office kitchen wars, finding a good internship, and more

I recorded a piece for the BBC about office kitchen wars — why office kitchens are always so filthy, and the scourge of people stealing their coworkers’ food. It’s three minutes long and you can listen here.

Also, I was on Marketplace this weekend, talking about summer internships, including what to do if you have an absentee manager at your internship, how to make sure your internship is worth your while, what to do if you want an internship but are overqualified, how to manage interns effectively, and more.  The segment is eight minutes and you can listen here:

{ 76 comments… read them below }

  1. Elmyra Duff*

    My favorite office kitchen moment ever was when my (super good, dreaming about it all day) lunch went missing at a car dealership where I worked. One of the sales guys said he saw the cleaning woman (who hated my guts for reasons I still don’t know) throwing stuff away out of the fridge. I asked her if she happened to see a box with my name on it, and she lost her mother effing mind, saying I was accusing her of theft and all kinds of nonsense.

    Two hours later, I overhear her telling one of my coworkers, “Yeah, I threw away her lunch. That fat piece of sh-t doesn’t need to eat.”

    Couldn’t do anything about it, because she was the owner’s friend or something.

    1. irene adler*

      Gotta be a way to get her back.
      I don’t know, maybe putting awful things into the waste paper baskets that she has to empty. Like smelly things, or sticky things or slimy food items.

      1. Elmyra Duff*

        I may have walked through her freshly mopped showroom with muddy shoes on more than once. (Because they wouldn’t let us park at the dealership itself, so we had to walk down over a always-muddy hill to get there from where we could park.)

  2. Canarian*

    That BBC clip was timely. I was recently reassigned to the June kitchen duty team, and discovered I have to share the assignment with the one person in the office who complains about the system. The duty really just consists of emptying the drying rack next to the sink, a once-a-month purge of anything going gross in the fridge, and on the rare occasion there’s an unclaimed mess or crumbs or someone forgets a dish soaking in the sink, cleaning that up. The latter happens a couple times a month at most.

    At the beginning of the month she sends out a message to the whole team saying she always cleans up after herself and will continue to do so this month, but she is essentially a conscientious objector to the whole kitchen duty scheme so she won’t be doing anything more or less than she usually does. Her whole philosophy is based on that “we’re all adults here” idea Alison mentioned, but IMO taking this position makes her seem less mature, not more.

    1. Specialk9*

      So you guys have created a cleaning system and she’s refusing to participate? Wow. Yeah, that’s childish.

    2. SoCalHR*

      I agree with you – as long as the system is fairly designed/on a rotation (sounds like it is) and people don’t use it as an excuse to be slobs on their off months (sounds like they don’t) then she is being a bit ridiculous. Though the concept of “we’re all adults” is true, the fact is that doesn’t tend to work in an office setting, someone has to be in charge of picking up the slack (i.e. if no one is assigned to throw out leftover danishes they will sit there stale for a week).

      1. Birch*

        Wouldn’t it be so great if people just actually cleaned up after themselves? Ideally, whoever was in charge of bringing the danishes should be the one to get rid of the evidence later, no? I have to admit I kind of understand the “conscientious objector”‘s feelings on this as someone who intentionally does not use the office kitchen at all other than to get drinking water. (I would never send a passive aggressive mass email though!) Is it more fair if there’s a matching of things-you-use and things-you-clean, or is the idea that everyone does an equal amount of cleaning because it’s assumed that everyone uses the kitchen equally? I think it’s that assumption I take issue with, since it’s too easy for the messy ones to avoid actually cleaning the messiest stuff, and then it’s just the people who already clean up after themselves cleaning up after everyone else, too. I don’t think it’s fair to have to clean up other people’s blue cheese smeared all over the fridge shelves when I don’t use the fridge. I don’t mind putting away clean dishes or descaling the kettle, etc. though. On the other hand, I may be bitter about it, but it’s not the end of the world, and life isn’t fair.

        1. Canarian*

          The thing is, people do clean up after themselves, but humans also aren’t perfect, make mistakes, miss a crumb, forget a dish, etc. In this system, where everyone is expected to pitch in, intentionally avoiding the kitchen wouldn’t really gain you anything except a smug superiority. It makes more sense to me to just make use of the common utility and also participate in cleaning it, than to try to opt out from the entire thing and, idk, never get to have a donut or kolache, never have a hot lunch because you don’t want to be seen using he microwave, remember to wash all your fruit at home in the morning to avoid the sink?

        2. chocolate lover*

          Half of the people in my office suite have their own mini fridge. Some have their own tea/coffee makers. All to get out of using the (often disgusting) communal fridge. I don’t think anyone has their own microwave or toaster oven though.

          There was an email “tiff” a few years ago from a good number of people who refused to clean appliances they didn’t use, when the admin tried to bully them into it.

    3. the gold digger*

      In WWII, American COs were medics, fought forest fires, or worked in institutions for the mentally ill.

      They didn’t just sit at home not cleaning the kitchen.

      1. LCL*

        I know personally someone who is a Viet Nam era CO. He did a short stint in a federal penitentiary for it.

      2. Canarian*

        My bad, that was my word choice – not the coworker’s. I was being a little facetious, but I know in the case of actual conscientious objection to war, it’s a much more serious thing.

        1. LCL*

          Oh, I wasn’t offended at your word choice at all. I think it was a great analogy actually; the people who don’t like to touch communal kitchens often have some elaborate justification that they frame as being a matter of principles.
          Besides, with my blunt speak I’m the last to get offended at anything, unless someone calls me out for something being untrue that I know is true. I’m cursed with remembering all of the strange examples of human behavior that I hear about.

    4. Artemesia*

      This is like someone stealing a waiter’s salary by refusing on ‘principle’ to tip. Yeah the tip system is stupid, but it is how waiters are paid in the US and so to not tip just steals their labor. Nothing noble about it.

      Refusing to do her share simply means you have to do her work for her. I hope you have a chance for secret retaliation.

  3. Specialk9*

    You work SO HARD!!! Wow. You’re like the poster child for how to promote a book.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ha, well, the Marketplace Weekend thing has been a regularly monthly thing for a while (pre-dating the book) — although the show has actually been canceled and they’ll only air through June :(

      1. Nines*

        What?!? The weekend version or marketplace as a whole?? What will I do without Kai Ryssdale in my life?!?

  4. BadWolf*

    In minor, but annoying things, our kitchen area has a tea bag dumper/leaver. Like he or she must dump out their mug, forget the teabag was in it and just leave the teabag.

    I loooove tea, but somehow someone else’s wet used teabag is gross.

    And don’t get me started on the people who clean out their lunch dishes and just leave food bits all over the sink and in the sink strainer. What I wouldn’t give for no strainer and an industrial garbage disposal.

    1. beanie beans*

      I am currently in a weirdly passive-aggressive battle with someone else in my office over the sink strainer. They pull it out and leave it on the counter. I put it back in the sink.

      It’s not plugging the sink so it doesn’t drain. I get that if you leave it in, food crap collects in it, but that’s the point, right? When it’s out, the food crap just collects in the pipe instead. Is it because people don’t like seeing the food crap collect and are too lazy to dump it out? Ah our minor office mysteries are so interesting. (and interesting that I put even a second of thought into it!)

      1. the gold digger*

        I lived in a group house for a while. The other three guys would pull the sink strainer out before they washed dishes.

        Because, you know – food kept getting caught in it.

        I tried to explain to them that that was the entire point.

        1. LadyKelvin*

          My husband turns our upside down and puts it back in the drain. UPSIDE DOWN. If it doesn’t end our marriage, nothing will.

      2. SoCalHR*

        keeping food from going down the pipes is definitely the entire point of existence for a sink strainer – how is that not evident to people? (I ask that, but I already know the answer, sadly)

        1. LCL*

          Our facilities group was not happy when they had to take apart the waste pipe for the side of the sink that wasn’t draining, and removed several paper towels and a dish sponge. Passive aggressive laminated signs and P-touch labels were posted, because that’s how we roll.

        2. Seriously?*

          I feel like it is people who have always had a garbage disposal in the sink. It drives me crazy when people use the garbage disposal to throw away things. That is not the point!

          1. Specialk9*

            I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know that until recently. I vaguely thought that the garbage disposal was more green than dumping into a landfill. Then I read an article that was like, dude, this is where algae blooms come from and they kill fish, and I thought, oh yeah that makes sense. But I hadn’t really thought of it directly before!

    2. Annie Moose*

      The guy who sits next to me has had a teabag in an empty mug sitting on his desk for, I kid you not, coming up on a month now.

      He works from home about half the week, and around the time we first noticed the teabag, he was sick and worked from home straight for a couple of weeks. But he has definitely been back in the office for full days since then, yet the mug and teabag still sit on his desk, dry as a bone! It’s not even hidden–it’s squarely in front of his keyboard.

      At this point I’m just waiting to see how long it takes him to take care of it. I’m guessing we can go another month, at least.

  5. Kittymommy*

    People in my office are taking home forks. I got tired of always trying to find a plastic fork so I brought in an extra silverware set, like 12 place setting or something. Not a week later there was one fork left. What the fork?!?!

      1. Kittymommy*

        No clue. I made some vaguely passive aggressive comments and someone else brought in more forks and they haven’t gone missing since, but I’m still befuddled!

        1. bishbah*

          I brought proper flatware into the office once and found out that people were using them with their takeout lunches and throwing them out with the food containers. I legit pulled a few from the garbage can.

          1. Nines*

            Yes! This for real happens! I was beside myself when I actually saw people do it. What in the world?!

    1. bonkerballs*

      Oh, I’m a total silverware stealer. With me it’s that I eat at my desk (we don’t have seating in the kitchen), so when I’m don with my lunch I tend to unthinkingly just close the fork or spoon up in my tupperware and stick it in my bag. Every couple of months or so I go through the silverware in my kitchen and anything that doesn’t match my silverware gets brought back to work. Thankfully I work in a place where we do a lot of catered events so our kitchen has hundreds of spoons and forks and no one even noticed that I had to bring back 15 spoons one time.

      1. Teapot librarian*

        I’m the opposite. I bring my own silverware to work and then somehow it doesn’t make it home. Two years later I’ll clean my office and find a half dozen spoons.

      2. Canarian*

        I’m the same! Or sometimes I put the fork off to the side when I finish intending to go back and wash it later, and then forget. Now I make it a point to do a sweep every Friday for stray forks in my drawers, in my pen cups, on the shelf where I keep tea and snacks, and return them to the kitchen.

    2. Ella*

      We have a similar problem, but I am currently blaming the people who use the upstairs break room. I think they are stealing our silverware.

  6. Amber Rose*

    Yes, well. I complained briefly on Friday about the manager meeting I overheard where they discussed how the person assigned to dish duty should be a female.

    I’m still cranky about it.

    1. Floral Femme (happy pride month!)*


      That’s the only response I can formulate to that right now. Did you happen to overhear if there was any pushback to that comment?

      1. Amber Rose*

        My boss straight up called them gross, haha. Nobody said anything to that. She’s outnumbered so they may just ignore her.

        1. Nines*

          Good for her! Hopefully that was enough pushback to make them take a Second to think that through and realize how messed up it is! Hopefully…

      1. Amber Rose*

        They were discussing the issue of how nobody ever puts their dishes in the dishwasher or empties it once it’s clean, and how in the new building (we are moving next week) someone should be assigned to it, and one of the guys was like, “the person assigned should be female” and then there were general noises of agreement, which made me wanna go into the kitchen and smash some plates.

        Instead I went home and worked out my anger so fiercely that I’m still sore.

    2. essEss*

      I hope you brought up EEOC and sexual harassment for assigning duties based on gender when you complained.

      1. Amber Rose*

        I did nothing. I was not in on that meeting, and only overheard because the meeting room is behind me, so it wasn’t my place to speak up. I’m not sure if Canada has rules about gender-based duty assignments, but even if we do, it would be a hassle to deal with over something that hasn’t happened yet and may not happen at all.

        If something does happen, I will step in.

    3. irene adler*

      Oh hey, the 1960’s aren’t quite over yet for a few. Hope no one is expecting someone to fetch coffee for them.

      Okay… but then all the men have to wear ties -every day- and kill any bugs that crawl through the office, and hold open all the doors and carry all the heavy stuff (boxes, files and the like). And fix any equipment that’s on the fritz. And move the furniture when requested. And they have to escort all the female employees out to their cars at the end of the work day.


      1. fposte*

        I was thinking that anybody suggesting a workplace protocol based on the 1960s is volunteering to have his pay set to 1960s levels.

      2. She's One Crazy Diamond*

        Men fix the equipment at your workplace? It’s the opposite for mine, always the women fixing everything and the men acting helpless. Either way it should be more equal!

  7. Floral Femme (happy pride month!)*

    I hope this isn’t obnoxious to say, but the office kitchen where I work is never really dirty. Sometimes people will leave glasses or plates in the sink (we have a shared office set) for a day or so, but not with food on them. Once in a while something in the fridge gets gross but that’s a rare occurrence (I’ve worked in this office ~7 months and I’ve seen it happen twice.)

    I’m not sure exactly how we’ve avoided the kitchen wars, but a few things I can think of are:
    1. We have a weekly cleaning schedule: everyone signs up to wipe down the kitchen, put away dishes, etc. one Friday per quarter.
    2. I work in an office with basically all women (there’s one gentleman). I don’t know if this is related or not, though. Also everyone I work with, besides myself and one other admin staff, is a therapist, and in my experience therapists tend to be pretty conscientious people (ymmv).
    3. My work culture places a lot of emphasis on what they call “social responsibility” — and when higher ups discuss social responsibility they will often mention things like cleaning up your dishes and dumping out old coffee grounds, etc.

  8. Rachel01!*

    We were moving into a new location. I asked everyone to toss their stuff or take home items in the refrigerator. I didn’t have to do this, but I gave it a really heavy cleaning but did toss a couple of items. The sign was on the refrigerator & sent mass email a week before the move.

    I had so much ()*)*()( over it, it was crazy. I had one of the managers inform me that I should have put a bungee cord around it, and have it moved that way. After we
    moved, one of the messiest managers there informed me (I was half admin and half clinical assistant) that the kitchen clean up was my responsiblity. He wasn’t my manager. I went to mine, she was located in another state after my prior manager quit. He got quite ugly with me over it. Didn’t like me using various chemicals, etc. We arranged to pay the cleaning service once a month to clean the kitchen, etc once a month. He would could not cover food & it would spray all over the microwave. He got in trouble with how he approached me, etc. about it.

  9. Marion Ravenwood*

    In my office the kitchen war is about coffee grounds. We have a compost bin for teabags and coffee grounds, yet there seem to constantly be coffee grounds in the sink. Can people really not take the two minutes to scrape out thir cafetieres?

    Also, just me who was surprised the person who got fired over the spicy lunch their coworker stole didn’t get a mention?

  10. Not a Morning Person*

    Your #3 example is so crucial for all expectations! Tell people what’s expected and provide examples.

  11. Phoenix Programmer*

    I added a couple of workshops and opportunities for my interns that frees up my time and really helps them in job hunting.

    1) Cover letter and resume workshop.

    2) Informational interview training workshop.

    3) 30-60 minute Informational interviews with various leadership and staff across our org. The students and staff both love it!

  12. Anxa*

    I wish I had an office kitchen to ware at.

    The priority in our job is to be accessible to walk-ins, so we can’t wonder too far. But we’re also supposed to get some things done. It’s an open “office” and people eat at the computers/desks all day long and I’m so sad because last year eating was discouraged and about 4x more back then.

  13. Jaid_Diah*

    My office has a cafeteria, and four break rooms on each floor. Two of these break rooms have a sink with garbage disposal, three microwaves, fridge, and ice machine.
    Our drama consists of people dumping crap in the drain for the ice maker and for the longest time, there was only one machine working for the whole building.
    Mind you, the fridges can get rank, but I don’t normally use ’em, so I don’t care.
    And the cafeteria has dispensers for plastic utensils, so sometimes, we’ll load up after picking up a cup of coffee… ;-)

  14. Nacho*

    Our office kitchen is cleaned by the janitors, and I’m a little surprised that other peoples’ aren’t. Isn’t that their job?

    1. Ella*

      I have mostly worked in public libraries, so I don’t know how typical my experience with janitorial services is, but in my experience, the cleaning staff seems to have a very specific list of tasks that they will and will not handle. For example, the cleaning service at one library would handle spots on the carpet that were smaller than a 50-cent piece, but if they were bigger than that, we either had to pay them extra or call a different cleaning service. We also went through a problematic time when they threatened to stop cleaning the public restrooms because they felt that the level of mess rose to “vandalism.” The custodians at my current job vacuum and empty trash cans and clean windows and such, but they won’t touch anything on anyone’s desk and they don’t have anything to do with the office kitchen. Even the “kitchen” trashcans that they empty are technically outside the kitchen. So I think it just depends on the situation.

  15. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

    We went through a spate of milk thefts (initially blamed on the Humphreys for British people of a certain age…).

    This led to a sign being put on the fridge saying “the taking of other people’s possessions is tantamount to theft”.

    The more literal minded of us pointed out that the taking of other people’s possessions actually *is* theft.

  16. Ella*

    I heard you on my way to work this morning! BBC World News is one of my regular podcasts. You sounded great!

  17. Pharmgirl88*

    So, I’m listening to the BBC news from yesterday (June 4th), and I hear Alison’s voice – I thought I’d somehow skipped to the AAM podcast! It was great to hear you on the BBC!

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