passive-aggressive notes at work

Take a look around any office, and you’re likely to find at least one passive-aggressive note. It might be the note someone taped above the kitchen sink, reminding you not to leave dirty dishes around, or it might be  the exasperated note on the copier, sternly reminding you to refill the paper tray rather than leaving it empty for the next person. You may even find notes in the bathroom, reminding you to flush or otherwise clean up after yourself, generally placed there after someone has not.

I recorded a piece for the BBC about passive-aggressive notes at work

{ 276 comments… read them below }

  1. JB (not in Houston)*

    This is probably only the second time I’ve ever disagreed with Alison’s advice. (Although I use that term loosely in this context–I’m not sure what advice there was here except “this is pointless.”).

    (1) Not all notes left on the fridge, the copier, the bathroom, etc. are “passive aggressive” just because they weren’t addressed directly to the (unknown) culprit. It’s a pet peeve of mine that we now label anything not said directly to one particular person’s face (which you cannot do when you don’t know who it is) is “passive aggressive,” even if it’s clear and direct.
    (2) The only advice I could infer from this is “if you have a problem, and you don’t know who is causing it, just ignore it because addressing it to the group in general is pointless, and you’re entitled to be made fun of if you try.” Maybe this was an attempt at being lighthearted, but it feels like poking fun of people who are already their wits end trying to deal with a legitimate issue. You can advise people to lower their expectations, and you can take people to task if their notes are patronizing or condescending, but maybe don’t lump all desperate people into one passive-aggressive category?

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      On reading that again, I realize my comment came out harsher than I meant it to. I stand by my points but I should have phrased them more kindly.

    2. SusanIvanova*

      Yeah, “please wash the dishes” or “use a new knife for each jar so you don’t cross-contaminate with allergens” aren’t passive aggressive.

      The ones on passiveaggressivenotes dot com – now those deserve the term.

      1. Baby Fishmouth*

        Yes, the sign on the fridge at my work that says ‘Please make sure both fridge doors are shut at all times’ is not passive aggressive, because one door automatically opens when the other is closed, and people don’t realize that.

        The sign that went up a week later underneath the first note that said ‘please make sure you are reading all the signs’ was pretty passive-aggressive…

        1. Suisse is strange*

          This is such a great example of what is passive aggressive and what is not! I might have to steal it…

          I recently had to tell my friend that her polite note to the unknown person who was stealing her reserved time slot for the building’s laundry room for the second time was not passive aggressive–we then brainstormed things she could do to be actually passive-aggressive, since sometimes we are immature and petty like that. But the truth is that sometimes you don’t know who to address or how to reach them, so a note is the best way to go. Ideally not anonymous, but if it’s something small (e.g. “this toilet doesn’t always fully flush, please double check it before leaving the bathroom”) there really isn’t a need to leave your name either.

          Also, if a passive aggressive note makes me actually laugh out loud, I’ll give it a free pass.

    3. WellRed*

      I find myself not leaving notes on ocassion (at home, not work) because I don’t want to be seen as passive aggressive. Sometimes it’s the best option for communicating to multiple people with varying schedules.

    4. ursula*

      Yeah, there’s not really an ideal way to remind a group of adults (who should and do know better) that they need to clean up after themselves. Polite and direct notes seem as good as anything.

    5. Canonical23*

      I think the deciding factor is tone though. There’s a huge difference between a sign that says “Please be mindful of our shared space – wash and put away dishes after use” (a sign in an old break room that I never minded because it always kept me from forgetting to do my dishes after lunch) and “None of you are children, I shouldn’t have to tell you to wash up after yourselves, let’s not let this room become a pig sty” (a sign in a different break room that irritated me quite a bit).

      If ever I have to make signs for group reminders I just imagine how I would feel if this sign went out as an all-staff reminder email. It’s a good way to remember to be clear, concise and polite!

      1. Dankar*

        I have the opposite reaction. “Please be mindful…” reads to me more like “Gentle reminder…” and gets my hackles up. The second note is aggressive-aggressive, and I’d probably get a kick out of it.

      2. Magenta Sky*

        Yeah, there is a difference between those two notes. It’s possible the difference is that a bunch of adults ignored the first one, and people who act like children sometimes only respond to being treated like children.

        Context is everything.

      3. Emily K*

        Exactly. One of the requirements of being passive-aggressive is aggressiveness. If your note reads like a banal generic sign that management would hang in a retail establishment or parking lot or whatever, it’s just a sign. It’s when the sign seems to be angry at the reader that it becomes passive-aggressive.

        In my neighborhood there are two yards a few blocks apart with signs in them.

        One in in the lawn and says, “Attention pet owners: Pick up after your dog! Shame on you disgusting pet owners who don’t!” next to clip art cartoon of a squatting dog.

        The other is next to a garden and says, “Soft paws please! Flowers are growing here.” with flowers and pawprints draw in crayon around it.

        One of those signs is passive-aggressive. The other is polite and even a little cute (being almost undoubtedly drawn by children).

        1. Kat*

          I slightly disagree, because ‘aggressive’ can be viewed different ways. What one person finds aggressive or rude, another find reasonable. Context matters too much for there to be any simple answer here.

          My recent example of a non overtly aggressive note that ticked me off for it’s passive aggressiveness – I came in to see a note about ‘whoever’ did this paperwork did it wrong, please be more careful. In a large office? Eh. In an office where there are exactly two other people and the paperwork is dated and timestamped? There was no need to leave a general note vs mentioning it to the easily discernible person who did it.

      4. Tiny Soprano*

        At my old work you’d never have a client in the shared kitchen, so I used to put up memes. “One does not simply leave one’s dishes in the sink for poor old Dave to do” and the like, and I’d change them up semi-regularly. People hate passive aggressive notes, so they either ignore them or deliberately rail against them. But most people get a kick out of memes, so they’d read them (and then the message would indirectly sink in…) I noticed a huge improvement from the days of my predecessors incredibly pass-agg signs.

        1. Jadelyn*

          When visiting one of our offices, there was a meme sign over the sink – it was the Willy Wonka “oh really?” face with the text reading “Oh, you’re leaving them in the sink because you’re going to do them later?” I thought it was cute.

          A couple months ago, one of our staff at my branch retired who had always viewed the kitchen as sort of her personal territory and was always the one to clean the coffeemaker, put dishes away that were left in the drainer to dry, organized the periodic fridge clean-outs, etc. On her last day, one of her close work-friends put up signs in the kitchen with her photo on them that said “Mary doesn’t work here anymore, clean up after yourselves!” They’re still up, and they make me smile a bit whenever I go into the kitchen.

    6. epi*

      I agree. Notes are passive-aggressive when it would have been feasible to talk to the person or people who need the reminder. So you know who it is, it’s not that many people, you have a specific request and no reason to believe that just asking wouldn’t work.

      If everyone needs to know, or you don’t know who is doing something, or it’s something easily forgotten so it just works best to put the reminder in the area where it is needed, I wouldn’t call that passive-aggressive. Also, passive-aggression will feel, well, aggressive. It’s mean in some way right? If the note is disproportionate or rude in tone or something, then it could still be passive-aggressive even if leaving a different, nicer note would have been appropriate.

      My office kitchen has a note above the sink that says, “Using the drain catcher is half the battle… We know the struggle is real. Please do your best to persevere and dump the contents.” In my office, it is cute and funny. It’s surrounded by other funny notes and cartoons, and I know who probably put it up and that she is a nice person. So it lands as just a funny reminder.

    7. Admin of Sys*

      I haven’t had the chance to listen to the podcast, but from the summary I agree with you. In any shared space, informing new folks that the dishes left overnight in the sink get tossed and the copier doesn’t get refilled by the admin every morning is a helpful piece of information, and acts as a reminder to us absent minded coworkers. (and hopefully keeps folks who lose their plates from being too annoyed, since the note was right there). Similarly, codifying the ‘please refill the coffee carafe if it’s before noon and you take the last cup’ is important, because folks have different opinions on whether that’s a good idea or not.
      As to the sort of ‘please don’t leave trash out in the kitchen’ type notes that should go without saying – imo, it depends on the environment. If the kitchen is relatively clean, a note like that would make me a bit more conscientious to make sure I wasn’t accidentally part of the problem, and wonder who was making the note necessary. In a messy kitchen, the note would probably annoy me, but not because I found it passive aggressive – rather, it’d be a reminder that the tragedy of the commons was in play and the kitchen was likely to continue to be a mess until someone makes a specific effort to fix the issue from the top.

    8. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      I just left a note in our kitchen the other day about what items are and aren’t compostable. I kept noticing non-compostable items in the compost, but don’t know who throws what out when. It’s legitimately confusing in my city (and what can go in what bin has changed multiple times), so I hung up a note to clarify. I hope no one took it as passive-aggressive!

      1. JustaTech*

        Are you me? I was seriously about to write that note again (people keep mixing the compostable and non-compostable plastic utensils) and then I worried it was passive-aggressive.

        But it can be really hard to tell what is compostable and what is recyclable. (But the people who can’t tell the compost bin (green) from the recycle bin (blue) are driving me nuts.)

    9. Salamander*

      Honestly, I’d rather read a note about washing dishes than have someone feel that they need to have a discussion with me. Stick a post-it where you need to, and I’m happy to obey.
      I think there are a lot of people who are resentful of anyone asking them to do anything, particularly when it comes to housekeeping-type tasks in communal areas. They’re going to be ticked off if there’s a note above the sink or if someone confronts them about the civilization growing in their coffee cup. You can’t win.

      1. female peter gibbons*

        I have to sit near a stockroom, and several people use it, but only one would SLAM the door shut every time she was finished using it. I talked to her in private, explained to her that it was very distracting when I was trying to work, and could she please close the door softly. She got all flustered and defensive, and said “How?” So I actually even went through showing her how to close a door softly.

        The door slams didn’t stop after that, so I wrote a note on the door that read “Please close the door softly”. I still get slams every now and again, but I still believe it’s helped my issue by 50-75%. Anyways, that is the opposite of passive aggressive in my opinion; I read an entire book on communication and it helps me address things like this. Speaking to her directly is being assertive, and adding the note to oversell the point I think is still assertive, not aggressive, or passive, or passive aggressive.

        1. female peter gibbons*

          I also spoke to management before putting up the sign, and they weren’t sympathetic/didn’t seem to give a crap so I wrote it anyway :)

    10. Snowglobe*

      This is a pet peeve of mine also, because very few people seem to know what ‘passive aggressive’ really means. People often confuse ‘passive aggressive’ with just plain passive or sarcastic. Examples:
      -‘Please do not leave dirty dishes in the sink.’ Direct.
      -‘It would be nice is there were no dirty dishes in the sink’. Passive.
      – ‘Your mother doesn’t work here.’ Sarcastic.
      -‘I threw out a bunch of dishes that didn’t seem to belong to anybody.’ Passive-Aggressive.

      1. Snickerdoodle*

        My last job was the deterioration from the first example to the last. I was responsible for tidying the office kitchenette, so I started off by reminding everyone to please not leave dirty dishes out, take home leftovers, etc. People only kind of went with it and stopped cleaning up pretty quickly, which escalated to “Your mom doesn’t work here, and even if she did, it’d still be your job to pick up after yourself.” When that didn’t work either, I got sick of still being expected to clean up after everybody, so out went the notice that any dishes or leftovers not cleaned up would get thrown out. People hated that, but it was the consequence of not cleaning up after themselves. And I didn’t have to wash dishes or deal with leftovers at all because the trash can was so convenient.

        1. Midlife Tattoos*

          I never really understood the, “Your mom doesn’t work here.” It always rubbed me the wrong way, because it’s infantilizing. I’m 48 years old and my mom is dead, I don’t need a note invoking her as a way to get me to wash dishes.

          1. Burned Out Supervisor*

            Plus, why are we always assuming that mom is the parent who picks up after me? Sexism, that’s why (but I get the joke, though). I usually go with, “We’re all adults and should clean up after ourselves.”

            1. Snickerdoodle*

              That was exactly the point; I WAS the woman in the office being expected to pick up after grown men. It was sexist, infantilizing, and ridiculous.

              Also, at one point the owner’s mother DID work there, and she stole a bunch of money from the company. I get the feeling she wouldn’t have bothered leaving a note before disappearing everybody’s stuff.

    11. Smarty Boots*

      Agree with you. Many years ago, when I was pregnant, I kept food and milk (expensive organic from a local dairy) because I needed to drink it, and it was a nice treat for myself. Someone drank it a fair portion of it. Every day. I put my name on the bottle. Happened again. I put a note on it—please do not drink. Happened again. I put a big sign on the outside of the fridge- “Whoever is STEALING milk from a pregnant woman, stop it!”

      One of my coworker friends came by and cheerfully said, oh that’s me! I needed milk for my coffee and I knew you wouldn’t mind.


      So, my snarky passive agressive note was the only way to get it to stop. I really could not go around the office asking each person, are you the culprit? But that note sure worked.

      1. Close Bracket*

        > I put a note on it—please do not drink.

        > I knew you wouldn’t mind.

        Serious disconnect in your coworker’s mind

        1. Asenath*

          I swear this is a cultural thing. We were raised with a strict rule that we NEVER took anything from our home fridge without asking. We had cousins who were raised with a rule that they could help themself from the family fridge at any time. Now, imagine family get-togethers in which you have both sets of cousins and parents under the same roof, and uproars ensue over food intended for the evening meal disappearing and/or some children being made to feel bad when hungry. You couldn’t call that passive-aggressive, though. I would like to point out if you were raised in the half of the family trained to ask before eating, you didn’t steal people’s milk, but that would be a bit passive-aggressive.

          It’s really difficult sometimes identifying the culprits in a work setting, which does lead to posting notes out of frustration. My own workgroup is small enough and most of us have been working together long enough that we’ve internalized our customs re the microwave and fridge. At one time, we had a little sink in an open corridor which had easy access by members of a number of other groups, and some of us did resort to “Your mother doesn’t live here” types of notes. But we generally didn’t see who deposited the dirty dishes or the dirty trays that someone had to return to the cafeteria in a distant part of the building, so what could we do?

          1. Susie Q*

            You had to ask every time you wanted something from the fridge? Even like a glass of juice? That’s insane to me.

            Plenty of people were raised without this (IMO) weird level of strictness and do not take co-workers’ foods, drinks, etc from the communal fridge.

            1. Ego Chamber*

              Yeah, that’s a weird level of strictness for anyone over, like, 6? When I was growing up, the family fridge was ~mostly~ fair game but my siblings and I knew the difference between the bread/fruit/veg/milk/juice/basic snack stuff and things like the chicken that was marinating/steaks/things that were clearly dinner food, and if there was anything that wasn’t typical to see in the fridge, we’d ask about it (like leftover pizza, because maybe someone was saving it).

            2. C Baker*

              Some families are on such a tight budget that that level of strictness is necessary. (And even without being on such a budget, I gotta say it’s amazing how people in my family avoid all the foods earmarked for snacks, and all the leftovers, and gravitate specifically to the one food that I need for dinner tonight.)

        1. Ego Chamber*

          Or you find out which coworker it was because they tell you it definitely isn’t breastmilk.

    12. Daisy*

      Completely agree. A note with a direct instruction or request is not passive-aggressive. People just resent criticism or being told to do anything and want to continue not cleaning up their shit, seems like what underlies the negative reaction to notes. I don’t see why AAM is going to bat for those people.

  2. Jennifer Juniper*

    I’m not personally insulted by reminders like those. I actually find them helpful so I won’t do things like forget to wash the dirty dishes. The bathroom ones remind me to look carefully before sitting down in a public restroom so I stay clean.

  3. Snarkus Aurelius*

    When I worked at a nonprofit, we had a new office manager. Shortly after that, the dishwasher “emailed” the office to let everyone know that it was “hungry” and needed it’s tummy full of dirty dishes.

    I don’t know if that was passive aggressive, but I avoided her after that.

    1. Beatrice*

      Yeah, if you’re so uncomfortable with directly telling adults to do responsible adult things, that you need to anthropomorphize an appliance to do it for you, that’s…well, not great leadership, at least.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah, not a great strategy especially if one is new to the job. I could see cohorts who had been together for a while and really knew each other. I would probably laugh. But from a new boss, I would wonder if she was aware we are adults. It’s one of those know your audience or err on the side of caution things.

    2. Is pumpkin a vegetable?*

      I asked my 22 year old daughter yesterday if her “tummy was feeling better.” *** CRINGE *** Old habits die hard I guess.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        My 31 yr old partner uses the word tummy, as in straight up says “my tummy hurts” but doesn’t do it in a whining voice or anything to denote he wants me to tuck him into bed and bring him soda and crackers like my mom did when I was a kid…so I really don’t see any problem with the word “tummy” unless it comes with the “tone”.

      2. K*

        A friend of mine who has a Ph.d in infection control told me that the technical medical term for anything so gross you don’t want to talk about it is “tummy troubles”

        1. Riva K.*

          Yep, ‘tummy troubles’ is my go-to when my minor medical issue flares up at work. I don’t get all TMI on people and they know enough not to ask for details.

    3. Peggy*

      Okay, I guess I’m a dork because I think that’s kind of amusing. I think I would appreciate the attempt at humor.

      1. Kathleen_A*

        Ah, I’m glad I’m not the only one who kind of likes it! I mean, if all of her requests are couched this way, and if she always uses euphemisms such as “tummy,” I can see why that would be a problem. But if she did it just this once, I do sort of like it.

    4. Jennifer Juniper*

      I’m laughing at the office manager’s e-mail! I would have also been confused, because I would have interpreted it as not being allowed to wash the dishes by hand. I’ve never had a dishwasher, so I don’t know how to use one.

    5. LGC*

      When I worked at a nonprofit

      …say no more.

      Shortly after that, the dishwasher “emailed” the office to let everyone know that it was “hungry” and needed it’s tummy full of dirty dishes.

      …she was being ironic, right? RIGHT?! She, a grown adult, did not send that message to other grown adults without at least implicitly acknowledging how ridiculous the mere idea of it was, right?!

      I mean, I put up flyers all over my office because an inflatable minion went missing before Christmas, but at least I realized I was being absolutely ridiculous about it.

    6. Jadelyn*

      I wouldn’t call it passive-aggressive so much as weird. Was she a preschool teacher right before that job or something? (Said with all love and respect for preschool teachers, my mom was one, but they definitely do pick up certain habits in how they say things!)

  4. sunshyne84*

    Definitely have the bathroom and kitchen notes up here. It’s a shame people can be so dirty. As for the printer, if you happen to use the last sheet, would you know? It would just start taking paper from the next tray. I have had to fill up all three on occasion, but not enough to be annoyed.

  5. twig*

    I was an office manager at an office where “everyone takes care of their own dishes” but keeping the kitchen area neat was part of my duties.

    Needless to say “everyone” did not take care of their dishes. If I was lucky, the occaisional someone might wash their dishes… mostly it was me.

    I fantasized about making a sign that says “Your mother doesn’t work here, but if she did, she’d tell you to wash your own damn dishes.”

    1. PVR*

      As someone who was raised by my father, I super despise the “your mother does not work here” sign because it is inevitably my thought process goes as follows:
      1. It’s a good thing she doesn’t or I would quit immediately
      2. In my particular case this sign should say, “your father does not work here”
      3. But wait. I was always the one cleaning up after him.
      4. This sign is really unfair to people without mothers.
      5. Why can’t the sign just remind me to pick up after myself instead of assuming the worst about me, insulting me and causing me to relive all my childhood baggage?
      6. Do other people have such complicated feelings about a simple sign? I should probably just get over this. Gah. I need to stop looking at it.
      7. Why can’t people just be kind to each other?
      Other people clearly do not have such complicated feelings about that particular saying but man, that one irritates me each and every time.

      1. twig*

        don’t worry! I never put up the sign. (I never actually would — I might put up a gently worded reminder about shared space or something)

        The whole “your mother doesn’t work here” thing always bugged me, because, MY mom would not pickup for me, she taught me to pick up after myself and take care of my own messes. also: SO DID MY DAD. He never babysat us; he fathered us.

        Thank you for pointing out another aspect of these types of notes — those who don’t have mothers (or, jeez have recently lost a mother! Now I’m thinking about coming to work after one’s mother’s funeral and seeing something like this…)

        It’s more fun/less damaging to my environment to come up with passive aggressive notes and never write them.

        1. Elaine*

          Yeah, I always thought, “Be grateful my mother doesn’t work here. If she did and you left your dirty dishes sitting out, she’d kick your tail into next week.” My father ran a pretty tight ship, too, but at least he’d just suggest you clean up your mess. Immediately.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            Yeah, I worked at a place that had the, “If your mother doesn’t work here, please clean up your own mess.” and laughed out loud the first time I saw it. I was trained from birth to pick my own stuff, and if, as an adult, I’d left my mess for someone else to deal with, I doubt she’d have cleaned it up so much as hauled me back in by my ear to do it myself.

            I married someone who’s parent shows love by caretaking and did not, for example, do his own laundry until college (and, yes, became the proud owner of pink-tinged white clothing), but even he managed to figure this out pretty quickly on hitting the adult world. His mom WOULD pick up after him, but he’d be embarrassed at 40 to have her clean up his mess.

            1. Hey Nonny Anon*

              I used to work with my mom; does that mean I’m exempt from cleaning up after myself?

              We have our share of snippy notes in the ladies room on my floor reminding us to clean up after ourselves (including laminated “Bathroom Etiquette” signs inside the stalls and flyers with a picture of a messy toilet area- strewn TP, etc.- with a circle/slash and a caption that reads “Reserved for Clean and Courteous Users Only!”) and I can say with confidence that they do not work.

      2. Lizzielou*

        Ugh, I’m sorry that sign caused you so much thought.

        I worked for a company that had the “Your mother doesn’t work here sign” only my mother DID work there. And they changed it to say “Except for Lizzielou” and I always wondered why they just didn’t make a whole new reminder sign, only because at that point my chores at home included doing all the dishes, so my mom wasn’t doing my dishes anywhere.

        1. CatMintCat*

          There was a “Your mother doesn’t work here” sign at my last workplace. Except my daughter worked there, and there was another mother/daughter pair on staff as well.

          The two daughters had a LOT of fun with that sign.

          1. Sleepless*

            I used to work with a mother and daughter! And the mother was in charge of general cleaning, but not people’s dishes. So when somebody put a “your mother doesn’t work here” sign above the sink, it was really tempting to amend it to “Well, Jane’s mom does. But it’s still not her job!”

        2. JustaTech*

          When my mother *did* work there (I was a child who did piece work so I didn’t count) the sign she put up said “The Kitchen Fairy does not work here. Please wash your own dishes until further notice.”

          Then again my mom was the only woman working at a small engineering consulting firm, so she was *super* conscious of not letting herself get stuck in any “traditional woman’s work”.

      3. MoopySwarpet*

        I get it! The pedestal society places mothers on is annoying at best and soul crushing at worst when your own mother does not remotely live up to the hype.

        On a side note, a wise person once told me that my mother loved/loves me to the best of HER ABILITIES and if that love doesn’t look like what I think it should, or society thinks it should, it’s not anything to do with me. It’s also not necessarily that my mother is a horrible rotten person incapable of love. She’s just human and she’s done what she was capable of in the circumstances.

        I, too, would quit on the spot if my mother worked here. Fortunately for me, I’m an integral part of the hiring process. ;)

      4. Thursday Next*

        The sign isn’t that kind to mothers, either. We don’t exist to clean up after our children in perpetuity!

      5. OhNo*

        Definitely agree with #4 on your list. I’ll admit to being That Jerk, who whenever someone makes a “mother” joke, I bring up the fact that my mother is dead just to make a point. It’s been a while now, I’ve grieved and moved on, but I distinctly remember when that wasn’t the case, and the seeing a sign like that had me crying in the bathroom because I was still deep in grief and wasn’t expecting to be surprised at work with a reminder of what I’d lost.

        Signs like that are just layered with weird assumptions and have the potential to bring up bad associations. I wish people would stop using them.

      6. pentamom*

        I’m a terrible overthinker, and the “your mother doesn’t work here” communicates to me, “it’s acceptable for adults to leave things lying around for their mothers to clean up, but since she doesn’t work here, you can’t.” Obviously the first part of that rubs me the wrong way.

        I know the intended message is not really that specific, but because of that implication it gets my hackles up nonetheless.

        “Please wash your dishes after every use” amended to “it is not your co-workers’ job” if the original note is not heeded should convey the message well enough.

    2. mark132*

      I think if you out right swear at them it’s no longer passive aggressive but just plain aggressive ;-)

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I noticed the “mother doesn’t work here” sign was falling down months ago *cough*. I removed it and replaced it with that part removed. It was on the effing instructions on how to use the coffee maker, argh.

      I get your frustration. I threw dishes away as an office manager if they couldn’t wash them properly.

    4. Kathleen_A*

      The version that hangs in my organization’s kitchen starts our “Your mother doesn’t live here, neither does your spouse…” That broadens it, I think, so that it basically says “Nobody here is going to pick up after you.” At least that removes the whole “Moms are in charge of this stuff, right?” vibe.

      I still don’t much like our sign – just say “Please clean up after yourself because nobody here is paid to do it for you” or something like that – and I loathe the random capitalizations of “Mother” and “Spouse” – but I don’t find it offensively female-parent-centric.

      1. OhNo*

        Our kitchen sign currently says, “Please take turns cleaning up the kitchen! We no longer have a staff person who does this,” which I actually quite like because it avoids any mention of family caretakers and keeps the focus on work.

        Plus, it’s a nice reminder that cleaning up is a job, that someone was once paid to do, without putting down the importance of that work.

        1. JustaTech*

          I would say something like “We do not have a brownie to do your dishes so until a new one comes from fairyland you will have to do them yourself”, but then I would remember that very few people are familiar with brownies as basically house-elves, and not bother.

    5. Oh So Very Anon*

      When I first started with my current organization as the head of HR, I was told that the cleaning crew cleaned out the refrigerator the last day of every month and anything left in it would be tossed, and it was my job to remind everyone every month just prior to said cleanout. That sounded like nonsense to me, so I ignored it. People came to me to complain that their yogurt or whatever had been thrown away and it was my fault for not reminding them. I double checked the ages of my staff — yep, every one was an adult. I put up a permanent sign in the break room, and never heard another peep after that. When treated like adults, people tend to step up. If you treat them like children, they will revert.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        So true. When I first became a manager, my supervisor was big on reminders and prompting people for things and was quite condescending towards my but-they’re-adults-right? line of thinking.

        The coach of a college activity that I did told us all the time that she was not our mother and expected us to read directions, show up on time, and to have all our stuff with us. You got an itinerary for any travel, and, if you weren’t there when the bus left, you got to use your own money to pay for a cab (back in the pre-ridesharing days). This experience carried with me into work, where I couldn’t believe that I was expected to both send a calendar invite AND multiple reminder emails to people to get them to show up for something.

  6. Serin*

    When I arrived at this job, there was a sign in the kitchen that said, “Please do not take fixtures from this sink.” My co-worker told me that people would literally take the strainer out of the sink drain and take it home. It’s like working with raccoons.

    Oddly, nobody has ever bothered my lunches, and to get someone to take shared food, you have to put a giant note on it that says, “Help yourself!”

    1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

      “It’s like working with raccoons.” *snicker* I work with students and it’s exactly like that.

      1. Mrs. Psmith*

        Probably not exactly like raccoons, since raccoons are known for actually washing things once and a while, lol. But I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment!

        1. Oh So Very Anon*

          Complete aside having nothing to do with anything. I used to leave a water bowl and food out for my neighbor’s cat. In the morning I would wake up to an empty food bowl and a very muddy water bowl. I couldn’t figure out what that cat was doing! Then I found out — the raccoons were coming to feed, and washing the kibble in the water bowl, where it disintegrated into mush.

    2. University Minion*

      OMG, I once ordered supplies for a facility where I had to put the toilet paper under lock and key. I think half the staff must have had one of those huge commercial size rolls at their house. My parting gift before I left was to order them one-ply, scheduled to arrive a week after I departed.

      1. LGC*

        My parting gift before I left was to order them one-ply, scheduled to arrive a week after I departed.

        That is so evil and I absolutely love it.

    3. delta cat*

      This is a bit of a theme where I work, too. The things that people steal range from things you would expect, like pens and erasers, to slightly odd things, like batteries and postage stamps, to even odder things like communal mugs and tubs of disinfectant wipes and reams of paper and entire boxes of coffee.

      But people only seem comfortable “pilfering” if they are taking things from the company. No one snitches lunches, ever. I once found some kitchen items that belonged to me in a coworker’s bag, and she was mortified … not because she had been caught stealing them, but because she hadn’t known they were mine. She was pretty explicit about that in her apology. I was pretty mystified by her attitude until I told the story to a relative who happens to be a low-court defense lawyer. He pointed out that the attitude that it’s okay to steal things if you’re sticking it to a big faceless corporation is actually pretty common, and suddenly it all made sense.

      1. JustaTech*

        My company had to make a rule “You may not buy the $0.25 soda cans and sell them on the beach for a dollar.” (We pay way, way more than minimum wage.)

    4. Lala*

      We have a kitchen with utensils, and have gone through several sets of forks and spoons. I understand someone might eat at their desk and forget to bring a fork or a spoon back, but I bought a cheap set of 12 forks and 12 spoons once to restock when I saw they were disappearing, and not ONE of those 24 utensils is left. It boggles the mind.

      Some days I want to post a note riffing on that old nursery rhyme about the dish running away with all the spoons.

      1. Jadelyn*

        We’re at that point with our flatware, too. After one of my coworkers and I had each done a couple of those quick trips to Target for bundles of cheap forks and knives, she got on Amazon and ordered a cutlery set with neon red plastic handles so they’d be easier to see and harder to miss and throw away.

        They lasted longer than the normal forks, but…we’re down to about three forks and maybe five knives, out of a set of a dozen each. WHAT ARE YOU PEOPLE DOING WITH THEM, EATING THEM ALONG WITH YOUR LUNCH?

        1. Drew*

          Tossing them by mistake and figuring it’s not worth retrieving them because they’re the company’s flatware.

  7. RB*

    I just left a note this morning on a car’s windshield because they were parked on the street with their front bumper blocking my driveway. That seems a good example of a non-passive-aggressive note. I didn’t know who the car belonged to.

    1. Elizabeth Proctor*

      Did you sign the note? I think that also makes a difference when writing a note to a specific, but “unknown” person. Not saying that in your case it’s necessary because presumably you said it was your driveway so they know where to find you if they have an issue.

    2. Micromanagered*

      That is different. You were courteously letting them know they blocked your driveway, instead of having their car impounded–which you have the right to do.

    3. Gumby*

      I was house sitting once when I got a note about my car being in front of the neighbors’ house and how it was sooo dangerous that their family had to *cross the street* after parking the car. But 1. at most half of my car was in front of their yard and there was ample room for another car behind mine (there had been a truck in front of my car when I got back after work which is why I hadn’t pulled all the way up to the ‘no parking from here on’ sign), 2. they also had an empty driveway which could have been used and would not require crossing the street, 3. it was a super-quiet residential street and not at all dangerous in the first case, 4. it was also a publicly owned street so it really wasn’t up to them who parked there. I merely seethed inwardly even though I was super-tempted to go over and knock on their door to explain their wrong-thinking. I figured there was no need to make the neighbors mad at the people I was house-sitting for.

  8. Jennifer*

    I hate those notes. I am not a child. I don’t need to be told to flush the toilet or not leave a dish in the sink. If someone is gross enough to urinate on the floor or toilet seat and not clean up after themselves, a strongly worded note won’t change their minds.

    If the bathrooms are left in an unsanitary condition on a regular basis, that’s something to talk to management about.

    1. Admin of Sys*

      The notes in the bathroom are likely useless and an issue like that should probably involve management, because ew. But the dishes in the sink isn’t as cut and dried – a lot of folks see nothing wrong with letting their dishes soak for an hour after lunch and have lived alone long enough as to not realize why it’s unfair to other folks.

      Also, and this is an honest question – if you are not part of the problem, why do you assume the note is addressed to you? I’ve never understood that reaction. If I see a note that says “Don’t litter” in a park, I don’t think someone is accusing me of being someone who litters. I recognize that folks who do litter probably aren’t going to stop because of the sign, but that’s not the point of the sign – the point of these sort of signs is so that if you catch someone littering you can say ‘we told you not to do that’.

      1. Jennifer*

        I do get your point. I guess because in a large city park the Don’t Litter sign is addressing the thousands of people who go through the park. In a small office with a breakroom and bathroom that’s shared by twenty or so people, it feels a lot more personal.

        Also, I personally don’t like being told what to do by someone that has no authority to do so. The Don’t Litter sign was likely put up by city authorities. In my experience, the passive-aggressive notes are left by people who take it upon themselves to take on the “office mom” role when no one really asked them to and they have the same job as the people they are bossing around. It just irks me.

        1. Karyn*

          If there’s nasty stuff in the sink, that affects everyone. This is especially true if someone sits very close to the break area and the smell gets overwhelming. “Please remember to wash your dishes,” is not a terrible thing.

              1. Seeking Second Childhood*

                Or when the manager or the owner is the worst offender?
                (Been there, seen that!)

      2. a*

        “Also, and this is an honest question – if you are not part of the problem, why do you assume the note is addressed to you? I’ve never understood that reaction.”

        Agree. I don’t get that either. If it’s not about you, don’t make it about you. I’ve seen a couple of needlessly rude notes in my time and that’s not cool, but the vast majority of the time it seems like somebody just wants a cleaner kitchen.

        1. Susie Q*

          People take things so personally. Which makes me think that they are in fact part of the problem.

      3. Kathleen_A*

        Where I work, I think a lot of people assume the cleaning staff will wash dishes – and no, they do not. They clean many things, but we are expected to do the day-to-day kitchen tidying ourselves. And I don’t think everybody realizes that until it’s explained to them, so I don’t think I sign in the kitchen is a bad idea at all. Sure, we’re all adults, but that doesn’t mean we know the ins and outs of what is and isn’t the job of the cleaning staff.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          Sorry – I meant “a sign in the kitchen,” not “I sign in the kitchen.” I actually don’t sign in the kitchen because I don’t know how. :-)

          1. Kathleen_A*

            Neither have I, come to think of it, but around here, the cleaning staff also doesn’t give the counters a daily cleaning. They do so once/week, but if we want clean counters every day – and most people do – we have to do it ourselves, and I don’t think that’s necessarily something that everyone knows automatically. So I don’t think a polite reminder is a bad idea.

            On the other hand, I don’t understand why adults would have to be reminded to flush the dang toilet.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              About the toilet… I’m seeing a lot of kids who are so used to automatic flush toilets that o expect this problem to get much much worse on my lifetime.

                1. Kathleen_A*

                  Are there automatic flush toilets in their houses, too? I’ve never seen one in a private house, but hey, maybe I don’t get out enough.

    2. WonderCootie*

      Sadly, the longer I work at a university, the more I realize that people that are toilet trained are apparently in the minority. I have to admit to putting up signs in the bathroom that ranged from polite to funny to almost rude. There’s not really anything management can do about someone literally pooping on the floor (as in, using the large empty space about 2 feet away from the toilet in the disabled stall), and it happens more than you’d think. I feel so sorry for our cleaning crew.

      1. Jennifer*

        Omg! I thought some sprinkles on the seat and the toilets being left clogged multiple times a day was bad enough. You have my sympathy. Some people are just gross and no amount of notes will change that. It’s part of working with strangers. It’s disgusting but it’s part of life.

        1. WonderCootie*

          Actually, my notes do seem to make a difference. I change them about once a year, and the offending actions seem to slack off for a few months at least. It’s like they see the new sign and remember how to use a toilet for a while. That reminds me…time to switch them out.

          1. Sack of Benevolent Trash Marsupials*

            I had to put up a “Please remember to flush the toilet after use” sign in our bathroom at work and it did improve matters! I have only seen it unflushed once since the sign went up. It features a cheerful looking toilet giving a thumbs up (what CAN’T you find free clip art of?) which I think helps – it’s easier to tune out a bunch of writing than a happy anthropomorphic toilet.

      2. Magenta Sky*

        My father worked as a janitor in a bus station for a while. They had tiled every surface with ceramic tile, and installed waterproof electrical fixtures. He cleaning routine consisted of five minutes with the fire hose. I doubt you could get away with that today.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      We had 3 ppl using one bathroom. Every once in while I would get an IM about how a toilet wasn’t flushed…to which my response was “Uh okay…I haven’t used the bathroom today…” hence it’s number 3 who did it. But instead of mentioning it to her, a note appeared a bit later. You can probably guess I was unamused by it. I took it down.

    4. JanetM*

      I never did this, but I seriously wanted to put up notes in the bathroom in my previous building: “This is a 50 year old building and the plumbing is not what it used to be. Please check before leaving the stall to make sure the bowl is empty. If there is a problem, please let me know so I can call maintenance.”

      But I was afraid it was too passive-aggressive.

      1. Auntie Social*

        I left something like that–tactful, “sixty year old plumbing so don’t assume”—but building management took it down. It’s like they took it personally that you had to hold the handle down for a good five seconds. Frankly, I like to know these things.

        1. blaise zamboni*

          That’s bananas. If the plumbing is older, it makes perfect sense to leave a sign that says “please hold handle for 5 seconds”. The state parks in my area have signs to this effect, for goodness’ sake–there’s nothing offensive or passive-aggressive about it.

          1. JustaTech*

            Heck, I put up a sign like that in my house (for parties). “It’s not you, it’s the toilet. Just flush again.” (It was a choice between often double-flushing or waiting 20 minutes to re-fill, which isn’t a choice at all.)

            That’s not being passive aggressive, that’s being informative.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Since you’re requesting they let you know so you can make a service call, this isn’t a problematic note at all IMO. That is exactly the kind of “tone” that is required if you want to put up notes.

        I used to put up notes to remind people to turn off the coffee pot so it didn’t burn up. I would mention it in our weekly stand-ups but it never “stuck” and I don’t blame them really. So I put up a quick “To avoid the burnt coffee smell and cracked pots, please flip off the switch if you drink the last cup!” I left out the nonsense about making a new pot, I can handle a new pot…I cannot handle burnt caked on coffee sludge *sobs* After I put up the sign, I lost 90% less coffee pots and the stank went down. Nobody complained because it wasn’t some rude nonsense telling people to behave, it’s asking a favor…

      3. Anon, a moose!*

        My boss used to periodically tell me to mass email the office because the toilet was unflushed.

        I think I might have caved to pressure once and done it, but I cringed.

    5. Madcap_Magician*

      In fairness, we have a sign in one of our floor restrooms over a urinal that someone printed and put there asking people to flush. The reason for this is that this urinal requires the valve to be held open longer to actually fully flush. You can pull the flush lever all the way down, hear water running, and walk away… and it never actually flushed. The sign explaining this helped a lot.

  9. AES*

    I guess I wonder what the alternative to some of these notes would be? I supervise 34 people and we share kitchenette space with a smaller department. Students can also use the kitchenette facilities from time to time. Lots of folks assume that our admins are responsible for cleaning the space, but that’s actually not within their list of job responsibilities, and our university tries to be very respectful of the terms of their (union-backed) contracts. So, I have notes up on the microwaves and fridge reminding people that the admins are not responsible and folks should remember to clean up after themselves. Is that passive-aggressive? If so, what alternatives are there, other than just assuming that people will be adults and clean up after themselves without being prompted (which, it turns out, they will not).

    1. Jennifer*

      Sending an email to the team reminding them of the policy. We also do a fridge/sink clean out every other Friday. Anything expired or left in the sink is trashed.

      1. SusanIvanova*

        I’d rather have a note on the fridge, where I see it at the moment where it’s applicable, than an email that’ll just become one of the 16,000 other unread emails.

          1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            But SusanIvanova’s point about the timeliness makes a difference, IMO. Sending an email once might work once, sending an email every other Friday is way too often (and quickly people will learn to ignore the emails), but if I see a reminder when I’m actually doing the thing I’m being reminded about, that’s a better match – and if I come in on Monday and realize my sandwich got thrown out, well, I was warned and only have myself to blame! (This is assuming the sign is polite, not “Don’t leave rotting leftovers in the fridge, you pigs” or something.)

            1. Jennifer*

              They send a reminder every week before cleanout day. I guess a reminder note on the fridge in addition to that wouldn’t hurt. Not something passive aggressive but maybe a calendar that lists which dates things will be disposed of.

          2. mark132*

            But why not just put it on the fridge then? Then only the fridge users see it rather than send out some shouting email. And all caps is shouting.

            1. Jennifer*

              It is but people get really mad when their food is thrown out without warning. Sometimes they just go into the kitchen to grab coffee or tea and don’t even look at the fridge if they are going out for lunch that day. The email is an added reminder about their leftovers from last week that are still in there.

              1. bonkerballs*

                Isn’t the fact that the policy is throw out food every other Friday already warning enough?

          3. SusanIvanova*

            If it’s all caps and weekly, it’ll get a “move to trash” mail filter. I’m not kidding about the 16,000 unread emails.

    2. Magenta Sky*

      Frankly, an expectation that people will clean up after themselves in the lunch room should probably be explicitly in the job description. If you don’t, you literally not doing your job, with all the expected consequences thereof.

    3. Bagpuss*

      AES, I think notes in tat case are fine, as long as the wording is not inherently aggressive or passive aggressive.

  10. Jaybeetee*

    Man, there is war-time going on in my office concerning dishes/sink/breakroom etiquette. 1-2 notes, I get. We have at least 6-7 notes taped up behind the breakroom sink right now, in both official languages, some of which disagree with each other, a few of which go on for *paragraphs*. The gist of the majority of them is “Wash your dishes, you animal” or “Clean the sink when you’re done washing dishes, you animal”, with one “Don’t dump your coffee grounds down the sink, you animal.”

    Where it gets interesting is the fate of the cleaned dishes/containers. Our break-room counter area is large and tons of space – but some people apparently get really irked if you just leave your containers sitting on the counter after washing them, to the extent of taking/hiding containers they see sitting out. So there are some dueling notes about “PLEASE don’t leave your dishes sitting on the counter, everyone has to use it!” vs. “But if you DO see dishes on the counter, please leave them alone and don’t hide them in random places!”

    I have legit considered taking a picture of the wall behind the sink and sending it to AAM, because the array of notes truly is a sight to behold. It’s clearly quite an emotional topic.

    1. sometimeswhy*

      I would be excited to see that in an anonymous note reader roundup like the other ones Alison has done in the past for office parties and coffee and resignations, if she’s so inclined.

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        There’s one note on our fridge saying “If you want to help yourselves to our milk, maybe you should contribute to our tea fund. Lots of love, Llama team”, and there have been a few jokes about crossing out “Llama team” and changing it to “Ross Geller”.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I am going to tell you know it’s not, so that all the passive aggressive people will self-identify and we can know who they are. ;)

      It depends on what the note says. Whether the person signs their name or not has little bearing. The difference is tone.

      “Please clean your dishes.”


      “I’m not mommy. Do your dishes.”

      I have signed my name to both however in the latter I sound like a real jerk.

  11. Elizabeth West*

    Not exactly PA, but we had a problem with piggy-backing into the building at Exjob, and one day I saw this on the outside door when I was doing a stair-climbing workout on my break. I thought it was an excellent use of humor to make a point in an office that contained a large number of nerds.

    1. Perilous*

      I love that sign!

      I just disagree with the policy of requiring employees to confront badge tailgaters (assuming that’s what this sign means, could be wrong). If you want me to act as security, I’m gonna need a lot more money. Either the tailgater is a lazy employee, in which case no real security issue, or they’re a criminal, and confronting them could be a threat to my person. There’s no benefit to me either way.

      1. SusanIvanova*

        Where I work, the tailgater could be an employee who doesn’t have the NDA agreements to be in my area. And we take that very seriously – if someone like that has to be here, we get email from the admins warning us to hide any secret stuff. We aren’t expected to try to handle anyone who doesn’t go “oops, I’ll wait for my contact outside the door, then” – we report that to the nearest manager or admin.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          If it’s that important, there should be a security guard to enforce it, rather than relying on people who aren’t trained specifically for it.

          1. MP*

            That would be prohibitively expensive, don’t you think? At some places I’ve worked, that would be about 10 extra security guards. It actually was part of our jobs to guard access to areas by preventing tailgaters, and we were told so.

            1. Magenta Sky*

              If it’s prohibitively expensive, then either the company is under-charging for their services, or it’s not actually that important.

              When you rely on people not trained in security for your security, you don’t *have* security.

  12. RB*

    I, too, would like to see this photo. Post it to this thread — it could get buried in the Friday thread — those can be quite long.

  13. Chellie207*

    My gym LOVES notes. About hairspray (don’t use it! bad for the lungs!) , about boys in the women’s locker room (seriously, your 5 year old? there are 6 family changing rooms!) about shoes (no dirty ones!), about no children in the weight room (apparently unless they feel like it), etc.
    My favorite? *Please do not defecate in the pool.* I always wonder what the person who had to make that sign was thinking.

      1. Jennifer*

        Pool poopers are nothing if not polite. I’m sure they looked for a sign diligently before pooping.

    1. Bend & Snap*

      the pool at my (very, very nice) gym is closed down several times a summer due to pooping. But I’m assuming it’s kids since it’s a family pool.

      It’s followed by an email “pool will be closed until XX for maintenance. Please make sure that children who aren’t potty trained wear swim diapers.”

      1. Asenath*

        There’s a sign up at a pool I go to saying something about how difficult and expensive it is to do whatever it is they do when the pool is contaminated by microrganisms you bring in if you don’t shower before you leave the change area. It’s a long sign, and I can’t remember it verbatim. They’d probably have apoplexy if someone pooped in the pool.

  14. mark132*

    I think at least in the case of fridge notes. The reason for the note is as much to forestall complaints later. If the coworker who regular grows biological weapons in the fridge complains about their latest experiment being thrown out, it is really simple to point them to the note, and hopefully end the conversation.

  15. DAMitsDevon*

    Straight forward reminders like, “Please wash your dishes and don’t leave them in the sink,” don’t really annoy me. What I have found annoying is when HR sends a company wide email about an issue that is clearly being directed to only a few people whose identity is easily knowable. For instance, they sent out an email in August reminding all of us about sticking to the dress code in the summer. If the point of the email was to remind all employees of the dress code, why didn’t they send it out in May or June? It seemed very obvious that just a few people were breaking the dress code (and in one of our other offices, since everyone at my location seemed to be sticking to business casual norms) and instead of talking to them directly, they decided to go for the mass email.

  16. Pipe Organ Guy*

    We have two single-user, unisex bathrooms here. Someone posted signs with big, bold, black lettering demanding that users put the seats down. That’s an argument that will never be won by either side. The signs disappeared fairly quickly.

    Then there was our previous organist; she put a sign on the music rack forcefully requesting guest organists to wash their hands before playing, because someone had left some sort of sticky residue on the keys. When I took over, the sign was the first thing to go. When necessary, I just wipe off the keys with a lightly dampened paper towel. Not difficult, and not damaging as long as water isn’t getting into the works under the keys.

    1. Pipe Organ Guy*

      What I forgot to include is that churches can be hotbeds of passive-aggressive notes. One of the challenges is that there are all the usual things of offices PLUS the vagaries of a bazillion volunteers in many areas of a church facility.

      1. Melly*

        There are signs on all thermostats at my IL’s church that say “Only ***authorized personal*** can adjust the temperature” and it’s taken me every ounce of my being to not write “*personnel” underneath it.

    2. Jennifer*

      It’s some sort of martyr complex, I swear. I noticed something was dirty because I’m such a good person. I must let EVERYONE know and shame the dirty among us.

    3. Magenta Sky*

      It’s not a big deal to put the seat down.

      It’s also not a big deal to look at the toilet before you sit on it.

      Either way, getting worked up over something so trivial is making a mountain out of molehill.

      And this is the place where I first saw the phrase “hill to die on.”

    4. nnn*

      I wonder what would happen if you put a sign saying “Please put the seat down” in one bathroom and “Please put the seat up” in the other bathroom

    5. Cotton Headed Ninny Muggins*

      The seat up/down thing seems so silly. I work in a public building with separate men’s and women’s restrooms. The lovely people that clean the restrooms leave the seats up in the ladies room to indicate that the toilet has just been cleaned. I actively choose a ‘Seat Up” stall if there is one, because that means it’s a clean toilet. I have also looked at the raised toilet seat, acknowledged it, and still forgotten to lower it, to my own detriment.

    6. NDC*

      Given that flushing the toilet while the *lid* is still up is gross, and you can’t lower the lid without lowering the seat, everyone should lower the seat before flushing. QED :P

  17. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I just went around removing these when my co-worker who plays this game left a couple weeks ago.

  18. Bluesday*

    I have only once left a note at work – it was on the air freshener in the bathroom. Someone would spray that stuff for like minutes and the air freshener scent was so awful. I would have rather smelled regular bathroom poop smells that that stuff. My note wasn’t terrible, either. It just said “remember: a little goes a long way” but man, did that note offend people. It was removed within a day. The air freshener remains, unfortunately.

    1. Anon for this one*

      I think it’s time to disappear that air freshener. We have scented liquid soaps in the bathroom —some of them are so strong and really just horrible. The person who donates them is lovely, but those soaps. I’ve “accidentally “ knocked a few into the trash can.

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          I hope you didn’t leave people without any means of washing their hands after going to the bathroom. You could have started/aggravated a nasty epidemic of who-knows-what. If you replaced the soap with nonscented soap, then you’re fine.

            1. Jennifer Juniper*

              They didn’t say they replaced them, either. Disappearing soap can compromise office hygiene, especially since soap tends to run out fairly quickly in public restrooms without anything being knocked into the trash.

          1. Anon for this one*

            Oh, not at all. We have employer-provided unscented soap in large dispensers. The scented soaps are an extra my colleague brings in. (She gets them for free — if she paid for them of course I would not dump them.)

      1. MP*

        Seconding this, I have disappeared an air freshener. It’s actually really easy to do, there is usually an interior piece that’s easy to remove.

        1. Bagpuss*

          I have only disappeared one once, and only after having repeatedly asked people not to put diffusing ones in the bathrooms as they make me ill. The first 2 or 3 times, I asked around to find out who had put it there, explained the issue and asked (told) them to take it home or keep it in their own office or dispose of it. (it was the same person every time)
          It would disappear for 24 hours then they’d put it back, so the next time I found it, I binned it.
          I believe that the person who had been putting it in there then complained bitterly that the air freshener they had kindly provided had been thrown away “for no reason” .
          If we were a larger organisation, or if I was in a less senior position, I might have put a notice up as well as speaking to the person directly, just to preemptively counter that sort of complaint.

          (I should add, that after the first time, I also arranged for a spray can for the bathroom so anyone who felt the need could use that – that kind still makes me ill, but it dissipates quickly so I can wait 5 minutes until the air clears, if I have to. I thought it was a pretty reasonable compromise.)

    2. Llellayena*

      We had one of those air fresheners that automatically sprayed every 10 min or so. I’m scent sensitive, especially to air freshener floral scents. I cheered every time the indicator said zero sprays left (and didn’t tell anyone it was empty).

    3. Hello, I'd like to report my boss*

      In my first job (and I should have known better!) management installed wall mounted air fresheners in all the bathrooms that sprayed *automatically* every 5-10 minutes! It made me cough. We had not had an odor problem, and the bathrooms had windows, too.

      Several people complained but it stayed up.

      I pulled off the plastic cover and wedged toilet tissue over the nozzle to stop it spraying everywhere, and replaced the cover.

      I would have approached it differently these days (possibly by removing the battery or slightly disconnecting the canister of air freshener, so my sabotage was less obvious…)

  19. Dee-Nice*

    I don’t like angry notes and don’t feel they’re ever necessary (except maybe in cases of lunch thefts) but I do think there are people out there who have weird mental lapses and forget that others are actually affected by their actions. These people need reminders. Still other people, if they don’t personally see the ones who clean up after them, really never stop to think how their messes keep disappearing. And then there are people who honestly don’t see mess and need explicit instructions, because to them, leaving bits of food in the bottom of the sink doesn’t constitute “mess” (because it made it into the sink, what’s the problem?!).

    People’s standards for social behavior can vary widely (as this blog is ample proof). Notes can be good for those clueless folk who need some guidance/repeated reminders. Of course people who just don’t care will likely never be made to care. Jerks.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      That’s why the few notes that I put up are in friendly “FYI!” tone. I’m not going to chastise any grown arse adult for anything petty, even if it means I have to flush a turd that’s not my own…seriously, I pick my battles and that’s not it.

  20. Perfect Timing...*

    I had *literally* just finished listening to this episode, went into my office kitchen, and saw that someone had brought in Godiva chocolates to share. Then someone else left this charming anonymous note!

    1. Piano Girl*

      If you don’t eat the chocolates, does that mean that the palm oil is re-absorbed into the trees??? Sigh….

    2. pentamom*

      The hashtag justsayin just makes it a perfect soup of passive aggressive prissiness.

      I assume you meant it and intended to promote action, so, no, you weren’t “just sayin.” And this isn’t social media, so your hashtag is nonsense.

    3. C Baker*

      Given that Godiva is known to use child slavery – yes, those children are unpaid labor – I don’t think that informing people of this is a bad deed worthy of mockery.

  21. FaintlyMacabre*

    We had this notice in the women’s restroom at an old workplace:

    Please don’t flush feminine products down the toilet.

    The quotation marks around ladies always made it seem oddly aggressive, though I suspect it was just meant to be a flourish of sorts.

    1. TurtleIScream*

      The women’s bathroom at my husband’s office has these signs. With the wonderful addition of “there are trash receptacles “right here” for proper disposal.” It really puts the aggressive in passive-aggressive. Bonus points: the bins are not lined.

  22. Faith*

    I haven’t seen any passive-aggressive notes at work. However, my apartment complex is spamming us with “vehicle standard” emails. At least twice a week, they send a mass email to all residents reminding us that our cars need to meet certain standards (i.e. no dents, no mismatched paint, no scratches, etc.) or else they will be towed. It annoys me to no end that they cannot just send those emails to people whose cars are deemed not to meet these standards, so that they know for sure that they are in trouble and can deal with it. Instead, they send it to all the residents, so that we have to wonder if the bent license plate on my car or a chip on my husband’s door are now considered non-compliant.

    1. twig*

      Wait, so your apartment complex polices how your car looks? So my old acura with the flaking top layer of paint that I cannot afford to repaint or replace would be out of compliance? This sounds a bit draconian.

      Or is it more of a “We don’t have room for everyone to have unoperational vehicles that they are going to fix “some day” type of rule?

      1. Faith*

        No, they will actually tow your car if you don’t meet their “standards”. Your car would most likely be out of compliance. This really screws a lot of people. And no, this is not a fancy place AT ALL (the kitchens are so old that they don’t have microwaves, entry gate stays broken for days, and floors are so creaky that you hear yoir neighbors’s cat jumping off the couch).

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        Yeah, ny husband and I would be SO screwed if we lived in that complex. Neither of our cars would win any beauty contests. Sure, we’d like to drive nicer ones, and we would, if we could freaking afford it!

    2. Cat wrangler*

      I’d be in trouble as my nearside wing mirror was vandalised the other day when I wss away from home and it’s waiting to be fixed. In the meantime it looks awful. I suppose if it’s in the t & CS of the rental agreement….

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Wow. I’d be worried that they were watching what I wore, too, and I be accused of being unsightly on the sidewalk.

      I hope people are told this before they rent. Very seldom do I see a car without a single scratch.

      1. Faith*

        Yes, you do sign their “vehicle standard” agreement along with your lease. I just didn’t realize how draconian they were going to be about it. They even made the news for screwing people over with this stuff.

    4. Rainbow Roses*

      What the……?

      Nobody want dents. It just happens. I’m not going to spend hundreds or even thousands to remove something superficial. What is this place? Probably someplace I can’t afford if I have to ask.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      What kind of fancy pants apartment do you live in!? I was expecting this to be about people parking like jerkbags but it’s about the appearance of cars…I take decent care of my beat down old car but it certainly has plenty of scratches…we live in a giant city and people ding your doors ever day with theirs or when I rub up against a bush or the gnarly stuff that trees drop on cars or the acid of bird poop or…I cannot fathom where they get off with these rules. The most we have is “Don’t leave oil all over your parking spot” and “if it’s broke down, you can’t repair it here.” because that actually is a safety issue.

    6. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      Wow, my management usually sends out reminders that they tow any vehicle with expired tags, leaking fluids, flat tires, or overly dirty/cobwebs (indicating it isn’t being driven) but never anything about paint, dents, or scratches. That’s…extreme.

    7. Asenath*

      Good lord. The notices we all get are (a) reminders that residents shouldn’t part in the part of the lot set aside for commercial tenants (b) smoking is only allowed inside the units and most especially NOT in the fire-escape stairwells and (c) pets must not have accidents inside the building. Oh, and various one-offs like “The fire alarm system is being tested Tuesday” or “The city is cutting off the water on Monday to do some repairs to the main water supply line”.

  23. Amber Rose*

    I put up the master list of company rules in all the bathroom stalls, with a header that says, more or less, since you have some free time why not read the rules. It’s sort of passive aggressive, because nobody remembered the damn rules. But it’s also really effective, because since I did that they do in fact remember.

    I had a professor whose belief was that the most upsetting or annoying subjects are the ones people remember most. In that case, passive aggressive notes are effective. You remember the one that made you roll your eyes more than you remember the one that didn’t. My current operating theory is that people also remember humor, so I try to add dumb jokes or make people laugh as much as I can.

    1. I Work on a Hellmouth*

      Ha! I once worked in a place that had flyers labeled “Educational Reading” that were posted in bathroom stalls. Sometimes it would be a list of general company rules. Sometimes, it would be an exploration of the dress code. Once, it was a very memorable essay on how to not park like a jerk. They were changed out monthly.

  24. AMT27*

    Our receptionist once posted a note that began “IT’S NOT HARD PEOPLE” followed by basic instructions that did not improve the tone of the message….

    1. The New Wanderer*

      Reminds me of the CEO who wrote as the email subject, “ISSUES THAT ARE BOTHERING ME”? (Aug 1 2018)

  25. The Imperfect Hellebore*

    To my way of thinking, there’s a difference between
    “Wash, dry and put away your mugs and dishes after use,”
    “Please wash, dry and put away your dishes after use. The cleaners aren’t hired to wash your crockery,” and
    “I think we all know that a certain someone has been leaving their unwashed dishes here! What a shame! Wouldn’t it be lovely if that certain someone started washing up their own dishes!”

    The first two are fine, and general announcements. Anyone that has the basic courtesy to wash up their own stuff will not be offended. The third is passive aggressive, and will lead to many an eye-roll.

    1. Pomona Sprout*

      “Please clean up after yourself. Your mom doesn’t work here!” was probably the most passive aggressive notes I’ve seen in a place where I worked.

      Ome to think of it, it was pretty sexist, too! Hee hee

  26. I Work on a Hellmouth*

    We have a passive aggressive dry erase calendar! It is next to my manager’s office door and it seems to magically update itself when we are not looking. Upon it you can find tasks that will never be mentioned elsewhere as well as personal notes for the staff for the month–right now it has lists of New Year resolutions for us to adopt. We’ve never had the calendar specifically pointed out to us, but I think some folks previously got written up for not performing tasks that were listed on it. It can change in a heartbeat, so we all keep a weather eye on it.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I would be hard-pressed not to add to it…
      Don’t put pennies up your nose!
      Or something equally ludicrous.

  27. Kathleen_A*

    Sorry – I meant “a sign in the kitchen,” not “I sign in the kitchen.” I actually don’t sign in the kitchen because I don’t know how. :-)

  28. Wired Wolf*

    I’ve been known to leave notes in the warehouse regarding what goes where (racks are clearly labeled, anything in the area marked “Donations” is assumed to be meant for that, etc). Short, polite (no matter how much I may feel like throttling someone), and to the point. My “managers” (one is juggling two departments and is out of her depth in mine, her deputy is trying to impose her particular draconian command-and-control style on a team that has been a well-oiled machine for two years) have taken passive-aggressive to an art form. These notes are usually communicated using our work chat app, which makes things worse.

  29. Anon for this - too specific!*

    We have a note on a work fridge that says ‘please make sure the door is shut – weak seal. Strong walrus’ – Still makes me smile :p

  30. arcya*

    We’ve got a lab manager over here who leaves passes-aggressive minion memes about cleaning up after yourself everywhere, like she prints them out and tapes them to the wall. Also she sometimes emails poems to the whole company about how to properly use equipment. Seasonal too, the last one was a riff on “Twas the Night Before Christmas”.

    On the other hand the lab has never been as well managed. so you know, shrug emoji I guess?

  31. Victoria, Please*

    In our kitchen, the faucet needs to be turned off with some attention or it keeps dribbling. But at least 2-3 times a week, people just give it a slap and walk away. This makes me NUTS because we’re in a desert region!

    So I put up a new sign about every six months. This one has a large purple bird with googly eyes looking right at you when you walk up to the sink, and the words “Please make sure the water is all the way off!” It’s colorful and funny, and I’m hoping the eyes will make a difference… for at least a little while.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        When my home faucet was like that, the only answer was to replace the whole faucet. Some offices are just too penny-wise pound-foolish!

  32. Jennifer Juniper*

    What about the water bill from all the wasted water? Surely the accounting department wouldn’t like that.

  33. CoffeeOnMyMind*

    For two years my team’s floor managed to be one of the few without a note above the coffee carafes, asking people to refill them they’re empty. Then a few weeks ago, I came into work and noticed that our kitchen had a sign lovingly taped to the wall above the carafes, depicting an alien with a box-shaped anime smiley face saying: “Coffee Gorgon is Watching You. Please make more coffee if you get the last cup.” And it’s laminated, too. We don’t even have a laminating machine in our office, so someone had to go to a store to get the sign laminated.

    Well, two years was a good run.

    1. CDM*

      Or has a home laminator, which are like $22 on Amazon. I bought one for a specific purpose, and my teens use it all the time for school projects and barn signs and labels.

      1. pentamom*

        You can even buy sticky plastic sheets that don’t require a laminating machine at all, just carefulness and good scissors skills.

  34. Cupcake*

    A few years back at my old job, someone posted a “Bathroom Rules” sign in the bathroom near my desk. A friend took a photo of it and posted it on Facebook, so I found the copy to re-type here. The only part that I could remember originally was the bit about vomiting.

    “Do NOT use the sink if you need to throw up, use the toilet.

    Clean up after yourself, visually make sure the toilet has flushed after every use.

    Please be respectful to others that must use these facilities.”

    1. Cotton Headed Ninny Muggins*

      Who barfs in the sink? That one blows my mind, although perhaps better the sink than the floor.

      1. pentamom*

        I would only do it if I didn’t think I could make it to the toilet, in which case, better the sink than anywhere else!

  35. Doctor Schmoctor*

    I got very close to sending a company wide email telling people to stop dumping their used teabags in the kitchen sink. There’s a trash can right behind you. How hard is it to just reach over and put it in the trash like a civilised person? Yes, we have cleaning staff, but there’s a difference between washing dishes and cleaning up your mess.

    Then I thought, hmmm, maybe my unfriendly email won’t be appreciated by some people.

    1. Doodle*

      What made our colleagues finally wash out their disgusting dishes instead of leaving them in the sink (also teabags, coffee grounds, crumbs, sauce residue from last night’s spaghetti…blargh!) was when our cleaning person told the boss she was going to get fired because SHE wasn’t keeping the sink clean (and she didn’t even complain to the boss — the boss saw her crying and asked). Obviously she couldn’t (and shouldn’t) stand in our kitchen all day immediately cleaning up after us and her supervisor would spot check at all hours.

      So now everyone cleans up. That sink is spotless. And we dry the dishes, too, because her supervisor felt that dishes drying on the side of the sink = not clean.

  36. Lynn Marie*

    My conclusion after reading the original post and all the comments is that people mostly don’t understand what the phrase “passive aggressive” means.

    1. Doctor Schmoctor*

      Leaving a note is not passive anything.
      My understanding of “passive aggressive” is when you stand back and let things go to shit, because you’re unhappy about something. Eg. my boss says “do this thing”, but I decide “no, it’s not my job” and I just do nothing instead of going to my boss and having that discussion.

      1. Lynn Marie*

        Yes. That’s a good example. Leaving a note is not passive. It may be polite, it may be snarky, it may be an attempt to change others’ behavior while avoiding a direct conversation; ie., cowardly, but it not passive aggressive which requires actually literally doing nothing in order to express aggression. I’d say the people who ignore the notes and keep doing the annoying thing because they know it bugs someone are the passive aggressors.

  37. LNa*

    My new job has notes in the restrooms with a picture of a toiletbrush saying “I’m here for a reason – please use me”. In every single cubicle, meaning that it must’ve been an organized effort by the cleaning service. It’s a bit ridiculous, and obviously they must’ve been frustrated in order to do that, but I don’t think it’s necessarily passive-agressive. Plus, I don’t know if there are better ways to address that sort of thing with the large group of people working there, I can’t think of any.

  38. Crazy dog lady*

    I admit to doing this once. I had burrito filling and the tortilla bagged separately. I warmed up my filling and ran to the bathroom for like 2 mins, came back to find the empty tortilla bag in the trash at the top. So I grabbed it and wrote a note that said “really?? Hope it was delicious” and left it on the counter. It was night shift so like 3am and not like everyone was waiting to use the microwave. Plus I was literally gone for like…2 mins to the bathroom around the corner. Very PA of me though!

    1. Crazy dog lady*

      I should add I didn’t fish thru the trash or anything, it was floating on top of like…paper. No food waste.

    2. Crazy dog lady*

      And I want to make it super clear before I get roasted I wasn’t tying up the microwave. It was still running when I got back and there wasn’t a specific lunch hour people had. Nobody was even around until someone got hungry for a tortilla.

  39. pentamom*

    A positive example of how something like this was handled was a job I had about 30 years ago, a small company where the employer was kind enough actually to supply sodas in returnable bottles in the break room for free to the employees.

    At some point, someone responsible for cleaning put up a note, “Please rinse bottles. Dirty bottles draw ants.” Fair, to the point, and not passive-aggressive. A witty and artistic co-worker took the opportunity to draw a cartoon on the adjacent whiteboard of an anthropomorphized soda bottle, with a few smudges on its surface, drawing a picture of an ant on a picture of a whiteboard.

  40. Burned Out Supervisor*

    We go through spates of lunch thefts at my office. One year, many moons ago because I’ve worked here for forever, someone left a note on the fridge that stated something to the effect of “Please stop stealing my lunch. If you can’t afford lunch, walk down to the welfare office and apply for food stamps.” While I’m sure that was personally satisfying for the person to write, it was HUGELY inappropriate based on the fact that it could be seen as hostile to people because of their economic status.

  41. AmethystMoon*

    My workplace doesn’t do that very much, but my apartment building does it a lot. The notes are also often written in a way that would make the Grammar Police and/or the Spelling Police cringe. Frequently, they contain things such as “Who has the shopping carts??? Please bring them back or we will be forced to search apartments and you will be fined!!!” (They provide shopping carts as an amenity for people moving in and also bringing groceries in.)

    A few years ago someone, probably a child, kept hilariously messing around with the signs in the elevators by turning them upside down, taking them off, and so forth. The resulting hilarious passive-aggressive notes posted read something like “whoever did this will be fined.” The apartment building finally ended up getting lockable containers for the passive-aggressive elevator notes, so that they could no longer be messed with.

  42. I'm Not Phyllis*

    Relevant to probably nothing … I used to have a receptionist role, and would often get directed to these kinds of notes, or worse – send emails, by my supervisors. I hated it, and I legitimately couldn’t have blamed people if they were making fun of the sheer volume of these that I sent out. At the time I was too scared to tell my bosses “this is really not a good way of handling most issues.”

    Once I had to send out an email telling people not to use the accessible washroom unless you told me that you had a medical reason. I was the RECEPTIONIST. Ugh. People didn’t have to tell me what the reason was, but still … so. much. cringing.

  43. Zub*

    I’ve seen a lot of office notes, including many bathroom notes, but I can’t remember any that I would truly call passive-aggressive. In one office, there were inoperable wall thermostats on each floor that people would twiddle with (in vain), and there was a sign posted over one that said:

    “This thermostat does not control the building’s HVAC system, but if it makes you feel better psychologically to turn the dial, please proceed.”

  44. Mikael*

    It is usually the same three people who does not clear the sink, so the best thing to do, is simply to leave their dishes etc, at their table before anyone starts work in the morning. That is aggressive without words ;)

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