our employees won’t keep the office kitchen clean

A reader writes:

We have a small office of 12 employees. Our company provides coffee, cereal, sandwich stuff, and snacks for the employees. We have a microwave, toaster oven, refrigerator, and dishwasher.

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

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

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 249 comments… read them below }

  1. Ollie*

    I have worked in a few offices where this has been an issue. None of the owners thought to hire a cleaner, or wanted to when I suggested it. That can’t be about cost effectiveness, surely. I have always suspected it’s more about power and control.

    1. matcha123*

      Is it really that hard for an adult to make an assumption about how messy their food prep may be and prepare accordingly? It doesn’t seem like a power play to me, especially when the OP’s office only has 12 people.

      My former office had about 12 people and a communal kitchen area we shared with other departments (kitchen = large sink and a rack to hang mugs). The woman that was the admin would clean out the sink catch where people would pour coffee grounds or leftover food. But generally we all were expected to keep the area clean if we used it. No one wanted to make her job any worse.

      I feel like a lot of office workers, despite being adults who should know better, feel like they can trash communal kitchens or restrooms because it will be someone else’s job to take care of it. If they can’t be respectful of the area, they shouldn’t use it at all.

      1. JJax*

        The main problem with this approach is that expecting people to behave as they should does not mean that they will. As Alison pointed out, in instances where people don’t follow these social expectations, punishment generally harms group morale more than the messy kitchen does and isn’t a good way to solve the problem. So when people as for solutions, the answers generally have to ignore the fact that people should clean up their own messes because the reality is that they don’t.

      2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        There’s also pretty different ideas of how dirty something is/how frequently to clean something/what “clean” looks like to contend with. My parents each have vastly different ideas of what a “clean” kitchen looks like in terms of, say, cleaning the drip pans under the stove burners (this became apparent after they divorced – my dad has much lower tolerance for grunge that mostly impacts appearance rather than sanitation than my mom does, and I think they never discussed this clearly with each other in the 20 years they lived together because they both thought their standard was “obvious”), and I’ve certainly visited apartments of people with some intriguingly lax standards about how to maintain their personal kitchen.

        I mean, sure, you could clearly define metrics and procedures for how to clean the kitchen and train the staff on them so everyone is working toward the same idea of “clean”, but that’s sounding more and more like a job description you should just hire and train someone specific to follow.

        1. YuliaC*

          Plus one on this. I had coworkers that called kitchens messy after I did put in a lot of effort (for me) to clean it up. Water stains under the mug rack, for example. I’d let the mugs to drip and the person would see the stains the next day and be upset. Apparently I should have checked again and wipe those once the dripping stopped. I’ve also seen a lot of discord as to the exact standard for what’s called a cleaned microwave.

          1. Artemesia*

            I am a pretty messy person but can’t really see different standards for a clean microwave. If there is any splash on the walls of a microwave it bakes on and becomes gross. It is either clean or it isn’t.

            1. Anax*

              Do you need to take out the spinning tray-thingy and wash it, or is washing it in place fine? How about the rolling ring beneath? Do you need to use bleach or other chemicals to sanitize the microwave, soap and water, or is just water fine? Does the door need to be left open to air/dry out, or is that a hazard or a waste of energy (if the light stays on when it’s open)? Do you need to clean the outside of the microwave routinely, only if it’s dirty, or is that not part of the job? Do you need to move the microwave and clean the counter beneath it? Does it matter if the microwave looks clean but smells a little funny? Are some of these parts necessary but not needed every week, and if so, whose job should they be?

              There are ALWAYS fine points – this was a semi-routine problem at my last office.

              (My current one doesn’t have a microwave at all, which is its own issue. One of the perks of WFH is definitely my own kettle.)

        2. matcha123*

          I guess I don’t see how hard “if I have spilled something, I need to wipe it up” is to understand? I wash out my own cup. I don’t want other people to touch my cup. I wipe the counter if I drip coffee on it.
          I honestly can’t understand people who want to make excuses for not cleaning up after themselves. If I pour leftover coffee down the sink, I run some water so coffee doesn’t dry in the sink. I wasn’t taught this.

          1. Avasarala*

            It’s the tragedy of the commons. If everyone does a little bit to help the community, everything runs smoothly and is clean. If one person doesn’t notice a small spill, or says “crap I have a meeting and don’t have time to clean up” and the next person says “well I didn’t make that spill, I’m not cleaning it up” and another person says “well it’s not a big mess, so someone else will clean it up” basically you have a mess with a big invisible force field of Someone Else’s Problem. If one person takes a little from the communal pot it’s not an issue, but if everyone does, there’s nothing to share.

            1. Anax*

              Yep.Also, some folks with higher standards, less to do, or more community-mindedness will end up doing more of the work, usually without recognition. This works, until that person gets busy, goes on vacation, or gets fed up – and then things go from “fine” to “big problem” almost immediately.

              At a communal makerspace I went to, we had someone who took out the trash quietly every week – which was great, until her work schedule changed, and then we had months of ‘oops, no one took the trash out,’ attempted schedules, people leaving trash around the space because the bins were full.. a lot more trouble than you would expect from a 10 minute weekly chore.

          2. Beth Jacobs*

            I mean that’s something you have to do in any office kitchen, even one with housekeeping. The trouble with the situation in the letter is that even if everyone cleans up after themselves, there’s still more general cleaning that has to be done. For instance, it’s not common courtesy to mop the floor every time you walk in the kitchen, but it does have to be done occassionally.

    2. charo*

      If the boss is buying groceries, it’s not about “power and control.” It makes sense to offer cleaners a bit more money to clean the kitchen.

      1. Amaranth*

        I’ve worked in offices where the cleaners come in once a week though, and the kitchen would invariably have a sink full of crusty, stinking dishes, and the counter covered with spills until that magical day because half the staff were slobs and the other half resented the idea of picking up after everyone else. I don’t think anyone will ever solve the problem of people who think cleaning is for other people.

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          Even with a cleaner being hired/assigned to the kitchen a certain amount of self-government is necessary to keep this from happening. But it’s a lot more manageable than without a cleaner! For example, “everyone does their own dishes” and then discarding dirty dishes unceremoniously at the end of each day, as well as everyone is responsible for wiping after using the microwave. There’s a monthly cull of expired items in the fridge. Three or Five rules like this won’t result in a liveable kitchen, but will result, usually, in a kitchen that a janitor can get a quick handle on.

          1. JustaTech*

            I’m pretty sure our janitor (day porter or the night crew) doesn’t do the dishes. Then again, after our super fancy super open-office renovation (now there’s some timing for you!), they tried to throw away all the dishes (we hid them) and didn’t want to even have a dish rack (it’s not aesthetic).

            So the ever-present threat of having the dishes thrown away by some C-suite’s assistant keeps the dishes clean and tucked away in the cabinet or at folk’s desks.
            (This is not a good solution to kitchen cleaning, please don’t use it.)

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              We had one of those – new building, new “modern, hip!, collaborative!” open office, and new ecology “rules”: You didn’t have a real trash can at your desk, just a little bin that you now had to empty every day, and sort all your trash (I didn’t – I bought my own liners and emptied it once a week, grumbling.). This is to “encourage” generation of less trash. The janitors come by and rearrange your desk to wipe it down one a week, but they won’t take away recycling or trash. You have to do that – and no “food waste” is allowed at your desk.

              The cafeteria gave us reusable cups – lined with plastic.

              The first microwaves they got weren’t even industrial grade, and died within a couple months. The chairs were all identical – no custom ergo chairs were allowed to be moved – “Oh, they’re ergonomic and adjustable. Try it, it’ll be fine.” It was not fine.

              There is also no mail sorting – each floor comes in to a big bin, and you have to go and paw through it to see if you have mail. Stuff sent to everyone is discarded without asking. Only directors and above have their own folder in a sorter. It’s horribly cheesy.

              The vending machines are priced like it’s a ball park. The cafeteria is supposedly subsidized, but you wouldn’t know it from the prices. Sit down prices in a cafeteria.

              I love working from home.

    3. Whole Fingertips at the World*

      One the best offices I ever worked in was small, so that the making of coffee was a task assigned round-robin to entry level staff. One of my ‘turns’ I was making a pot of coffee early morning when the CEO came in for a cup. A few hours later, I made some more coffee and he happened by going to another meeting, and dropped his cup off in the sink, brief hello to me. After lunch I was making coffee for the post-lunch coffee rush when he came and said “You must really like a fresh cup” to which I told him I didn’t drink coffee, and could only hope that I was making drinkable pots since I didn’t know what it was supposed to taste like & could only follow directions and hope it came out okay. I don’t think this guy even knew my name, much less what my actual job was. The next day they announced we were getting Kcups and the support staff would not be responsible for coffee making or getting. (because assigning kitchen tasks was bull and this guy got it).

      1. A*

        As much as I want to be happy for you…. ouch, my environmentalist soul :( Please try and encourage use of bulk grounds +reusable kcups! I almost cried when I started at my new employer 1 year ago and saw how amny kcups they were going through. Luckily I was able to convert the majority of the 100+ staff (although I did have to buy the grounds and reusable cups for the unannounced test/pilot I did to incorporate into my official pitch). I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d be able to stay otherwise. I know it might sound extreme, but it literally went against everything I practice in my personal life and is SUCH a huge and documented issue – I just don’t trust an employer that wouldn’t actively want to steer away from it.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Our office has a K-cup machine, and we recycle the Kcups. I still prefer drip brewed, because the K-cups leave silt in your cup.

    4. Tabby*

      They shouldn’t have to hire a cleaner, though. You employees should be doing it.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I would not take a job that included cleaning a communal kitchen on top of my regular duties. I loathe housework, and I already get enough of that trying to keep my own home in order, plus my days at work are typically very, very busy. I also work in an industry where time is billed, so my organization would be losing money any time my coworkers or I were cleaning instead of billing. Thankfully, the building provides janitorial services that includes daily cleaning of the kitchen.

        I am more than happy to clean up after my own food and beverage prep and to mop up when I spill something and to use/clean the food cover for the microwave, etc. – I would actually be embarrassed to have someone else clean up my toast crumbs or coffee puddles work, but there are still things in a kitchen will require cleaning even when people are responsible about their own messes. My coworkers are good about picking up after themselves in our kitchen (shared by close to 30 people), but it still needs a good cleaning regularly because of traffic – sink and faucets wiped down, counters disinfected, floor mopped, appliances cleaned and wiped down. And I’m certainly not taking out kitchen trash down several floors to the alley dumpster in my work clothes.

    5. Quill*

      When I worked at Pig Lab from Hell we were willing to clean the lab (generally speaking it was a TERRIBLE idea to let the lab stay messy for more than the time it took to clean after an experiment) but when we were thinking of moving we vetoed the idea of cleaning toilets at a new site where the rent didn’t cover a building cleaner.

      One aspect of it was we already knew there would be an epic power play over who did that, and also that it would often just never get done because we were short staffed for the busy times to begin with. Cleaning would never be assigned to anyone as their top priority, so until it began to bother our boss, it would not happen.

      (To be honest I should have walked out the day the sump pumps broke and I had to bleach the whole office. The cleaning issue was the tip of a dysfunctional iceberg full of biosamples and yelling.)

  2. Littorally*

    I hope we won’t get a repeat of the original slew of comments on this post where people were questioning the employee’s medical claim on the grounds that he must bend/stoop to complete household chores.

      1. Littorally*

        Fair enough, I found them pretty infuriating so I can believe they’re taking up an outsize space in my memory of that post.

    1. charo*

      If they have a doctor report to confirm it. But if they don’t, why is this different from refusing to do their job due to their issues? I’d be nice about it but ask what they CAN do. Cause you know some of us are cleaners and some are mess makers.

      1. James*

        That’s how I’d handle it. Ask what they can do, and ask if they’d be willing to help out on someone else’s week so that one person didn’t get 1.5 weeks. If they genuinely can’t do much, maybe they can help someone in the office with other work.

      2. Brandi, Fine Girl*

        The problem is that the mess-makers are never the cleaners. And often there is a level difference in between the two (ie VP of finance is not a cleaner, but the communications associate is), and also gender often comes to pay (it may be specific to my office, but I have yet to see anyone other than a woman make a coffee). Often the coffee cups left on top of the file cabinets are left there by those with offices, put in the dishwasher by those who sit in cubicles.

        For pete’s sake, just pay the housekeeping staff to take on the kitchen duty. The office can still fight over who should clean out the refrigerator.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          My office has a very strict refrigerator policy – if it’s in the fridge and not labeled with your name and a fairly recent date (or unexpired date on packaged foods) on Fridays, it’s getting tossed with no expectation that you’re getting your tupperware back. They will not allow you to leave a science project in the fridge. There is a roll of labels and pen on each fridge; use them or lose it.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This kind of digging your heels in and demanding doctors notes is so extra and not acceptable if you want to be a reasonable employer/manager.

        Just hire someone to do it. Stop trying to give grown ass adults “chores” to do in the office.

          1. allathian*

            Include keeping the kitchen clean in a junior person’s job description, before they’re hired. Somebody’s getting paid for doing a chore nobody wants to do.

          2. Alex*

            Agencies. My MIL runs a cleaning agency and does exactly this type of work. She has some clients who only need a once-per-week office clean for abour 2 hours total, to include cleaning the kitchen, vacuuming the office, wiping down surfaces etc. On it’s own it’s not a great deal, but such contracts are her bread & butter in some instances, and have more than once developed into larger daily cleaning contracts when the business has expanded into larger offices.

            1. Quill*

              I guarantee you that an agency will be a better choice than what I did to make spare money as a teen, which was get paid to help people who were moving clean as furniture was being removed.

              Everyone was lovely (except the cat which apparently loves to jump on people who stoop over and scare the pee out of them) and I did not do a bad job but I was definitely being underpaid for a probably mediocre job.

        1. James*

          I take the opposite view. If you’re immature enough that you have to be told to clean up after yourself I frankly don’t want you on my job. I’ve worked with people who have the mentality “The cleaning staff will deal with it”, and they never make good workers in my field. Cleaning is part of the job–you can’t pull samples to be analyzed at the 0.01 ppm range if you can’t thoroughly decon your equipment. And running a vacuum is one of the least onerous aspects of the job. If they’re going to complain about vacuuming in a climate-controlled building, how are they going to handle hand augering in 110 degree weather at 95% humidity? And it’s a good way to see who has initiative. A kid that offers to help when he sees someone cleaning the kitchen is a kid that’s likely at least going to get invited to some of the more entertaining jobs; one that stands and watches, or talks about how the job is below him, is someone I’m going to hesitate to invite.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            See, I’ve worked in the environmental field, doing field work, before I became disabled. I did wet chemistry. Yes, you clean and decon your equipment before and after you use it. I still never did janitorial stuff. I have worked in labs as the glassware cleaner – but I didn’t do floors, kitchens or bathrooms. Why? I was too expensive for that kind of work. Having an engineer or a chemist cleaning your kitchens and bathrooms is a waste of billable time.

  3. Ranon*

    Even when I’ve worked in offices as small as 5 people with people who were good at cleaning up after themselves, we’ve always had outside cleaners. It’s just not an efficient use of an employee’s time to have them clean. Presumably the rest of the office needs vacuumed, etc on a regular schedule, folks who do that sort of thing professionally are vastly more efficient at it than your average, idk, accountant, and it’s well worth the money to pay a professional to do it- not to mention the side benefit of not having to monitor a rotating list of 12 employees to make sure it’s getting done.

    1. Clorinda*

      Absolutely. If you already have custodial staff, maybe they need to be paid more and have daily kitchen clean-up added to their contract. Probably this should include Friday night fridge-purge because if people aren’t wiping the counters after themselves, they’re not getting rid of their leftovers either.

    2. Picard*

      We have just under 50 employees and a weekly cleaning service. I certainly would not want the kitchen to wait until Friday night to be cleaned! Our rule is that everyone cleans up after themselves and at the end of the day, if there is anything left in the sink that’s not cleaned, its get dumped. We clean out the fridges twice a year (with plenty of notice) and mostly this process seems to work pretty well. That said, we have never supplied “groceries” – we do offer coffee, tea, hot chocolate and sugar/powdered creamer etc.

      1. CatLadyInTraining*

        My office is the same. We offer plastic plates, cups, and cutlery. We also offer coffee, tea, sugar, and creamer. Our custodial staff cleans the kitchen every night. Every Friday night they empty the fridge and dump anything left in there. If your meatloaf in tupperware is in there, it gets dumped, your half a subway sandwich or chinese takeout container are dumped out as well. Anything in the fridge or kitchen gets dumped Friday by the custodial staff. It is expected if you make a mess or spill something in the kitchen or microwave that you clean it up yourself. And don’t leave dirty diishes in the sink..it works pretty well

    3. Ann O'Nemity*

      Right. How is the rest of the office being cleaned? Assign the bigger kitchen cleaning tasks to the the professionals’ duties. And instill a stronger “as you go” attitude towards cleaning. Wipe down the counter if you spill crumbs, load your dishes in the dishwasher, etc, so the kitchen is fairly clean throughout the day.

    4. WellRed*

      Yes, I assume a cleaner is taking care of some of this. While I think adults should do their own kitchen cleanup, isn’t the cleaner at least taking care of trash? That shouldn’t be an employee’s job. I’d also prefer not to manage my coworkers dishes, either, dishwasher or not. One persons empty water glass is another’s bowl of crusty oatmeal.

    5. Mel_05*

      Yup! I’ve worked at tiny, penny-pinching places, but they still had someone come in and do the cleaning.

    6. NYC Taxi*

      Agree. I will clean up my mess, but I’m not playing janitorial services for the entire business, nor would I expect my coworkers to either. I would push back on a cleaning schedule on behalf of everyone. They need to hire or person, or if it bothers OP so much she can clean it up herself.

    7. CatLadyInTraining*

      We have a kitchen and a custodial staff who cleans the kitchen every night after we close. That said, employees are expected to clean up after they use the kitchen for meal prep. The custodial staff cleans the kitchen counters and mops the floor. They also empty the trash. Every Friday when they clean they throw out everything in the fridge and any dishes left in the sink (our company doesn’t provide dishes, they only provide plastic cutlery and plates).
      We have a sign saying everyone cleans up their own mess and any dishes left in the sink or on the counter or table will be thrown out every Friday. That usually makes everyone clean up their messes…If someone makes a giant mess in the kitchen: be an adult and clean it up. Don’t leave your spill for the custodial staff or other employees to deal with

    8. Elizabeth West*

      These housekeeping duties always seem to fall on the most lowly employees; in an office, it’s most likely to be women. I don’t know where you worked but I had to do all that at a couple of workplaces. The only time I didn’t mind was when I did clerical/Igor work in a lab. Washing glassware, dumping water samples, preparing sample bottles, and watering the plants didn’t bother me because I could step away from the front desk without any hassle if I had other things to do. I think that made a difference.

      Plus, I had to take my time washing the glassware because we had these distiller things that cost more money than I made in a month and I lived in fear of dropping one. D:

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          My favorite part of being the lab tech in charge of glassware was when I got to fire-polish the chipped stuff. But stuff got broken *all* the time, usually before I got to it in the tubs.

    9. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      My office has a staff rotation for kitchen cleanup, and I just don’t want to deal with it, so never use the kitchen for my own food/drink. We have about 15 people in our location.

    10. Another freelancer*

      Some of my coworkers’ desks have looked awful. While I’m not a cleaning machine by any standard, there’s no way I’d want them in charge of cleaning the entire office or even everyone’s mugs and plates. I would totally question how clean everything really was.

      I also don’t want to be responsible for cleaning someone else’s stuff. I’d feel awful if I broke someone’s mug they bought on a special trip or the plate their kid made for them.

  4. FormerFirstTimer*

    I stopped using the kitchen at work because it’s so disgusting. There was a dirty french press (complete with used grounds) sitting next to the sink the last day we worked from the office, March 13. My boss went in to clear her office out this weekend and the dang thing is STILL THERE. I wish I could say anyone was surprised.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      We had a leased building and did not have daytime office cleaning or kitchen cleaning (the night crew did wipe down counters but not the microwave and fridge). In our new, owned buildings (when we get back to them), we have a cleaning person who does a mid-day clean of all the bathrooms and takes care of cleaning the kitchen equipment. It is very nice. We had the same french press problem as you before.

    2. JokeyJules*

      our office has been empty and unoccupied with the exception of 2 staff who go in periodically for a few hours to fax/print/etc.

      i went in to check the mail 2 weeks ago. dirty dishes in the sink.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Trigger warning if you have a sensitive tummy…

      But years ago as an EA, I had to clean up my bosses used coffee cups because he’d leave them on his desk for awhile…and they’d start growing. He wasn’t in the office daily. He’d come in, make a cup of coffee, sip on it and then leave to go do stuff. Then not come back for a day or two. He’d leave it on a cabinet or something where he’d simply forget about it at times.

      I also found his single use machine was growing mold due to him never switching out the filter. And everyone was like “Why can’t we use that, why does he get his own coffee maker.” and I’m like “Listen, you really do have it better with the massive industrial coffee pot we have in the shop…we all make sure that one is clean constantly. This one, this one is the wild-wild west of coffee makers. Don’t be envious of that thing, please.”

      1. Deliliah*

        One of my favorite stories is about the time at my ex-husband’s office that someone thought to take apart the Keurig so they could give it a deep clean and found a dead cockroach right above the area where the beverage comes out. They’d been drinking La Cucharacha blend coffee for who knows how long.

        1. Keyboard Cowboy*

          You (or someone) posted this last year or something in an AAM office horror story roundup. I think about this story ALL THE TIME. I think I check my coffeemaker at home like, twice a week, thinking about this story!!!

        2. Artemesia*

          It is no better in restaurants. My first job was in a greasy spoon cafe and one day while bored between rush hours, I took the drink machine apart to clean it — there were inch thick pads of mold through which the coke etc had been filtering for who knows how long. I don’t think it had ever been cleaned. I stopped ordering fountain drinks after that.

            1. only acting normal*

              Argh! At least the cockroach carcass was scalded thoroughly every time the coffee went past it, the mold was being *fed* every time. *gack*

      2. Mama Bear*

        Former job no one ever cleaned the coffee pot. It grew mold at least once from abandoned coffee. I refused to use it, ever.

        1. Amaranth*

          I faced the cliche working in a US Navy department, where I asked when was the last time the giant metal coffee makers were cleaned. “NEVER CLEAN THE COFFEE MAKER!” Apparently it was ‘properly seasoned’. Just…no.

          1. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

            I can almost (if I squint really hard) see their point for this one, but they’re still wrong. The filters and baskets on an industrial coffee machine should be seasoned before drinking/selling coffee from it, but that only takes a couple of shots run through it and you’re good to go. But there’s a world of difference between ‘seasoned’ and ‘crusted’. Coffee machines should be cleaned properly every night, and if used heavily should also be thoroughly rinsed and wiped at least once during the day.

            1. Quill*

              Seasoned is for cast iron pans and it does NOT refer to having leftovers stuck to them.

              1. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

                Seasoned is also for coffee machines (but I really am talking about the proper 2-3 group ones you see in cafes that are operated by humans, I don’t know how the little capsule/office ones work), and yes I agree that it absolutely does not involve having ‘leftovers’, mold or other crud stuck to them. No piece of food or beverage equipment should have its own biome.
                I was more saying that ‘a coffee machine should be seasoned’ is not inherently incorrect, this person just obviously had no idea of what that meant in practice (hint: It does NOT mean “never clean the coffee maker”).

          2. TardyTardis*

            When I teased my brother in the Navy about Navy coffee being interchangeable with No. 2 diesel, he didn’t think it was very funny (I did, though).

        2. Lady Heather*

          Coffee MOLDS?

          I washed the (my parents’) coffee pot once when I was a teenager – well, I put hot water and baking soda in it and left it out overnight. The next morning, I found out that the inside of the coffee pot was actually supposed to be aluminium-coloured, not black-coloured, after the black gunk stuck to the sides (it looked like rotten leaves, tbh) had gone down the drain.

          That was bad enough.

          Plot twist – none of us drank coffee. Sometimes visitors drank coffee – but the only person who reliably used our coffee maker was our cleaning lady.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            It’s all about the conditions. Warmth, moisture and nutrients for the mold.

    4. Burned Out Supervisor*

      At my part-time job, the break room gets cleaned every night by a staffer (but it’s an assigned task and just part of the routine). However, we are extremely strict about fridge clean-out day and anything in the fridge on Monday night gets pitched, no matter what. Some staff are a little more lenient (won’t toss their friends’ stuff or condiments), but I am ruthless and I tell people that so they know to get their crap out of the fridge.

    5. just a random teacher*

      We used to have a teacher who had a second job working in a restaurant. He found doing dishes kind of soothing, and would occasionally tackle the (rarely used) accumulated break room dishes when he needed to de-stress and have a task with a clear end point and no danger of catching anyone plagiarizing. He was also the main person who would make a pot of coffee at work rather than bring premade coffee in.

      I haven’t been willing to use the work coffeemaker or drink anything that came out of it since he quit.

      This is only one of the reasons I miss that guy (he was a great colleague and a team player in a lot of other ways), but it’s certainly a contributing factor.

  5. Dust Bunny*

    We have a hired housekeeper once a week but we still clean our own kitchenette between visits because how can you not? Our physical workspace isn’t big enough or high-traffic enough to need a cleaner daily so “minor housekeeping” is . . . I don’t even think it’s officially part of our job descriptions but everyone does it unasked because nobody wants to eat in a gross place or deal with bugs.

    1. chalk bag*

      I almost wonder if the presence of an outside cleaner sort of becomes a motivation to clean up after yourself… I worked as a janitor during college in a large medical setting that required daily cleaning and even in the non-medical spaces almost always found the staff to be very conscientious of my daily presence in their space. It wasn’t “Well I’m not cleaning up after BOB’S mess, I didn’t do that”, it was “I’m not going to be the jerk that leaves it filthy when I know the janitor is around the corner”

      1. Everdene*

        Speaking personally, it absolutely is! Both at home and at the office I would always tidy up the days I knew our cleaner would be there. I’m lazy and messy but embarrassed for other people to see the full extent of that!

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Haha, yeah, I don’t want them to judge me. Even though I’m sure they’ve seen a lot worse!

          1. dawbs*

            Especially if everyone KNOWS the cleaner. The fact that I refer to ours by name sometimes seems to shock newbies. But when it’s not ‘the cleaner’ it’s that guy, “James” who has 3 bunnies and likes coffee, well, I certainly don’t want to make it harder for James!
            (also, don’t dump the last of the coffee pot at close if he’s coming in! James deserves coffee!)
            (and yes, James knows my name too. He’s very nice)

        2. Quill*

          You find out really quickly who is a normal, considerate person based on their motivations for cleaning up enough for the cleaner to do their job. At college, (girls only dorm) we had one chick who left her dishes in one of the bathroom sinks for a week in the hopes that the janatorial staff would “get to them eventually.” (they did not, as that was not part of their job, though they were very thorough when, to my horror, I found a SPROUTED PEA PLANT in the other sink… Growing out of the inside of the overflow valve…)

          1. Dust Bunny*

            Oh, that person would have been shamed hardcore at my school. We knew all our housekeeping staff and it was super unacceptable to leave extra messes for them to clean up.

        3. TardyTardis*

          There was an internet story out there about cleaners who would go through your house before the *real* cleaner showed up…

      2. Dust Bunny*

        I’m always embarrassed when I forget dishes and the cleaner washes them for me–I feel like this is outside of the scope of her duties since it’s my *personal* mess and not just general-use mess. I suspect my coworkers are also kind of like this; everybody is very good about cleaning up after themselves and the cleaner mostly addresses vacuuming and other, less specific, chores. I’m pretty sure that if one of our employees were consistently leaving messes our supervisor would say something to them.

      3. Kes*

        Eh, I suspect it motivates those who are already fairly motivated to clean up after themselves. For some reason there always seem to be some people who just don’t get it or care and can’t be bothered to clean up after themselves – I doubt having a cleaner makes them more conscientious, in fact if anything I expect this provides another excuse for them not to clean up (“well, the cleaner will do it anyway”)

        I remember when our office didn’t have kitchen cleaners and despite signs, emails, etc, there were always people who would leave there dirty dishes in the sink (as opposed to in the dishwasher right beside the sink) and just walk away. I’m glad we have a cleaner now because unfortunately nothing seemed to work in terms of getting everyone to take responsibility and clean up after themselves.

  6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    As a person who recently started having back problems [well over the last 3 years, recently], I just had that “Oh God, why?” moment cleaning the kitchen this morning. So it’s very real that you can lead to a workers comp claim in the event someone does hurt themselves.

    Someone threw out their back bending down to tie their shoes in one of our shops years ago and it was a viable workers comp claim because it happened on the clock.

    I think that you need outside cleaners or to have someone who’s job includes this. I’ve always just cleaned up after the slobs tbh, it’s built into my salary. Hire a general assistant even that has this built into their duties if necessary. It’ll save you so much headache than trying to push people to do these chores.

    1. WellRed*

      Interesting, by that token, if a person keeled over from an aneurysm in the office is that also covered? (I assume not, obviously),

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        We’ve had heart attacks on our watch and that isn’t covered, so I don’t think an aneurysm would be covered.

        It’s the “accident” and injury verses “condition” factor. You don’t accidentally have an aneurysm or stroke or heart attack. But you do accidentally pull muscles. That’s what the WC is for.

        They actually were trying to figure out if my back was thrown out by an accident and required a report even though it happened at home! I was like “I was making my bed…is there a box of “bad luck”? Because that’s what it was…”

        1. Merci Dee*

          If my daughter heard about your unfortunate bed-making injury, she would just add this possibility to her list of reasons for not making her bed.

          Sorry you got hurt, and sorry it’s lingering so long. xoxoxox

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            LMAO, this really works for me because I am always the bad-aunt who would give this to my nieces as an excuse to try to feed their mother. And I hate making my bed so I’m like “Dammit…really, universe!?”

            1. Merci Dee*

              I finally decided that battles over beds weren’t worth waging — a fitted sheet with a comforter thrown haphazardly over the top, and we call it good.

              1. allathian*

                Me too! I hate making beds. Fitted sheets are perfect as they ensure that the bottom sheet is reasonably even. I did make my bed every day when I lived in a studio apartment and didn’t have a separate bedroom, but now, when nobody sees it during the day? Nah… That said, I occasionally ask my son to make his bed to show that he can do it. I wouldn’t want anyone turning him down as a partner or housemate later in life because he can’t make his bed.

                1. Quill*

                  … other people don’t use fitted sheets?

                  I got my brother and I out of making our beds as a kid because after the sheets were washed one night I short-sheeted him. Because he was known for popping right back out as soon as my parents’ back was turned to play legos in the dark, this devolved into half an hour of him wailing “I really CAN’T get all the way into bed, I’m stuck” while I tried really hard not to be heard laughing or suffocate muffling it with my pillow.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Ah here’s the rub with WC, I googled because I was seriously interested…and I’m easily baited like that ;)

        “you generally must be able to prove that the heart attack [or in this case an aneurysm] took place due to a work-related condition or circumstance.”

        1. Burned Out Supervisor*

          Yep, if you work at a company that may have tripping hazards or OSHA requirements for foot wear, stopping to tie your shoe and throwing out your back could be considered work-related. You are ensuring that your person is free of hazards to perform work duties safely and it’s not reasonable for your employer to require you to clock out to tie your shoe (although, they may send you home if you’re not wearing proper footwear when you come to work).

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Thank you for this insight, seriously!

            It really never tied together [lol…tied…I need to be stopped] the in depth reasoning. I was just like “Well that was unfortunate…” and just went about business because accidents happen. My boss was salty but I was like “Just pay him to be out of commission for a week and stop grouching, at least it’s nothing that requires a surgery.” [Fast forward to eight years later and I had to have someone get a finger amputated. A thrown out back wasn’t so bad now was it, hmmmm.]

            1. Lady Heather*

              Does ‘throwing out your back’ mean pulling a muscle that hurts until you get in to see the chiropractor, or more like chronic back pain?

              Because I’d totally take an amputated finger over chronic back pain.

              (I was going to say ‘I’d take an amputated leg over delibitating chronic pain’- but then I realized that my chronic back pain is caused by my asymmetrical gait.. which is caused by my amputated leg. So it’s not so much as an either-or thing as a ‘one or both’.)

              1. Case of the Mondays*

                For me it is an instant searing pain that makes it very difficult to stand or walk that requires near immediate medical attention. Including usually muscle relaxers.

              2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

                It’s a pulled muscle that requires you to lay in bed and wonder if you’ll have to urinate on yourself or if you could possibly make it to the bathroom [not joking, it was that bad for me this last time…then I had muscle spasms so that if I even tried to roll over my leg was shooting pain because it was screwing with my sciatic nerve.]

                Then it lingers, much more like chronic pain. I was told not to try a chiropractor because with what my problem is, they’re known to make it worse in the long run :(

                It’s like when you have the worst kind of flare up, since at this point, I do it every 6 to 12 months and it’s more so if I’m having a stressful life at any given time.

              3. Quill*

                Most pain in my body can be traced back to my damn left foot. It’s not only a bad shape, it’s a different shape than the right foot.

            2. Sacred Ground*

              “…I had to have someone get a finger amputated.”

              You couldn’t just put them on a PIP?

        2. TardyTardis*

          Well, if the person was doing someone else’s job along with their own while a replacement was being looked for, I bet you could make a case on the heart attack.

    2. Anax*

      It’s also always possible that it’s something serious but embarrassing that they don’t want to discuss in detail at work – say, a hernia, which would also make bending over problematic, and I assume “mandatory work tasks made it worse” would totally be a WC claim…

      Myself, I’ve been getting out of team-building exercises for years, and I’m the envy of all my IT hermit peers. Unfortunately, all-department meetings really do give me panic attacks, and I really will faint if I’m in the sun for long. It actually really sucks. :\

  7. Remote HealthWorker*

    I have a 7 yo back injury from a car wreck and yeah, kitchen activities aggravate it like nothing else!

    Can I do chores at home? Sure I can do dishes for 30 minutes followed by 1 hr of rest with heat and ice rotations… but that’s not feasible at work and I am way less willing to get a flare up for work chores.

    Other chores like mowing, vacuuming, dusting, taking out the trash, etc. don’t bother my back. It’s something about the prolonged period of stopping to the height most counters are at.

    1. Remote HealthWorker*

      One rotational duty that worked for us, was a team assignment where the team leads/managers were involved.

      The leads/managers corralled everyone each Friday at 11am. It was a scheduled meeting.

      I happily swept, dusted, and took out the trash as a team. It was kind of a nice break to be honest.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        This still only makes sense if the net cost of hiring it done is more than what it’s costing internally and your staff has bandwidth. Our salaries are a lot more than what janitors are paid, and productive work earns multiples of billable folks’ salaries. Even if one was sitting around with nothing to do, cleaning is not what we should be doing. My boss would say call 5 clients.

        1. Remote HealthWorker*

          I agree. We were non revenue generating analysts. There were slow periods and a culture of going home early on Fridays.

    2. Rectilinear Propagation*

      Yeah, there’s something about being slightly bent over for a prolonged period that’s just terrible for my lower back. I don’t even have a particular injury or problem that I know of, it just hurts to do that.

      1. Sutemi*

        Have you tried placing your feet forward and back rather than straight side to side? That seems to make my low back feel much better when I have to bend over slightly.

  8. AnotherAlison*

    Particularly in the current world, let’s have professionals do the cleaning.

    1. COBOL Dinosaur*

      I think people should be expected to clean up their own immediate messes. But definitely a professional to do most of the heavy lifting.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Yes, you should always clean up your own mess, but you can only do so much with paper towels and dish soap. Our office doesn’t let the office workers access the real supplies.

      2. gsa*

        “… immediate messes.”

        Yes. If I am first person in the kitchen after a professional clean the prior evening, I get the clean kitchen. If I make something in the afternoon, I still get to look at everybody else’s mess.

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          There’s a difference between a few water stains or even a small amount of cake crumbs or a vaguely greasy sheen on the counter on the one hand, and half-eaten jars of takeout, exploded salmon on the walls of the microwave, smears of pasta sauce, encrusted plates etc. The latter should be taken care of immediately by whoever caused them. The former can be left to the cleaner.

    2. KayDay*

      I think having a hired professional cleaner maintain the space can actually encourage people to clean up for themselves, because I’ve generally found that people are better about keeping a space clean than actually cleaning up a big mess to start with. More specific to work settings, I think a lot of people are hesitant to pitch in to clean up shared messes because they are worried about becoming the go-to cleaner, which won’t happen if there is a professional coming in at some point.

      Also echoing AnotherAlison…for banananutmuffin’s sake, please provide cleaning supplies. I worked in an office recently where all the cleaning supplies were locked up so only the cleaning staff (who worked ever day until 3pm) had access. So if you spilled something after 3pm, your choices were to (a) leave it, (b) attempt to wipe it up with toilet paper, or (c) use your hands/clothes. I actually brought in rags from home to start using, because I’m clumsy and spill stuff.

      1. NotAPirate*

        I have definitely experienced the “we don’t have to clean anything, I saw Notapirate clean something once” phenomena. I deliberately stay away from fridge clean out and any communal space messes for that reason to this day. You really don’t want to end up being the daily coffee pot washer.

      2. Nesprin*

        This is a good point- it’s easier to see your mess in a clean kitchen than in a dirty kitchen. While I’d estimate that about 10-20% of the population is just gross and unrepentent, the other 90% do benefit if the local cleanliness standard is reset once a week.
        See also: Dorm/sorority house kitchens.

  9. Nesprin*

    I’ve always been baffled by the resistance to hiring janitorial staff for cleaning office kitchens. I do my part in keeping dishes out of the sink etc, but my time is very expensive these days and I’m miserable at keeping my own kitchen clean- why on earth would you expect me to clean an office kitchen when I specialize in doing other things and am paid well to do it? Furthermore, I’ve never worked at a company that expected employees to clean the office bathroom, which everyone uses, yet for some reason the kitchen is on everyone to clean.

    1. Scarlet2*

      This. Presumably people are hired to clean the office space, why can’t they clean the kitchen as well?

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      This is where I fall too, I think. It’s reasonable for everyone to clear up after themselves eg wipe up a splat of jam off the counter when you’re making toast, rinse the (bathroom) sink of bubbles when you’ve washed your hands, pick up the shredded paper you dropped. But unless you’re also asking people to take turns cleaning the toilets and vacuuming the office you shouldn’t expect a full kitchen clean. And you wouldn’t ask that because people would rightly say it wasn’t a reasonable part of their work duties.

      I think there would be a psychological “it’s not my day to clean up in here so stuff it” barrier too, whereas if you know you just have to leave the place roughly how you left it because it’s Cordelia’s literal job then you feel inclined not to leave Cordelia a pigsty.

      1. Clorinda*

        Once when I was unemployed and almost but not quite desperate, I refused a job because the manager explained that they didn’t hire custodians, and each person took a turn being responsible for cleaning the bathrooms once a week. I wasn’t THAT desperate. If I wanted a job cleaning bathrooms, I’d have been looking for that job to begin with–I wouldn’t have applied for an office job at a small non-profit!

        1. Burned Out Supervisor*

          Ugh, if the bathrooms only got cleaned once a week, I wouldn’t want to work there anyway.

          1. Clorinda*

            Each person was responsible for it once a week. Bathrooms supposedly got cleaned a couple of times a day. But I noped.

        2. Texan In Exile*

          Part of my high school and college summer job (for minimum wage) as a lifeguard was to clean the bathrooms at the pool. I didn’t realize then that that was not normal.

          1. HelloHello*

            Places like pools that are specifically there to serve the public, cleaning often is part of the employees’ jobs. It’s completely normal for workers at pools/arcades/bars/restaurants/etc. to have cleaning up be part of their job description, as part of the overall customer service they’re paid to provide. Where it gets much less normal is in offices that don’t directly serve customers on the premise.

    3. Not a Girl Boss*

      I have to be honest, loading a dishwasher would be a complete nonstarter for me. I have a gag reflex thing with dirty dishes in general – even when they’re just my husbands and mine. But coworkers? Hard, hard, hard pass.

      I totally get expecting everyone to clean up after themselves. In a previous job we had a dishwasher and the admin emptied the clean dishwasher every morning, but everyone was expected to load it as they went. My new job doesn’t have a dishwasher, people are responsible for storing and cleaning their own dishes, and we have some random disposable plates and forks in case people forget. Honestly, its much better this way. So many less fights and less opportunity for grossness to pile up.

      That said, you still need to have some kind of deep cleaning a few times a month and that’s best left to the pros. But otherwise, just be a grown up and don’t leave dirty things for other humans to clean up?

    4. CatLadyInTraining*

      True. Our custodial staff cleans the office kitchen as well as the rest of the office, but it is expected that if you spill something while you’re making your meal in the kitchen or your meal splatters in the microwave that you clean it up and that you wash your own dishes in the sink.
      We have rule, all stuff still in the fridge on Friday at 5 gets thrown out and any dirty or clean dishes left in the sink or kitchen get thrown out as well. Our company does provide plastic plates, cups and cutlery but nothing else. We also provide lysol wipes, dishwashing liquid, a sponge and paper towels in the kitchen and that’s all..if someone uses up the last of that stuff they have to tell HR to order more.
      I don’t use the kitchen much except to microwave my lunch or store it in the fridge. I don’t wash anything at work, I just take it home and put it in the dishwasher…

    5. tamarack and fireweed*

      The rationale seems to be: Bathrooms are necessary, even mandated by law. You can’t be expected to spend 8 h/day in an environment without access to facilities to take care of eliminatory bodily functions and associated cleanliness. Kitchens, however, are more like a perk. Sure, some jurisdictions mandate access to cafeterias or other areas where you can consume (and sometimes purchase) food, but rarely to prepare food. Specifically well-equipped kitchens with microwave ovens, toasters, sandwich makers, coffee makers, electric kettles etc. are really not the same level of basic human functioning as a toilet bowl and a handwash basin.

      So in theory it would be fine to expect more of a counter part from the employees who get to use a perk. The problem is, it just doesn’t work that way. Maybe in offices with a really good culture of collective responsibility and for the time being no one who’s being a jerk about cleanliness, but even there, different cleanliness standards mean that someone who’s not the employees should maintain the base level, just like elsewhere in the office. Similarly, if the office were to provide a gym, or childcare facilities, or a landscaped garden, you’d also have to have someone clean/maintain these.

  10. rayray*

    I will never understand people who can’t wipe up their own spills and crumbs. I don’t understand why people can’t be bothered to take their own pod out of the coffeemaker after they’ve made their drink. I don’t understand people who will leave an empty donut box there after they’ve grabbed the last one.

    I don’t know what would help honestly. Slobs usually just won’t stop being slobs.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Right? There’s a woman at my parents’ church who will wipe her hands and then leave the wadded-up napkin on the table with the potluck dishes, even though she’s about to walk past the trash can, anyway. She does stuff like this all the time. I just do not get it. It’s almost more trouble to leave it than to just hold onto it for ten more seconds and throw it away.

      1. Burned Out Supervisor*

        I would call after her “Oh! You forgot to throw away your napkin!” super loudly and cheerfully every.darn.time.

    2. Artemesia*

      And I really don’t understand the men (usually) who don’t cover things in the microwave, let it spray all over and then walk away. I have never worked anywhere where that wasn’t the norm.

  11. Delphine*

    I work at a small (less than 20 people) company too, and the building we’re in has janitorial staff who will empty the trash, vacuum, wipe counters, etc., but they don’t unload the dishwasher. We have a weekly rotation for that: you come in, unload the dishwasher, people put their dirty dishes into the dishwasher over the course of the day, and then at the end of the day you add soap and turn the dishwasher on. Five-minute job at either end of the day. And each day has two to three people listed, so you usually divide it up, or one person takes over when the others are busy.

  12. E*

    Alison,
    Off-topic, but do you keep an eye on the ads running in this space? Something quite unethical is showing up on the main page. One of those groups who write personalised college essays that students then submit under their own name. I don’t want to write out the promoter’s name, but the ad is white text on blue.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Hoping you gave her a screenshot…that would give me conniptions. (It didn’t display for me.)

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That shouldn’t be showing up! But there are thousands of ads that show up and you’ll see different ones than I do (it’s based on location, cookies, etc.), so I don’t track them in that sense — we just block broad categories, but sometimes something slips through that shouldn’t. If you can send me a screenshot, the URL where it links, or the company name, I can get it tracked down and blocked. Thanks!

    3. Lynn*

      Maybe it has to do with your cookies.. what have you been looking at, E? :O

      (just kidding)

  13. Chronic Overthinker*

    I chuckle at this post because I have become the one who does the minor cleaning of the kitchen. Granted we do have professionals who come in 1-2 times a week to clean the entire office, including the kitchen, but they don’t do dishes. So right before I leave for the day I wash out coffee mugs and a few utensils/plates. It’s not terribly offensive and there are no major slobs that I deal with so it makes it manageable. There are definitely some days I wish I didn’t have to do it, and it wasn’t originally in the job description, but it’s a small office and it makes me feel good at the end of the day that I provide all supplies for the office, including consumables.

    1. fposte*

      Heh. I microwave my lunch pretty much every day and I’ve taken to using that time to wipe down any splatters I can see in the kitchen. I’m pretty much a slob so it’s funny, but it makes me feel like I’m using those 2 and a half minutes productively.

  14. Richard Hershberger*

    An additional note: If you cut off the grocery supply in response, everyone will know which employee(s) to blame. This is not the road to a harmonious workplace.

    Bending and stooping: I have an intermittent (thankfully) bad back. When my back is out, some motions are just fine, while others are excruciating. Standing at the sink washing dishes wouldn’t bother me at all. Getting the cleaning supplies from under the sink would. If we assume the objection is being made in good faith, it might be possible to arrange a pairing, two people taking two weeks together with one person doing all the bending and stooping parts.

    1. CatLadyInTraining*

      Our company has a custodial staff that comes in and cleans the office in the evening after we close. They clean everything including the kitchen. In our kitchen it is expected that if you spill something while prepping your food or your meal spatters in the microwave, you clean it up. On Fridays the custodial staff dumps everything left in the fridge and any dishes , dirty or clean, left in the kitchen are thrown out as well. Our company provides plastic cups, cutlery, and plates, as well as dishwashing soap, sponges, and papertowels. We don’t provide food, but we do have a snack machine and soda machine. We also have a coffee machine that is cleaned out once a week by the company that provides it. We do have signs in the kitchen stating the rules and telling people that if you spill you clean up right away, don’t let it sit until the custodial staff comes in because it’s gross.

  15. Sled Dog Mama*

    I have always hated the chore rotation thing when it involves cleaning the whole kitchen, I’ve always found it to work better when it’s broken down by task, and when management participates.
    I’ve been lucky my past couple of companies that the company provides cleaning supplies (we always had plenty on hand) and there was a strong clean up after yourself culture, I think that management helped by making sure we always had enough cleaning supplies that grabbing a cloth to wipe up a spill wasn’t a big chore. At most recent past employer there was one daily chore and it rotated everyday, making up a fresh bucket of sanitizer each morning. If you spilled on the counter you grab it wring it out wipe and toss it back in the bucket. we didn’t have a dish washer but everyone cleaned their dishes individually.
    I could see if you have a dishwasher having one person each week make sure it gets started at the end of the day but people should load their own dishes.

    1. KHB*

      My partner’s office breaks down kitchen duty by task: One person’s responsible for cleaning the microwave, one for cleaning the sink, one for unloading the dishwasher, etc. You can even let the employee with the back problems have first pick of the tasks that need to be done, so they can do whatever aggravates them least.

    2. Joielle*

      In my office we do it by team, so there are usually at least five people cleaning together. Nobody enjoys doing it, but it goes fast and everyone can do something that works for them.

  16. Employment Lawyer*

    Food service can be profitable when when places have a lot of salaried or high value employees. The goal is to make lunches and breaks more efficient, to maximize the value of busy folks.

    If you have a lot of expensive employees, especially salaried employees, then you want to keep them happy. You also want to keep them working hard at whatever profit-maximizing task they are hired for. It’s unwise to make them do jobs that they hate (making them less happy) when those jobs are easily doable by someone else for less money (thereby reducing overall profits; you don’t want a $60/hour employee doing a lot of $30/hour work.) In this case, consider hiring a cleaner for profit reasons.

    If you can afford it and if your employees would get really upset if it closed, consider a cleaner even if it isn’t super profitable. Or ask your newbies. I’ve had this conversation myself with low level employees:

    “You seem to want more hours and more work. I do not want to give offense but I will give you an option, feel free to say no. I am going to hire someone to clean this every day. I currently plan to pay a cleaner $50/week to do it.

    I would not assign you these duties myself, because this is not what you were hired to do. But if you would like this added to your job responsibility, and if you want the extra hours, you are welcome to take this on in addition to your current work and I’m happy to pay you instead of someone else. You can change your mind at any time with a week’s notice and I will go back to hiring a cleaner. Let me know.”

    But if you have lower paid hourly employees and you aren’t paying them for breaks, and if this whole thing just annoys you, then you can just shut it down.

  17. dragocucina*

    Some of the messiest people I’ve seen in a staff kitchen “only make coffee or tea”. The spilled coffee, sugar on the counter, dirty spoons, etc. Yech! The cleaning staff were only there in the mornings, so leaving things over night wasn’t an issue. We finally had people cleaning up at the end of the day (taking out the staff kitchen trash was part of the overall closing schedule). Yet, things kept piling up in the dish drainer. The solution was a once a week (Fridays) half hour clean the kitchen time. There wasn’t really a lot of bending. It was putting away the clean cups, an extra wipe down of the counters, etc. Because it was once a week it really only once every other month. The department heads and very senior staff didn’t do it because they had other end of the week assignments. Once a quarter was the major refrigerator clean that had two people working together. That rotated as well.

    1. fposte*

      Coffee spatters are *everywhere*. People also merrily chuck grounds and teabags into the trash can without noticing what ricocheted onto the wall behind it.

      1. dragocucina*

        Gah yes. The drips down the wall. There’s a dishwasher, 3 different types of soap (dishwasher, regular dish, and hand), counter spray, glass spray, multiple sponges, paper towels, hand towels, etc. Yet, some were totally blind to their mess. Since I don’t drink hot drinks and no coffee at all I could glower with a clean conscience.

  18. Mama Bear*

    RE: the groceries, if you need to pay for someone to clean, can you afford both? The other factor for me is do you ever have guests? If you have clients that visit and might get a cup of coffee and the place is filthy…that’s not going to go over well. I’d ask everyone to clean up their own mess, but also have someone come once a week or so to clean. Our regular janitorial crew will wipe down the sink/counters/table, but not clean the fridge or inside the microwave. Outside surfaces only. Have the employees given any suggestions as to how to resolve this?

  19. Ali G*

    If your leadership isn’t modeling the behavior you want, you will never succeed. I’m pretty sure that the reason why our policy of: clean up after yourself, don’t leave dishes in the sink (put them in the dishwasher or take them back to your desk if it’s running), and generally just be an adult, works because we all model the behavior we want. When you see your CEO wiping down the counters after he makes a sandwich or the COO wiping out the microwave after they’ve used it, a VP emptying the dishwasher, it instills that it’s everyone’s job, no matter your title to keep the kitchen clean. The building cleans the kitchen once a week, but we have to keep it clean daily.

    1. James*

      This is how our site works as well. There’s a story of a young hire (more than 20 years ago) who told the boss “The cleaning crew will clean up after me.” He was informed that we don’t get their services (temp office at a client facility), and here’s the vacuum cleaner, now get busy. The boss is now the head of our group, and one of three people in the company that can tank my career with a single phone call.

      We also use peer pressure. We like having a clean place to prep food, and if someone isn’t keeping it clean we let them know. Stuff happens–food gets left in a fridge a bit too long, coffee gets spilled when folks hurry, that sort of thing–but having that culture of people calling you out if you don’t fix your mistake (gently, but firmly) does help.

  20. That Girl From Quinn's House*

    As much as I think kitchen drama is a perennial staple of office issues, I can’t help but think the best solution to this would be “close the kitchen due to COVID19” and call it a day.

    1. Nea*

      I can’t help but wonder if COVID19 solved OP’s problem one way or another. Even if I didn’t have a back injury which would make several of the chores on OP’s task list difficult-to-impossible, these days I would point-blank refuse to clean a communal area on health grounds.

      I hope OP hired a cleaning service.

    2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      Works for me – I never use my organization’s kitchen since I didn’t want to be in the clean up rotation.

      Though being on the last people in the office as we went to WFH I did do some fridge cleanout. My only time. Ever.

  21. HGNFP*

    While I understand the efficiency argument of having lower-paid employees do the work, in many companies/non-profits there is still stratification based on gender and race (i.e., the closer you get to C-suite, the whiter and more male the room is). Leaving the optics of having lower-paid women and/or people of color doing clean-up aside, it’s demoralizing to those employees.

    1. FormerFirstTimer*

      You’re not wrong about the demoralizing aspect of doing it that way. My former employer would have all the assistants on a cleanup/mail rotation and absolutely all of us hated it.

      1. Alias*

        I’m wondering what the alternative is (aside from the obvious hope of hiring admin and cleaning support). I would think that someone who’s a Director, VP, or C-Suite employee would be hugely taken aback at the idea that the division of labor was split up so that they had to clean a kitchen or check the communal mail.

      2. GD375*

        Isn’t that what assistants are for? To take care of the menial tasks so other staff can spend their time on other tasks?

        1. Nea*

          Assistants are there to assist the job – meetings, work flow, “you need to be aware of,” ensure supplies are there, yes

          Assistants are not a type of maid/cleaning/cooking service.

          1. GD375*

            A lot of assistant jobs do include light cleaning duties. I agree if that wasn’t part of the original job description, it could be demoralizing to make that your job, but its not demoralizing in itself.

    2. KayDay*

      Totally agree. And while there was an article a while back about someone getting a job or promotion because they were willing to get coffee, in my experience no one that I’ve known who was relatively junior has grown in their careers because they have been appreciated for this kind of thing. The only time anyone benefits is when they are senior enough that it is not at all expected of them and people take notice about how humble/team-player they are. I think it’s a little bit better when there are multiple low level people doing this sort of thing, but at a small org where it would fall on one person it can be hugely demoralizing…and extra demoralizing if no one else will cover for that person when they are on vacation.

      1. The Voice of Reason*

        I once read about a law firm partner who brought the coffee into client meetings himself (yes, it was a man). The rationale was that carrying the coffee was a way of showing his clients that he would do anything for them.

        My reaction as a client: I have to pay $900/hour for a partner’s time so that he can prepare coffee?

        1. Not Your Lawyer*

          You can definitely reach a point of diminishing returns with the “pitch in to show that you’re a hard worker” mentality. But I think that in this case the partner probably wasn’t billing that time back to the client and probably wouldn’t even be able to. Usually if you have a good relationship with a firm they aren’t nickel and dime-ing you to death. I’ve reviewed some of my invoices and usually that 0.1 hours we spent talking about weekend plans, or a quick call they gave me to clear up some of their own confusion, or the time the paralegal had to call me about a flash drive, isn’t reflected on those.

          However, even with the above, I still agree that it looks quirky at best and bad at worst, and your client is definitely going to be thinking “Okay cool, am I gonna get billed for this later?”

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        I absolutely agree. I had a job a while back where it was not disclosed to me at interview that kitchen cleaning, dishwashing, restocking groceries etc was a regular part of the job. I tried to suck it up but it was really demoralising as a female new grad in an office of older men, took up way more of my time than you would expect (especially counting all the times I was asked to run to the shop for more milk or whatever when I was in the middle of my actual work), and it did not win me any respect. A lot of people asking me to make them coffee or mistaking me for a cleaner, absolutely. Respect? Professional advancement? Nope.

        And btw, when a guy started in the same role as me he was not asked to do any of this stuff because hey, I was already used to it, why waste his time on this stuff when I was already so good at it? Very demoralising, very sexist. I think someone upthread suggested asking new hires if they wanted to do this stuff but I really think doing that will only perpetuate that kind of very sexist situation. Hire a professional cleaner.

        1. Alias*

          I don’t think that asking them is the way to go (especially since that will just result in more POC and women feeling like they have to say “Yes”) but disclosing it up front if it’s going to be part of the position should absolutely be done.

      3. Nesprin*

        Ooof- I’ve never heard of anyone of the female gender getting a job or a promotion because they were willing to take on admin work outside of their regular job duties, though I can entirely believe that management would promote a sharp young white cisgendered straight male for that sort of thing.

      4. Not Your Lawyer*

        If you’re in a particularly small org, there’s always the danger that they will find someone who’s willing to do the work if you aren’t and you’re particularly junior. The example that comes to my mind is that I’m expected to manage the printer and call the IT department when it gives out, and I’m the first person that people come to if they can’t figure out Skype. Yes, I could absolutely say “That’s not my job” or refuse to do it, but in our department everyone is either a Director, VP, or C-level employee and we don’t have dedicated admin support. Obviously there are scripts you can use to tell your direct supervisor “I spend X hours doing Y work that’s outside of my job responsibilities/admin/custodial” but there’s always that danger that they say “If this position isn’t a good fit for you we understand, bye.”

        (I do think that’s different than volunteering to do things like getting coffee, which I don’t think that (general) you should do as a junior employee under most circumstances. You will quickly become the Expected Fetcher Of Coffee rather than, Nice Person Who Volunteered To Do This Once.)

        1. Quill*

          I volunteered my way into being the IT Person at Pig Lab From Hell.

          Regretted it by the time I was picking melted labels out of the printer with forceps.

      5. Persephone Underground*

        I’ve told this story before, but it’s very fitting in this context. My mother, a woman lawyer in the 80s/90s, used to apologize ahead of time to her admin and say she would need to call her into the office if coffee needed to be poured for a client (where a male lawyer might have poured the coffee himself and not bothered his admin). She absolutely couldn’t be seen pouring coffee by a client and maintain the authority she needed as a lawyer in her clients’ eyes.

    3. The Voice of Reason*

      It’s a ridiculous waste of a CEO’s time to be cleaning the kitchen.

      It’s a ridiculous waste of a CEO’s time to be opening mail.

      And no, stupid arguments about “your mother doesn’t work here” or “everyone should clean up after themselves” don’t change that.

      If you’re concerned about the optics of it, hire a janitorial service. (Are you OK with a slight reduction in salary to finance the better optics?)

      1. HGNFP*

        The reduction in salary shouldn’t have to come from lower-paid employees.

        I’d also be concerned if the only way a company could afford janitorial services was to cut salaries.

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        I think a lot of offices will likely have some kind of cleaning service already in place, unless there’s some poor assistant somewhere who also vacuums the floors and cleans the toilets. In those cases you would just be expanding the duties of the already-existing cleaners. And even in cases where a brand-new service had to be hired, I’m not sure why you think that the only possible source of funding for office maintenance is reducing existing staff salaries – or do you also warn against companies fixing broken printers or buying new office chairs because it will somehow affect everyone’s salaries?

        1. The Voice of Reason*

          It’s easy to pontificate about “optics” if you externalize the cost of fixing the optics. (“I preach, someone else pays.”) If you internalize the cost — i.e., the person who preaches about optics bears part of the cost of the solution — you may suddenly discover people think optics aren’t as important as they once thought.

    4. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

      Surely the hired-in cleaning crew is more likely to be female and POC anyway? I mean, the stereotypical cleaner is the Asian or Hispanic cleaning lady who doesn’t speak great English.

      So you’d still have the female POC cleaning up after the high-status white dudes, they’d just be doing it after hours when nobody can see them.

  22. Alias*

    Our biggest problem has historically been the passive accumulation of both old food and old containers. I have found moldy everything in the fridge, from milk to fuzzy bread rolls. Surprisingly enough nothing ever smells, so it usually sits unobtrusively in a corner until I realize that it’s been there for months and just take it upon myself to chuck it out. I also throw out things that I can definitively tell no one’s used in months (and for anyone who’s concerned, I’m talking about very very obvious things, like the mustard that sat in its own crusty yellow halo of a spill for several months, not something like a closed jar of pickles). The containers really amuse me because we have so many flower vases and Tupperware containers without lids, and no one knows where they came from. My theory has always been that when we had The Big Layoff in 2015, a whole bunch of people just left their stuff and now everyone’s afraid to throw it out.

  23. The Voice of Reason*

    Welcome to the tragedy of the commons.

    People do not invest personal time and resources maintaining communal spaces. This has been well known since the enclosure laws in England.

    You either need to task an individual employee (likely a receptionist or what not) with cleaning the kitchen, or hire a professional janitorial service. The latter is almost certainly the better option.

    Oh, and if you’ve got an employee who says s/he can’t stoop because of a bad back, you need to believe that person, just as you would for any other disability claim. “No cleaning kitchens” is easily a reasonable accomodation.

    1. Goliath Corp.*

      Yup. They’ll be fast-tracking themselves to a discrimination suit if they try to tell this person that they’re not allowed to use the kitchen because they’re physically unable to do some of the cleaning chores.

      Other accommodations: move cleaning supplies to counters/upper-level cupboards, divide up tasks so the person with the injury only does X and someone else does Y, etc. If none of this is possible, consider the fact that their injury is more unfair and inconvenient than it is for the 11 other office workers to pick up a couple of extra chores. Good grief.

    2. Ominous Adversary*

      No, the tragedy of the commons has been “well-known” since the 19th century (and then pushed again in the 20th), when economists posited it as a hypothetical example of behavior that justified removing land from public use and placing it into the hands of private landowners. For everyone’s own good, of course.

  24. Elizziebeth730*

    My last job had a set up like that..

    My dept of 9 people was in the office once a week for a half day for meetings. Other than that we were in the field. All of the other departments were based in the office. Our supervisor, S, took on the kitchen cleaning duties as she was based in the office. When she left it was then handed down to the team. We all were happy to enter the rotation to clean the kitchen, but asked that it be on the meeting day. We were not given that meeting day. We instead were told we were assigned Friday. So we had to clean a kitchen, once a week on a day we weren’t there, we had to drive into a metro area on a Friday afternoon to clean a kitchen, and then leave on a Friday afternoon from a metro area

    Reason was never listened to. I ended up saying that I would just do every Friday because my offsite location was only about 4 miles from the main office whereas others were up to 20 miles away. It was just another reason, on a long list of reasons, that I left.

  25. always in email jail*

    I choose my battles at work and am more restrained about pushing back than a lot of people I know (you want to overpay me to print stuff before a meeting instead of hire an admin? go for it. worse ways to make money) but I would choose this hill to die on 100%. I should be able to take my lunch out of the fridge, eat it, wipe down the table, and get back to work without WASHING OTHER PEOPLES’ DISHES (ewwwwwwww). I would really really resent being asked to do a full kitchen clean-up daily in addition to my other work. I would recommend investing in cleaning wipes and having them readily available for easy wiping of surfaces etc. to make it easy for people to clean up after themselves, and if someone doesn’t just address it one-on-one with them! In a small office, everyone quickly figures out who is responsible for leaving coffee all over the counter etc.

    1. NotAPirate*

      For real. At least with the printing stuff menial tasks you get a chance to look through the agendas and talk to the top players and they get to know your face. (And you get a reputation as helpful, easy to work with, team player). Cleaning the office tends to make people look down at you in my experience and really doesn’t give you any benefit, and costs you time that could be used in your job.

  26. Junior Dev*

    I work in a tech company and we have 1) a lot of snacks and catered meals (though not every single day like some places) 2) a whole team of staff (I think they’re hired through an outside agency) to unload the dishwashers, refill the coffee pots, take out the trash, and do a bunch of other things like that. We have about a thousand people in this office so it is cost effective.

    Interestingly, people are more likely to hold up their own part of the bargain (e.g. rinse their dishes and load them into the dishwasher) given that there is a clear system in place to take care of the rest.

    I would hire someone, either an outside contractor or a part time person, or make it about half the job description of an “office manager” type role who also does office logistics like ordering office supplies and filling up the printer paper. The work needs to happen, it’s not happening, and resenting people focused on other jobs for not doing it clearly isn’t working.

    1. allathian*

      Same thing at my office. We’re a Green Office, which means no disposable cups. Everyone’s expected to help fill and empty the dishwasher and clean up after themselves if they mess up the microwave, etc. That said, there are always empty cups and mugs in the sink, if for no other reason than that people bring them back when the dishwasher is running. If I do that, I’ll wash my mug by hand so it won’t be there for others to clean, but many people won’t bother. That said, I’m not sure what the procedures are now with COVID precautions in place. We’re allowed to go to the office if we need to, but most people are still WFH full time.

  27. Thankful for AAM*

    There are about 40 people at my location. I bring food from home and try to eat at my desk or outside. If I do eat in the break room, I save time to clean the table and chair before I use it because it is always dirty. There are always crumbs, coffee stains, dirty napkins, dirty plates that people plan to clean later, etc.

    I also dont use the fridge, I keep my items in my lunch bag at my desk. I wind up cleaning the fridge about once a year on our Rota. I hate it but suck it up and do it.

    I have no idea why people are so gross in our shared space but it really needs a cleaning staff or assigned person.

  28. Ann O'Nemity*

    I would *hate* the rotating schedule. I will clean up after myself, but I do not want to clean up after coworkers and I do not want to do deep kitchen cleaning at work. Honestly, it would put me off using the kitchen at all.

    1. RussianInTexas*

      Same. I clean after myself, but I am not cleaning after other adults.
      Yes, I used the fridge and the microwave, and if I spill something in them, I will clean it. Otherwise? No.

  29. Koala dreams*

    I feel it’s discriminatory to not want to discuss cleaning the kitchen with the employees with back pain because you don’t want to make any accomodations. Some of the things that make it easier for people with back pain to clean are easy to implement. You won’t know if the accomodations are easy or difficult until you talk with the employees. It’s a small thing, but it gives me a bad feeling.

    Also, I agree with the other commenters that the easiest solution is to hire a cleaning company. You can still ask people to clean up visible messes after themselves, but you wouldn’t need to make a schedule, remind people, discuss accomodations and so on. Professional cleaners are usually faster, too.

    1. Alias*

      It’s not discriminatory to not assign work that someone with a back injury can’t do. That could be the accommodation in and of itself in some cases.

      1. Koala dreams*

        Yes, obviously if they can’t do it you’ll need to accept it. If it’s the case of getting the right tools such as a suitable stool, a small vacuum cleaner for crumbs on the counter or a tool to pick up things from the floor, the employer should get those tools instead of assuming that nobody with back pain could do the tasks.

        1. Alias*

          My point is that it’s not inherently discriminatory to a specific person with a disability to say “Okay, you don’t have to do X task that you have stated you don’t want to do, and stated that you can’t do because of your disability” instead of engaging in a dialogue about what tools would make the task possible. The employer here also hasn’t assumed that nobody with back pain could do that task, just that this specific person has back pain and doesn’t want to/said they can’t because of said back pain.

    2. Persephone Underground*

      Yeah, the whole approach to that person hit me wrong. “If there’s a task you cannot physically do you should ask for assistance.” Ummm… Like he did when he talked to you, because he cannot physically do most tasks required to clean a kitchen? Or when it’s his assigned week he should run around the office trying to get other people to do the cleaning he can’t physically do every day? Like Alison said, lay off this person and get a better system.

  30. StormyWeather*

    Another vote for hiring a cleaner. It’s totally reasonable to expect adults to clean up after themselves, but bigger jobs are better handled by people hired to do them. Someone who manage busy llama groomers will have time to wipe up after a coffee slop, but they won’t have time to wash a floor or scrub a sink.

    And hell, few people like doing the bigger cleaning jobs at home.

  31. RussianInTexas*

    You know what? No. People should clean after themselves, but otherwise – hire cleaning stuff. And no, I am not loading and unloading the dishwasher in the office. I have my tupperware, and my utensils, and I clean them. Not everyone else’s. My job description does not include “office kitchen cleaning”, I do enough of it in my house. If I spill something, I clean it. I am not cleaning the communal counters, or the fridge, or taking out the trash.
    My company, while super cheap in general, provides snacks, and somehow does not require the employees to clean the kitchen. The don’t provide the dishware and silverware, so there are no issues there.

    1. Ann Nonymous*

      I am a very tidy and clean person. I would resent the hell out of cleaning up after other adults/co-workers. I resent having to do so for my *husband*.

  32. Free Meerkats*

    In our small office of currently 3, but has been up to 6, we only have janitorial service twice a week in the evening after everyone leaves. So we clean up after ourselves in the kitchen/lunchroom. We all know who made what mess, and if they don’t clean up after themselves (and in the past we have had a couple of those), they get called out on it. Along the lines of “Neville, don’t leave your damned dishes in the sink to soak, wash them.””Luna, come wipe your snorkack sauce splatter from the microwave.”

    Now in the Time of Corona, there’s only one of us in the office most days, and one of the assigned duties is to wipe down every high touch surface, including kitchen, down with disinfectant at the end of the day.

  33. WantonSeedStitch*

    We’re lucky enough in my office to have custodial staff who take out the trash every night, and mostly everyone wipes up spills and so on, but we still need to clean the kitchen every now and then–especially the refrigerators, where people sometimes forget about food until it starts developing an advanced civilization! We set up a rota so that every employee, from the ED on down, takes a turn to do a full kitchen cleaning as part of a small team one day every…six months? Might be six months. The fact that all the management is involved actually helps us, I think: even the most entry-level folks in our office don’t have cleanup as part of their job description, so it’s no more “their job” than it is the managers’. We all pitch in, it’s a very small time commitment (an hour or so max, once or twice a year), and we make it fun, joking around while we work. Having four people working together makes quick work of it.

    I had one report who had a lot of misgivings about taking her turn at this because she’d been pushed into this kind of work in previous jobs where it wasn’t a part of her job description, and where she was the only non-white woman in the office, so it seemed like an intentional degradation to clean up after everyone else. I COMPLETELY understood (and wanted to slap her old boss), and while I had to be firm about her participation, I promised that I would make it as painless as possible, and that I would keep an eye out to make sure everyone at every level continued to do their equal part. She ended up seeming to have fun with it as much as the rest of us!

  34. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    If you use the kitchen, then you participate in cleaning up AFTER YOURSELF. I would nope right out of that rotating schedule. Would you expect the staff to rotate cleaning the bathrooms too? That’s another common area that some people leave messy. If you say no, then why would you expect them to clean the kitchen?

  35. Delta Delta*

    I’ve shared this before but it’s worth sharing again. I’m very much in the camp of “clean up your own mess.” If you spill food or leave crumbs, wipe them up. Wash your dishes. In my last office job there were times that people would leave dishes in the drying rack and someone would usually put them away. In fact, I knew it took 47 seconds for the Keurig to brew a cup of coffee, and I could always put away all the dishes before my coffee was done. No. Big. Deal. But I wasn’t about to wash other people’s dishes or clean up other people’s spills.

    That said, I sometimes took unreasonable delight in cleaning the fridge when things were especially awful. I’d take photos and email them to the office. There was dramatic lighting. there were captions. It was a work of furry yogurt still life art. And when people complained, my response was that they should have thrown their stuff away before. That would quell the insanity for a little while.

    1. Alias*

      I’ve done this too. I was especially baffled at finding a yogurt that expired in 2014, which was two full years after my company moved into the office. (The year I found it was 2018).

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I agree 100%. And I would also take pleasure in cleaning out the fridge if I had ever been given the opportunity. Even when there were warnings posted (as in “everything will be thrown away” type warnings), whoever cleaned out the fridge would leave stuff in there. If it were me, EVERYTHING would go into the trash if people had ample warning. You don’t get to keep a 6 pack of 20 oz soda bottles in there and take up 1/4 of the fridge space. You leave it, it’s gone. -insert evil laugh here-

  36. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

    I don’t know about the OP’s office but many people just seem to think that cleaning is beneath them, or just never their job, even when the kitchen is so filthy it can’t be used.

    When I lived in student accommodation we had a huge shared kitchen with four “bays” containing a small stove, fridge, sink, and counters. The trash was a big communal bin and there was a dumpster right outside the back door. We had cleaners that came every day during term time, but we also had access to the closet where the cleaning supplies were kept, and most people used them to clean their own rooms.

    My now-husband and I went away for the holidays, as did most of the other students, but some people stayed there for the two weeks. We got back at around 9pm and went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. The entire floor was so sticky that I almost lost my shoes, the trash was overflowing, every surface was covered with dirty dishes. It was revolting. We stayed up until midnight cleaning just so that the place was usable.

  37. yllis*

    Im admin at a university and expecting faculty members to clean their coffee cups and put on drying rack as opposed to just dumping them in the sink and expecting admin to clean and put away is clearly expecting too much.
    And wiping up a creamer spill or throwing out their rotting food in the fridge.

    Some people just go through life expecting others to clean up after them or maybe have a “I have a phd. Im too valuable to spend time cleaning”.

    Luckily I have a boss who has a “you leave it for a long time, don’t complain if it’s tossed” outlook with regard to the food and gross dishes in in the sink

    1. NotAPirate*

      I know its terrible for the environment but the disposable coffee cardboard cups are a lifesaver. The more environmentally friendly faculty started using their own travel mugs that traveled home with them, the others just get tossed.

      1. yllis*

        We tried. They _like_ to use their own mugs. They just leave them in the sink (along with soup bowls, tupperware, silverware) to be washed. If they come back the next day and it isnt clean, they will use the ones we have in general that are usually for guests.

        Maybe it’s a university thing. There is a “you take care of it. Im too important” thing with a lot of faculty.

        1. CatLadyInTraining*

          That is so annoying! Luckily at my place the kitchen is pretty small, so there is little space for people to leave stuff and mess up. We just keep cleaning products under the sink, and in the cupboards we keep plastic plates, plastic cutlery, and plastic cups and extra cream and sugar that goes with the coffee machine. The sink is also pretty small, so if you’re the idiot who leaves your dishes in the sink, it’s hard to use. Same with leaving stuff on the counter: you leave it on the counter you’ve taken up a lot of room. Kind of nice to have a small office kitchen, less space to mess with and dirty up. We had an issue with people who would buy 3 pudding snack packs and leave them in the fridge or a 12 pack of diet soda to store in the fridge for their own consumption….ugh, unless you’re buying that for the whole office, please don’t take up the fridge with your own groceries…
          Usually when the manager or a vendor buys food for the whole office or someone brings in baked goods we leave it on the break room table…and it gets thrown out at the end of the day. If someone brings in baked goods or homemade food for the office, they are responsible for cleaning it up.

    2. A Professor, But Not A Jerk*

      Just FYI, this is not something I’ve ever seen in academia. Of course I am not questioning your experience, but professors get dragged in these comments a lot, so I’ m chiming in this time.

      I’ve taught at 5 universities, and I’ve been tenured at 2, and everywhere I’ve worked we have always been responsible for washing our own coffee mugs, and cleaning the coffee area. However, administrative assistants and student workers have generally been responsible for the emptying of the communal refrigerators on Fridays.

  38. Tow Mater*

    Stop paying for the coffee/cereal/lunch stuff and use that money to pay for a cleaner to load the dishwasher, wipe the counters, empty the trash.

    Do you ask your employees to empty the garbage in the bathrooms or wipe down the bathroom counters? Why would you expect them to do so in the kitchen?

  39. Catabodua*

    One place I worked had a full time employee that worked a slightly shifted schedule who cleaned all day. As in, we worked 8:30-4:30 and she worked 10-6. It was a large place. Our company occupied 5 full floors of a building.

    It was wonderful. She spent her time throughout the day cleaning, stocking, etc., then she emptied office trash bins after we all left. Good lord did you know almost immediately the weeks she was on vacation!

    Plus, it didn’t cost much more than an outside cleaning contract for that large of a space.

    Only one funny story from that time …. she was vacuuming and needed a plug closer to a particular hallway. She ended up unplugging the server, knocking all of our systems offline. The IT guys were horrified and installed a lock on the door that she didn’t get a key for.

  40. zebra*

    I would also ask OP to look at who (medical issues aside) chooses to opt out of their turn in the rotation, or who conveniently always seems to forget about it. I bet they’re mostly men and higher paid folks. Who never misses their turn and also picks up the slack for everyone else? I bet they’re mostly women and lower paid folks. Cleaning duties must be made an explicit part of someone’s job or it just becomes one of the many other tasks that women end up taking on and doing invisibly. If your company has enough money to provide groceries and facilities then you have enough money to pay someone to clean up after them.

  41. Rectilinear Propagation*

    Obviously the LW, and anyone else in this situation, should follow Allison’s advice but I also think a week might be a long stint for kitchen duty? If they’re meant to be doing dishes and cleaning appliances daily, that’s a bit much for something that isn’t built into their schedule. If weekly just means, “At some point in the week you’ll do the heavier duty cleaning”, then this is more of an issue of people not doing the light cleaning of picking up after themselves.

  42. Curmudgeon in California*

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

    I am visibly disabled – I have balance issues and right side hemiparesis, plus chronic back issues. I can wipe down counters, but I literally can’t empty a big trash bin, and loading/unloading the dishwasher would take me at least three times as long as an able bodied person. Trying to do all of this would put me in some serious pain.

    I would push back on this, hard. If I had to try to do this for a week I would quit. It would not be effective use of my time, and since I clean as I go, I would resent the heck out of using my limited spoons cleaning up sticky gunk from others.

    Just hire a freaking janitor and pay them well, FFS.

  43. Bella*

    I almost forgot how much of a nightmare this was at my last-last job. At my current job it’s rolled into the reception duties, and seems to work a lot better (and people are more respectful tbh).

    Part of our issue was just too many people for one little kitchen… even if people were fairlyyy good about things, stuff still piled up super fast. Like if the dishes are running, everything goes into the sink.

    And then the next person that comes along is stuck emptying an entire dishwasher and then loading it… and that part of the tasks were never equally distributed.

    Stuff like crumbs just happen to even careful people when there’s too much stuff around and when there’s no ownership stuff just gets messy quickly.

    This was also in another country where people take a lot more time off, generally, so people were constantly on vacation or sick during their kitchen duty rotation and would either forget to trade it with someone, or the trade person would forget to do it… ugh!

  44. Patricia*

    It works well in our office – the admin assistant empties the dishwasher in the morning and runs it before she goes home. She also makes coffee in the morning. If she’s away the person covering for her does it (usually it’s me and I will empty/run the dishwasher but I don’t know how to make coffee so if someone wants coffee they can make it)

    We have janitorial staff that comes in twice a week and empties the garbage and cleans the kitchen (and the whole office)

    We have a pretty good culture of You Spill You Clean It Up so the kitchen stays pretty clean. If someone finishes the coffee they will make another pot.

    That said people do have a super annoying habit of leaving dishes in the sink instead of putting them in the EMPTY dishwasher and it drives me bonkers. IT’S RIGHT THERE!

    But this is the cleanest kitchen I’ve seen in my working career. Some of them were downright nasty.

  45. NYC Taxi*

    I clean up after myself in the kitchen at work, but I’m certainly not going to play janitor for my company, nor would I expect my coworkers do so either. I would have pushed back on your cleaning rotation on behalf of everyone. Either hire a person to do that work or do it yourself.

  46. free food never ends well*

    Dont make someone clean up after others if they are not paid to do so, even then there is a limit to the filth. Have them clean up after themselves, no soaking dishes or clean it up later. If they can’t stop providing food that you eat with utensils. We used to offer breakfast, lunch, and snacks from a catering company in the building that gave us a discount. However some of our staff couldn’t be bothered to bring their dishes back to the kitchen, or wash and put them away, or pick dropped food off the floor then we had a roach issue and had to take action. We sent out emails only to be replied with that many had a bad back and couldn’t pick up food they dropped, a few had Psoriasis stopping some if they wash the dishes they use, one even wrote she couldn’t clean up coffee she spilled because of her french manicure it might stain. We stopped the catering and now have boxes of protein bars, we replaced the fancy coffee maker and with a keurig and donated all of the silverware, plates and glassware and provide coffee size paper cups, the admins take turns wiping down the kitchen counters and throwing any thing in the sink away before they leave.

    1. Lady Heather*

      Seriously! ‘I can’t get my hands wet due to a skin condition, can you provide gloves?’ or ‘I have a bad back – can you provide a broom and dustpan?’ are very reasonable responses. ‘I have a bad back so someone else has to do it’ isn’t. (Terms and conditions apply – if the ‘bad back’ means ‘quadriplegic’, I’ll give them a pass on not trying the broom and dustpan.)

    2. CatLadyInTraining*

      The french manicure thing would’ve sent me over the edge. That is such a dumb excuse. How about wearing gloves?

      1. free food never ends well*

        As a company we couldn’t afford a cleaning person, we pay for janitorial services through the rental agreement there is no option for an upgrade (2xs daily bathroom cleaning, and daily trash and vacuuming), hiring out was not in the budget. When we discussed the possibility of implementing a schedule we decided the managers would take turns with the light cleaning. The admin overheard and asked if someone did it would they be compensated for it. Our boss offered her an hourly raise, and the last hour of her day as a blackout period to leave when she is finished and she took it. When she is out someone in management does it for her, its been working well.

  47. Lost academic*

    It’s nice to have cleaners, but it’s been my experience that it’s not always easy to find staff who actually clean kitchens. We have to use the cleaners contacted with our office building and they will generally wipe down a clear surface but they won’t wash or move dirty dishes and they don’t clean anything including the sink that dirty items are on. On top of that, they’re going to do that at most once a day in the evening, so our office is phenomenally filthy after the regular lunch clique occupies it: trash and leftover food everywhere along with spills and forgotten items. And god forbid anyone put their things IN the dishwasher. We only have 25 people and at most half of them are in daily. Last pregnancy I bought 3 sets up pumping gear because it was so dirty daily I couldn’t safely even rinse my stuff to sanitize it in the microwave, and just did everything at home nightly. TLDR: offices bring out the filth in humans.

  48. Jill*

    Before I started working there, my old office had a general policy of moving dirty dishes into offices if they found out they were yours or they’d shut the kitchen down for a few days if it wasn’t kept clean. They made it someone’s job after the fact, but the “punishments” were really inconvenient and well described so they didn’t have to make too many judgement calls so it wasn’t a big deal I guess. Things like putting a lock through the microwave plug, or a chain around the fridge, etc. It sounds awful, but it was really effective and we had never had a lockdown my 3 years working there.

  49. peachie*

    I worked in one office where kitchen cleaning was handled very well, but I’m not sure how to replicate it — I think it was just ingrained in the office culture. There were about 50 employees and someone was assigned to kitchen duty every week, meaning you only had to do it once a year (that helped). Everyone except the CEO, who wasn’t in the office much, took their turn. There was a specific list of duties — I think it was basically just wipe down surfaces, wipe the inside of the microwave, and clean out fridge/throw out unlabeled/old food — and they provided the proper cleaning products/tools. The receptionist was already in charge of running the dishwasher at the end of the day, and we had someone in the office who was a stickler about leaving things in the sink so pretty much no one did. The fact that this was done every week made it (a) quick and (b) not gross. And this was all in addition to the nightly cleaning our janitors did, so we certainly weren’t scrubbing the floors or anything like that.

    My current office? Eek. Very bad. There’d been a large sticky orange stain dripping its way through the refrigerator shelves for MONTHS when I went to WFH in March, and I’d be surprised if it’s gone. They don’t even stock dish soap! I have to keep a dish soap and sponge in my office just so I can have a clean coffee mug.

  50. irene adler*

    Right now our refrigerator is chock full of rotting, moldy food. It is practically gassing us out of the lunchroom.
    Folks put food items in and promptly forget about them.

    One co-worker is regaling everyone within earshot about her exploits in removing offending items. Yes, in graphic detail. Kinda makes one lose interest in eating lunch. Sure did for me.

    I shudder to think what folks’ refrigerators look like at home.

    1. CatLadyInTraining*

      Ugh that is disgusting. Our fridge gets cleaned out every Friday by the custodial staff…

  51. TyphoidMary (...my username seems in bad taste now)*

    I’m just thinking about the nonprofit I worked at that had zero cleaning services, so all of us worked on a rota to keep the place clean. It was the first time I ever had to dispose of a dead squirrel.

    (The cleaning was the least of the demoralizing issues at this place!)

    1. Quill*

      Uh… I’ve heard of removing LIVE squirrels, but you now have an assignment for the friday open thread.

  52. CatLadyInTraining*

    I’m glad that at my office the kitchen isn’t super heavily used. People just use it to store their stuff in the fridge or microwave their food or maybe clean their dishes..but I think most people just clean their dishes when they get home…

  53. CatLadyInTraining*

    I worked at one office that didn’t even have a kitchen…just a fridge in the supply room next to the copy machine.

  54. Grapey*

    Reading this thread makes me eternally grateful for my employer that shells out $$$ for environmentally friendly pro cleaners.

    I 100% understand it’s not feasible for the vast majority, but in case any employer reading DOES have the means to make their workplace happier and are somehow confused about what that looks like, here’s what I’ve been spoiled by:

    – Kitchens and bathrooms cleaned 3x a day
    – “Free stuff” on counters gets tossed. (It’s nice to come into a plate of homemade cookies but less nice to see an unclaimed platter with crumbs on it for a week)
    – Anything left in or near the sink gets tossed. No drying racks or dishwashers – you clean and dry it and take it away immediately. (soap/sponges/paper towels provided)
    – Composting is available for paper towels used to dry our dishes, as well as compostable plates/cutlery/cups
    – Good coffee station (paid for by my employer and stocked/cleaned by the cleaning company)
    – Weekly fridge cleanouts that require things to be labelled with that day’s date otherwise they get tossed. (Non perishable stuff like cans of soda get moved to a “to be tossed next week” bin to avoid people leaving things eternally.)

    Other than the one new lady that got mad she had to go trash diving for her glass tupperware [despite obvious signs and office culture], there’s been zero cleaning drama in the 15+ years I’ve been there.

  55. OwlEditor*

    Just hire someone. Everyone else will be very happy. It reminds me that years ago I had a job working at a startup involving real estate. Because it was a startup, the owner had bought/rented a house that had been used as another business. To save money, we were assigned to clean the place on a rotating schedule. That included the kitchen and vacuuming, but the worst was the bathroom. I had to clean the bathroom! It felt so demeaning and it was very gross. They had not mentioned that when they hired me. I may not have taken the job. But I was just that desperate. Make it someone else’s job so that they don’t have to focus on how much they hate having to clean up after people.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      Yeah, having to clean up after your colleagues is one way to start hating everyone.

  56. I'm just here for the cats*

    Is anyone else wondering what the kitchen cleaning entails? Like does everyone leave their dirty dishes for the weekly person to clean. Do they have to sweeo and mop?
    I would be ok if it was like, say making sure the paper towels, soap etc was filled, washing out the coffee pot each day, and cleaning counters and microwave.
    Floors should be do e by whatever cleaning crew comes. Dishes should be done by the user. And everyone cleans up after themselves.

  57. The Original Stellaaaaa*

    “Here’s a perk that you like well enough but didn’t ask for. I expect you to show more gratitude than is reasonable for some cold cuts and chips, and also now you have to take on a task that you hate more than you enjoy the store brand pretzel rods.”

  58. Snowberry Kitten Foster, Inc.*

    When I was still working as a nurse in a small NICU with a very small breakroom/kitchen there would occasionally be dirty, crusty dishes left in the sink for a week at a time. They got thrown in the trash, by me. End of conversation.

  59. Mina, the Company Prom Queen*

    If you hire someone to be responsible for the cleaning, make sure you make it very clear in the interview that this will be one of their duties. One time, I was between jobs and accepted a temp assignment that was supposed to be administrative. Instead, it entailed a bunch of odd tasks assigned to me as I completed the previous task, one of which was cleaning the kitchen- while listening for the phone to answer it at the same time. The receptionist at this company, who was the one assigning me these tasks, was quite condescending. Little did she know that I was an experienced professional just earning some money between jobs. I would never hire her as my receptionist, assistant, or employee.

    The assignment was just a couple of days, so I just sucked it up and didn’t say anything. But when the temp agency called to say the client requested me again, I declined the assignment and told them why. (It also appeared that the person who had the assignment before I did actually walked off the assignment.) The temp agency was great, though. I hope they got this squared away, either by making the duties clear or letting the client company know they shouldn’t make the temp clean the kitchen when told it’s an admin assignment.

    1. KT*

      Another thing I have seen working very well is to create a small part time role comprised of tasks that someone with an intellectual or cognitive disability could perform, including kitchen cleaning tasks. A disability worker can work with you to understand the standards and processes for each task, and provide specialist training to the employee. In my country this is funded by the government to encourage companies to employ people with an intellectual disability. (The company pays the employee’s wages normally, but the government pays for the extra training required – eg their support worker.) This also helps companies that want to be inclusive of people with special needs and intellectual disabilities but don’t know how because their typical work generally has a level of expertise or qualification that excludes someone with a cognitive disability (eg law firm, engineering firm, many professional services).

  60. KT*

    These tasks should ideally be the formal responsibility of a specific person, this often works better than a rotating roster which causes different standards of completion and general inconsistency, potential resentment if one person/team does more than another, etc. No need to get an expensive cleaner in, maybe hire an office junior and make all of this a part of that role.

  61. Wolfie*

    I worked in an office with a cleaning rota that worked well, but it was in addition to a weekly cleaner. It worked well because there were about six teams of 4 people, so every six weeks you had to (between the 4 of you) empty the dishwasher in the morning, and wipe everything down / set off the dishwasher towards the end of the day.

    With four people it only took a few minutes. I always forgot it was our week but someone would remember, and if only two of us were in it would still get done. Far better than relying on one person, and I loved being able to ignore it for five weeks out of six.

    For the LW, maybe teams of 3 plus a weekly clean?

  62. No Name*

    Our office has a pretty good system. The office has a dishwasher. We are all expected to wipe up crumbs/spills from our individual use and put our lunch dishes in the dishwasher. The office junior does a run around to collect coffee cups and plates from afternoon tea and turns on the dishwasher at the end of the day. A cleaner cleans the kitchen properly once a week. We are strictly forbidden to have a build up of plates on our desks/left in the kitchen as we have clients through the office. It works well, although that is probably partly because everyone respects the rules.

    With regards to the back injury, the simple solution is to keep dishwashing liquid and dishcloth higher up, next to the sink or in cupboards above the bench. I completely understand not wanting to bend down to lower cupboards but if it doesn’t hurt your back to make coffee or lunch on the bench, then wiping down the bench doesn’t hurt your back either if the tools are accessible.

    Just don’t send out group emails chastising everyone; address problems with the individuals causing trouble.

  63. Fitty*

    I’m completely confused about the “setting up a mentor relationship” situation. Even more so that Alison’s response seems to accept it as a matter of course.

    I’m 50 and all my professional life, I have heard about this phenomenon of having an official Mentor. “Find a mentor! Reach out to professionals you admire and ask them to be your Mentor!”

    In real life, I have literally never seen this. It seems like the professional equivalent of approaching someone in my yoga class and saying, “Can I be your Friend?”

    I’ve had many good mentors but they’ve all been senior colleagues who gave me advice and opportunities and support in very specific situations. So instead of asking someone to Be My Mentor, it was like, “I’m doing this professional qualification, do you need help with your research?” Or they asked me to take on more responsibility in a specific project.

    On the flip side, as a senior person now, I’d find it really gauche and needy if someone approached me to” be a Menor”. I’d expect them to be more specific like, “I want to gain more experience in X, can I be involved in Y project?”

    Are there really fields in which the who official mentoring thing happens?

    1. Lady Heather*

      I share your confusion here. Especially the ‘formal vs informal mentor’ thing Alison mentions. It made me think of that time I read a first edition Emily Post (FWIW, it’s free on Project Gutenberg): you can’t formally/officially ask someone to be a godparent because godparent is, of itself, an informal/unofficial position.

  64. Who Plays Backgammon?*

    Grown-ups should clean up after themselves, period. That said, I have long had an issue with the idea that accepting a job someplace as an admin, CSR, salesperson, project manager, HR recruiter, whatever, tacitly means you’re also part of the cleaning crew. Yes, you should wash your own cup and wipe up what you spill. But cleaning refrigerators, taking out trash, vacuuming, outright scrubbing are tasks for a cleaner. It was a real issue among the skilled staff at a plant where I used to work, and I once left a proofreading job because AFTER I was hired I was told that as an “admin” I had to take my weekly turn washing everyone’s dishes and putting them away. Washing dishes isn’t an administrative responsibility (it sure as hell isn’t proofreading or editorial) and expecting the “administrative professionals” to clean other people’s dirty dishes is, in my view, another way of balkanizing admin work as lower-level or lesser-than. And organizations that are too cheap to hire cleaning service are pretty much asking for what they get–an unclean workplace.

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