can I ask my employee not to put papers on my desk?

A reader writes:

My desk is (shamefully) extremely messy, both with crumbs and stray papers. I clean it once a week, but I’m not a naturally neat person. However, my direct report, Lauren, is very neat and loves physical media. If I send her a Slack message, she’ll show up at my desk with a Post-It note. She keeps putting things on my desk for me to review, expecting that I’ll get them done since it’s on my desk.

Last month, Lauren let herself into my office while I was out at lunch with our office-wide key and put a Post-It note on my desk with an update for a project. I didn’t see the note, and then in our meeting I asked her for an update, to which she responded she’d put it on my desk. This made me feel I had to scramble to review it on my messy desk. I then asked her to not put stuff on my desk, or if she did, to send me a Slack message so I could look out for it. Since then, she’s put a few papers and notes on my desk for me to review, no Slack message accompanying them. She even gave me a written-out schedule before my office move and asked for it back when my supplies were in boxes, and I had to stop and find it for her since she hadn’t stored the information anywhere else.

This week, I returned from a sick day to see that Lauren had let herself in my office again to put papers on my desk with a note for me to review before our meeting later that day. There’s not a ton of context in the papers themselves to review them — it would make more sense to me for us to just go over them together in a meeting. Then, she sent me a file link for a shared drive for my review before our meeting yesterday through Slack. I asked her if she could just print it and bring it to our meeting later that day so we can look over it together, since it’s not a long file (1-2 pages) and the content would make sense to just glance at in our meeting. Instead of doing that, she let herself in my office again and put the printed copy on my desk, I assume for my review before our meeting.

Was I wrong to ask her not to put stuff on my desk? How can I ask her to stop assuming I always have time before our meetings to go over documents? Am I being too weird about my personal-ish office space, or should I just be neater?

No, it’s completely reasonable to ask someone not to put stuff on your desk. That’s a pretty common preference — even among people without terribly messy desks — and you’re not being weird or unreasonable by asking for it.

To the contrary, Lauren is the one being weird by insisting on doing it after you’ve asked her not to.

Because you did ask her not to, and she’s continuing to do it anyway! That’s a problem, just like if you said, “Please email me instead of calling me about X” and she kept calling you about X, or if you said, “Please send these files electronically rather than printing out 50-page tomes” and she insisted on printing them out every time anyway. Hell, it’s the same sort of problem as anything where you, as her manager, told her to do X rather than Y but she ignored you.

It’s time to ask why she’s still doing it! Sit down with her and say, “I’ve asked you a few times now not to put anything I need to see on my desk but you keep doing it. How come?”

Maybe she’ll have some explanation that makes sense, although I’m hard-pressed to imagine what it is. Do you never see emails either? Do you have her blocked on Slack? Did she completely mishear you and hear, “Please do continue putting things on my desk — I love it”? Who knows what she’ll say, but it’s useful to ask what’s happening on her end of this.

But then it’s reasonable to say, “I want to be really clear: Going forward, please do not put anything on my desk.” Also, don’t water this down with “unless you message me on Slack to say it’s there.” You’ve tried that, it didn’t work, and at this point you should leave no wiggle room.

Similarly, with the thing about her dropping off documents for you to review before a meeting when you’ve explicitly asked her to bring it to the meeting to look at together, that’s probably a case of needing to be more explicit too: “When I’ve asked you to bring something to our meeting so we can look at it together, that’s what I want you to do. Sometimes you’ve printed it out and left it for me instead — but my schedule is packed and I often don’t have time to review those documents before we meet. So when I ask you to have it ready for us to look over together, I want you to take that literally and bring it to our meeting. If that causes issues on your end, I of course want to hear that, but otherwise please assume that’s the plan.”

Also, do you want her continuing to unlock your office when you’re not there? It sounds like it would be useful to tell her to stop doing that too.

I think at some level you’re wondering if you’ve brought this on yourself by not being neater — and maybe are having some Messy Person Guilt? — but this is really about an employee who’s ignoring clear and specific directions from her manager, and that’s how you should approach it. If your desk set-up works for you, then it’s really no one else’s business (assuming you’re not creating a fire or health hazard, and assuming people can find what they need when you’re out if they have standing to go looking, and assuming your own boss doesn’t have an objection to it — none of which sounds like the problem here).

Read an update to this letter

{ 366 comments… read them below }

  1. Peanut Hamper*

    Yes, your boss gets to dictate how you communicate with them. This is just how it is.

    Because, you know, they’re the boss.

    There is nothing weird in this request, or even requirement. Also, that all-office key has got to go.

    1. Anonym*

      Yeah. My main thought was “why are you doing something other than what I told you to do?” Her choices are really strange!

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        Adding in: okay, Sarah likes physical media over IMs, fine. But why on earth is she NOT retaining copies of stuff she leaves for others? That “digging out the one copy of the schedule from boxes I already packed” thing is next-level annoying!

        Even if Sarah wants to have stuff printed out, that’s for her only. And she should NEVER give the only physical copy of something she has to coworker or supervisor for this exact reason (omitting obvious stuff like top secret or confidential information, which probably shouldn’t be floating around in physical form in the first place.)

            1. Sharpie*

              “Because aren’t these YouTube videos of kittens so much more interesting than boring old work?”

        1. M-Dub*

          As a person that handles TS and Confidential documents all the time, a lot of it is in physical form. It’s significantly easier to prevent spillage because the chain of custody is easier to keep track of. When handled properly, physical documents are much more secure.

          1. anonhere*

            But, of course, TS and Confidential documents should absolutely NOT be “floating” around and left on people’s desk, which is the use case here.

          2. Dilly*

            As someone who handles TS and Confidential documents, I would never, ever leave them on someone’s desk as that is not proper handling of them. If they are being actively used, they can be in arms length of whomever is authorized to access them, otherwise they are required to be secured (approved safe or approved locking file cabinet) so yeah, what this employee is doing is not at all secure and that excuse doesn’t hold water.

        2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

          Absolutely, goddessoftransitory! That top secret or confidential information should be stored in cardboard boxes and stacked in the bathroom of an expensive Florida resort hotel that’s open to anyone who can pay. That’s the presidential way to do it!

          But seriously, OP: get that key back from your assistant and TELL her – not ask her, TELL her! – to stop dumping hard-copies of documents on your desk. Most of all, get back that key – and if you suspect her of having had a copy made, change the lock. She really shouldn’t be in your office at all if you’re not there.

          1. Elizabeth West*


            I agree with this. If the OP were okay with Lauren leaving physical copies of paperwork, an inbox could be put on the desk to receive her offerings, but messy desk aside, this is clearly not their preference. And I would feel very weird about my report constantly going into my office if I’m not there, especially if that person can’t seem to listen to what I’m saying.

    2. Michelle Smith*

      What? Why should the key have to go?

      If OP goes on vacation, should no one be able to access important files that might be in her office? If god forbid OP passes away, should the company have to call a locksmith to get back into the office?

      The key is not the problem, it’s Lauren and their use/misuse of it.

      1. whimbrel*

        Without OP being something like, idk, an architect or an engineer or surveyor who has unique copies of large physical files like blueprints or maps, I can’t see any reason for OP’s reports to be going into their office to leave things on their desk or to get files. File access specifically seems like the type of thing that ideally that gets handled before OP goes on leave, or the reports should be checking in with their grandboss to get access to the office, not just walking in.

        1. Samwise*

          Eh, people do that on the regular in our office — we have mailboxes, but if the papers need to be seen sooner, we go into the office and put it on the person’s chair.

          However, we don’t go digging for stuff on others’ desks or cabinets — it’s strictly a drop-off.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            We are also a leave-it-in-my-chair culture, but you absolutely do not go rifling through people’s desks or cabinets. (We no longer have mailboxes since no one ever used them.) And, if it’s urgent, you also IM them just in case they are in meetings all day away from their desk or out of the office or something.

          2. Drago Cucina*

            This makes me crazy. Do not leave things on my chair. I’ve rushed back into my office to send an important email and sat on papers. Or other things. That’s why I have an inbox for papers.

            1. NerdyPrettyThings*

              Oh my goodness, yes. The last thing I want to do when I dash into my office between meetings is have to clear off my chair before I can even sit down. Whatever you are leaving on my chair is NOT so important that I have to see it before I can sit.

            2. Anonomatopoeia*

              The point of it being on the chair is you see it before you sit. How is that not your outcome?!

              (This is definitely going to turn out to be one of those neurotypical/divergent things, I can tell. My inbox is a TERRIBLE place to put something you want me to notice sharpish; also, it is the place where all the things that are waiting for something live.)

              1. Sweet 'N Low*

                Something that’s worked really well for my neurodivergent noggin: “TO DO” and “AWAITING RESPONSE” email folders/labels. All emails that contain info needed for current projects, or emails that have action items, go into the “TO-DO” folder. All emails that I’m waiting on a reply to go in the “AWAITING RESPONSE” folder. I have Gmail set up so that my inbox fills up most of the left side of my screen, and then on the right side are those folders; that way, they’re always right in front of my face.

                I think I actually got the inspiration for this from AAM at some point.

              2. Been There*

                If you want me to see something straight away when I get to my desk, you need to put it on my keyboard. That means I have to deal with it before I can do anything else.

              3. TootsNYC*

                sure, i saw it. But I want to sit down in order to deal with it (and in order to deal with the stuff I brought into the office in my hands–my hands are not automatically free).

                But I can’t. Because something is on my chair. And my hands are full, so I can’t pick it up.

                1. MW*

                  Wait, do people really sit down before they set down the things they are carrying? I always set down the files I’m carrying or the cup of coffee before I take a seat.

            3. La Triviata*

              At my current job, we routinely leave papers on people’s chairs – most of us don’t use in-boxes. It really annoyed me at first, since in the previous job you’d only leave papers on someone’s chair if it was urgent/important, but once I got used to it, I just go with the flow.

              1. Lucy P*

                Same here. Non-urgent goes on the desk/keyboard. Really urgent goes on the chair. One person has an inbox but has a tendency to not “see” things that are there, so important things go on their chair too. IM is available but no one used it, so we uninstalled the apps. Please don’t give me a post-it note though for important info. Those things are too tiny and will get lost easily (or I’m going to staple them to another sheet of paper).

                1. TootsNYC*

                  One person has an inbox but has a tendency to not “see” things that are there,

                  This is how I got people to use my In box; I was fierce about going through it every time I went in or out of my office, so people didn’t need to worry that their stuff would be overlooked just because it was on the bottom.

                  For an In box to work, people have to truly trust it.

            4. TootsNYC*

              I hate having to move things off a chair.

              First, I might sit on it, as you say.
              Second, I’ve returned to the office with OTHER things in my hands, and now I can’t just sit down and deal with them.
              Third, it stresses me out. I feel pushed around and hurried.

              People were always putting things on my chair or on my desk, and I had an In Box
              For me, the secret was to fiercely enforce the In box (to the point that I made serial offenders come down the hall to my office and get it off my chair and put it in my In box). And then to fiercely prove that they could trust my In box. Eventually it worked.

          3. Just Moi*

            We used to have clear acrylic pockets attached to the office windows next to the door that urgent materials could be dropped in – that preserved privacy; no one needed to enter the office, eliminated slipping; when papers were slid under the door to lay in wait for an unsuspecting person to slip on them in a darkened office, and let the office owner know there was something that needed their attention.

          4. whimbrel*

            yeah, I’ve also definitely left documents on colleagues’ chairs as well (we don’t have mailboxes). But I was thinking of it in the context of OP already having asked Lauren to not do that + OP locking their office, it seems like a much more significant overstep on Lauren’s part to keep doing it and sorting out the key situation seems, uh… key.

            (sorry, I have terrible impulse control when it comes to puns.)

          5. J*

            I used to have 20 attorneys I worked with and corporate culture dictated you could not ever get the preference wrong for location. We had cheat sheet guides to ordering food for them but also preferences on documents in chairs, on keyboards, on desk, on desk in a basket, mailbox outside of door and a few other quirky ones. It was exhausting to be asked to print something and then every time have to check a binder for a preference. I did my best to be as paperless as possible. I really wish this could be dictated at an office level. This is one of a dozen reasons why I’m now a fully remote employee, it’s nice to have so much added productivity because I don’t have to worry that someone prefers the basket inbox on their bookshelf and not the one on their desk.

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          This really depends on the work setting. I regularly need to access files stored in my boss’s office – we still use physical documents for a lot of things (incident reports, maintenance requests, inspections, shipping papers, etc), and due to limited storage space his office is the easiest place to keep them.

          If LW is in a similar situation it’s not practical to require a check-in every time her employee needs to enter. Nor should it be necessary… “Don’t leave anything on my desk” should not be difficult to follow!

      2. Colette*

        It’s pretty normal for security or building management to have copies of keys. Maybe the OP’s report needs a copy for a legitimate reason – but if not, it seems reasonable to take it away.

      3. Moodbling*

        the issue is not that a universal key exists but that people appear to have a universal key who shouldn’t.

        1. yvve*

          maybe its the kind of setting where contractors or members of the public are regularly in the space? but employees might need access to files or something

        2. Anonymous*

          Everyone in my office suite has a key for the rooms within the suite. No one else does.

      4. GammaGirl1908*

        I took that as more “everyone having unfettered willy-nilly access to the all-office key should be better controlled.” I agree with that. If your office is locked, it’s because you don’t want everyone stampeding through it.

      5. Sybil Writes*

        The key may be necessary in case of an emergency but access to it should be limited. Certainly it should not be used to unlock boss’ office while she’s AT LUNCH. That is beyond the pale for an employee to crash boss’s office. I wouldn’t enter a closed door without knocking or a locked one unless I suspected fire flood or bodily injury. To me this is the weirdest aspect of all.
        If my door was unlocked I would suggest if someone has to leave something for me they drop it on my chair as that is where I’m most likely to notice it. Nothing to do with messy desk, I always use the chair if I have to leave a hard copy.

    3. Lea*

      People used to slip things under my desk when I wasn’t there and that seems sort of reasonable? I know in the past occasionally I would put something on a clean desk or chair, but not all the time and no one ever complained so I guess it was cool.

      Wondering if there IS a reason though, maybe this boss is really not keeping up? I would at least think about that, and maybe add a little inbox outside my door if I were them.

      I was a little surprised they asked for something to be printed after all the talk about slack

      1. Hannah Lee*

        While how one person or another may have handled dropping off documents in a way that worked for them (ie under a closed door), it doesn’t really matter because what Lauren is doing a) doesn’t work for LW and b) LW has asked Lauren not to do it but she keeps doing it.

        Also, as a visual filer … someone who keeps my active-ish project documents on my desk in stacks, in a system that works for me quite well thank you very much… the suggestion that LW is somehow “not keeping up” when she prefers NOT to have people unexpectedly leaving papers on her desk bugs me.

        I don’t particularly mind someone leaving something on my desk (as long as they place it on my keyboard or other paper-free spot where I will see it, instead of say on the stack of last week’s shipping receipts that I’ll only look at if I need something in that stack this week, or when I recycle it next week) My boss the CEO has a desk that is nearly always empty or with a few things placed neatly and he does not like it when people leave things on his desk without telling him. (Also, my first week he told me that, and so I don’t leave stuff on his desk)

        There is no correlation between our work preferences WRT hard copy paper, the way we organize our workspaces and our ability to keep up with our jobs, and I’m going to give LW the benefit of the doubt that that’s the case with her too.

        Meanwhile, Lauren repeatedly being unwilling or unable to take simple instruction or respect her boss’s preferences makes me suspect she wouldn’t use an inbox even if LW put one out.

        1. Jaydee*

          I’m the same. I often have things on my desk either as temporary storage or because I’m actively using them and leaving them out will help me figure out where I’m at in a project when I come back to it later. I have an in-box on top of my cabinet next to my desk. I have had to specifically tell every admin to use that rather than putting things on my desk. Now we’re in a flux period where we don’t have an admin so various people are covering mail duty and I can’t catch everyone to tell them “hey use the inbox please!” But it is so frustrating that people just add a thing on top of/among existing things and expect you’ll notice it. Even putting it on my chair would be better (ideal if I had no in-box, but 2nd choice since I do have an inbox positioned right where I’ll see it when I walk in).

          1. Sweet 'N Low*

            I think it’s so interesting how people’s brains work so differently sometimes. Your system would never, ever work for me. I keep my desk very particular, and I’m very sensitive to things being off in my space, so if something was added I would notice it immediately (even if it was added on/near similar things). But there is 0 chance that I would ever remember to check an inbox, even one that’s right in front of my face; I think it would have to be on my desk with the contents very clearly visible for it to register for me… which is effectively the same thing as putting it on my desk.

    4. Momma Bear*

      I agree. If she can’t use the office key only when it’s really necessary then she shouldn’t have it.

      She may be a hard copy person, but that still doesn’t negate your need for her to give you the info how you need to receive it. I had bosses that would not be in their office half the day and show up at the meeting straight from another meeting. It would…not have been good…if I’d left something on their desk instead if they explicitly told me to bring it with me.

      I agree that you need to give her no wiggle room. Tell her how you need it and push back when she doesn’t do it. We all have preferences and workflows. My post its are for my own information. If someone has a task for me, I need an email for a lot of reasons. I don’t get the impression here that she’s skirting accountability but she’s making it hard to track.

      1. Ophelia*

        And honestly, at this point, I’d be very direct about how you want to receive information, and then–if this persists–repeatedly tell Lauren that you do not have the file, and that you need her to go get it/send it/etc. Essentially, apart from rare edge cases where 10 minutes is going to make or break something, if it’s on your desk, you did not receive it, and that becomes Lauren’s problem to solve (and honestly at that point, I’d be having a pretty direct performance conversation as well).

        1. Ozzac*

          Yes, honestly this letter is quite cut and dry. LW has expressed multiple times how they want things handled and Lauren is ignoring explicit instructions. I would already be at the stage of PIP.

    5. ferrina*

      One of the first questions I ask when I get a new boss is “what is your preferred communication style?”

      If it’s “Bring me hard copies of everything”, great. If it’s “Email me, never put things on my desk”, great.

      It’s so normal for different bosses to have different working styles, and yes, the boss gets to have their preferred communication style (within reason- I’d struggle if my boss demanded everything in semaphore)

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        “I’d struggle if my boss demanded everything in semaphore”

        Yes, that would definitely be a red flag

    6. Shoryl*

      in my office, there is a master key that is used for the storage rooms, conference rooms, etc all. if the door has a lock, it can be opened with that key. this does include manager offices, but general practice is not to use it for those.

    7. tamarack etc.*

      Yup. If reports put things on their superiors’ desks it is because the superiors prefer it that way! Also, people get to manage their immediate work environment, unless otherwise specified by office policy or mandate – you don’t barge into this sphere with a superior or peer. And to the extent that it *is* mandated – in the olden days before shared folders we had in-trays.

  2. UnicornUnicorn*

    Before my job went fully remote, we’d often leave things that needed to be approved taped to a giant inflatable penguin someone brought back from a conference. You’d go to lunch and come back to Approvals Penguin sitting on your chair.

    The big difference being that everyone at my company liked Approvals Penguin and no one had offices – we all just had cubes so you weren’t going into someone’s office to leave stuff.

    1. Silver Robin*

      That is adorable, and definitely avoids the issue of paperwork getting missed in the general shuffle XD

    2. Anonym*

      I can only imagine this increased the speed of your approvals! Wish we could get away with it where I am, but we have the dreaded hotdesking.

    3. mango chiffon*

      This would make me wish I could approve things just to get a visit from the Approvals Penguin

    4. Snow Globe*

      No penguins (darn it) but our standard practice is to leave things on a person’s chair, rather than desktop, so they know it’s there.

      1. Clisby*

        That was standard procedure where I’ve worked, too, but we’ve had posters here indignant that someone would have the nerve to put something on a chair instead of an inbox. Apparently some people think putting papers on a chair means someone is demanding they WORK ON THIS RIGHT NOW, when really it just means “here’s something new.”

        1. Artemesia*

          That is what I do at home when there is mail my husband needs to see. I am not messing with his desk, but if it is a bill he needs to pay or a notice or a new credit card has just arrived — it goes on his chair so he can grab it and dispose of it as is convenient for him.

      2. Beth*

        That’s what’s usually done in my office –more from a sense of “this will make sure the person sees it right away and knows it’s been dropped off since they were last here” as opposed to “wow your desk is so messy I had to put this on your chair”.

          1. Susannah*

            I HATE it when people leave things on my chair. It suggests that you can’t even sit down -I’m just too important! And I find it a little infantilizing, like you can’t be trusted to look at your desk or read your messages.
            But what really got me on this was at my daily newspaper job, where my boss instructed the office manager to leave that day’s paper on all our seats (like… what? He thought we didn’t read our own newspaper? And basically had read it the night before, in the system?). I’d run in from doing interviews, sit down – and get hard-to-remove newspaper ink all over my skirt. Yeah, I’ll die on this hill.

            1. JB*

              As evidenced by comments here, this is such a common thing that people/offices to that you can be confident that most people who do this aren’t having feelings about you when they do it. It’s almost never that people think they’re too important that makes people put stuff in your chair. It’s totally fine to have a preference, of course! I can see why people who sit down in their chair without looking wouldn’t like it. But it’s not that deep; people aren’t doing it to be condescending or infantilizing or anything like that. Again, you don’t have to like it. But it’s such a common thing that there’s no reason to project feelings onto the people who do it.

      3. zuzu*

        I had a coworker who had a really godawful messy office (it didn’t help that this was in the late 90s, and we were the two people who reviewed the daily mail for a GIGANTIC litigation; we would literally each get a stack of papers two feet high every day to sort through, and his mostly wound up strewn around his office). I had to leave things he *had* to deal with on his chair, or he wouldn’t see them.

        Which worked, until he just started sitting on the papers people left on his chair. So I started taping things to his monitor, which he didn’t like. But I really didn’t have anywhere else I could leave a piece of paper that he would see it and deal with it, and we didn’t have Slack, nor could we email the documents.

        I will say that as bad as his office was, it could not hold a candle to some of the faculty offices I’ve seen now that I’ve moved on to academia. He only had a year or so to mess his up; those guys had decades.

      4. amoeba*

        If the chair doesn’t work/people don’t like it, how about leaving it physically on the keyboard? At least for me, that would make it impossible to overlook once I want to start typing…

        1. Elizabeth West*

          This would not have worked for OldExJob Coworker and Bullyboss. Both their cubes looked like an episode of Hoarders. It would have vanished into the chaos, never to return.

        2. Lady_Lessa*

          Because I don’t like things left on my chair, I tend to use the keyboard (even for myself).

    5. WantonSeedStitch*

      Approvals Penguin is awesome. I would have been tempted, however to replace it with a seal. The Seal of Approvals.

      1. Anne of Green Gables*

        Oh, I was on Team Approvals Penguin until you raised the possibility of the Seal of Approvals. I need to make this happen at my workplace.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          Approval Penguin and the Seals of Approval
          2024 “This Concert Should Have Been an Email” World Tour.

        2. Anonymous Scientist*

          I actually have a plushy seal. Its name is O-ring because it is a round seal (it’s a Squishable, for those of you who know the general roundness of Squishables).

          Therefore … I could make a Seal of Approval happen. Hmmm….

    6. goddessoftransitory*

      BRB, starting a band called The Approvals Penguins. First single: “Can You Look At This?”

    7. Batman*

      I think there’s another important difference here: the penguin flags the presence of the paperwork, making it clear (even on the messiest desk!) that there is a task that needs to be taken care of. No one is gonna miss the penguin, and missing the paperwork seems like a large part of OP’s complaint. Approvals Penguin was truly an exemplary employee. (To be clear, I don’t think Approvals Penguin would work in OP’s situation, but it does solve that part of the issue in a way that I thought was charming, clever, and friendly. I know past letter writers have found putting papers on their chair to be somewhat passive aggressive.)

    8. Double A*

      This is hilarious. But also, this is the kind of thing that needs to be left on a desk because it’s an action item. And I’m assuming Approvals Penguin started because people were missing papers left on their desks.

      Actually, this might be a good strategy for the LW. Tell Lauren that if there is an action-item hard paper, tape it to Approvals Penguin. Only papers that require action with the physical paper (basically, a signature) go on the penguin. Everything else is electronic.

    9. ecnaseener*

      Ha! I hope you also commented this to the earlier post asking for wacky office traditions, it’s a great one.

    10. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      I desperately don’t want anything printed that does not absolutely have to be, but I do want to randomly pass around a Penguin in the office.

    11. J*

      I just made a comment above about how I needed to know 20 people’s very different preferences on where to put the papers. I had to consult a binder each time and every 6 months I had new attorneys added and others rotate out of my team (it was a satellite office with a rotation) so I couldn’t even begin to memorize them. An Approval Penguin would have been life altering.

  3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Yes, the office key should go. And OP gets to call the shots.

    But couldn’t OP also get a $5 inbox thing, in case Lauren does bring in any physical stuff?

    1. 3DogNight*

      Normally, I’d agree with the In-Box thing. But, Lauren is being so deliberately obtuse about this that my thought is no. It gives her an excuse to keep ignoring her BOSS’s instructions.

      1. Heidi*

        The OP could put the inbox on the door so that the papers are all in one place and no one needs to enter the office. Of course, telling Lauren not to sneak into the office and put papers in there should have worked anyway, but it sounds like making that happen is going to be a process.

        1. Harried HR*

          I wouldn’t hold you breath on this one… I have a bin ON my door because I HATE (with a purple passion !!) when people slide paperwork under my door (back issues make it hard to bend) but every month I will still get things under my door !!!! (grrrrr)

          Yes I have communicated this multiple times !!!!

          1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

            I would be so tempted to just walk over it and tell people I couldn’t get their papers because I can’t bend, but if they’d like me to read them I’ll gladly do so if they put it in the inbox for that purpose.

            1. Ashley*

              I have actually done this. I had a role where I had an inbox and some people would still put stuff in my chair. (To be clear I kept up on my inbox and it typically empty.) I would make sure it wasn’t something requiring a signature for outside of office folks and then I would sit on it, move it and put it at the bottom of my to do pile.
              There are times we still have to deal in paper and have a designated location is best. Post it reminders though seem to have a limited usage if someone else is creating them for me. I find an email or text much more helpful.

          2. Samwise*

            Back in the last century, students would slide work under my door — almost always late.

            I got really tired of slipping on papers, gathering up papers, listening to students argue that they had slid their work under the door and if I didn’t have it well they DID turn it in [=those students were pants on fire] Those papers were a hazard and a hassle for our cleaning person too.

            I finally put a note right at the bottom of the door: If you slide work under the door, you did not turn it in = Zero / F.

            Stopped getting work under the door almost immediately. Anything slid under the door after that I threw away without looking at it. Haha, response to student who then said, I slid it under the door: Did you read the sign on the door where it said “… zero/F”? Then I’d shrug and say, I don’t know what to tell you, it wasn’t turned in.

          3. TootsNYC*

            I would start calling whoever left it there (if I could tell by looking at it without bending over) and ask them to come pick it up for you because your back is acting up and you odn’t want to throw it out completely by bending over.

            If you don’t know who put it there, verbally ask around the office about who put it there, and then ask them to pick it up for you.

            If they have to do twice the work, they might remember.

            It’s a bit like the parent/teenager dynamic, but…

        2. Natasha Hollenzoller*

          I’m guessing Lauren would just bypass this and keep doing what she is doing. If you ignore your boss specifically telling you to do something, then why would you then start listening?

      2. Momma Bear*

        Agreed. I don’t think it would stop her from things like not bringing a file to a meeting or leaving a post it.

      3. Bopper*

        But the question is… if she sends it how Boss wants it…does s/he follow through? Are they getting the emails and then acting on them in a timely manner?

        1. Samwise*

          That’s why Alison suggests OP ask Lauren why she is doing it.

          Without knowing for sure, which we don’t, this is just fanfic and a bit of victim blaming.

        2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          Only OP knows for sure, but since “I’m missing things my employee wants from me because she won’t communicate in the way I expressly asked (Slack and email) employee doesn’t know either because she didn’t want to try.
          This is becoming a power struggle on Laura’s part. OP should ask exactly what you are saying: “I prefer email. What in my history with you makes you determined to create a paper trail?”
          Ok, maybe don’t go incendiary, but ask.

          1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

            If anything email creates a better “paper trail” than a physical print out, since it can be tracked and proven whether/when the employee sent it.

            I think Lauren is just in the habit or preference of leaving paper copies of things and doesn’t see why she should change, even when directly asked by her manager.

    2. Silver Robin*

      I am wary of getting a physical inbox “just in case” because then it makes Lauren’s behavior seem like something people should adapt to or that it is less of a big deal that she is ignoring direct instructions not to leave stuff on OP’s desk. If OP does not want Lauren to leave stuff on the desk, do not facilitate Lauren doing so.

      1. longtime reader*

        Totally agreed. If the issue was things getting lost in the mess, but OP was otherwise fine with receiving physical notes/papers/etc., an inbox would be a viable option, but OP specifically does not want to receive this stuff this way. Lauren needs to come around to the very standard convention of “following direct instructions,” and from her boss, no less! If she has a super compelling reason for her behavior, I’d love to hear it, but I can’t see how a Post-It would ever be the correct response to a Slack message. And she suuuper shouldn’t be letting herself into anyone else’s private office without explicit permission unless it’s a genuine emergency. Such a strange situation!

        1. Lily Rowan*

          Seriously!!! Poor OP definitely feels shame about the messy desk, but that is not the issue here! The issue is Lauren has been told how to act, and declines to do it!! Follow direct instructions for your boss!!

          I realize I am not saying anything everyone else isn’t already saying.

          1. Silver Robin*

            Yeah but there are commenters finger wagging at OP for not having a clean desk which is…very besides the point and irritating.

            1. Lily Rowan*

              Yeah, I think that is why I am so worked up here. That is not the point! If the OP didn’t want to receive papers on her desk because her desk was paper-free, Lauren would still be an issue!

              1. Lily Rowan*

                Also, I 100% understand only wanting a paper copy of something at the in-person meeting where you’re discussing it, and am not sure why that is also confusing to commenters.

            2. Hannah Lee*

              There is a tiny part of me wondering if that is what Lauren is doing too … almost like continuing to put paper, post it notes on a desk she deems messy, disorganized is her way of feeling superior. A little finger waggling, even subconsciously. Saying to herself “well boss would have seen the urgent slip of paper if her desk wasn’t so messy”. That also could explain her failure to change her behavior; part of her thinks she did nothing wrong and that LW is the one doing it wrong, so the corrections don’t sink in.

              See also the early birds who schedule 8 am meetings, show up 30 minutes early and then start the meeting at 7:50 before everyone shows up and then act like the people who missed the first 5-10 minutes were morally inferior (I worked with one of those once. It was annoying)

              1. Silver Robin*

                I sincerely hope not, because that would be unacceptably snarky. Subconscious or otherwise. I am banking on Lauren doing things her way because it seems most obvious (whatever the reason) and that OP just needs to really really emphasize that THIS IS WHAT TO DO in order for Lauren to stop going on autopilot.

        1. Silver Robin*

          I think we can trust OP to know where, when, and if they need a physical copy of something.

        2. Myrin*

          The letter is about OP’s office, though, so it doesn’t really matter what’s reasonable or not in other offices.
          Also, OP clearly recognises that, seeing how she actually mentioned an example where she actively wanted Lauren to print something and bring it to her.
          And Lauren is the only person OP has this problem with so other people and their paperwork wouldn’t profit from an inbox anyway but just continue doing what they’re doing now.

        3. sparkle emoji*

          The LW gives an example in the letter of when she asked for a paper copy with explicit instructions on how she wanted the paper copy delivered, and Lauren still didn’t follow the instructions. This also isn’t about just paperwork. One of the main issues mentioned is Lauren leaving sticky notes instead of an email or slack message, which LW prefers. This isn’t an issue about whether or not paperwork can be brought into any office, it’s an issue about Lauren not following the rules of LW’s specific office. It would still be an issue if LW asked for paper and Lauren insisted on exclusively digital copies.

    3. Martin Blackwood*

      I think in this context that would be watering the message down, just like the letting op know on slack part Alison mentioned.

    4. Era*

      As a fellow messy person — I suspect any inbox thing would also get filled up the same way the rest of the desk does and stop being useful as a way to add time-sensitive things to OP’s to-do list. Unless it was dedicated to Lauren’s stuff, in which case it’s reinforcing a habit that OP would like to stop.

    5. lost academic*

      No, it’s not a good idea. This doesn’t work for the OP and the documents appearing on her desk is a problem for all of the reasons outlined and surely then some. Making everyone ‘happy’ isn’t always the right idea because it’s a bigger issue – this is an employee deliberately doing things that make her boss’s job harder and ignoring direct requests. Sometimes it makes sense and but’s easy to make a minor adjustment but it’s not the right call here.

    6. The Person from the Resume*

      No. If the LW wanted physical copies left on her desk and wanted to be able to find them then an Inbox is a good idea.

      LW does not want things left on her desk. LW doesn’t work that way. LW as the boss gets to call the shots.

      Frankly I asked a question via email or IM and the person responded by writing it out and giving me a post it is wierd but also annoying because now there’s no electronic trail unless the LW types it in.

      Lauren is the outlier here and as the junior person does not get to make other cater to her unusual preference for physical media for everything.

      1. Anonymous*

        I hadn’t even thought about electronic trail. I hate when co-workers give me paper or verbal answers because then they trail is broken. I try to respond to the trail with, “just to repeat the discussion we just had in the hallway, “

      2. sparkle emoji*

        Your point about the post-it in response to email seems important here. Little post-its are easy to lose and if Lauren insists on replying with them, LW then needs to keep track of them. Even for the neatest people I know, keeping track of a 2in by 2in square of paper would be nightmarish.

    7. Scooter34*

      I’ve got to push back on this. I had a coworker who wanted me to get an inbox – and went so far as to buy me a couple of different ones. I asked her nicely to please put documents on my chair –
      Because I would know exactly when something came in, and I could make an immediate decision about what to do with it. Others may not agree with my preference – but it is my call to make.

      LW gets to receive info in the way she asks for it.

    8. Dog momma*

      Ha! when I worked in an office, I had an inbox. I never used it and certainly wouldn’t look for anything there, esp if it was important. Put it in my chair, on my keyboard and I’ll get right too it. Put it in the inbox…not so much.

  4. Sara*

    She’s being willfully obtuse about this. You being messy has nothing to do with her not following directions – even if you were super neat and tidy, you may still prefer electronic communications or to review items in meetings for time management purposes. Her blatantly ignoring you is such a weird thing to do to someone you report to. Especially since in the once case, she apparently gave you the only copy of the information?!

    1. Cat's Paw for Cats*

      Agree. All of the other issues about messy desks and paper preferences are distractions from the actual issue which is an employee failing to follow directions.

      This is the issue, and the solution is to politely but clearly express to Lauren that this is how we will be doing it in the future.

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      Yes, the messy desk is a side quest here: distracting, but not the point.

      It wouldn’t matter if the LW had her entire office arranged like a flyover of the Midwest with perfect right angles everywhere; what matters is her preference for receiving and collating information.

    3. Slow Gin Lizz*

      It makes me wonder (naturally, as a regular and long-time AAM reader) how many other things Lauren isn’t doing very well if she can’t follow these simple instructions.

    4. Natasha Hollenzoller*

      It’s so weird that the original is not saved on a computer? How did she generate the schedule unless she hand drew it or something?

      1. OP*

        You are exactly right. She sometimes hand-draws everything, but in this case she’d printed out a calendar and used that to hand-draft and color-code timelines.

        1. mango chiffon*

          This doesn’t seem like a very efficient use of her time, but maybe that’s just my opinion…

          1. OP*

            mango chiffon (which is an incredible name), I agree! She’s very particular about her habits and processes, but I’ve been also trying to help her strengthen her Excel skills, which would help with this. It’s a lot of different battles to pick from?

            1. Kit*

              I sort of feel like it’s all one battle, namely: Lauren needs to listen when she receives a directive from her manager. Her being particular about her habits and processes is fine… except when it comes into conflict with your needs and instructions, and if she is so inflexible she can’t change her behavior when explicitly told to, that’s PIP material. You have all the grounds you need to sit down with her, explain clearly and concisely that when you give her a specific direction about how to handle documentation, you need her to follow it or her employment will be in jeopardy.

              She can decide whether she’s willing to let her inflexibility risk her job, but this doesn’t need to be a fight at all, and having her make it into one is not a great sign that she’s capable of adapting.

        2. Alanna*

          I sort of get this — I don’t think I’ve ever had to handle a piece of paper professionally in my entire 15-year career (certainly not at my current job, where I’ve been for nearly a decade) but my brain actually does prefer paper for tasks like that; something about being able to see the whole field.

          However, I would never try to turn my hand-drawn paper into my boss — it’s just so wildly out of place with office norms!

        3. Reetgood*

          Ok I would totally print out a schedule and write on it. I spent a stupid amount of time trying to find a solution so I could print out and then draw on my schedule showing both work and personal calendars (spoiler, the way to do this if you don’t have an apple computer is to screen shot it).

          The reason? I need to see all the points laid out, but the pen is quicker in this case then setting up a whole spreadsheet showing what my calendar shows me.. also there’s a bit of a neurodiversity thing going on. This is how I can see time and how I make a schedule. I even used to do this for a job (I used excel in that instance).

          Anyway, when it’s just for me and there’s a number of moving parts I prefer paper. It’s just how my brain works. I wouldn’t be expecting everyone else to work how I work though. I certainly wouldn’t be ignoring very clear requests from my boss (or tbh my co-workers) for information in a certain form because I know how annoying it is to have to deal with it in the wrong format.

          1. Iris Eyes*

            Yes its totally reasonable that someone would find working with hard copies to be better for their process but its also totally reasonable to have a way to digitize those for electronic storage/transmission.

  5. I should really pick a name*

    How can I ask her to stop assuming I always have time before our meetings to go over documents

    By telling her that. And having a discussion if she keeps doing it.

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      Seriously. And if she really does need you to review something before a meeting because she needs to discuss it during the meeting, you need to establish a timeframe that works for your needs. “If you need me to review something before Thursday’s meeting, I need you to email it to me–not put it on my desk–by Monday at noon.” I have had people on my team who frustrated their managers by presenting drafts for review/editing the same day the final version of the product was due, or at close of business the night before, and when the manager had a full day, it was a PITA trying to get it ready to go out. I told those managers to set deadlines for drafts that gave them enough time to review, and to hold their teams accountable to those deadlines.

    2. Khatul Madame*

      What is there to discuss? LW does all the talking. “I asked you not to do X, yet you ignore my instructions and keep doing X. Please do not do X going forward, otherwise I’ll have to [consequences].”
      Better still, send the above by email. You may need documentation at some point.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        That’s the discussion, except it should include “Why are you still doing this?”

    3. Iris Eyes*

      Also by not reviewing them before. Stop just assuming that you NEED to review them and if you said you would go over it in the meeting, go over it in the meeting.

  6. DD*

    Not excusing her for ignoring your request and ignoring reviewing in person but our office has a wide variety of desk clutterness and when dropping off a physical item we place it on the chair so it doesn’t get sucked into the desk papers.

    1. michelenyc*

      This is what I ask people to do with anything they drop off at my desk. If I am not there put it on my chair. I have so many submits that have to be reviewed that it’s the only place I will see it and know that I need to do something with it.

    2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I feel like this is so common that Lauren is being passive aggressive by putting stuff on the LW’s desk.

      1. Tegan Keenan*

        That was my thought as well. But I’m also a Messy Desk Person who is highly sensitive to people judging me for it.

        1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          I generally give people the benefit of the doubt but the whole combination that she keeps doing it after being told not to and not sending LW a Slack message and giving the LW the only handwritten copy of something while she was packing and then asking for it back just doesn’t pass the sniff test for me. I guess it’s possible that she lacks all adaptability, but that is an equally difficult problem.

        2. longtime reader*

          The wild part is letting herself into OP’s locked office to continue doing it though. Like, even if her issue was the messy desk, it’s not like a hot-desking office or something where OP is causing issues for anyone else with their clutter. Inside a private office with a locked door, nobody should have to worry about the state of their desk.

        3. MigraineMonth*

          I recently had to clear off my desk to make room for my cat to sleep on it. Yes, I’m WFH.

      2. Polaris*

        It is.

        And then you run into the Tantrum Throwing Bananapants guy who throws a MASSIVE tantrum that you put a sheet of paper for his approval in his chair while he was out for a smoke and moved on. (Know how an office tantrum tosser keeps his job? Yeah. The owner’s brother. And I used “tosser” on purpose though I’m NOT British.)

    3. Jinni*

      The last time I worked in an office, that was our policy as well. I’m a neat freak, but I did like the chair because even with nothing on my desk really, sometimes papers got ignored… And I always looked down before sitting down.

    4. Maestra*

      as a fellow messy desk person – I would end up moving it without looking at it or sitting on it, unless it was something that I had been previously alerted to and was aware it was coming.

    5. Lea*

      Yes I used to do this when someone had a messy
      Desk too.

      There is just occasionally going to be paperwork in an office that legitimately needs delivering! I find it unreasonable to suggest otherwise. An inbox, a chair, under the door but…something

      1. Colette*

        In some types of offices, that’s true, but I haven’t had anyone deliver anything on paper since I started working at my current organisation in 2015. Everything is online.

        1. Natasha Hollenzoller*

          Yes, and now everyone is remote and we don’t even get printers anymore. I mean, different industries perhaps, but what are people doing with all this paper?
          ALSO, if the OP needed paper, then assuming they would adjust to the paper, but it’s clear they do not need the paper.

        2. Alanna*

          Same — I have not had to deal with a piece of paper professionally since 2014 (possibly even earlier). Obviously culture on this varies a lot, but it’s just not true that people simply have to give physical copies of things to you at every job and you have to accommodate it.

          1. Rainbow*

            Well for leaving/parental leave/sabbatical cards I have. Although many of those are virtual too. Why the hell would I want an unwieldy physical document and where the hell would I put it?

      2. Rose*

        At no time in the last ten years of me working office jobs have I had to exchange physical copies of communications with coworkers. Even before Covid, things were digitized. It’s often important for us to have a digital trail we can follow and even when that’s not necessary I’d rather have the about to ctl+F to find info.

        Especially post Covid it’s really not reasonable to assume every office is going to require hand delivering paper copies of things.

    6. Architect*

      Yes – this was almost the very first thing I was taught at my first office job. Always put papers on someone’s chair or *maybe* keyboard, so they have to touch it and recognize it was placed there!

  7. Eldritch Office Worker*

    Messy Person Guilt is very real – but this is not an unreasonable request OP.

    1. Maestra*

      an 18 years of working at the same place, I have come to fully embrace my messy desk persona. I know where everything is, even if you don’t. people have also stopped commenting on it. they also don’t leave anything on my desk for the exact reason that they know it might not be found. I am usually handed documents, they’re putting my mailbox, or I’m emailed them.

    2. Beth*

      Very much so. “Please contact me via [email/slack/text message/phone/carrier pidgeon]” is broadly a reasonable request to make in a work setting. When you’re the boss, it’s very reasonable to make it a requirement instead of a request. And when you’re the boss, you’ve already communicated this, and your employee is still going out of her way to do exactly what you told her not to do? The messiness or neatness of your desk is irrelevant, OP. Lauren’s preferences do not override your directions.

    3. ferrina*

      Oh, it’s so real! I have so much guilt for my messiness (I’m ADHD + cPTSD, so it’s a brutal battle). I’ve definitely let my Messy Person Guilt cause me to overlook other issues because “maybe it’s my fault for being messy”. I love how Alison names it and cuts right through it to the actual issue (direct report not following clear instructions)

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Electronic files are text-searchable and projects with electronic files came home seamlessly on March 13 2020… paper projects not so smooth a transition.

      1. La Triviata*

        I’ve gone almost completely electronic, which makes for less mess. At a previous job, where I was responsible for our hard copy magazines, the mail clerk for some reason had it in for me. If a box of magazines came in, he might ask someone else what to do with them or – just to be cute – put the box under the guest chair tucked into the corner where I’d never see them without looking. One time, he took a fairly important piece of mail, went into my office, lifted a paperweight and a stack of papers, tucked the mail into the middle of the papers, replaced the paperweight and left. Without ever telling me he’d left it there. Then he was telling people that I had the mail (which, technically, I did, but didn’t find it for quite a while until I was going through the papers and getting rid of the ones I didn’t need any more).

  8. Just here for the scripts*

    I had a VP who would say, “If you want me to see/sign anything, put it on my chair!” So we did–and it (mostly worked fine with most things being signed promptly and sent back to us quickly.
    Except that one day when, after a few hours of no responses, I had to go up to ask her for the signed thing back (with her signature) and she said I hadn’t put it on her chair–she stood up to show me and TADA! there it was–complete with an impression of her backside from sitting on it for those hours! Needless to say we needed a fresh copy printed and signed off on.

    1. Shrimp Emplaced*

      This is amazing. Would that all conflicting accounts of reality could be solved by a simple backside impression.

      Leaving seat documents always worked wonders in three of the office jobs I’ve had. But as mentioned above, I wouldn’t want to reinforce Lauren’s random office bargings either.

  9. Scottish Teapot*

    Agree she shouldn’t be letting herself into your office etc but a messy desk isn’t just a risk of missing things. It’s a huge data protection concern. All papers should really be locked away and not on your desk.

    1. lost academic*

      There are a lot of businesses where that’s not a major concern or even a minor one and the percentage of sensitive documents is very low. We have to trust OP that the papers on her desk aren’t a security risk.

      1. Anonym*

        Yeah, it depends on the field and the specific work of the team! In my company it could be a major problem (finance), but even then it would depend on the classification of data that was visible.

    2. stacers*

      But it’s safe to assume none of it has any data that needs to be protected on these papers. Nothing on my desk even has any data on it or any information that needs to be confidential. The OP is perfectly able to decide where to keep her papers — there’s no evidence to assume any of it needs to be ‘locked away’ …

    3. Era*

      There are roles where this would be the case, but knowing almost nothing about OP’s role, what information the papers contain, or what other security measures are in place, this is a really bold assumption to assert as fact. We know that OP’s office is locked to people outside their office when they aren’t in it, and we don’t have reason to assume they should be taking more precautions beyond that.

    4. Silver Robin*

      Like Alison said, unless/until LW’s boss says anything about the messy desk, it is not a concern. LW already feels guilty about it, more shame likely is not going to change anything, and they are not actually asking for advice on the messy desk.

    5. Samwise*

      Nonsense. If I have FERPA type documents on my desk, they go into a locked cabinet. Otherwise, 98% of the stuff on my desk is no security risk whatsover. It does not need to be locked away.

    6. Natasha Hollenzoller*

      It could be all kinds of other things that arent sensitive. I had a messy desk, but it was printed off stuff that was by no means proprietary. I just had stacks of stuff and that’s how I worked and knew where everything was. I would not have left performance reviews or anything.
      Let’s believe the OP that they don’t have proprietary stuff out there.

    7. sparkle emoji*

      If this is applicable to the LW(which we have no indication of) wouldn’t that be even more of a reason that Lauren should follow LW’s request that she communicate digitally instead of printing out papers to lose on LW’s desk?

    8. I Have RBF*

      No. It’s not. We aren’t talking about an SCIF, or PHI/PII. We’re talking about project stuff in a locked office in a probably badge protected facility.

      I have cognitive and memory issues. If I lock stuff in a drawer that means I’m done with it, since literally “out of sight, out of mind” is how my brain works.

  10. Essess*

    My first reaction was “Do not let yourself into my office when I’m not there.” You are a supervisor and will have confidential information on your desk in your locked office that other employees should not be just walk in and access when you’re not there.

  11. SleeplessKJ*

    It’s always been my custom both as the boss and as the underling, to leave papers on the chair. Can’t be missed or mixed up with anything. Easy peasy. However that all office key has to go.

  12. mango chiffon*

    The fact she’s not keeping back up digital copies is a huge problem, and so is ignoring your requests to change her methods. The (iranian) messy desk is not the issue here.

  13. Petty_Boop*

    “How can I ask her to stop assuming I always have time before our meetings to go over documents”

    Well, I think it’s pretty common to send out “read aheads” for meetings and to assume people will come to a meeting at least somewhat prepared for the discussion. It seems you’ve conflated a few issues: 1) her continued putting of things on your desk assuming you’ll see them (in our office for somer reason, we always put things on people’s chairs. It’s just how it’s done) 2) she’s continually unlocking YOUR LOCKED door (Uh no. “If my office is locked, please do not let yourself in unless it is on fire.” ) and 3) she assumes you’ll be prepped for meetings and you don’t seem to think you should read the material until the meeting. I’d stick with 1 and 2, since I personally find 3 odd. I’d hate to walk into ANY meeting cold on the material, but maybe that’s just me. But you need to FIRMLY say, “Please don’t unlock my locked door. It’s locked for a reason and please do NOT put things on my desk. Period. Email me, send me a message. Put them on my chair IF the door is unlocked, etc.. but Do.Not.Put.Papers of any kind On.My.Desk”

    1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      The LW knows her job and knows better whether it makes sense to review the papers before the meeting or not.

      1. Punk*

        I’m growing really uncomfortable with how people are using this rule to play moderator. Lauren’s actions indicate that she doesn’t think LW is coming to meetings prepared, and whether or not that’s the case, it needs to be addressed when all of the other issues are discussed. Maybe the purpose of the meetings has never been explicitly stated to Lauren and she’s approaching them incorrectly. Maybe she feels that too much time is spent with her sitting there while the LW reads documents that have been available for days. Pointing out alternative motivations or details that did not occur to the LW, in the spirit of problem solving, is not the same thing as calling her a liar. Everyone who writes to an advice column is missing some information; the whole point is that they don’t know what to do. It’s not productive to tell Lauren to stop putting papers on the LW’s desk unless she also figures out the reason for it

      2. Petty_Boop*

        She didn’t say it didn’t make sense. She said she doesn’t always “have the time” to read them. That is a big difference.

    2. Anonym*

      Three is really situationally dependent. Some people really don’t have time to prep beforehand, either regularly or on specific occasions. As a manager OP can set the expectation as determined by her workload and style.

      I personally despise reviewing anything for the first time in a meeting and will typically request materials a day or two beforehand if people need actual feedback, but that’s me.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Totally agree about it being situationally dependent. I get sent a lot of stuff to review and have a lot of meetings. Most of the time it’s helpful to review longer documents prior to the meeting, but there are plenty of exceptions, and plenty of documents that would essentially be reference material for the meeting that I wouldn’t take the time to look at in advance.

        I could be totally off base, but one way this kind of thing could come up is if Lauren is very junior to OP and doesn’t realize how quickly OP can absorb certain kinds of information. A junior analyst on my team might want to take a few minutes to carefully review all the data in a certain weekly report before we meet, but at my experience level and in my role I’m comfortable taking 30 seconds to extract the info I need from it as the meeting gets underway, or referencing it only as needed. I wouldn’t want to have to keep tabs on a physical copy that someone had dropped on my desk hours previously.

    3. OP*

      I totally feel you on #3, and I promise I read things prior to meetings! We have a digital agenda that we both contribute to and review before these meetings…and literally just typing that out helped me realize I could just ask Lauren to include links to these documents in the existing agenda. Thank you for your comments and feedback!

      1. Silver Robin*

        Oh links in the agenda are a lifesaver, highly recommend! We do that a lot in my office and it really does help to make sure everyone has access to the thing at the same time

      2. Hiring Mgr*

        It sounds like this is solvable, especially given that this is her first professional role and is learning all these new norms – just some extra clear communication should probably do the trick

  14. Chipmunk*

    Man, that messy person guilt is real. Especially if you work with lots of Tidy Deskers.

    I have to have my files out where I can see them! If they go in drawer they’re gone forever. Thankfully clear job jacket holders have saved me from extreme piles.

    1. OP*

      My direct boss and Lauren have impeccably clean desks–right angles and everything. My boss has never mentioned mine being a bad thing, though! Also, I might have given the impression that I live under massive piles of unfiled folders. My desk kind of looks like this one, maybe with a granola wrapper and 4-8 more post-it notes:

      I always have a manila folder with my current projects, often paired with a folder of flyers to take to presentations/classes, to the left of my keyboard and a moleskine with my day’s tasks on it to the right of my keyboard. Having my tasks all at an arm’s reach is super helpful. I LOVE the clear job jacket holder idea!

      1. I Have RBF*

        A) That desk is not messy. It’s in use, with materials conveniently placed where they are needed, and not a lot of extraneous stuff.

        B) I have memory and organization issues, especially since I had a stroke 28 years ago. I have learned that “out of sight, out of mind” is literal in my case. If I don’t see a physical thing, it’s often like it doesn’t exist. My home organization involves clear, labeled bins for supplies and clear folders stored out in the open for files. I will make a concerted effort to make sure that high-priority items are visible, and get perturbed when people essentially hide things on me by putting them “away”.

    2. Neonwaffles*

      Also a messy person. I’m visually organized! If it’s locked up I forget it exists!

    3. NothingIsLittle*

      The only way I can keep any semblance of control over my workspace is to have all of my files digitally! (I have impeccable, if not neurotic, digital file organization with shortcuts and naming conventions; the whole 9 yards.) I have little labels with phone extensions and my bullet journal to keep track of tasks, and that’s about as much paper as I can handle before it starts getting out of control.

  15. lost academic*

    I’ll be honest, this doesn’t feel like the kind of person you should keep around and it’s time for a very direct conversation where you give exact directions for how things need to be handled (no caveats or exceptions like ‘it’s ok to leave something if you also send a Slack message just like Alison said) and make it clear that her job depends on it. YOUR job depends on it after all. And every deviation from those direct instructions (follow up in writing after the conversation) needs to be met with an immediate correction (which you should document). If she can’t change then… this is probably not the place for her, because things like not having documents electronically these days is a showstopper.

  16. SadieMae*

    I would bet money that if LW only tells Lauren, “Don’t put any more things on my desk,” Lauren will start putting them on LW’s chair. Or the floor next to the desk. Or taped to the office door. Or something.

    I would tell Lauren not to print any of these materials in the first place unless LW requests it … and, in that case, to present the printouts to LW as requested (like, at the meeting instead of dropping them off ahead of time).

    1. Michelle Smith*

      Good point. LW would probably need to add that Lauren should not put anything in LW’s office at all, anywhere. And make sure it’s clear that it will be seen as a performance issue if Lauren is unable to follow what seems like a very basic and reasonable directive.

  17. Large Pink Rabbit*

    “loves physical media”

    Oh, I have worked with people who need to print everything out and give it to me. I hate physical media, and it is maddening! So, just saying that I feel your pain at unwanted papers.

    But it seems like you don’t object to paper (you asked her to send you a slack message rather than asking not to leave post its at all; you asked her to print something out rather than review it electronically during the meeting), you just object to having more papers on your desk that you didn’t put there yourself. So it’s more of a “I don’t have time to review things” problem.

    I think you need to be clearer about needing to review things together. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy speech, just a “I don’t always have time to review the things you drop off, and I will definitely lose them on my desk. I really need you to just bring them to our meetings, as I’ve asked repeatedly.”

    And let her feel the pain when you lose something after you asked her to do something other than/in addition to leaving something on your desk. If you don’t have time to review the report she printed out, don’t. If you still have it, bring it to the meeting to review together. If you don’t still have it, ask her to print it out again. And tell her what’s going on:
    “I didn’t have time to review the report. Fortunately, I didn’t lose it on my desk so let’s go over it.”
    “That report got lost on my desk. Will you re-print it and bring it? Btw, remember when I told you that I lose stuff that you leave on my desk? This is what I was talking about.”

    Btw, I think the messy desk is concealing a different problem. I get that your schedule is packed, I’ve had the packed schedule myself. Something to think about is that when you come to a meeting unprepared, you waste some of both of your time. Instead of making this about a messy desk that you lose things on, can you think of ways to improve your ability to prepare for meetings with Lauren (which might even include having fewer meetings)?

    1. AMH*

      I’m really not sure this is a time to review things issue. OP said: “There’s not a ton of context in the papers themselves to review them — it would make more sense to me for us to just go over them together in a meeting.”

      That implies to me it’s less about having TIME to review it and more about reviewing it in the most efficient way.

      1. Billy Preston*

        Yes! Some things should be reviewed together in meetings- it’s more efficient that way. It sounds like OP knows which need to be reviewed together or alone.

    2. mighty_midget*

      Maybe don’t even attempt to bring it to the meeting, or make excuses about it getting lost. Just simply “I asked you to bring a copy to the meeting, why haven’t you brought a copy?” should be straightforward enough, and clear that the instruction hasn’t been complied with.

  18. Ms. Murchison*

    And when you tell her not to put anything on your desk anymore, tell her the chair is also off-limits.

  19. Ari*

    Personally, I’d be irritated at having to read everything to my boss in a meeting. Seems like a massive waste of time when the meeting could be spent brainstorming solutions/ideas/whatever rather than bringing someone up to speed first. But then I hate that everything is going to video/audio because I remember information better if I’ve read it vs. heard it, so maybe I’m just weird.

    That being said, I would defer to my boss’s preference on how they want to receive information, and I definitely wouldn’t be unlocking anyone’s door to drop off something that could be emailed, especially a supervisor.

    1. I'm a Lauren*

      I also process information better when I read and write a physical copy. I transcribe things a ton because so much is digital, but I don’t remember what I type as well as what I write with pen and paper.

      LW says the contents of the document would be obvious at a glance, but if you need to review a dozen documents those glances add up.

    2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      I just re-read the letter, and OP doesn’t say that she wanted the assistant to read something TO her, she said that she wanted to go over a document together. And it is SO much faster to do that while looking at a document together (whether in person or on a call) than do it offline, going back and forth with comments.

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        And I just re-re-read, and it’s a direct report rather than an assistant, but my point still stands.

    3. Samwise*

      That’s OP/boss’s prerogative and while it may be a waste of time for YOU it may not be a waste of time for the boss.

      1. Purple Halo*

        That works up to a point – but many people have more than one boss they have to keep happy. Positions often have KPIs and metrics, and these don’t get relaxed just because your immediate boss has other priorities.

        I’ve wasted hours long meetings watching my boss review documents “together”, which meant me watching him finally do his part.

        He preferred this option, as it was more efficient for him (I was on call to fill in his gaps). But it prevented me from doing my job properly. And while I reported to him, he didn’t determine my wages, promotions, job security etc. I had job metrics I had to meet, and his preferences didn’t override that.

        I’m not saying that is the case with LW, but just because a boss has the ability doesn’t mean staff should accept the boss’s call without question if their pejorative stops/limits the report from meeting their work KPIs. I have had to have the discussion with bosses that it is ok if they want me to do X, but only if my evaluation and promotions are based on X not Y.

    1. Silver Robin*

      That is really harsh – we have no reason to think that if Lauren actually did what OP asked (Slack messages, sending digital copies over) that OP would miss things. People get to have preferences for how they receive information and bosses get to dictate how their reports send information.

    2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      It’s not “organized” to answer a Slack message with a post-it note. If someone sends you a slack message, answer them in a slack message. It’s not organized to respond to requests for electronic files with hard copies because then the person requesting does not have the electronic file. Expecting the LW to either scan the document or have some sort of hard document filing system like it’s the 80s is a huge waste of the LW’s time.

      1. I'm a Lauren*

        I don’t disagree, but LW obviously does have a ton of physical media on her desk – it’s not all post-it notes from Lauren. I don’t think it’s out of line to suggest that yes, Lauren needs to respect how LW receives information. But it’s also not out of line to suggest that tidying up her desk would probably be a benefit.

        1. Silver Robin*

          It is out of line because that is not what OP asked for help on. Alison’s whole last paragraph was about how having a messy desk is not actually inviting this problem. The entire problem is Lauren ignoring direct instructions. If Lauren followed instructions, OP would not be dealing with the issue. If OP became a Neat Desker, the problem continues, because Lauren is still doing thing she was expressly asked not to.

        2. Han Sola*

          None of her business. Unless the OPs BOSS has an issue with the desk, we can assume the OP made it to management with a messy desk,

          I have a hugely messy desk. I know where everything is. I am one of the top performers at my company. I am also in my40s and know how I work best. Clean desk people can honestly keep their opinions to themselves about others!

        3. ADidgeridooForYou*

          I’ve always had pretty messy desks at work – a lot of my coworkers would (good naturedly) tease me about it. The thing is that I actually tried hard to keep my desk clean – like, people definitely wouldn’t believe it (and I don’t blame them lol), but I swear, the minute I’d let my cleaning guard down, I’d be back to square 1. It was like I had to put in three times the effort as others to keep clutter off my desk. Earlier this year, I got diagnosed with ADHD, and all of a sudden everything made sense. I’m sure you don’t mean it this way, but this kind of thinking really espouses a negative aspect of Western culture in which “clean/on-time/organized” is a Good Person trait, “messy/runs late” is a Bad Person one, and that the Bad People are just being lazy and need to conform to Good Person standards. If you’re a clean/organized person, that’s totally fine, but it would be helpful to get away from the thinking that it’s the Right Way to Be. Whether they’re dealing with neurodiversity or it’s just their personality, some people just aren’t built that way.

        4. ADidgeridooForYou*

          So I’ve always had a messy desk at work. Heck, even in junior high, we would have occasional locker inspections where people who passed would get a reward, and I would always be refused the prize because my locker was too messy. People thought I was a slob, but it always seemed to me like I had to put in 3 times the amount of effort as others to keep my space free of clutter. Earlier this year I got diagnosed with ADHD, and suddenly everything makes sense. I still try my best, but my brain naturally doesn’t work that way. I know you don’t mean it like this, but this kind of thinking espouses a kind of negative aspect of Western culture, in which being clean/organized is a Good Person trait, being messy is a Bad Person One, and the Bad Person is just being lazy and needs to conform to Good Person standards. If you’re a naturally clean/organized person, that’s totally fine, but we need to get away from the mindset that it’s the Right Way to Be and stop judging others if they’re dealing with neurodiversity or are part of a culture that doesn’t prioritize that.

        5. I Have RBF*

          Whenever someone says I need to “tidy” my desk to their standards it is very irritating. Why? Because I have a very visual memory. If I “tidy” my desk and put things away like neatnick’s demand, it’s like I just threw them out, because I will forget they exist until I am doing a periodic clean out of my drawers. If I put it away, it means I am done with it, because if I do not see it, it is not in my awareness as anything I need to deal with.

          If people don’t like the way my brain works, tough. I can not work with a “clean desk”.

          If I have a clean desk, it means I’m going on vacation and have finished everything up, or I’m leaving the company.

          So yes, it’s out of line to suggest that a grown adult manager tidy up her desk.

    3. Anonym*

      Yeah, “you have no idea what is happening in your role” is a real leap based on the information presented. OP has an employee who is disobeying directions. It’s totally reasonable to want information shared electronically – it’s more than just a preference. But the preference itself is also valid.

    4. mango chiffon*

      I think this is unfair to the LW…there’s a lot of things that Lauren is doing against LW’s requests. The fact that there was only one hard copy of a schedule that was packed in moving boxes isn’t the LW’s disorganization. Lauren should be keeping digital copies of things like that.

  20. VaguelySpecific*

    +1 for the idea of, if she simply must give you physical items, to leave them on your chair instead of on your desk. I used to manage ordering replacement tools for a shop of 100 people. I ALWAYS had tools on my desk organized in a way that only made sense to me. I had several people learn the hard way that if they just added their tools to the piles and/or didn’t leave a note about what the problem was, their tools did not get fixed/replaced. “When are you going to replace my crimper?” “I wasn’t aware your crimper needed replacing”. “I left it on your desk 2 weeks ago!” “Oh you mean this one with no note or identifying marks indicating whose it was or what was wrong? I can’t read minds!”

  21. Morning Flowers*

    OP, for what it’s worth, I am the Neatest Person in my household, so let me just say, this is 100% not a neatness/messiness issue.
    (1) A considerate and responsible Neatness Person does the kind of neatness her boss wants — ex. not putting things on a messy desk after being asked not to.
    (2) If someone put something on my very clean and organized desk after being asked not to, that person would be in hot water with me.
    It’s not about you being messy. It’s about Lauren being a passive-aggressive jerkyface.

    1. Jay (no, the other one)*

      I’m the neater person in my house now that Naturally Tidy Child has moved out. When I have to put something on my husband’s desk, I ask him where he wants it.

      When I was working full-time in a partly administrative position back in the pre-all-digital era, I had a physical in-box. It was clearly marked IN-BOX. I checked it regularly and dealt with whatever came in fairly efficiently. People in the office persisted in putting things on my desk and not in the box. My desk was reasonably neat, but when I looked for new paperwork I looked in the box.

      I printed a sign and put it on the wall over the box saying PUT ALL PAPERS HERE with an arrow. Didn’t help. I finally resorted to speaking to each of the front desk workers privately and one woman explained that my predecessor never emptied his in-box so anything that went in there disappeared, and she always put papers directly on his desk so he would see them. She eventually broke the habit – it took over a year.

  22. Just Here for the Llama Grooming*

    There’s just so much about this that gives me the creeps but letting yourself in to your BOSS’S OFFICE WHEN IT’S LOCKED is just … . I can be really petty in my head so of course I visualize what would happen if OP made a fake draft PIP — citing “inability to follow directions” and “significant boundary issues” — for Lauren and left it in the middle of OP’s desk. Gonna bet things would get a lot better immediately.

    But that’s mean, petty, passive-aggressive, and unprofessional, and so LW is much better off following the excellent advice to have a direct and clear conversation with Lauren.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      In a lot of offices, Lauren letting herself in wouldn’t be a big deal on its own. For example, a school principal might lock her office on the regular. Many, many head secretaries will have the key to that office and unlock it whenever needed.

  23. Hiring Mgr*

    Obviously Lauren should listen to what her boss is telling her to do. But maybe it’s a good time to also tidy things up a bit – never hurts to have things ship shape or at least reasonably neat.

    1. I'm a Lauren*

      I didn’t want to say this, but yeah, I agree. Some file organizers can go a long way to organizing desk chaos.

      1. Samwise*

        The desk is organized in a way that works for the user of the desk, who is also the boss. The Laurens of the world do not get to decide how other people use their desks. Especially when they are the assistant or supervisee.

        You can think longingly about file organizers all you want. Keep those thoughts to yourself.

        1. Hiring Mgr*

          Yes but in this case the OP asked if they should be neater, so I think they’re looking for our thoughts

    2. Silver Robin*

      OP tidies up once a week, and we have no reason in the letter to think that their messy desk is an actual workflow problem. Lauren’s lost papers are not actually evidence because OP explicitly asked for info to be delivered in a way that circumvents the messy desk, which 100% okay, valid, normal etc. Lauren is being weird here and it is frustrating to see so many folks picking at OP’s messiness, which is not actually the problem.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        I agree that the messy desk has nothing to do with Lauren’s issues – she is definitely the weird one here. OP is the one who calls her desk shamefully and extremely messy, so my comment was addressing that alone.

        1. Silver Robin*

          But OP was only wondering if it contributes to the problem, which it does not. Because the problem is Lauren. So why are so many folks chiding OP about their desk??

          Nothing in your comment is actually helpful. It just says what OP already knows and attempts to do: “clean up”. Which OP does. Weekly.

          1. Hiring Mgr*

            I’m not chiding anyone – again, the OP herself is the one who talked about the desk and the state of it, with crumbs and so on.

            As a naturally messy person myself, it’s good to do a cleanup every now and then. If the OP is already doing that, then great – everyone’s on the same page. If they don’t mind the mess, no skin off my toes. Just trying to help!

    3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      If OP is really not keeping up, post it notes and print-outs added to piles of existing pages is an ineffective way to go about it.
      If OP is really not keeping up, post it notes and print-outs added to existing piles piles of papers after being asked not to do that is obnoxious and passive aggressive.
      If OP is really not keeping up, hard evidence: ~where is it? ~Didn’t see it. ~Wasn’t int my office to get it, should have indicated to staffer that “OP will adjust to how I do things even though she expressly told me not to” is a delusion.
      OP’s workflow isn’t the issue.
      Her staffer not following instructions is.

    4. Han Sola*

      For clean people it “doesn;t hurt” believe adults when they say they work best this way.
      This is a weird flex I’m reading on this thread. Neat and clean is not “best” its just how some people work.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        In this letter though, the OP specifically asked if she should be neater, so for them it’s clearly on the table. Like anything else, YMMV

    5. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

      It hurts me to have things neat. I can’t find anything, and I get anxious.

  24. I'm a Lauren*

    I am a person who loves physical media. For me, a printout is infinitely more useful than a digital file – if I need to make notes or edits, I can scribble it in the margins or highlight some key sentence. As a Lauren, I have some thoughts on why she is continuing to her paper trail. OP, are you quick to respond to Slack/ emails? If I need info from someone and they aren’t responding to phonecalls / Teams / email, I’m printing it out and walking to your desk with a physical copy so I know you see it (or should). Has Lauren been there long? If she’s new, this may be her old managers preference. If she’s well-established, has this been her MO forever? I think, like most people I see in the comments assume that EVERYONE loves digital media, that people who prefer print media have the same bias.

    I think there may be some misinterpretation – you ask for things sent over Slack, but then ask her to bring physical copies to a meeting to review. I can definitely imagine her thinking “well, if she has it sooner, the meeting will move quicker/ more effeciently”

    Now, I do think she needs to stop. You’ve asked multiple times for her to give you information in a certain way, and she isn’t. That needs to change, for sure. But I think it’s beneficial to find out why she’s doing what she’s doing. I think it’s unlikely to be a passive-aggressive statement regarding your messy desk.

    1. Anonym*

      I tend to agree that it’s not likely to be passive-agressive. I’d bet Lauren is going based on habit and hasn’t deeply thought through her process and decided to quietly make a stand. Or she thinks it’s working well enough!

    2. OP*

      Hi! I agree that physical media is way easier to mark up, and I was trying to be understanding of her preferences, but I can absolutely understand that that request sends mixed messages.

      If I’m not in a meeting, I try to answer her Slack messages within 15 minutes with either an answer or a note that I’m looking it up and a timeline to get back to her. This is her first professional role, and she’s gotten visibly anxious/followed up in person if I don’t respond within an hour (if I have other tasks to do and can’t look something up at the moment). Your comment about efficiency really hits the nail on the head–she has said she really values efficiency, but sometimes it doesn’t manifest in the most efficient way for the entire office, just for her workflow, like stopping by my office multiple times an afternoon with questions that could wait until our weekly meetings.

      I also agree that I don’t think it’s passive-aggressive! Thank you for your comments, and I’m sorry if I misrepresented this in any way. I was mostly confused & frustrated, and she does great work, I just needed some help getting on the same (digital or printed, haha) page. If you have any additional advice, I’d be really grateful to hear!

      1. I should really pick a name*

        This is her first professional role, and she’s gotten visibly anxious/followed up in person if I don’t respond within an hour

        This is also something that you can talk to her about.
        It would be good for her to have an understanding about which things need a quick response, and which things don’t.

      2. Nea*

        Oh, the question thing just made me twitch, and I used to do that kind of thing all the time. You’ve got a wonderful chance to tell her “This is what is really most efficient for the office – you write down all your questions and we deal with them all together at x time.”

        She can print them out, if it makes her happy. :D

      3. Lily Rowan*

        Ohhhh, if it’s her first professional role, you are going to need to be super clear and explicit with her about all of this, including the fact that you can’t respond to everything immediately — AND that everything isn’t wildly time-sensitive, so it’s fine that she’s not getting an answer within the hour. And you can say, This won’t be everyone’s preference, but here is how I want you to work with me: Stop leaving paper in my office. Send me information in X, Y, Z ways. Please do bring printouts to our meetings so we can look over them together.

        1. Silver Robin*

          +1 first professional roles always come with so many pitfalls! Definitely agree that drilling down to super specifics can be helpful and allay any anxiety Lauren has about whether things are going the way they are supposed to + adjusting to this particular office’s flow

      4. Khatul Madame*

        I had an employee who’d send an email, then walk to the addressee’s office and ask whether they had a chance to look at it. It was exhausting.
        Lauren’s anxiety should not interfere with your ability to do those parts of your job unrelated to her. I admire your compassion, but it would really benefit Lauren in the long run to get used to workplace norms. Maybe you can establish internal quasi-SLA, for instance “LW has 3 hours to respond to non-urgent messages”, or “Do not enter LW’s office if the door is locked”.

      5. Colette*

        I think you should be really clear that what is efficient for her is not the priority. I’ve had to do that in my volunteer role – I’ve explicitely said “I know that would be easier for you, but you’re one person and I am dealing with 17 others so we’re going to go with what is easiest for me”. You can try something like – “when you have something minor that you need an answer to, please send it to me and, if I haven’t gotten back to you before our weekly meeting, we will discuss it then.”

      6. I'm a Lauren*

        The fact this is her first professional role is really important! With this added context, it sounds like she may be struggling with prioritizing, and realizing that her priorities are not everyone’s priorities. I’d bet she thinks you forgot about her request, because you are so busy.

        I’m wondering if she has enough to do, OR if she’s having trouble figuring out when to switch between tasks. If she’s working on document X, is she getting anxious because she isn’t able to get X done, and isn’t switching to task Y? Maybe in your next meeting, ask her how she thinks things are going, and give her some advice like “I can’t always answer questions right away. Please know I haven’t forgotten! Just set it to the side and work on Y or Z until I can answer you.”

      7. NothingIsLittle*

        I remember a response on this blog about being asked too many questions before, and the response was that you have to stop making it satisfying for them to ask. Tell her that unless a question is genuinely urgent (maybe with examples) it needs to be saved for your check in, then tell her “this is what I was talking about, this is the type of question that you should save for our check-in,” and not answer the question until the check in even though she’s already interrupted you. As long as she’s getting answers when she asks, it’s going to be a hard habit to break.

  25. Umiel*

    I try not to give my boss assignments (or to give the appearance of giving him assignments), and the direct report really comes across to me as trying to give assignments to her boss. It seems like a control issue to me the way she leaves papers on LW’s desk with an expectation to review them before their meeting.

    1. Large Pink Rabbit*

      This is kind of a strange take. The boss role includes review of a lot of things–they are the person who is empowered to make higher level decisions, and to make that decision, they need to be informed. Expecting a boss to review things that they need to review is not giving them assignments or trying to control them.

      If Lauren is asking OP to review things that don’t need her review, that’s a separate problem to address. I didn’t see anything in the letter to indicate that Lauren wants too many things reviewed, but giving Lauren more leeway to act without review is one way to address the problem of “I don’t have time to review Lauren’s stuff.”

    2. Two Pop Tarts*

      I suspect this is the core issue: She wants to be in charge.

      • Enters another person’s locked office (only that person’s superior would normally have the authority to do such a thing)
      • Expects her boss to adhere to her preferences (Post-It notes vs Slack)
      • Assigns work to her boss by putting documents on their desk
      • Created a schedule for her boss without their input

      Admittedly, the boss is sending mixed signals (asking her to print something when she sent an electronic link, asking for a Slack message when she puts papers on the desk), but overall it seems she’s attempting to train her boss to work in the manner she prefers, and it seems to be working.

      Going paperless and using instant messaging can be a culture shift, but it’s much more efficient than shuffling papers from desk to desk.

  26. BellyButton*

    I would like to offer a bit of a different prospective. If you don’t review until the meeting are you still able to make decisions and give guidance during the meeting? Do you use the time in the meeting to review and then still need time after to make decisions? It could be that she thinks by giving you the materials before hand you can get more done in the meeting. I want people to have already reviewed materials and come prepared to make decisions, give opinions, etc at the meeting. I don’t want people to spend precious meeting time reading things they should be familiar with before the meeting.
    It could also be that it is her preferred style of processing information and making decisions. She may need to review things ahead of time and assumes everyone wants/needs that kind of processing time.
    I think it is more of an issue of leaving things on your desk where you can’t find them. I agree that you need to ask her why she does this, and maybe the reasons is one I mentioned above. If that is the case, then I would suggest putting a file box on the outside of your office and telling her to drop things there.

    1. ferrina*

      I work with some really busy people who often don’t have time to review things during meetings. I’ll often send them an email with the materials in advance of the meeting, then show up fully expecting that they haven’t read the materials (if they have, it’s a nice surprise). This is just the reality of some roles.

      It’s also not okay for her to project her working style onto others to the point of ignoring other people’s direct communication. It’s one thing to default to your own preferred communication style (we all do that), but it’s another to completely disregard what someone says. OP told her to bring a document to a meeting- you bring the document to the meeting! It’s a really simple ask. If she’s so presumptuous that she is ignoring her boss’s direct instructions, that’s a real problem.

  27. Bopper*

    Boss with the papers:

    This is why people have in boxes. So there is a place.

    Examine your processes and make sure you are responding in a timely manner.

    We had a process for documents where after peer-reviewed, we had to get our manager to sign off. So I would send an email asking for a sign off. But the boss got so many emails that he wasn’t noticing them. So I tried a subject like “IMPORTANT- SIGN OFF NEEDED” and he said he didn’t like all caps. Okay. He was always in meetings/on calls so you couldn’t just pop in. What ended up happening was we had to have a coworker that was near by his office alert us when he was in the office or we whould have to watch his Skype status turn to “green” and then run over with a hard copy sign off sheet. That was not cool or efficient to me.

    Stop telling your employee what not to do and tell her what TO do and then follow through.

    1. Nea*

      Except OP has told her employee what to do.

      OP has said “bring it to the meeting” and the paperwork was not brought to the meeting.

      OP has said “skype me if you do this” and employee has not skyped OP.

      OP has been completely clear about alternative behavior and not gotten it.

    2. M. from P.*

      “Stop telling your employee what not to do”

      I get that it probably wasn’t on purpose but this advice is kind of ironic…

  28. Ink*

    I like physical media too, but even before being asked to stop putting post its on your desk instead of a slack message is just obnoxious

  29. Llama Llama*

    My office was paperless except for one particular document that per the client had to be manually signed (and depending on the amount had to be signed by many people). We made it extremely obvious when we put it on others desks that there was documents. Luckily when the lead for the client left, he was fine with electronic signatures.

    Make it clear that you won’t review documents that are just put on your desk. If it’s a standard process, make a official process that is paperless.

    1. Nea*

      I have to confess, were I in the place of having to unpack my stuff to find a printed schedule I didn’t want on my desk in the first place… I wouldn’t unpack.

      1. ferrina*

        Me too. I’ve told direct reports who didn’t follow clear instructions to go back and do it the way I told them- OP should feel free to do that with Lauren.

        “I asked you to email it to me. Can you take care of that immediately after this meeting? Thanks.”

        If she tries to say “But I put it on your desk”, say “I asked for it emailed because I need it emailed. Please get that emailed within the next hour.” (I also like giving deadlines because it underscores this as a work assignment)

  30. Love to WFH*

    I’m feeling so baffled by the use of paper to communicate between people.

    I haven’t printed out out a piece of paper for my job since about 2014 — and I’ve worked at 3 companies in that time, the first two in-person.

    1. Large Pink Rabbit*

      I once worked with a guy who would print out an email and come over to my desk to read it together. Then he would leave the print out on my desk. I waited until he left the room to drop it in my recycle bin, but oh the temptation to take it from his hand, look him dead the eye, and drop in the bin without breaking eye contact was strong, so strong.

    2. SleeplessKJ*

      I work in a law office and while a great deal is done digitally these days, we still have veritable reams of paper everywhere.

      1. Nightengale*

        Doctor’s office and ditto.

        Some are papers on their way to being scanned but it is easier for me to read through a 20 page paper document than a scanned one where a whole page doesn’t fit on my laptops screen, so I try to read them before having them scanned

        Some are things I have to fill out or sign and have mailed/faxed elsewhere. I can do this on the computer but that involves someone (not me) with a scanner and then about 10 steps.

        Some are things that shouldn’t ever have been printed out but someone printed them out. . .

      2. J*

        I got rid of about 90% at my prosecutor’s office. Trial materials including evidence, letters to victims/defendants and printing receipts all made sense that we couldn’t eliminate, though we could reduce, but tragically there were weirdly required documents the county office required around payroll and timesheets because they refused to go paperless back then despite some county offices being 45 minutes from each other and having to drive to drop off timesheets. I did the actual planning of the paperless project and implementation of the pilot so that really helped since I had to think about every piece of paper and its purpose. We even reviewed things like notice requirements for mailings, created a victim email opt-in system, and reviewed file retention laws since things were very out of control in the storage space and we had so many filing cabinets we couldn’t hire more staff until we addressed it because we had paper boxes filling cubicles.

        I got rid of about 80% on the IP teams I was on in Big Law, but this was pre-USPTO updating things so you didn’t just have to use fax so I bet I could go even more paperless if I was still there. Now I’m in house and if it wasn’t for states who insist on corporate documents still being mailed, I’d be 100% paperless, especially now that the USPTO is scaling back on printed granted patents too.

        It’s so important to me that I actually ask about it in interviews these days. I’ve found offices based around paper have other weird culture issues, like keeping a duplicate physical and digital file that inevitably don’t match, bad tech purchases and software to support the work, or the worst – places that insist on printing emails.

      3. Avery*

        Every office is different, and law offices are no exception. I’m a paralegal working remotely, and the only time I handle paper files is when I need to physically mail something out, which isn’t terribly common. On the other hand, my father’s an attorney in the same field, and his office is practically covered in paper files. Everybody does things their own way.

  31. Ellis Bell*

    I think this is a mixed messages issue. Because she likes physical media, she thinks you’ll also find them easier to review and putting them in your physical space probably also reflects her preference. Yes, you told her a different preference, but I definitely agree that “send me a Slack message so I could look out for it” dilutes the message you were trying to give which is “I hate physical copies lying around and keep track of digital items best”. It sounds like getting physical items in a meeting works with your preferences, but if you don’t want anything on your desk at all, you can just say that.

  32. theletter*

    both you and her should get really excited for digital document management. I think you’ll find your ‘messiness’ will disappear once everything is online by default, and the lost calendar should be a deal breaker for her – that could have gone much worse!

  33. Semi-retired admin*

    I don’t know if anyone else offered this up, but it sounds like you’re not giving her viable alternative. Don’t just instruct her to stop putting paperwork on your desk, instruct her on where you want her to put it instead. Inbox? Chair? Email? She may not know what else to do.

    1. Lily Rowan*

      The boss wants her to stop walking paper into the boss’s office period. That’s it!

    2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      Well, she told her she can put it on the desk if she sends a slack message and she didn’t do that, and that she should print something out and bring it to a meeting later, and she didn’t do that, so I don’t think the lack of a viable alternative is the problem here.

    3. Thistle Pie*

      Agreed – the best messaging is to tell people what you want them to do, not what you don’t want. I this circumstance I think both apply. LW needs to be very clear that they DO NOT want anything placed on their desk but they also need to be clear about how they do want things communicated.

    4. sparkle emoji*

      The viable alternative is to send an email or slack message, as the LW has already asked. She doesn’t need to provide a viable alternative that meets Lauren’s preferences. Lauren needs to follow the instructions she has already been given.

  34. Madeleine Matilda*

    I think you need to be even clearer than Alison suggested. Say something such as “Please do not leave any papers for me in my office.” If you say “on my desk,” I fear she will begin leaving them on your chair or bookshelf. Make it clear that you want her to send the docs to you electronically unless you specifically ask her to print them out for you.

  35. Mmm.*

    I prefer printed media in general, but it doesn’t make sense to transfer it like this. I have dyslexia and it can be easier *for me* to read that way sometimes, but in that case, I print my version and send the other one along in an email or message.

    I wonder if she’s not fully trained in their computer system. Some ways of doing this aren’t intuitive, and it can be embarrassing to admit you have a tech gap.

  36. Yellow Springs*

    I feel like this is standard AAM, but I’d also wonder if the previous instructions have not been firm enough. If LW said something like “Lauren, I’d prefer if you did X instead of Y,” that doesn’t come off like an official instruction. It could help it make more sense as to why Lauren hasn’t been following these requests if they seemed optional to her. Regardless, I agree with Alison, it’s time to be very very clear and direct.

  37. Samwise*

    Leave out the “please”s in Alison’s scripts. It’s not a request and you want to be excruciatingly clear.

    Most of the time the order-disguised-as-request wording (please, would you, I’d like you to) is good because it’s social grease. In this case Lauren has forfeited the niceties and gets a command.

  38. Jello Stapler*

    The employee letting herself into your office when you aren’t there was the biggest issue for me in this letter.

    1. Young Business*

      Agreed! It would irk me if someone repeatedly let themselves into my office without me knowing.

  39. Samwise*

    “My desk is (shamefully) extremely messy”

    Nothing shameful about it. My desk is very very cluttered. It’s been a long time since anyone said anything derogatory about it — I used to respond, “Messy desk, well-ordered mind”. Or occasionally, “Works for me. Do you have a problem with the quality of my work?” Said pointedly and somewhat aggressively (for repeat offenders).

    1. Ellis Bell*

      I really miss my old messy office. Everyone had a messy desk, and no one messed with anyone else’s mess because we understood it was messed up to meet a particular system. I really preferred to just lay stuff out according to my own preferences, have piles of things to hand, and then just get rid of it. I particularly miss the spike pile, and the huge A3 landing pad I would scribble notes on. I work perfectly well in my current workplace’s clear desk policy, but it’s not actually what top flight efficiency feels like to me. It looks neater, yeah, but that’s about it.

  40. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    Is there an age difference here? I’m getting a vibe that the OP is younger that the direct report. I could way off-base, I admit; plus, it shouldn’t be relevant.

    However, I wonder if that’s why the OP hasn’t been firm and direct already. Unlocking your boss’ office just to put papers on a desk is shocking to me — a professional simply does not do that, without express permission. I’m picturing a quite, um, definitive older woman who just decides how she will do things, and that is that. The OP does absolutely have to shut it down, but I can totally see this leading to a PIP and firing (at which the report will be shocked! shocked!! of course).

    1. OP*

      There is, but it’s actually the opposite! I am older by about 5 years and have managed staff before, but this is Lauren’s first professional job. Unfortunately, I’ve gotten the balance of guiding professional norms/being too persnickety off. You’re absolutely right that I need to be firm and direct!

      1. allathian*

        Thanks for clarifying. Do you know if Lauren’s skilled and comfortable using your computer systems? The idea of a young professional preferring to print things out on paper rather than dealing with purely electronic documents sounds a bit odd in this day and age.

        My son’s in middle school, and a lot of their homework assignments are completed electronically. He’s used to the Google Chromebook environment, because that’s what they use at school. Some universities and colleges use Microsoft products, others use Google. Graduates/interns from the latter often need a bit of time to get used to the Microsoft world that’s pretty ubiquitous here, at least in larger organizations (I’ve never worked with anything else).

  41. Lacey*

    People are so weird about insisting on giving documents/info in a way that is inconvenient for the person they’re giving them to.

    In my old office I had a stack of trays on my desk. It was the practice to just drop anything new in the top tray and I’d sort it to where it belonged when I had time.

    But then there was a coworker who decided just to not. They’d put it on my desk, on the table beside my desk, on my chair… anywhere but the tray where they were meant to put it.

    I tried asking. I tried a little sign reminder (this person loved putting up her own signs, so I thought maybe it would get through better), I brought it to the attention of our manager who had set up the tray system in the first place.

    Nothing worked. It was just 3 straight years of her doing anything except what I’d asked her to do.

  42. Sunny-D*

    It’s weird to me that she puts things on a messy desk – the seems either deliberately obtuse or very passive-aggressive. This is a very practical set of decisions she should be making here – as in, “where is this most likely to be seen?” – that she’s totally skipping over.

    If I’m putting papers on someone’s desk for them to find, I always make sure it’s either on a chair (if they’re a messy desk person – absolutely no judgement), or in the middle of the desk if their desk is super empty. Sometimes on a keyboard if they have a desktop, since that’s another easy spot for them to find. That just seems like a very basic part of “doing the job well” that she should be doing.

    I’m wondering if there are other issues with this report that OP is overlooking because of messy desk guilt. Because seriously, this is someone who’s not completing very basic parts of the task of “getting papers to their boss for review/approval”.

    I’ll say nothing other than a huge steaming heap of side-eye about the letting herself into your office part.

  43. Calpurrnia*

    Fun fact: you can’t actually block someone on Slack!

    Someone harassing you at work? Gosh, too bad, you’ll just have to deal with it. Because you both work in the same place, so therefore are on the same team, and have no reason to ever not want to communicate with someone!

    The company has been steadfast in their refusal to allow blocking. Harassment is just not a thing that they believe actually happens within a company. Tell me your entire organization is male without telling me, yknow?

  44. Lizzianna*

    I am also a messy person who will not necessarily see notes left on my desk.

    Your stance is entirely reasonable. That said, in my last job, there were some documents that required a wet signature, or were accompanied by a substantial, physical file that I needed to look through before signing. One thing that worked for me was to put an inbox on the wall outside my door for employees to drop things in. Just a suggestion if there are physical items that can’t be sent through email or Slack or be brought to meetings.

    1. Lizzianna*

      (Obviously this doesn’t work with confidential info, but she shouldn’t be leaving confidential or sensitive info on a sticky on a messy desk anyway)

  45. a.p.*

    My boss’s desk is a 20 out of 10 on the messiness scale. Early on, she asked me to email her any docs that I could, and if I had to leave something on her desk, to leave it on her keyboard. I have had no problem complying with this. It’s not hard, and it comes off a bit disrespectful that Lauren seems to be deliberately ignoring your instructions.

    I don’t think there’s anything shameful about a messy desk, at all! If it’s working, it’s working. My desk is a tad messy at times, but I do store some items that people might need when I’m away, so I keep a small table with the most frequently-requested items on it. That seems to solve any problem before it happens.

  46. Slowpoke*

    I’m one of those people that likes having all the files for various projects on my desk at once (somewhat sorted, but likely messy looking to an observer). This is because having a visual reminder of what needs to be worked on helps me stay focused, and lots of others are the same. However, plenty of people don’t function like this—they may not notice new files that appear or they might find the visual clutter overwhelming. I think because you feel a bit bad about being messy, you might also be carrying that into feeling bad about not wanting visual reminders. But that’s totally fine! And it would be totally

    1. Slowpoke*

      not sure why part of my message disappeared, but that would be totally fine even if you were the neatest person ever.

  47. Jess*

    Charitably (and with the take that the LW is entirely correct to ask her not to put things on her desk!) I wonder if it’s a mental ‘filing’ on behalf of the employee – that she wants to think of things as “done” and putting them on her boss’ desk lets her think “I have passed that onto boss and can therefore move onto the next thing on my list”.

    Perhaps she could just keep a folder on her desk for boss-directed stuff instead, so things like printouts to be discussed at a meeting can go in THERE instead.

  48. Awkwardness*

    There is something in Lauren’s behaviour that rubs me the wrong way.
    OP – how is your relationship otherwise? Do you have the feeling she does respect you as her boss? To me it seems as if she was trying to educate or to steer you towards a certain workstyle. Even though you’d prefer otherwise, she continues doing so (because she believes she knows better). Do you overemphasize her neatness and, maybe jokingly, put yourself down in comparison?
    How clear do you make that you are the boss?

    1. Ellis Bell*

      There is the detail in the letter that Lauren loves physical copies of things. It’s not that much of a stretch to extend that to her loving a more physical delivery of the documents as well. Put simply, it’s a preference of Lauren’s to look over something physically, and to then file it on OPs desk. The only issue is that OP doesn’t share the preference and needs to let Lauren know really clearly. OP has mentioned it once in the moment, but with a caveat, and then hasn’t addressed it since.

  49. Dawn*

    She’s your direct report, you’ve told her bluntly to stop doing it, and she’s completely ignored your directive. Simple as.

  50. Kella*

    OP, don’t frame this as a neatness issue, frame this as workflow issue. Even if your desk was visually neat and organized, it wouldn’t matter because she could still put the paper on your desk in the “Only look at once a month” pile where it would get ignored for several weeks before finally being reviewed.

    It is not your workflow to review every piece of paper that comes in contact with your desk immediately after it arrives. It’s not compatible with your work to use that workflow.

    In addition to Alison’s language, I might also clearly spell out the logistical consequences of her ignoring your instructions. “When you put a paper or a post-it note on my desk, it is not treated as urgent and does not get reviewed in a timely fashion. That’s not going to change.”

  51. Ms VanSquigglebottoms*

    Oh my gosh, I get the LW’s mixed feelings about this! I have a direct report who’s a generation older than me, and I feel like I’m always bending over backwards to accommodate her preferences (e.g., meeting in her office instead of mine because she’s uncomfortable undocking her laptop). I also have to remind her to do routine tasks (e.g., log calls in Salesforce) regularly.

    On one hand, I know I’m her manager and can insist on things my way–and it’s sucking up a lot of brain space, if not time! On the other, it feels petty to focus on such small details.

  52. Bopper*

    But the question is… if she sends it how Boss wants it…does s/he follow through? Are they getting the emails and then acting on them in a timely manner?

  53. New Senior Mgr*

    I suspect she’s trying to make LW her personal project – Project Train/Shame Boss to be Neater. Her placing things on your desk could be her way to show that you wouldn’t have a problem if you were more organized. But that’s not her call to make. Don’t fall for it.

  54. Raida*

    The only way I’d consider continuing to allow items to be put on your desk – to find a happy medium between her preferred style and yours – is with an actual Inbox.

    Nothing should be put anywhere on the desk other than in the Inbox, and with you yourself not using it this would be easy to see there’s something new to attend to.

  55. Lizzo*

    LW, is it possible that Lauren is trying to “manage up”? Like, she sees your mess, and is trying to impose order on it because she feels that her way of doing things is better, and therefore would be better for you too?

    I’m not sure I’m articulating this well, but I saw a similar dynamic happen between a colleague of mine who was **extremely** organized (and had a “holier than thou” attitude about it), and our mutual boss who had a desk very similar to yours. Now, boss was a good human but a terrible manager, and let that employee do whatever she wanted, including imposing organization on her. That employee also tried to impose things on me, and that didn’t go over well.

    All this to say, there may be something more complicated going on here. Be explicit about what you need Lauren to do. Be attentive to her response. Be prepared that it may just not be a good fit for her.

    1. Lizzo*

      See the comment from New Senior Mgr above, which is a much more succinct explanation of the dynamic I was trying to explain.

  56. Jennifer Snow*

    This could be an anxiety issue rather than passive-aggression. Some people feel really uncomfortable with making requests and will cling to a method where they’re not “bothering” you, regardless of how inconvenient or annoying it is in practice.

  57. Reality.Bites*

    I’ve generally worked for decent people, in companies that valued their employees. But for all they said please and thank you, and were open to discussion as to why something might not be feasible, I always understood that requests were essentially orders.

    Please don’t put papers on my desk is an order, not a request. If Lauren doesn’t understand that much, she needs to be informed of it.

  58. Reality.Bites*

    I just remembered that I’ve known a number of people who would put things on people’s chair, rather than their desk, so they’d be certain to know they received it and put it where they can deal with it.

  59. Milksnake*

    I haven’t read through to see if anyone else mentioned this but my initial thought was:
    It’s more helpful to pivot to something else instead of being told “stop doing this” with no alternative. If you don’t want her to leave notes or documents with project updates what should she do instead? Would you prefer email updates? Slack messages?

  60. Susannah*

    I can’t get my head around the fact that she lets herself into her boss’s locked office to leave documents boss has explicitly asked her not to leave on her desk!

  61. Sharon*

    Is the issue that you don’t want Lauren putting documents on your desk, or that you don’t want information ahead of time? I’m confused because you say the one time she sent you a link on Slack, you asked her to print it out.

    Maybe consider setting up a “Lauren and OP meeting” folder somewhere in Lauren’s office where you can access it if you need to? Then SHE can put all the documents she wants in it , YOU don’t have to read it or trip over it, and you can review its contents together when you meet.

  62. Sprinkles*

    This is passive aggressive behavior on her part. Be sure you follow up your meeting with an e-mail with a read receipt.

  63. Megan*

    This is literally the plot in Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella, except there its a messy desk of a lawyer, and she is set up by another lawyer by placing documents on the messy desk full knowing the messy lawyer won’t see it (like our OP) which then causes the client to loose millions of pounds (English novel). It’s a good book!!

  64. SB*

    Lauren is in the wrong here, but can I just comment on the crumbs…we ended up with a mouse & german roach infestation due to two members of the team leaving food crumbs on their desk & food scraps in their bins for extended periods of time. Papers on the desk is not so much of an issue as you seem to be able to keep your chaos organized, but my advice to you is to be a little strict on yourself regarding the food detritus so you don’t invite vermin into the office as it becomes expensive (over $3000 so far & still not finished) & time consuming to eradicate once they are there.

    No hate, I am also an organized chaos worker!!!!

  65. Adultiest Adult*

    Consider me also flabbergasted that Lauren feels that it’s appropriate to repeatedly unlock her boss’s office to drop off all of these unwanted papers. What happened to the idea of respecting a locked door? Although in practice the admin team has a key to my boss’s office for honest-to-God emergencies, the reality is that the only people considered authorized to use it are me (I’m second in command) and only at her request to handle an urgent document-related issue, or the office manager to address physical space issues like broken a/c. Lauren is wildly out of line to keep doing this, even before we get to the issue of the fact that she has been explicitly instructed to not leave papers on the desk.

    The obsession with paper reminds me of a summer grad intern who had trouble with both social cues and following instructions, who decided on her own that she didn’t like the fact that we had so many different important documents online, and so she was going to “help” by printing them all out and putting them in a massive binder. She decided that this “help” would be a school project for her. Several of us in unofficial supervisory capacity attempted to dissuade her and point out that we had actually gone to some effort to get our documents digitized and on a shared drive, but she continued to barrel ahead. She broke the photocopier twice in her efforts to generate all this paper, much to her colleagues’ resentment. At the end of it all, she had an overflowing four-inch binder that must have weighed 40 pounds and a universal reputation as an odd duck. (“Please tell me that we’re not keeping Florence on!”) And then I was expected to render some kind of performative appreciation for this school project that no one had asked for in the first place! It went straight into the recycling bin when she left.

  66. Pam Poovey*

    I have to wonder if this is some passive aggressive commentary on LW’s messiness from Lauren.

  67. Bazzalikeschasingbirds*

    Neat vs Messy, good fun! Most important Lauren needs to save documents, not delete and do back up.

    I’m assuming you don’t want to add an intray to your desk, so an out tray goes on their desk, for the documents and post it notes on coloured paper to differentiate from documents. They send you a message on Slack to say what it is. (If I was Lauren, I’d be stamping the post it notes with date and time, sent on Slack, to cover their ass). Documents and post it notes to go from most recently printed or written.

    If there is security issues, have manilla folders, labelled with Months, etc.

    You pair need to work this out, because there will be times, when Lauren isn’t at their desk, or at work, you need to access this easily.

  68. UKLu*

    As a pre cursor to what I am about to say
    … I hate paper copies of anything, they are wasteful and time consuming. Also, my apologies if I am repeating somebody else’s comment.

    That said, if anyone chooses to ignore all managerial instruction and general office etiquette, they should simply leave their paper copy of anything important on the recipient’s keyboard… obviously incredibly annoying, but it cannot be missed!!

  69. Longtime Reader*

    Have you gotten any vibes that Lauren thinks you should keep a neater desk, or that you should be using physical papers more often like she does? Continuing to leave papers on your desk feels like a weirdly passive aggressive “hint” as if she’s trying to say that if you kept your desk neater, you would have found and dealt with her documents sooner.

  70. Extra anony*

    Have you considered maybe she doesn’t feel confident using Slack or other shared drives? Maybe offer training?

    I notice you did ask her to print something for a meeting. Could you go paper free?

  71. Rainbow*

    I love it when people leave stuff on my desk. That’s because it’s like, once every few months and it’ll be something cool they thought I’d be interested in (we’re scientists/nerds). Not, like, the single existing copy of a document I am required to scour

  72. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    This would bug me so much if only because it places a burden on me to now own a physical copy of a document that I would have printed out on my own if I needed a physical copy. So not only is it in the “personal space” of my desk/office without permission which can make me edgy enough, but I also probably already printed my copy, so now I must dispose of the “volunteered” one. And deal with the fact that the person who gave it to me thinks they’re the hero for providing me something I don’t need.

  73. HonorBox*

    LW, the thing that stood out to me was the fact that she’s letting herself into your office when you’re not there. Beyond the fact that she isn’t respecting what you’ve asked her to do (not put stuff on your desk) she’s letting herself into your private office. While that might not be a Big Deal sometimes, you may have things on your desk that are for your eyes only. In addition to reiterating that you don’t want her putting things on your desk, you should definitely tell her that if your office is locked, she’s not unlock it. Don’t soften it with “unless there’s an emergency.” You could say “unless I explicitly tell you to go in.”

  74. TootsNYC*

    I once had to get really fierce about people using my In box instead of leaving things on my chair or desk. I had a huge and fast workflow, and it was stressing me out to the max.

    I made big speeches to everyone necessary.
    And then I would call the offenders and tell them to put stuff in my In box. For the worst of them, I asked them to come back down the hall and move it to my In box, as if they were a teenager who’d left their jacket in the middle of the living room floor, and I was the mom.

    The other thing that made it work, though, was this:
    I demonstrated very clearly that they could trust my In box.
    That meant stuff that went in the In box got dealt with.
    And that I went through the In box from top to bottom each time I looked in it, so that stuff that got buried got resurfaced according to the priorities.

    I both demonstrated it to people when they complained “but it might get lost” and I also demonstrated it by actually getting to the stuff they brought me.

    You have to make it possible for her to trust whatever alternate system you put in place.

  75. LCH*

    so normal to request papers not be put on your desk. i’ve had a lot of bosses ask that papers be placed in their chair so they see new items. or you could set up a physical inbox.

    so weird that she won’t stop doing it. not okay.

  76. Mrs. Jameson*

    For the messy desk boss – if any employee really needs to leave you something in your office, can you tell them to leave it on your chair? That way it is much easier for you to spot as something new to look at.

    This idea is not intended to negate all of the advice about your employee just following your directions in the first place.

  77. kiki*

    I think asking Lauren why she’s doing what she’s doing is a good next step, especially if she’s an otherwise good/conscientious employee. I found out recently that some coworkers were refraining from sending messages over Teams to me when my status said I was in a meeting because they didn’t want to interrupt. But I am in 6 hours of meetings a day! I definitely want folks to feel free to ping me and I’ll get back to them when they can. I don’t think they should have to wait until my status is green– it could be hours (or days!) until it’s green.

    Maybe it’s possible Lauren has a similar hang-up? Like, she worries that messaging LW would be an interruption, but leaving stuff on a desk is not? If something like that is the case, a conversation would really help make!

  78. Veryanon*

    Why is Lauren letting herself into the LW’s office when they’re not there? That should be the first thing that stops. There’s no actual reason for her to be in there.

  79. e271828*

    It seems like telling Lauren flatly to stop using physical printouts and post-its for documents that should be electronic or messages is the best approach for the LW. LW should stop being indirect about this. No printouts, unless LW has instructed her to print something out. No post-its. (And no going into LW’s office when LW isn’t there, ever.)

    I would even put the meeting about this issue in her employee file or wherever. Not a PIP but a record that on this date, Lauren was instructed explicitly to stop Doing The Things, and if Lauren cannot stop Doing The Things, Lauren is on thinning ice. LW has already told Lauren to stop and Lauren is ignoring that. Make it really clear that this isn’t a matter of taste, it’s a matter of job performance.

  80. Sneaky Squirrel*

    1. Unless there’s a valid reason, LW should put a full stop on Lauren entering the office when LW is out. This is a work desk but personal boundaries should still be respected.

    2. Lauren needs to stop placing work on the desk if the manager says it’s not the right process. She also needs to stop making print outs and post-its if the manager says it’s not the right process. But, what is Lauren’s perspective? Has LW been responsive to slack requests? Is this really Lauren’s job to be giving LW these types of updates (It might be! We see so many instances of ‘my boss is making me take notes/be admin because I’m the designated female’ so I want to add that consideration). Is this a situation where LW could leave a designated drop box outside of the office so that Lauren can drop off her stickies/work?

    3. Messy desk is not an excuse for missing work. I’d argue that their system is not working for LW if LW doesn’t even have a clue about what’s on the desk. LW claims they’re cleaning the desk every week. This indicates to me that LW is not seeing the paperwork because the piles are THAT bad, that LW is actually seeing the paperwork and losing it, or that Lauren is exceptionally clueless when it comes to reasonable places to drop off paperwork (most would leave it on a keyboard or computer chair where LW would obviously look).

    4. If LW has a lot of paperwork on their desk, I’d question whether some of this should be electronic? I know some paperwork still needs to be in hard copy format, but many jobs where paperwork used to be the norm now can be handled paperless.

    1. Anonomatopoeia*

      Re: 4: For those of us with certain kinds of brains, putting files we should continue working on in an electronic-only place is how to not remember they exist in a remotely timely fashion. My desk currently has 3 medium-sized piles on it, all of which contain items associated with multiple tasks or projects, many of which are tasks that are continuous or ongoing. Having the piles is how I know to work on the things, and so far in 30+ years of being a grownup I have not found any digital system that allows this not to be true; even to-do lists only work when enough pieces are present. I have tried. I would rather be organized and tidy, and other people would also rather I were, and yet.

      I mean, I forget to read this site, which I love and which has useful advice, for a couple of weeks at a time on the regular, because if the tab gets closed, well hell there goes the visual reminder. Believe me when I tell you, I and everyone else with this kind of brain are WELL AWARE were are broken and messy and just not correct. We are reminded constantly. It’s great. (it’s not). So I mean, when you say you would question? Consider whether that’s kind, you know?

  81. SwiftSunrise*

    During my brief foray as a middle school teacher, I made it VERY clear to my students: papers/assignments to be turned in goes into the grading box for your class period and ANYTHING ELSE you need me to see has to be placed directly into my hot little hand. Do NOT leave it on my desk, that is a morass of god knows what where things disappear into a black hole of random papers.

    If 7th graders could understand and follow that rule, a fully adult employee can, too.

  82. Anonymous for This*

    The only thing I wonder about is what happens if the LW is out of the office and their manager/boss needs to find something amidst the piles of paper and crumbs of croissants past?

    If their boss becomes annoyed that they can’t find something amid the mess, I suspect that the LW would have to find a way to be neater.

    I was certainly not obsessively neat when I worked in an office, especially when I was working on an account and would spread everything out across my desk and the top of my file cabinet.

    However, I would put things away before I left for the day. I did not want my normally good-natured boss to have to sort through endless stacks to find the one important letter/memo he needed should I end up being put of the office unexpectedly.

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