updates: banning trash cans unless we sign a pledge never to put food in them, and more

Here are four updates from people who had their letters answered here in the past.

1. Banning trash cans unless we sign a pledge never to put food in them

Not long after I wrote to you, the director of teapot studies (“Bill”) scheduled a one-on-one meeting with me. The meeting was held in his office. As I walked in, I noticed a stack of trash cans gathering dust in a corner. At the end of the meeting, I said “Oh, that’s where the trash cans are. I need one.” Bill became very serious and said “You can only have one if you PROMISE that you will never put food in it. And if I ever find food in there, I will take the trash can back forever.” I cheerfully said “Of course I won’t do that!” and took one back to my desk.

The next month, Bill went on a multi-week business trip. One evening I found myself the only one in the building, and I had to bring some files to Bill’s desk. While in his office, I impulsively decided to liberate the trash cans. Going around the work space, I placed a trash can in each cubicle that was missing one. The next day, there were exclamations from my coworkers: “Where did this come from?!” There was extra confusion since everyone knew that Bill was out of the office. I said nothing. My coworkers decided amongst themselves that the janitorial staff had done it. When Bill returned, he never noticed that the stack of trash cans was missing… or if he did, he didn’t say anything. Life went on. Because we were all mature, responsible adults, nobody put food in their trash cans.

You correctly pegged Bill as a tool. He is a MASSIVE tool. He has a public Instagram under his real name with suggestive photos. He is notorious for never answering emails if he didn’t like you or didn’t think your request was important. Bill plays favorites. If you are not a favorite, he will avoid speaking with you and making eye contact with you… unless he needs something from you. In that case, he will suddenly act like you are his closest friend. When one of his direct reports announced that she was leaving, Bill actually cried in an all-staff meeting while saying how much he loved her and how he couldn’t imagine going on without her.

I spent a few years in that office and I cannot tell you how many strange and unhealthy things happened. Senior leadership was almost universally toxic, and when I was offered another job elsewhere that paid more and had superior benefits, I gladly gave my two weeks’ notice. Just days before my last day, my supervisor (a good one!) was suddenly fired– in an office that NEVER fires people. From what I can tell, she was terminated because Bill had never liked her and finally convinced his boss that she should go. I’ll never forget watching my supervisor cry while she carried her personal items to her car. It was such an awful sight and a terrible way to end my employment there.

I’m happy to report that both my supervisor and I are now in much better workplaces. We respect our leaders and they respect us. I’ve since learned that Bill is actively disliked by others in our field– and no wonder!

2. Can I ask my coworkers to stop talking so much about the coronavirus? (#3 at the link)

I ended up never having to say anything. As everyone adapted to the new normal of working from home, they largely stopped talking about the pandemic on their own. The exception, which I can live with, is if there is some sort of major new development, such as restrictions easing, or the Plandemic video (which at least half of them appear to have fully bought into…sigh).

3. How do I take a networking contact up on his offer? (#4 at the link)

I’m writing with a somewhat boring update to my very low-stakes question. I did send a brief-but-friendly email to the professor, and he responded warmly and quickly with an introduction to someone fairly high up in the company I was interested in. She and I had coffee and really hit it off, and then she introduced me to a colleague who helped me get an interview! Unfortunately, they don’t have an office in my state (despite having several employees who live in the area), and they decided not to move forward with any candidates who were not local or willing to relocate for this particular role (the latter being impossible for me for many reasons). They ended up instituting a hiring freeze due to COVID-19 anyway, so ultimately no real loss.

However! The higher-up woman also connected me to two awesome people who are the partners of a startup doing some really fun, interesting projects in my field. I had great rapport with both of them (I had a virtual meeting with one and an in-person coffee date with the other), and I’m starting a freelance project for them this week! It’s short and not quite the work I’m hoping to do long-term, but I am really excited about the possibilities there. It’s an interesting time because in many sectors, my type of work is booming thanks to the pandemic rather than imploding.

Anyway, thank you for giving me the confidence to make that initial contact—every networking interaction after that has helped me feel more and more confident about what I have to offer, even though I’m still a bit green in my new field. Things are falling into place, at last!

4. How much stuff can I “move in with” on my first day at a new job?

I got to enjoy my new desk for three whole weeks before being sent home — see photos. I took back the pot plant and pens, but not the tea (if I’d known it would be more than a month, I wouldn’t have left it – I’m feeling the lack of my favourite flavours). I’m doing well at my job (I think!) and am now even more glad that I found one when I did. Thank you for the advice.

{ 55 comments… read them below }

    1. Glitsy Gus*

      I hope OP sang “Born Free” while she set the cans loose to thrive in their natural environment.

  1. Molly*

    #1. Missed the original post, so this would have been my comment back then. Given that I tend toward sarcasm, I think I would have edited that promise to be exceedingly long and containing abundant legalese.
    Something along the line of: “I, (full name), do hereby swear, as God is my witness, that I shall cease and desist from the disposing, throwing, flinging, placing, and all others forms of such action, any substance containg the potential to emit odors of any kind. This shall include, but is not limited to…”
    If it can be stretched out to over a page, so much the better. And, I would seriously consider having my signature notarized.
    But then that’s just me. LOL

  2. ObamaGurl*

    OP #4–please tell me you meant “potted plant,” and not “pot plant.” Because that’s a whole different type of industry right there.

    1. Elisabeth*

      From what I can tell, ‘pot plant’ is used more often in British English, while ‘potted plant’ is used more often in American English.

      It always makes me laugh, too, whenever I hear ‘pot plant’. Even more confusing now if someone says it here in Canada, where it’s legal now! (Though this is a case where most people I hear here usually use the American English version)

    2. stealthgoth*

      in the uk its a common abbreviation, and we rely on context! my mum has many pot plants and it has never occured to me to laugh at that before – so thank you!

      1. Llama face!*

        Wait, so a potted marijuana plant wouldn’t be a pot pot plant then would it?
        Asking on behalf of my 8-year-old sense of humour.

        1. Lexica*

          If you then overindulged on its blooms you’d be getting potted on your pot pot plant. Hee!

    3. WellRed*

      yes, glad she included photos. A pot plant means something very different in the US.

    4. londonedit*

      Yep, ‘pot plant’ is very, very standard in British English to mean ‘plant in a pot’; ‘potted plant’ sounds odd (it makes me think of potted shrimp, which is tiny brown shrimps cooked with spices and ‘potted’ in a small dish with a topping of melted butter that solidifies to preserve the shrimps underneath). I think ‘weed’ is more commonly used to refer to marijuana here anyway, I don’t think it would be most people’s first thought when someone mentions having a pot plant on their desk!

  3. Anonymouse*

    #1 – Bill had a stack of trash cans gathering dust in a corner of his office.
    What was in the other three corners of his office !!!

  4. LawLady*

    #4 I have a whole tea corner in my office, and I had to go in about a month ago to check some physical files, so I liberated my tea collection. I had missed it!

    1. snoopythedog*

      Same! I keep my favourite ‘weekday’ flavours in my office and dearly missed them.
      (Yes, I have weekday and weekend flavours.)

    2. Eirene*

      I’m kicking myself that I didn’t think to grab my tea stash before we started working from home (I have a whole desk drawer devoted to tea and tea accessories), but I genuinely thought that after our “practice telework day” on a Thursday, we’d come in on Friday and get the rest of whatever we needed. But we started full-time teleworking the very next day, and although there have been official “office retrieval days,” I haven’t felt comfortable making the 2-hour commute to DC via public transit just to get my tea. At least it’ll be waiting for me when we do go back…

  5. Not So Super-visor*

    #1 Ugh, so I agree that Bill massively over-reacted, but as someone who used to have a 2nd job cleaning office buildings, I kind of understand the revulsion. One of the places that I cleaned only had the cubicle trash cans emptied 2x per week — the amount of foul smelling food items when I emptied them was gag-worthy. Also, one woman threw out high-priced coffee drinks that she’d only finished about half of, and by my count, she did this daily. I ended up wearing one of those drinks more than once.

  6. Lucia Pacciola*

    I’m curious what the right approach would be, if one person (or several people) persisted in letting food rot in their desk-side trash can, after having been asked not to do that.

    I’m not saying that’s what happened here. I’m just wondering, if an office did have a problem with rotting food stinking up the workplace, what’s the right way for a manager to address that?

    1. Llama face!*

      Get the cleaners to empty trash cans nightly?
      That seems like the easiest/reasonable fix since people will need to at least occasionally eat at their desks.

      1. Clisby*

        That’s what happened at my workplace. An office-cleaning service came through every night and took care of things like that.

    2. MayLou*

      Have it be someone’s paid job to empty the bins? In my office the bins are emptied at the weekend by the cleaning staff, and there’s no problem. If something is particularly smelly people tend to take it to the kitchen bin instead of their desk bin but on the whole, orange peel or a sandwich wrapper is fine to be left until the weekend.

    3. Observer*

      It depends on the specifics, I would think. But that’s clearly not what was happening, because what his guy was doing was about the least useful and reasonable way to handle a genuine problem that I could think of.

      And, based on what the OP was told, it wasn’t even a matter of food being left to rot, but having any food in there at all.

  7. Jaid*

    I usually get a paper and coffee at Wawa before I get into work. They give me a plastic bag for the paper and I use that as a secondary liner for the cubicle trash bin. I don’t always remember to tie it up before I leave, but since I share the desk with a night shift partner, it’s kinda moot anyway.

  8. M. Albertine*

    LW#4, I had your letter in mind when I started my new job 2 days before the work-from-home order came down. I had brought nothing but a coffee cup, so I had nothing but a coffee cup to grab: all my tea was still at home!

  9. anonymouse*

    Op 4 – I feel ya. After most of a year in a cubicle at my current job, in January, I finally got my first-ever solo office (with a door! that I could close!)…which I enjoyed for a grand total of three months before COVID-19 sent us all home. There’s a very good chance we’ll be moving to significantly increased/full-time WFH permanently for a large chunk of the staff, and very likely reducing our office imprint, so however things shake out, I’m probably not getting that office back. On the whole, I’m happy – no commute, yay! – but I wish I’d had it a *little* longer. It was so comfortable, and I had a small jungle of artificial plants that made it very homey. (They switch to full-time mandatory WFH happened over a weekend, so they’re all still there, along with most of my tea collection and one of my favorite tea cups.)

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Thank goodness they are *artificial* plants! When I went back for a run to the office, I learned that my coworkers backup plant waterer had no clue how much water to give a 4 foot pothos. I brought it home and got permission to cut it way back, because half of every vine was dead leaves.

      1. Quill*

        That’s how I got Vinelein, my pothos: The dog knocked a well established refugee from my mom’s workplace (Postmortem the longest vine measured about ten feet) over and tore a bunch of it up, the rescued cuttings went to work with me in a handy little pot, and now I’m going to have to trim him again.

  10. Oscar*

    My last job didn’t allow trashcans at our desks (but did supply recycling cans), because they wanted to discourage waste. So everyone either had to hide trash bags/containers in their desk drawers, or go to the kitchen or copy room to throw out tissues or snack packaging or whatever. I didn’t understand it.

    1. Observer*

      The idea that people are going to stop having non-recyclable garbage because you took their trash cans away is nonsense. So much so that I suspect that it was either virtue signaling or an excuse for cheaping out on supplies.

    2. Laaal*

      This happened at my work also. It only succeeded in causing everyone to fill the recycling bins with trash. Sigh.

    3. Nassan*

      This was done at my job and it worked. First everyone was upset but soon got used to the new system and started recycling more. Now you just collect your trash at the desk (small things such as tissues, chocolate wrap, banana peel etc. – it’s not like I’m cooking lunch at my desk) until you go to the toilet and throw it away. Everyone gets up from time to time and if you’re eating lunch at the desk (which is unusual for us but it happens) you anyway need to wash hands afterwards.

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        Yeah, we’re kind of the same way. We’re pretty much paperless at this point so we only have recycle cans scattered between every couple desks. Like the OP, I have allergies, so I use more than the average number of tissues, so I just got a little can of my pwn that sits on the corner of my desk so I can throw stuff in there in the moment, Then when I go to the bathroom or to the kitchen I just take the wee can with me and throw out what’s in there. It really isn’t all that big a deal.

        It really does help that we’ve gone paperless. If they had tried this before 90% of our work went digital, I would be going crazy.

  11. OhNoYouDidn't*

    Trash can hero: Lunch is left over fish, heated in her own containers in the microwave. She eats it all and packs it back up without leaving anything in the trash. That’s the story I would have loved to hear. :)

    Even so, good for you. Glad everyone got their trash cans back.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Trash can hero: Episode 2. She burns her popcorn and leaves no evidence.

  12. nonprofit director*

    #1. We removed trash cans from individual offices and cubicles for a couple of reasons. 1) We use liners and the janitorial service comes every night. We were wasting so many liners by doing this, plus most of the trash cans had little to no trash in them daily. 2) We didn’t want to stop using the liners due to food and drinks often being put in the trash cans, which would create a mess and result in additional cleaning. So to cut down on the waste of the liners and avoid the need to clean trash cans, we removed them from individual work spaces and placed trash cans in the general work area that were only steps away from most employees’ work spaces. For example, where there were 8-10 trash cans, we replaced with 1. We got so many complaints about that!!! I was shocked that people had such strong feelings about having a trash can right under their desk. But people adapted, the shared trash cans are never full, and we save a ton of money on trash can liners.

    1. Ann Nonymous*

      There wasn’t an option for the person doing the emptying to use judgment? If there were only a few (non-food) items, couldn’t they have emptied them all into one bigger bin or bag or skip them until they were full? You could also have requested that food trash be disposed of in the kitchen or other appropriate place as well.

  13. justarandomreader*

    #4 – I don’t know why I am thinking it but your office looks so incredibly German :)

    1. allathian*

      Looks a lot like my office setup, too! Except that I share an office with one coworker so that we’re sitting back to back and with a space divider between us. Although, to be fair, my desk is never that tidy.

  14. TheTomatoInUrFruitSalad*

    OP 4 I feel your pain on the tea. After we vacated our offices in March to work from home, I left my tea, thinking I’d be back in a month. I broke down last week and asked my boss if security could let me into the building to get some personal items and it turned out that was no issue as many people have had similar requests. Now I’m happily sipping my oolong and all is right with the world.

  15. LCH*

    1. “You correctly pegged Bill as a tool. He is a MASSIVE tool.” that made me laugh so hard :D

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