.

      5. SarahKay*

        Our cleaning team are instructed to only dust clear desks and otherwise leave well along.
        For a while they were very kindly throwing out the plastic cup of water on my desk each night – except that I would deliberately have put a freshly filled cup there so it wouldn’t be cold the following morning. (Cold water makes my teeth hurt and our water machines dispensed very cold water indeed!). I had to leave a post-it on the cup asking them to leave it there.

  18. Observer*

    I’m not sure I agree with Alison that you can’t escalate it. But, you are going to have to document real impacts. Remember, your shared supervisor KNOWS about this so “This is making me crazy” is likely to get a “Deal with it” response. “The cause x, y and z problem for Client A” is something that your supervisor would have to take more seriously.

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      Yes, I think if there was an actual interference with the OP’s ability to get her job done, Alison’s answer would be different. From the letter, it sounds like the effect on OP is annoying and a bit inconvenient, but pretty minor over all.

    2. Grits McGee*

      You could also document it in terms of time lost- “It takes me 30 extra minutes to get started every morning because I have to find and rearrange everything,” “I had to redo the quarterly llama report because the folder with my drafts was missing,” etc.

      1. Statler von Waldorf*

        This is pretty much exactly what I was going to say. Document how much time you waste in a week, then escalate it. I have the type of relationship with my current boss that I could and would state that this would cause me to start looking for other work if he didn’t step in to resolve it, because this would drive me batty.

  19. Maya Elena*

    I wonder if this person would rearrange things for the sake of rearranging, even if you left them the way she usually likes.

    1. Red 5*

      I actually suspect she would, but that’s just pulling in context from my own organizational issues combined with experiences I’ve had in the past.

      It’s often not about the specific way things are (“my way”) but about the need to move/change/touch them.

  20. Fishing Rick*

    I had a manager who did this very thing to me as well (though not as regularly as it sounds like you are enduring). It was truly a sign of the dysfunctional nature of the overall organization as my manager had learned it from the head of the department. The guiding idea was very much that appearances were most important, and there was only ever one way to think about an issue. I worry OP because when working for someone with that little sense of boundaries, the only usual solution is to change positions. In the interim, I found that there were certain particular triggers that were more a thing for my boss and I would sometimes either make sure those were never visible or leave them as a distraction to more important things at other times.

  21. CatCat*

    Oh, this would drive me up the wall. I could not deal with that. I’d only put up with it for as long as I absolutely had to.

  22. Snark*

    This does not help OP and OP would be totally off base asking the reason. Speculations about mental health are irrelevant, as repeatedly pointed out in this thread.

  23. Cruciatus*

    My former supervisor wasn’t this bad, but it was always annoying to come back from a day off and see that your files were moved. Not rearranged, but not as flush against the wall as you left them, or your pencil cup was not quite where you kept it. Everything was just a little bit off. She would do it to my coworker too if he was out so I guess at least it wasn’t personal. She’d just sit at his desk (we were both front desk people) and open drawers, check files on top of the desk, do this, do that. And I guess she did the same when I was off. This was just one annoyance of many, and I guess she had the technical right, but it was just another indicator in that office that nothing in that office was mine to decide on. It’s like night and day in my new department!

  24. JD*

    This reminds me of something somewhat funny. I am very very organized. I had an old boss tell me that she for a while thought I was doing nothing as everything was always put away on my desk. I have my working files in a stand up file on my desk and pull the filing I need to use as I a working on it. She later realized I just was hyper organized, which she really appreciated. This of course goes along with manager wanting things to be perfectly organized but reminds one that everyone has their most productive way to do things and you should allow that, within reason as an insanely sloppy desk is not ideal if you have clients around.

    1. Mrs. Fenris*

      I am a neat freak and super organized. Having much of anything in my inbox (the physical one) makes me a little nuts so I take care of it ASAP. I’ve been deliberately trying to leave things there for a little longer recently, because I finally figured out that it makes it look like I don’t have anything to do.

      1. JD*

        One time she came to my desk and it looked like a bomb had gone off. She knew we were rushing to finish a huge project. She brought me a doughnut that next morning with a special coffee because as she said “I knew you must have been completely swamped based on all that clutter on your desk as that is so not like you!” She was an awesome manager. I truly miss her as a person

    2. Janice in Accounting*

      My manager thinks the same thing–if I don’t have papers spread out all over my desk I must be all caught up. (I am NEVER all caught up. I just put stuff in folders.)

  25. rosiebyanyothername*

    I have a coworker who insists on filing paperwork related to *my* projects *for* me. As in he will come into my cube, open my drawers, and just have at it. I keep telling him he can just hand me the papers and I’ll file them myself, but to no avail. I have found many, many papers he’s filed incorrectly.

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      I know it’s a pain… but “lock your drawers” might be best solution.

      Or don’t tell him he *can* just hand you the papers. Tell him he *must* hand you the papers. He may not realise it’s an issue and you are just being polite saying “oh, don’t worry!” when you actually appreciate it. Tell him it’s a problem for you.

    2. Drew*

      Oh, HELL no.

      “Put things in my inbox” – helpfully pointing at your inbox – “and I’ll file them as soon as I have a moment. No, you aren’t saving me time by doing it yourself.”

    3. Snark*

      “I keep telling him he can just hand me the papers and I’ll file them myself, but to no avail.”

      To him, this sounds like “No really, thanks for the help, but I can do it!” What you need to say is “Please do not file any of my paperwork for any reason. You misfile papers all the time and I can’t find them later. Can you please stop it, starting right now?”

    4. AKchic*

      Close the drawer.
      When he comes in and opens the drawer and starts getting into things, get up, walk over, close the drawer and be very firm. “I’ve got it, thanks, you can go back to your own work now. Goodbye.” Then stand at the drawers, with no smile, and stare at him until he leaves.

  26. JD*

    Oh and also it would drive me bonkers. I have everything in it’s place for a very good reason. My friend even was at my house last night and jokingly moved a few things around. I just gave him the “look” and said “Put it back!!!”

  27. Not That Jane*

    What if she asks for the behavior to change, and it doesn’t change? Is there any recourse after that?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Then you’re to the last paragraph of my response: “But if that doesn’t work, then you’re looking at either accepting that your manager is going to rearrange things or following your coworker’s lead and locking things up.”

    2. Akcipitrokulo*

      (Not serious)

      get more files. Lots of files. Box files. Random papers. Just before leaving, make a mountain on your desk.

      1. E*

        I’d be tempted to leave out a pile of documents that need to be sorted or alphabetized, with a note to myself about what needs to be done. It’d be like having a house elf! (But I’d lock up everything else that needed to not be moved around)

    3. Yvette*

      Itching powder on the folders??? Some version of the ink on the microscope/binoculars gag??? (In case it is not obvious I am kidding. Sort of.)

      1. Natalie*

        Wire your desk to give her a mild electrical shock like a lab rat. Eventually she’ll develop an aversion to your desk!

  28. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

    If the colors aren’t necessary to the filing system, maybe try picking all the same color? It’s better for her to stop reorganizing your desk, obviously, but maybe if all the files are the same color maybe that will at least get her to stop that part. Of course, you may find that she starts alphabetizing or sorting in some other way, but it would drive me nuts to have my files reordered so I’m trying to think of something that might put a stop to that if she won’t stop after you speak to her.

  29. Colorado*

    This would make me nuts and I would absolutely address it head on. As soon as you get into work. “Please don’t rearrange my desk, this messes up my system and makes my morning less efficient (or whatever)”. Then, “I’ve asked you to stop rearranging my desk, how can we get this to stop”. Repeat daily. Good luck!

    1. Muriel Heslop*

      I experienced something similar in a previous job and the only thing that worked was being really direct. “please don’t mess up my system of organization. It really affects my efficiency and ability to do my job.”

      My boss wanted me to keep everything in my classroom filed and sorted the same way as she did in her office. There was no need for that, our jobs were different, and it undermined my efficiency. She didn’t like it, but she begrudgingly admitted that there was no reason that I should keep my files just like hers. She just preferred that. (One of many issues with her, as you can imagine.)

      Good luck!

    2. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster*

      Yup, I would just say every day, please don’t touch my stuff until she got the hint.

      And if it went on long enough I actually *would* escalate to the big boss, because that’s some bullshit right there.

  30. Maya Elena*

    Also, maybe you can append numbers to the beginnings of folder names somehow, so the order was obvious? Your own library system of sorts?

  31. JB (not in Houston)*

    I basically agree with Alison that this isn’t something to take up the chain of command at this stage because most managers would probably not want to be involved. Most of the managers I’ve had wouldn’t want us coming to them with this kind of small thing. On the other hand, if this were going on with people I managed, I’d want to know. To me, this is a sign of control issues/micromanaging that I’d want to keep an eye on. And frankly, I’d want to put a stop to it, because it’s the kind of minor thing that can slowly add up and make good workers dislike their jobs.

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      To clarify, I’d only want to be approached about it after my employee had tried to take care of it on her own first.

  32. crookedfinger*

    OMG. I can hardly handle the cleaning crew not putting my trash can back where I want it; I think I’d explode if someone rearranged my already-organized desk…

    1. Red 5*

      I thought I was the only person who was almost driven to distraction by the cleaning crew never putting the trash cans back anywhere near where they picked them up.

      I’ll never say anything to anybody about it, but at our office the dang things will move around in the most insane ways. There’s been a couple times where I randomly acquire an extra one and then have to walk around saying “Um, who is missing their trash can?”

      1. Yvette*

        The trash can thing may be part of their system, if it is a crew, the other members can readily see which trash cans have been emptied and which cannot.

        1. Red 5*

          It could be, and I don’t fault them for not getting them back exactly where they go, they’re busy and do a lot in a short period of time.

          But they don’t seem to make the same moves twice. If it was “oh well, I always find my trash can in front of Fergus’ door instead of mine” I’d chalk it up to something in the way they do things. But it feels really random.

          That said, it annoys me, but again, I wouldn’t say anything. The cleaning crew puts up with enough inane commentary, I don’t need to add to it.

  33. mf*

    If having a conversation about this doesn’t fix it, make it really inconvenient for your manager. Every time you can’t find something, ask her, “Hey Linda, I can’t find file X. Where did you put it?” Every. single. time.

  34. Interviewer*

    Has anyone pushed back, at all? It doesn’t sound like it – and that may be part of the problem. If she thinks no one notices or minds, or mentions any possible problems with the “tidying up,” then she might be assuming you really appreciate her efforts. Explain that you don’t, and see where that gets you.

  35. silvertech*

    I rely a lot on visual clues to organize my tasks, lists, etc. This would mess with me so bad that I’d start looking for another job (and hide everything inside boxes/drawers while looking).

  36. bookish*

    Yikes, that would mess up my workflow. I organize my projects based on priority and this is how I keep track of due dates. For me it would be pretty easy to lock all those up in a drawer, but maybe not for OP. I agree that talking to the manager about it sounds good.

  37. boop the first*

    I could not handle this. Well okay, I dislike shared workspaces for this reason, and I’ve survived this far, so perhaps I could. But wow, I would not be happy!

    Here’s the thing… if the person who works at the desk needs things to be a specific way, why does one person get to have priority? If you have two people who are equally anal about sorting, who can “win”? If someone casually rearranges manager’s desk, what would her reasoning then be? Why are there so many managers out there who don’t have any actual work to do?

  38. Kristinmagoo*

    I wonder if this supervisor has the power to fire the OP. For me, that would be my only concern in bringing the issue up to her. I was in an identical situation with a senior co-worker. She had clout, but no ability to fire me. When she reorganized my desk, I told her point blank, “Do not touch my things. Ever.” When she tried to frame it as a work concern, I told her brusquely that I did not care about her motivation and repeated she was never to touch my belongings and/or work product. Though she complained to my manager about my “rudeness,” the manager was hard pressed to discipline me for setting an appropriate work boundary. Needless to say, it never happened again, though this coworker continued rifling through the desks of others.

    Though to be honest, I can’t say I would have had the same gumption if the offending employee had the ability to fire me, if they so chose.

  39. Master Bean Counter*

    I’m all for pointing out how her reorganizing is working against your workflow. I get that some people just can’t help themselves, but they can at least back off.
    I used to work for an engineer. There was one day when I was checking in new cars that had arrived for the motor pool. I’d received 5 sedans, 4 trucks, and 3 SUVs. When they are delivered the sales person hands me all the paperwork along with the very bulk manuals. So I made three very neat, descending piles of manuals on my desk. My boss comes around and takes the top manual off the sedan pile and moves it down to the SUV pile so that the piles are even. He got a look and I asked him, “Do you think there might have been a reason for the way they are piled up? Other than to annoy you?” He quickly put the moved manual back into the proper pile.

  40. Cassandra*

    I confess I would be strongly tempted to prank the over-organizer — smear petroleum jelly on file-drawer handles at the end of the day or the like.

    I’m posting this only because I might not be the only person with this temptation, and it’s a BAD IDEA to give in to it. Don’t do this! Too many ways it can backfire.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      Nah, go more subtle. Get a large square book and a large rectangular book of roughly the same dimensions. Stack them on top of each other so that it’s impossible to square them up in any way.

      1. Matilda Jefferies*

        Gah! Just *reading* that has made me twitch! Because I’m exactly the kind of person that would stand there for ages, puzzling out the best way to stack them. I hope nobody ever needs to get revenge on me for anything, because this would be a very effective way to do it…

      2. JulieBulie*

        No problem. Manager could just put the two books in separate places, like on opposite ends of the desk. (The rectangular book goes on the right, of course.)

      3. AKchic*

        Picture frames that are slightly misshapen, with pictures that are glued in crooked, and then hung up on the walls at a slight angle, and not evenly so they are ALL askew.

        It drives people batty. They try to fix the frame they are SURE is hanging crookedly, and no matter how much they “fix” it, it will never look right. Even if they rehang all of the frames, it will NEVER look right.

    2. LCL*

      Speaking of pranks that are harmless…Get a paper coffee cup with a lid. Like a Starbucks cup. Carefully cut out the bottom of the cup. Set the cup on your desk in the middle of the desk. Fill it with marbles if you are really annoyed, or paperclips if you are nicer. Nothing harmful or excessively messy. Put the lid back on. Wait and see.

      1. Yvette*

        That reminds me of the old gag/urban legend of filling the medicine cabinet with marbles and closing it (the legend never mentions how) so that when snooping mother-in-law or nosy neighbor opens it they all come tumbling out.

    3. Argh!*

      Me too, or at least print out this post & the comments and leave it where she can’t help but find it. I wouldn’t recommend it, but I would think it… often!

    4. This Daydreamer*

      Or move everything on her desk just a little bit. Even the desk itself. Rotate everything a few degrees.

      1. AKchic*

        Lower one side of the desk by a few millimeters so it loose pens/pencils roll and the desk just looks “off”?

        Oh, wait… that’s part of my “mess with idiots” manual. Never mind.

  41. Lauren*

    If she refuses to stop re-arranging things, I would also make sure she understands how much time you spend each day re-organizing things and finding things that she has moved. She may not realize it’s such a big deal, but if she sees how much time is lost by you (and presumably everyone else she’s doing this to). On the other hand, she may still refuse to stop and that’s her prerogative as your supervisor (I also have a supervisor who insists on using inefficient methods for doing things and I just continue to point out where we’re losing time because of this, but he doesn’t care, so I spend my time how he wants – which sometimes means wasting time).

  42. kittymommy*

    I’ve worked with someone who used to do this. At first I was confused as to what was happening with my stuff , then when I noticed it happening more she mentioned vaguely about the cleaning crew (we found out after she left she would blame things she would steal in them), which I dismissed since it was only when I was out on vacation. She finally said she was trying to “help and make things easier for me”. I asked her to stop. It was only after the second or third following “helping” that I sort of blew up.

  43. Dust Bunny*

    Oh, H-e-double-hockeysticks, no.

    My office looks a little messy but it’s actually not. I don’t actually have a lot in there and I know where everything is. If somebody came in and “cleaned” it, I’d spend forever trying to find things again. I’m a good employee and I get things done, so stay out of my stuff.

  44. H.C.*

    Probably not helpful advice, but if my manager kept this up I’d be so tempted to have some chaotic artwork up in my work area (or a disorderly wallpaper/screensaver on my monitor), esp since I do appreciate abstract art.

  45. Pine cones huddle*

    I used To work in a similar situation. The CEO suffered from terrible anxiety and would busy herself with rearranging furniture and sweeping and tidying and even collecting trash or doing dishes. When I first started I moved the monitor on my desk to another position that was more comfortable to work in. And when I would return from lunch she would have put it back where was before. This was particularly unnerving because the monitor placed in that position my keyboard was literally on the edge of the desk and I couldn’t type because I didn’t have anywhere to rest my wrist.

    Unfortunately this is been going on for well over 20 years. There was nothing anyone can do about it except transfer into another office that wasn’t as close to the executive suite. Unfortunately my department was across the hall from her office and we all just kind of learn to live with it.

    1. Pine cones huddle*

      It was also super annoying that if someone left a Post-it on my monitor or note on my desk or work in my chair, it was very unlikely that I would ever receive it because she wouldn’t move it and put it away in a file or drawer or sometimes even the trash! Many times people came to me asking about a note they had left for me and I never received it.

  46. a Gen X manager*

    Oh, OP. Alison’s response and other Comments here are great, but I just want to add that just READING about this makes me feel SO icky! I vote for the locking things up thing, because I can’t imagine there is any possible way that any kind of conversation will change the manager’s tidying behaviors. Good luck to you, OP!

  47. Ramona Flowers*

    Please don’t assume everyone with ocd is like this. I have ocd. I do not touch anyone else’s stuff or expect them to arrange their stuff to my wishes. My only request is that nobody touches or rearranges things on my desk.

    Your colleagues problem isn’t actually ocd. It’s having no boundaries.

  48. Ramona Flowers*

    I have my post its organised in a particular way and would not cope well with them being moved. OP you have my sympathies!

  49. Paddy Power*

    Lock your things up but leave a pile of trash documents on your desk with a post it note saying “filing”. Leave a motley collection of unsuitable folders and binders nearby. Run a book on how it will be “organised”. Profit!

  50. OxfordComma*

    Oy. This would drive me absolutely bonkers. I hate people touching my stuff. And like at least one commenter mentioned, I often have scraps of paper that serve to remind me of things and if they went missing, I would have to do a lot to catch back up.

    One thing I’ve learned over the years: organization is a very personal thing for most people and that most people think that their way is the only way. Imposing your way on someone else is not going to work.

  51. Belle*

    My boss does this! He even cleans our desks with his own cleaning product when he feels like they are dirty. Once I started organizing my desk the way he wanted it, he stopped. It’s a little bit annoying to get used to a new organizational system, but at least he’s not in my business anymore.

  52. SamKD*

    OP I feel very badly for you; this would be a find-new-job issue for me. The reason is here:

    ” shared supervisor with? To note, she also does it in their office, preparing/cleaning their space every morning”

    Sure, talk to Tidy Manager directly but given that the person immediately above you in the hierarchy seems totally okay with this…odd…behavior, I personally wouldn’t expect the tidying to stop. At most it might stop for a while then start up again and you’d have to keep having the same talk. To my eye, the question is whether or not the rest of the job is worth this constant low-level violation of personal space.

  53. SLR*

    I disagree with even asking this question: Is there something I’m doing that you want me to change about the way I leave my desk at night? Why wouldn’t you just be straight up (polite & firm though!) and say something to the effect of “Please don’t reorganize my desk, I leave things in particular places over night so I can pick right up in the morning”? The question seems like you’re willing accommodate this weirdly invasive practice rather than trying to get it to stop.

    1. Someone else*

      Because the reorganizer is senior and thus in theory may have some say. So if they have a reason, for example, they want you to be doing this yourself (or there’s some mysteriously unknown clean-desk policy) and if you don’t they’ll do it for you, knowing that could help clarify what’s happening. If you go straight to “don’t do that” and they respond with “actually, you’re supposed to be doing this because xyz” it’s instantly more confrontational that it needed to be. There is potential benefit to sound willing to accommodate given the power dynamic.

      1. SLR*

        I disagree with the idea that b/c of the power dynamic you’d pretend to care why this person is making work more difficult. I would certainly ask if there’s a policy in place that OP should be aware of but to ask what what the reorganizing manager wants them to do at night seems too pacifying of this again very invasive thing. Because what if OP asks and this manager says, ‘oh make sure your pens are in the pen holder & files are put away’ but then continues to ‘reorganize’ other things left out for whatever reason. I feel this is opening OP up to endless possibilities for what the manager may/may not like that have zero to do with OP’s actual job. I also feel like the question in this particular iteration is a bit grovelling. I get that OP wants to figure out how to stop it but OP also needs to let the manager know their work flow is disrupted by this. It’s a two way respect street, OP respects the manager is senior thereby saying, Hey, my work flow is really interrupted when this happens, please don’t and the manager respects OP by either stopping the desk reorganization or they explain any policy that may be in place, hence the nightly cleaning. You don’t just get to do things b/c you’re a manager & someone’s below you. Deferring to power dynamics does not mean pretending to pacify things that are outright making your job harder to do. You can be politely firm with a manager when they are literally making their subordinate’s jobs harder. I have had instances where a manager has done something to make my job harder and I politely told them a) they’re making my job harder and b) please don’t do that. They are not the queen of the world just because they’re a manager.

  54. This Daydreamer*

    Wow does this letter make me twitch. I feel like I would go into full HULK SMASH mode in a big hurry.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Seriously. I have my desk organized the way it is for a reason. If somebody else moved my stuff around and got rid of my notes? It would be a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad day for them.

  55. zora*

    OMG, as soon as I saw the title I almost screamed out loud before I even opened it! I canNOT deal with people touching my stuff, and especially not “cleaning up” my space for me!! My shoulders are around my ears right now just thinking of this! ACK!!

    I worked somewhere where we had to share our desks w/ second shift, but that way I knew about it, and I had a system for cleaning up my own desk every evening so that it would be clear for others to use. But doing it FOR SOMEONE without even telling them??!! This person is an Actual MONSTER!!! Literally, if someone made this movie, it would be the scariest horror movie I have ever seen in my life. (( :::::shuddershudder:::: I’m going to go eat all the leftover Halloween chocolate to calm myself down now. )))

  56. Wendy Anne*

    Our office organiser “fixed” how I hung my jacket on the coat stand this morning. It wasn’t even to create more room for jackets since I’m the only person who uses it – she just didn’t like that I hung it from the sleeve hole and not by the back of neck.

  57. Chris*

    There’s a very slim chance the OP’s supervisor thinks they’re helping their team, but completely clueless about the impact. And a much greater chance that they simply can’t help themselves, and may not be able to avoid this tendency. I’d be curious how it translates into less visible aspects of management.. is this person a micro-manager? Do they feel the need to control every aspect of the team’s output and if it doesn’t look exactly like X, even if it’s correct and meeting the objective, does it have to be re-done? Do they re-do the work of the team when it doesn’t meet the picture they have in their head, rather than coaching people to meet the team goals and accepting good quality that was achieved by a slightly different but still acceptable path? How well does someone mentored in this environment deal with challenges and are they flexible to customer needs, or stuck in a place where they can’t do things except that one, perfect, way?

    I can’t help but feel that someone with this many visible organization / control issues likely has them bleed into other areas as well. If management turns a blind eye to the desk issue… they may not disregard or take as lightly, the impact on other aspects of teamwork and customer satisfaction / productivity. It may be possible to have that conversation with the supervisor.. or with upper management, to get them to see that this really is an issue.

  58. Lady at Liberty*

    Is there any way you can leave a note saying that your desk is already organized in the way that makes sense to you, and to please not touch it?

  59. Rick Tq*

    After a few years my wife finally understands that if she moves something I put down she has to show me (not tell me) where it is so my mental locator is updated. Otherwise the item is as good as lost and I have to start searching thru the whole house to find it. I think it finally hit home when things got moved in the kitchen and *she* couldn’t find something.

    MissOrganizer needs to be taught the same lesson, moving things around other people’s desks costs the company lost time when you have to search out a file that was right next to your keyboard last night, or the notepad with critical notes for a project you didn’t have time to enter yesterday.

  60. AcademiaShouldPayMore*

    I feel like this is violates trust, hurts the working relationship and hurts productivity. Why wouldn’t it be worth escalating if she doesn’t respond well to politely talking to her about it?

  61. Saby*

    Take a picture of your desk surface before you leave each night, print in full colour & date, leave your collection of desk pics around for her to find.

  62. SenatorMeathooks*

    It’s possible leaving out certain file violates FERPA or school policy and your manager is trying to cover her tail. While it doesn’t really sound like that’s what’s going on she should be more upfront as to why she’s doing what she’s doing.

  63. Jeanine M Claar*

    OH no I don’t like having my stuff touched or moved, and I would be going to HR to have her stop if I had to. That is a huge violation of my privacy and personal space and I don’t like it at all.

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