I’m worried a colleague will burn herself out, coworkers are hassling me about using disposable containers, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. I’m worried my care manager will burn herself out

I am very lucky to live in a place where I get a lot of help from various places and people for my significant disabilities. For years, I managed it all myself, but about 18 months ago the agency that is supposed to coordinate my care hired A, who is quite possibly the first competent person to ever land in her job. (Among other things, I and others apparently have random funding that we were not using because we did not know that we had it!) My problem is that I really worry that A is going to burn out very fast, because she is simply too eager to help. For example, I am going through a crisis right now which she is very involved in, but I find it very unnerving to get texts from her after hours telling me to text her or call at any time. I do not want her to be checking her phone after hours! I also sometimes would send emails at random hours of the night, and she would respond to them right away, which indicates to me that she is working very long hours. (Now I am careful to only send emails to her during working hours.)

I really worry A is worrying too much about me, and if she is extending this worry and care to all of her clients, she’s going to burn out very very fast. I know that she cannot get paid that much for her work, and I would strongly prefer for her to be able to stay in her position and get promoted and not leave the field. I certainly do not want to tell her how to do her job or live her life, but with a crisis at 9 pm I’m going to call family or friends or my rabbi, not her.

I don’t want her to burn out, but unless she learns to leave work at work, she will. I have absolutely no idea what to do.

There’s probably very little you can do, unfortunately. A is going to have to figure out the right balance for herself on her own. She might burn out and leave the job earlier than you’d want or leave the field entirely.

Or she might not! While I’d never suggest anyone work those sorts of hours for their entire career, some people do legitimately thrive on being very work-focused during some seasons of their life, and then they change that as their lives/priorities/energy levels change. I personally did exactly that and have watched peers do it, too. For what it’s worth, I would have been a little annoyed by someone telling me I shouldn’t be doing it during the years when I was getting a lot of fulfillment from it.

But whatever happens, it’s A’s to figure out and your ability to influence it is pretty limited.

You can certainly tell her that she’s the best care manager you’ve had, you value her and her work highly, and you’re concerned about the hours you see her working because you want her schedule to be sustainable so she can stay in the field long-term. And you should be thoughtful about the hours when you contact her, as you’ve been doing. But beyond that, it’s something A is going to have to manage herself.

2. Coworkers are hassling me about using disposable lunch containers

I work in a non-teaching position at a university. Every employee is provided one cafeteria meal per shift worked. My department is busiest around lunchtime, so my colleagues and I usually grab to-go boxes and bring our food back and eat at our desks while we work (yay academia!).

This year the university has made a big push for reducing our carbon footprint. Part of this includes giving us all a reusable to-go container to use for food when we take meals from the cafeteria. My colleagues have all started using their reusable containers and washing them in our building’s kitchen area after each use.

I … can’t. I have OCD and dishes don’t feel clean to me unless they have gone through a dishwasher. I take medication for my OCD and have spoken with my psychiatrist about it, but this is a hurdle I just can’t seem to pass. There’s no logic behind it. Each day I continue to use a disposable tray because otherwise I’d feel so anxious that I wouldn’t be able to eat.

I didn’t think anyone would notice, but lately my colleagues have started to comment on my not using the reusable container I was provided. I pretended to forget it for a few days, but now they’re pressing me to get a replacement if I can’t find it, reminding me of the importance of not living a disposable lifestyle, and otherwise commenting on how I transport my food. Our desks are all right beside each other’s, so even if I didn’t walk over with them, they’d see my meal. They’re otherwise nice people, so I think their comments are well-intentioned … albeit unwelcome.

I understand the importance of responsibility in being a good steward to our environment, but I don’t think there’s any way I can use one of those reusable containers. I also don’t want to disclose my mental health issues with my colleagues. There are so many stereotypes and stigmas that surround OCD and I’d rather not be branded with them. Any ideas on a good script for getting them off my back?

First, any chance you could ask for a couple more of the reusable trays? That would let you take them home and run them through the dishwasher in between uses.

If that’s not possible or doesn’t solve it, you could say to colleagues who ask about it, “I have a medical issue that makes these the best option for me.” If anyone is rude enough to demand details, you should say, “I don’t want to get into medical stuff at work, thanks for understanding.”

3. Can I give constructive clothing advice to the person who took over my job?

I work in a field where meeting with elected officials is a core part of the job. I recently got an exciting new job, but still have many ties at and fond feelings for my last organization.

I recently saw photos from the most recent trip to D.C. posted by the organization. The person who eventually took over in my last position dresses much more casually than I would recommend when meeting with elected officials. Her look is more “college student on a date” than “professional representing a business organization.”

Is there a constructive way to tell her that elected officials will take her and the organization more seriously if she dresses more seriously? I think she is already at a disadvantage because she is on the younger side for this field, and I would like to see her succeed.

For context, she and I are on cordial terms; I have met with her once or twice to explain the history of certain projects and help with the position transition. I am in my mid-40’s, and she is in her late 20’s.

Not really. If you were in regular touch and had a mentor-type relationship, or if you were doing a lobby day together or something, then you could — but given the level of contact you described, it’s going to seem like a big overstep to say, essentially, “I saw photos of you and you should change how you dress.”

This is really something her employer should be flagging for her if it’s an issue; if they’re not doing that and it’s genuinely a problem, that’s on them — but there’s no way for you to do it based on seeing photos that won’t feel off.

4. Are our offices really getting cleaned?

I work for a company with a very flexible WFH schedule as we are often in the field meeting with members and can do much of our other work from home. However, we cannot print, shred, or mail from home.

We have several regional hubs that we can work from to complete these tasks and can reserve a desk or private office in advance or day of from an app. My problem lies in the cleanliness of the office.

There is reportedly a cleaning company that cleans the office each day. I say reportedly because there is an old desk calendar from March 2020 on the floor of one office and large cobwebs across the corner of another.

How do I bring this up to someone in the company without sounding lazy or like a complainer? Yes, of course I could pick up and throw out the calendar. However, I was hired this year and am not interested in disturbing years worth of dust and sneezing all day. We have an office manager, but she is the person who orders supplies and makes sure the printer works, not someone who cleans.

“Do you know if the cleaners are still coming regularly? It looks like some offices haven’t been cleaned for a while and I wasn’t sure if I should bring it to someone’s attention.”

You’re not going to sound lazy for asking if maintenance is being done when it appears that it’s not, and it’s not complaining to flag a potential work-related issue that might need attention. If the people who would normally be in charge of noticing and addressing it aren’t in the office much, it’s possible it’s just slipped off their radar and this will be a useful nudge. (That said, office cleaners don’t usually throw out things like old materials — nor should they! — so the old calendar doesn’t signify much. But the cobwebs are an issue!)

5. Should I apply for a senior job to get considered for lower-level ones?

I’m considering a career change out of sales into a more technical field. While I have college coursework and work experience that would support this change, I’m currently taking certification classes and building my portfolio to make myself as strong of a candidate as possible.

I was browsing job postings for the type of work I’m looking for (so I can tailor my studies to meet the typical job requirements) and saw that a large, well-know company is opening a warehouse locally to me, and are currently looking for a level III version of my (potential) new career path. The posting includes this level III employee as managing junior employees. I have the impression from the listing that the person they hire for this role will have a say in future hires.

While I would in no way qualify for this level III position, and I don’t feel qualified enough yet to apply to an entry-level role in this field, I received some advice that I should apply regardless in the hopes that I’d be considered as a future team member for a level I role. Is this a legitimate strategy, or would any hiring manager question my reading comprehension? Would a cover letter explaining that I’m interested in a future role help?

No, definitely don’t do that. If you don’t qualify yet for a level I role, applying now for a level III position will look really strange — some combination of naive/presumptuous/not understanding your own qualifications and what it takes to do the job well. If their system highlights past applications at the point when you apply for real, it’ll be a strike against you — not a huge one, but you’re better off without it.

When this kind of thing can work is when you’re currently qualified for a slightly lower level position (not two levels below) and they might be hiring for one of those soon — and then they can shuffle you on to that track instead, or tell you to keep an eye out for that posting. But when you’re not even ready to apply for the entry-level job, there’s not anything to be gained by doing it.

{ 453 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Letter-writer #2 is looking for advice on how to let their coworkers know they need an accommodation for a medical issue without sharing the details of the medical issue. Please stick to that, not suggestions of how they could handle their OCD.

  2. Punk*

    OP2: I understand that it would be somewhat wasteful to do so (although all options produce some kind if waste) but is there a reason you can’t bring your tray home and run it through the dishwasher each night? (I wouldn’t suggest bothering with this except for the fact that the comments are getting to you). Or you could just tell your coworkers the truth, that reusable food trays don’t feel clean enough for you.

    1. Lisette*

      I was thinking the LW could just bring their own containers from home. You could wash them off after eating, and take them home each day to run them through your dishwasher. That way you know they’ve been cleaned thoroughly.

        1. Punk*

          We’re making suggestions to the LW, whose strategies for managing her illness might necessitate some water usage. And honestly, water waste isn’t a concern in many areas of the country, nor should an individual with a home dishwasher take on the burden of compensating for corporate environmental damage. If this situation is bothering her, and if she’s already doing the work of properly managing her illness, she can run her dishwasher if she wants to. Your dishwasher habits are irrelevant to her; many people’s dishwashers fill up much faster than once a week.

          1. amoeba*

            Yup. Granted, I have a small “single person” dishwasher, but even though I’m almost never at home, it fills up much more quickly than that – are you washing stuff by hand instead? If that’s the case – with modern dishwashers, it’s generally much less wasteful than handwashing, so I’d rethink that if it’s for environmental reasons! Putting absolutely everything in the dishwasher is, in fact, the method that needs the least water and electricity.

        2. Emmy Noether*

          It’s very hard to weigh the impact of water/energy vs. plastic trash because it depends so much on what one is prioritizing and how one is calculating. We’re trying to suggest a way to use those containers, judging if that makes sense at all will be on the LW.

          Modern dishwashers are quite efficient. The fancier ones even have half-full programs and/or sensors that measure how dirty the water is and adjust accordingly. Washing a single container at a time by hand is also very inefficient water and energy use.

          Since LW is presumably running everything they use through the dishwasher, it’s probably already running more than once a week. We also don’t know how many people are living in the household and thus how many dishes there are anyway. Quite possibly if there were two or three containers to alternate, there would be no additional dishwasher runs.

          1. Jackalope*

            For awhile I was living in a 5-person household and we ran the dishwasher every day packed to the brim.

            1. anne of mean gables*

              I live in a three-person household and we absolutely run the dishwasher every day, sometimes twice a day (we cook a lot, including pretty intensive batch cooking on weekends). There have been times where I can go a full 24 hours without running the dishwasher (usually if we get takeout) but it’s a real rarity.

            2. But what to call me?*

              Yeah, in a 3-person household we probably run it every 2-3 days (and if it’s 3 days that thing is *packed*) and with even a couple of overnight guests it has to run every day.

              And that does include the reusable containers I take my lunch in, because why would I generate that much trash when the lunch containers can just be washed with the rest of it?

        3. Timothy (TRiG)*

          Modern dishwashers famously use very little water or electricity. Apparently it is the norm for American dishwashers to not include a heater, so you may need to run the hot tap for a moment until it runs hot, so that the dishwasher is drawing hot water, but even that should be minimal wastage. European dishwashers do generally include a heater, so this is unnecessary. I’m not sure about other parts of the world.

          For more than you ever thought you wanted to know about dishwashers, see the Technology Connections videos on the subject. Alec is astonishingly good at making you fascinated by things you had no idea you wanted to know. And he’ll tell you why you should avoid pods.

          1. Kara*

            American here, I’ve never used nor owned a dishwasher that didn’t have a heater; in fact, my current one includes a Sanitize setting! Perhaps this was true back in the early generations of dishwashers, or perhaps we’re talking about different types of heater setups?

            I’ll have to check out the video recommendation, thanks!

      1. Roeslein*

        Exactly, is there a reason people can’t bring in their own containers, or (if you have to use the branded one) take them home for cleaning? I’ve never worked with someone who would use disposable containers every day so that would definitely strike me as odd, but “making” people clean them in the office is equally strange,particularly if there is no dishwasher.

      2. Juli*

        Depending upon cafeteria, that might not be allowed. Like our cafeteria only allows what they provide, if you want something else, you’d have to buy official and then fill into something else, which is even more wasteful.

        1. LifeBeforeCorona*

          Our school banned staff from using single use plastic bottles. Instead they provided branded ones. They were supposed to be washed every day in the dishwasher but sometimes were just rinsed out. As a result, I drank more tea in a non-recyclable disposable cup that was provided by the company that had the hot beverage contract because they refused to fill individual thermos bottles because they weren’t a standard size. Intead you got your tea in a branded cup, poured it into your own container and tossed out the original cup. Go figure.

          1. Doc in a Box*

            The coffee cart in the place I used to work would charge $2.50 (or whatever) if you got their coffee in the branded cups, but only $1 if you brought your own thermos bottle to be filled at their coffee urns. Of course, if you wanted a latte or some other espresso drink you’d be paying regular price, but for regular ol’ drip cup-o-joe with milk/sugar you add yourself? No brainer.

            They were doing this long before sustainability was a household word. They also made great coffee. I miss ’em.

            1. Office Plant Queen*

              Something a lot of people don’t realize is that those cups are the most expensive part of the drink. Sometimes they’re like $1 each! There’s what, a tablespoon of beans in each cup? And the water costs pennies. So a cup of coffee might cost the coffee shop $1.50 to make and 2/3 of the cost of the container it’s served in

          2. DisabilityDisregarded*

            This would be a problem for many people with disabilities, so I hope they make accommodations. I can fit a disposable water bottle in a webbing area of my walker. I can’t consistently make it work with larger/heavier items ( and if they don’t have a screwtop they might leak as I have to carry it in a horizontal position). And I can’t directly use a dishwasher, so that wouldn’t work either.

        2. münchner kindl*

          Our Uni cafeteria works on the buffet option, so everything is weighed, therefore, only their own dish works with the scales: there’s a special barcode on the bottom so that the scales recognizes and subtracts the correct weight of the empty container.
          Special so it doesn’t get off when the container is washed.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            …which is perhaps the reason OP’s uni provided branded trays & Alison suggested asking for extra(s).

            It’s still possibly a hurdle in itself. (After returning from maternity leave, I daily transported a laptop case with a stack of hardcopy, a breastpump backpack, and as small a lunchbox as possible. A tray would have been impossible.)

      3. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        My hot take is that all of this eco-policing of others and whether they use styrofoam is actually counterproductive and tends to weaponize privilege. The fossil fuel companies that are responsible for most of the damage to the environment are well served by the belief that individuals have caused and can solve it. (And I say this as a person who recycles, composts, etc).
        Meanwhile, I wonder how much of the colleagues’ 401(k)s are invested in fossil fuel companies and actively profiting form climate change.

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          “The fossil fuel companies that are responsible for most of the damage to the environment are well served by the belief that individuals have caused and can solve it.”


      4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Honestly that’s what I do anytime I packed my lunches in the past/let an SO take a dish home in one of my containers in the more recent past. I’d rinse the container out at work and it’d still feel greasy and smell of the dish it had it in. Or the SO would wash the container and bring it back and it would also still feel greasy and have the smell. In the dishwasher they all went, with the rest of the dishes from eating and cooking at home. I don’t even have OCD, I just find it hard to get a plastic container cleaned out well in just the kitchen sink.

    2. RC*

      Love the idea to see if you can get another one and rotate, and/or bring the containers from home. Seems like if they’re offering to replace one you’ve “lost” you could get another one, and I would imagine if they’re cool with people bringing their own that they’ve washed in the break room, they’d likely be okay with other types from home? That way they could go through the dishwasher at whatever cadence makes sense.

      (P.S. to the comment at home: remember that there’s electricity and water use that goes into manufacture of single-use containers, as well as the whole “killing our oceans” thing ; I’m pretty sure if OP2 can find some way to make these reusables work for them, then that’s the better environmental option.)

      1. Ellie*

        That’s what I’d do – tell them you lost the container and need another one, and then rotate them one after the other. If its too difficult to manage on two, ‘lose’ another one and get a third. It will be easier than explaining why you need more than one.

        If the containers are such that they won’t go through the dishwasher then I’d raise it as a food hygiene issue and ask if you can bring your own, dishwasher safe dish instead. You shouldn’t have to mention the OCD, its a valid concern.

      2. Queer Earthling*

        Was your PS really necessary? Shaming people with medical needs and acting like we’re single-handedly ruining the environment is not helpful, and easily wanders into ecofascist territory.

        1. Phryne*

          Pointing out in a reasonable voice that re-usable really is preferably is as far from eco-fascism as you can get. Really weird comment.

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            “…that whole ‘killing our oceans’ thing” is what pushed that comment from “friendly reminder” to “shaming” but you do you.

            1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

              The killing the oceans was in quotations marks so I think they were showing the hyperbole that goes into the shaming of people who don’t do the one right thing that will save the world.

              OP, while I like the idea of washing them at home, are you going to be okay with the dirty dish sitting there all afternoon then being brought home? I don’t know if if it will effect you, but if it does, then don’t do it. Go with Alison’s second suggestion of your doctor said this was the best thing for you to use disposable. Don’t make your mental health worse just to stop the comments.

          2. Queer Earthling*

            The thing is like. Trust me. LW has heard that reusable is better. They are aware. We have all heard that the things we need for our health are bad for the environment. Promise. So when someone says “But you should still do the other thing or you’re personally responsible for killing the oceans ♥,” it definitely gets shamey, and to what end? I didn’t say the comment itself was ecofascist, but that’s a lot of the attitude behind ecofascism, and it’s worth exploring why you (general you) feel that’s the most important thing to say to the LW, even knowing that people are already giving them a hard time over disposable materials in their real life.

            1. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

              Didn’t seem aimed at the LW, but at the commenter above who wanted to shame the LW for hypothetically using their hypothetical dishwasher.

      3. Armchair Analyst*

        p.s. maybe the LW works to save the oceans. I want the LW around, doing their work, mentally well.

    3. Humpty Dumpty*

      I would just buy four other reusable ones so that you have 5 reusable containers: one for each day of the work week.
      You can wash them all by hand in the office, then take them home and put them all in the dishwasher at the end of the week so that they’re dishwasher clean for the next week.

      But really, your coworkers are overstepping in trying to guilt-trip you about this.

      1. Phryne*

        Their co-worker do not know why OP has a problem with the re-usables. They all had to switch, it is not unreasonable or guilt-tripping to wonder about why OP is sticking to single use when everybody else does not.
        OP does not have to explain, but her co-workers can’t be blamed for wondering.

        1. Seashell*

          It sounded to me like the staff were encouraged to switch, not that they had to. If I were LW, I’d be tempted to tell them to mind their own business.

        2. Hot Flash Gordon*

          “it is not unreasonable or guilt-tripping to wonder about why OP is sticking to single use when everybody else does not”
          They can wonder all they want, but frankly they should keep their comments to themselves. It’s rude to pester someone over this.

          1. Hannah Lee*

            Or there’s stuff you *might* bring up *once* in conversation at lunch one time, but then not mention it again.

            It’s the repeatedly bringing it up, which is likely to come across as annoying, boundary crossing, pestering, nagging, and even bullying, depending who is doing it, how they are doing it, how often they’re doing it and how LW views it. None of those are good things to do to a co-worker.

            1. Lydia*

              Yep. I can see someone jokingly asking how the OP avoided having to make the switch, but whatever the answer is, at that point you drop it.

        3. Totally Minnie*

          Maybe you can’t blame the coworkers for wondering. But I can absolutely blame them for making their curiosity OP’s problem. I wonder a lot of things about my coworkers that I know it would be rude to bring up, so I just…don’t.

          1. Lydia*

            I don’t think asking once about the containers is rude. The rude part comes in when they continue to make comments about it and bring it up.

      2. Daisy-dog*

        +1 to co-workers overstepping. The conversations about environmentalism and sustainability should not shame people because that’s how we isolate people.

        One time: “Hey, did you see the notice about offering reusable trays now?” If that leads to no change in behavior, move on.

    4. Bells*

      Re “just telling the truth” I’ve successfully done similar! As someone with OCD-ish tendencies (though no formal diagnosis) I’ve been able to excuse a lot of things by just framing it as “of course this is a thing someone might be bothered about” without ever putting a label to it. Like “I’d rather use a disposable cup than one of the office mugs because I don’t trust a large group of people in an office to wash anything thoroughly” or “I don’t ever put my bag on the floor, just think about what sorts of things people are tracking in from the gross city sidewalks”.

      1. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

        Yes, I do think there’s some wiggle room to frame it as “I’m particular about food things being clean” rather than mentioning the word “medical”, if you think that would provoke less curiosity. I don’t have OCD and I still prefer my cutlery and crockery to have been dishwashed!

        1. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

          (Not saying there’s anything wrong with citing medical need, either – just that the other way wouldn’t necessarily out you, so you’ve potentially got the choice.)

          1. I'm just here for the cats!!*

            Yes I think this would work if the OP didn’t want to bring her OCD up (which som any people say cassually meaning they are just picky and not actually OCD). She could just say that she doesn’t feel the container gets clean washing it by hand. If it’s a similar container to what my university used they can sometimes feel greasy after a while.

          2. Office Lobster DJ*

            Yes, this is the route I’d go. It’s fine if OP wants to cite a medical concern, but it’s also fine to frame it as something they are particular about.

            Frankly, it’s also fine to shrug and be vague and not give any explanation at all. However much they insist, the co-workers are not owed an explanation for OP’s choice of cutlery, whatever the reason.

        2. Miette*

          I think this is a good alternative. I know plenty of people who are particular about cleanliness IRT food, so OP can perhaps initially save the word “medical” for the next level of nosiness…

      2. DJ Abbott*

        It would not be unusual IME for people to say they don’t trust the cleanliness of things others have washed in the office. I have worked in more than one office where people re-washed items before they used them because others didn’t wash them thoroughly. Not unusual at all!
        Also if I put a bag on the floor, I never set it anywhere else. That’s not OCD, it’s just common sense.

    5. allathian*

      Sounds like having two or three trays to rotate would solve the problem with the least amount of fuss.

      If, and it’s a big if, someone wonders why you take the trays home, you can simply state that you want to run them through the dishwasher. People are unlikely to take it any further than that if you state it as a personal preference, possibly a quirk, rather than an obsessive compulsion. The key to success here is being able to say this in a very matter-of-fact tone that people are less likely to question further.

      I’m sorry your coworkers are putting an additional burden on you LW, you deserve to be able to eat in peace without having your personal choices questioned.

      1. amoeba*

        Yup! Also, if you just put them in your bag after lunch, I’m pretty sure nobody would ever notice.

        As for the chances of getting another one or two – the coworkers are already suggesting getting a new one in case they’ve lost theirs, so I’m confident that would be possible! “Worst case” I’d just pretend I actually needed a replacement – nobody will notice you’re not bringing in the same container every day.

        But also, a combination of “tell the truth” and “get another one” could work well? “I prefer/want/need to take these home and put them in the dishwasher, any chance I could get another one or two?”

    6. JSPA*

      “needs to go through the dishwasher” is likely shorthand for a bunch of related issues, as such things are rarely that simple.

      I suspect that if close contact with used containers was something they could handle, or if they were ok with handwashing the container at work and then bringing it home to rewash it, they would already be doing some variant of that.

      “That’s not something I’m allowed to do” or “unfortunately, these containers don’t meet my specific needs” followed by “its private / not up for further discussion, sorry” might create useful vagueness* regarding “in what sense is it not allowed.”

      *religious restrictions, communicable condition, bad immune system, portion assessment, allergies to something in the container or in the dish soap, moral objection to one of the container’s components, one’s own private brain weasels, a very specific hand issue that makes the particular container hard to manipulate–all not up for discussion.

      But you can always toss in, “I’m aware of the waste, and have reduced my plastic footprint by 20% at home, to compensate” or something similar. Or, ” I am keeping an eye out for a reusable option that does meet my needs, and if I find one, I’ll absolutely use it.”

      Mostly, people want to hear that you’re taking important topics seriously, more than they want you to do “the one thing.”

      1. kalli*

        Yeah; I have allergies and a chronic digestion issue that makes me intolerant to more, and highly sensitive on top of that, while other people at work do not = they have food I’m allergic to in the kitchen and I either have to wash the whole thing down with hot water, soap and bleack and hot water and soap again to clean it so I can use it, plus have my own cleaning supplies, utensils etc. that nobody else is allowed to touch, to even have a chance of something of mine being in the kitchen not triggering a reaction. That’s a lot of time and investment to just wash my work container at work so people know I’m using the work-provided container, and it’s a risk I can’t fully contain because we all know people at work don’t have great boundaries.

        So I don’t eat at work, and if I had to, I’d be bringing a disposable container and my own cutlery and eating away from the break area if at all possible. I can’t risk someone’s allergen coming home with me and stuffing up my home kitchen – my dad’s already done that once and I can’t afford to replace everything again.

      2. Snow Globe*

        You may be correct that there are other related issues. If the LW feels that the trays aren’t clean, then they may be unable to carry them home, for example.

    7. Eyeroll*

      Honestly, it’s hilarious to me that a company thinks they’re reducing their carbon footprint by manufacturing special take-home containers instead of just asking employees to please use ones they already have. This is all just pretend environmentalism and the OP can point that out to her coworkers.

      1. Be Gneiss*

        As another commenter pointed out, using a standardized container in a cafeteria setting is sometimes necessary if you are selling food items (like salad bars) by weight. The system can be set up with a tare weight of the standardized container, because once you make it to the check-out with your salad, there’s no way for them to subtract what they guess your container weighs.

        1. saskia*

          Supermarkets like MOM’s get around this by having people weigh and label any containers brought from home before filling with bulk items.

    8. Jenna Webster*

      Unfortunately, the simplest thing to do can also be the hardest. Tell your coworkers to leave you alone and stop commenting on how you get your lunches.

    9. Daisy*

      The problem is the pushy co-workers, not the logistics of the OP’s OCD management. Can we not recapitulate the co-workers’ inappropriateness when discussing solutions?

    10. Some Dude*

      This is an aside, but the whole blaming individuals for ruining the environment thing seems so counterproductive to me. Yes, we should reduce plastic waste and use reusable containers, but the reason we are in this mess is not because OP is throwing away a tray at lunch.

      1. Sage*

        Thanks for writing this. If we want to stop ruining our environment we should probably eat the rich at first, or at least force them out of their money addiction. This also won’t solve everything, but it would have in my opinion the most impact.

    11. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      This may not be something OP2 wants to spend their time or capital on, but it’s an option to tell your coworkers to redirect the effort they spend policing OP2 on asking leadership to make a real effort at sustainability.

      This sort of individual responsibility change is nice if you can manage it, but it’s mostly window dressing and seems to be letting leadership off the hook entirely. If they were really invested in more sustainable practices they would ensure you have time to eat off the existing reusable dishes in the cafeteria rather than buy more plastic. (This is assuming OP2 is comfortable with the dishes in the cafeteria; apologies if that is not the case, OP2!)

    12. Sister Administrator*

      I think it would be solved if the cafeteria did more than the minimum effort and implemented a reusable, returnable container program, with washing.

  3. Scooter34*

    LW4 – no cleaning company will ever discard calendar pages and outdated materials so maybe find other examples of dirt to point out

    1. Over It*

      I was going to say the same thing. Cleanliness is the job of cleaning staff if your office contracts that out like many offices do, but tidiness is the job of the office staff. Concerns about visible dirt and dust and trash that hasn’t been emptied you can certainly raise to management. As for outdated calendars and materials, you can ask someone more tenured if it’s okay to dispose of them if they bother you, or you can decide you don’t care enough and leave them be. But not the job of cleaning staff, who have probably received very specific instructions not to remove anything from the office.

    2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      The LW said there was an desk calendar lying on the floor: “there is an old desk calendar from March 2020 on the floor of one office.”

      Wouldn’t an old old calendar lying on the floor be considered trash that cleaning staff would be expected to remove?

      I would not expect cleaners to take down an old calendar that was hanging on the wall or removing one that was lying on a desk, but surely they’d have trouble cleaning the floor properly in this case, unless they at least picked i
      the calendar up off the floor first.

      I agree with not using this an example when asking about the cleaning schedule, because it would likely cause confusion, as it has in these comments. But I agree with the LW that something like that being left on the floor is indicative of cleaning being neglected.

      1. Adam*

        Generally cleaning crews are instructed never to throw away anything that could possibly be work-related. There’s just too much stuff that looks like trash to someone outside the field but is in fact important that it’s better to have a blanket rule.

        That said, everywhere I’ve worked they’d be fine to pick it up and put it on some proper surface, so if it’s lying on the floor, that’s probably still evidence that the cleaners aren’t coming through.

        1. KateM*

          It is evidence that the floors have not been sweeped/vacuumed, I’d think – unless they take the calendar off floor, clean, and put it back where it was, or clean around it.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            My experience with messy office spaces has been that the cleaning crew won’t move your stuff, they’ll just clean around it. Does that mean that certain person’s desks and certain corners of the office don’t get cleaned for years? Yes, yes it does.

          2. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Even pre-pandemic our custodial staff vacuumed AROUND thing without moving them. I rearranged my space frequently just to keep dust bunnies from building up under the desk!

            1. AngryOctopus*

              Yes. Vacuuming/sweeping around things is less hassle for the cleaners than “why was my footrest moved 2mm to the left yesterday” complaints.

      2. Missy*

        The cleaning people will throw away stuff in my trash can and clean around anything I leave on the floor. They don’t know if that pile on the ground is important and I accidentally sat it there for a moment or if it is trash.

      3. Kevin Sours*

        The problem is the cleaners don’t have a great way to judge what is and is not important. You might think an old calendar is obvious, but what if it’s an artistic calendar you wanted to keep and just got knocked on the floor. Or an old promotional calendar you’re keeping for archive purposes. It’s safer for the cleaning crew to have a rule to not throw anything out that isn’t in the designated waste containers.

      4. Tiger Snake*

        That sounds more like a maid. Maids pick up after you. They clear spaces.
        But cleaners scrub what’s clear. They clean, they don’t pick up.

        It does make me wonder if the cobwebs were super close to the papers on the ground – which would give the impression that they left what wasn’t clear alone but cleaned everything else – or in a different spot altogether, which would indicate they hadn’t done anything at all.

    3. Pennyworth*

      My experience from talking to cleaners is that they are given strict instructions and a tight schedule. If they are told to just clean the floors and bathrooms, that is all they will do. They will go around stuff like calendar pages left on the floor because they are not obvious trash.

      1. kiki*

        Yeah, I was going to say this same thing– a lot of cleaning crews have set tasks they do on a schedule and aren’t supposed to deviate from that– they’ll take out the trash, they’ll vacuum, etc. But they’re not necessarily going to dust or get a stain out of out of the carpet unless they are specifically tasked with that (and paid accordingly).

        It may be that cleaners are still coming and doing some basic tasks but they’re not ever being paid to do a deeper clean.

    4. Green great dragon*

      Even the cobwebs – I wouldn’t be surprised if a standard clean does floors & desks, and doesn’t go after the webs on the ceilings or high on the wall. Maybe what’s missing is the occasional deep clean. If those are the only two things you’ve seen then I wouldn’t go in suggesting the cleaning company isn’t doing their daily clean, I’d be explicit about what isn’t being done.

      1. allathian*

        At my office, the schedule is something like this:
        – daily: toilets and kitchens
        – weekly: offices, meeting rooms, breakroom, etc.
        – every six months: fridge deep clean, tops of cupboards and lighting fixtures dusted (anything over ~6 ft high)
        – once a year: windows

        Obviously employees are expected to clean any spills themselves.

        The cleaners who do the high surfaces need special training and equipment to ensure ergonomic work processes. I have seen cobwebs at the office sometimes, and if you wipe your hand across the top of our clothes closet, it’s very dusty.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          “Obviously employees are expected to clean any spills themselves.”

          Ah, you’d think that would be obvious most places. But I’ve worked with a few people that didn’t get that memo.

      2. Jellyfish Catcher*

        Spiders can weave a web in 60 minutes. If the office is cleaned, say, MWF,
        those webs will reappear.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Sure, but you can see the difference between yesterday’s shiny new web, and something full of dust that has been there for weeks.

    5. Squirrel*

      But the calendar is lying on the floor! No cleaning company is going to leave trash lying in the floor; it clearly indicates that the floor has never been vacuumed.

      1. Florence Reece*

        It doesn’t clearly indicate that! I have a personal cleaner for my home and unless we discuss otherwise, she absolutely sets aside whatever is on the floor, vacuums the floor, and then puts all my shit back where it was on the floor. She’ll throw away OBVIOUS trash, but a calendar may or may not be trash — in a corporate office especially, that calendar might have important dates and info! It’s not the cleaners’ job to determine whether the items left behind are important, and since it sounds like they come in during off-hours (as most corporate cleaners do) they don’t have a chance to confirm what is and isn’t important with their clients.

        It might seem obvious to us that the cleaners would recognize it as trash after a while of it being there but…no, why would they? Again, they have very little context for what is and isn’t important, and if it isn’t OBVIOUS trash and the client isn’t complaining about it being left there, why would they think it’s any of their business? That’s not even getting into the fact that a lot of cleaning companies don’t assign you consistent gigs. You might be getting a different cleaner every few weeks! There’s a decent chance that your cleaner this week has no idea that the calendar has been there for 3 years, because they just got oriented to your office. They see something dated from 3 years prior, which must be important, because it’s still there! And the cycle continues.

        Cleaning companies don’t exist to sort your shit for you, especially not in corporate settings. If you need a calendar from three years ago thrown away, throw it away, in a trash can. Don’t just throw it on the floor and assume “the help” will deal with it. Don’t leave it on the floor because you think the cleaning company should magically divine that it’s not important anymore. In general, try not to treat your office cleaning staff like they aren’t doing their jobs.

      2. Cmdrshrd*

        In a couple of the buildings I have worked we have been explicitly told the cleaning crew will not throw away anything that is on the floor, because they don’t know if it is actually trash. They will clean around something on the floor but won’t throw it away.

        From the cleaning crew’s perspective better to leave trash on the floor than to pick up and accidently throw away a piece of paper that looked like trash but was actually someone’s notes on important project x. They can’t know if someone tried to throw it in the trash and missed, if a fan blew an important paper on the floor or it otherwise got accidentally knocked off a desk.

      3. Orv*

        I work at a university and there are profs here who use the floor as a filing system. If you threw out everything on the floor you’d destroy their careers.

      4. Nina*

        Yeah, at my partner’s workplace and at mine and at both my parents’ workplaces, and in my home when I was busy enough to warrant hiring a cleaner, paper lying on the floor (or on a desk, or on the chair, or on the bathroom counter if you’re silly enough to leave it there) is left exactly where it is and cleaned around. Cleaning companies can get into way, way more trouble for disturbing/damaging/losing/throwing out an important piece of paper than they can for just… not cleaning a paper-sized piece of the office space.

        Recognizing that this may be a regional thing (I’m not in the US, and my one US workplace was a controlled lab where cleaners weren’t allowed anyway), if you want the whole floor vacuumed, clear the whole floor.

    6. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      This. Unless it is in the actual garbage can, it will not be thrown out. CYA from the “the cleaners threw it out .”

      1. Antilles*

        Honestly, it’s not even so much CYA as much as it is that the cleaners have no way of knowing whether the old calendar is trash or not. For all they know, you do still need that March 2020 desk calendar because you wrote a bunch of dates on it.
        Which ironically actually becomes more and more reasonable the calendar is there, because it turns into “it must be important because if it was trash, someone would have tossed it in a trash can at some point in the past three years”.
        The real person who deserves to get shade thrown at them is everybody who works at this company that saw the discarded calendar and ignored it as Somebody Else’s Problem.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Not sure any shade needs to be thrown. I wouldn’t go into a colleague’s office to throw away papers on their floor the same way I wouldn’t rearrange their desk.

    7. Charlotte Lucas*

      But the calendar is on the floor! That makes it trash, no matter what year it’s from. Or at least something to pick up. Off the floor.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        It does not! For all the reasons stated above!
        As a cleaner, your job is to clean as agreed with the company. Not to make determinations about random trash looking objects in the office. It’s likely their contract states that they do the floors and the trash cans and the kitchen, and they are not to pick up or disturb papers, etc. where they are found. Yes, this includes the 2020 calendar! They can’t guarantee that, should they move it or throw it out, that someone isn’t going to throw a fit of “where is my important calendar that I wrote much contact info on? I need it!”. Not worth the hassle. They either work around it, or pick it up and put it back down.

      2. Nina*

        Okay, seriously, this scenario sounds exactly like what’s currently playing out in the quality manager’s office down the hall from me.

        She has paper forms for every batch of product for the last seven years, and the only big table in the building is in the conference room. For big sorting-out-the-papers situations, which is nearly every day, everything is on the floor. A calendar page from 2023, probably not the end of the world if it’s thrown out, because the production staff will still mostly remember, we probably have most of the product still in the warehouse, and we can get by. A calendar page from 2020 which is before most of the people here worked here gets lost? Depending what’s on it, we could be in the hole for tens of thousands of dollars. The cleaning crew never, ever, ever touch anything that looks like paperwork, no matter where it is.

    8. I'm just here for the cats!!*

      I think the OP mentioned the calendar because it is laying on the floor, which means that no one has picked it up to vacuum. I don’t think they are saying that the cleaning company should be throwing it away.

    9. Alan*

      Pet peeve: My cleaning lady goes through my trash and removes stuff she thinks looks valuable. This can be practically anything, e.g., a computer cable. I love her, and she says she’s gotten in trouble in the past when people tell her something is trash and then they find they needed it anyway, but it’s pretty annoying. Anything I really need to throw away (other than paper) I need to carry to a dumpster so that it can’t be traced back to me and returned to my desk.

    10. Yorick*

      LW said the old calendar is on the floor, which implies the floor may not have been cleaned since the time the calendar is from.

    11. Lucia Pacciola*

      I can’t figure out if LW4 is a workplace norms question, like “this is my first job and I don’t know the etiquette around approaching my boss or the facilities manager with questions about the cleaning process”…

      … Or if it’s a more basic question of normal human interaction, like “I want to ask my boss or the facilities manager some questions about the cleaning process, but I don’t know how to put it into normal human words such as humans might use among themselves in a normal human conversation.”

      If it’s the former, the answer is probably, “I bet your facilities team has a feedback mechanism and would welcome your input; ask your boss about this.”

      If it’s the latter, I guess maybe just practice reading your letter out loud, and after rehearsing it a bit just say it out loud to your boss in a calm tone?

  4. Tommy Girl*

    A few years ago, my organization stood up a new group that many of us would transfer over to. My male coworker and I both applied for manager positions. I had previously managed people (though I get the feeling they think I’m making it up); my make worker had a few more years of experience in our industry but had never managed people. My male coworker (who is the definition of mediocre) applied for a SENIOR manager position; he wasn’t even qualified for a normal manager position imo. They gave him a manager position, me an analyst position. They said it would have been too much of a downgrade to not him give at least a manager position. A downgrade from what!!??? I was more qualified than him, and I applied for the role that was the proper fit, yet he got it. Because he applied for something he was completely unqualified for. May God grant me the confidence of a mediocre white man.

    1. MK*

      He didn’t get the job because he applied for the higher position, though. They decided to hire him and just gave you a random excuse.

      1. Snow Globe*

        I believe it’s entirely possible that the reasoning was that they could move him down one level from where he applied and move Tommy Girl down one level from where she applied, and they’d both be treated “equally”.

        1. ferrina*

          ugh, I worked with a CEO whose logic worked like this. Men were always promoted based on “potential”; women had to prove their accomplishments over and over again (and even then, the CEO would act like he was doing a favor in promoting them. No, that person just managed a major overhaul of the online platform that has clients moving through with increased efficacy and satisfaction, doubling our repeat client rates! Yes, we want them to do more of that!)

    2. Pencil Skirt, Eraser Pants*

      I send you sympathy.
      And will you ask God if I can have some of that Mediocre White Man Confidence too please.
      Of course, definitely not all guys are over-confident, in my experience, and some people of other genders are brimming with their own self-contentment. But the Mediocre White Man Confidence is a whole thing I’m incredibly jealous of.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Exactly. There’s a line between “gumption” and “uppity” (the latter is a direct quote from my previous manager), and it seems to be the line between “white man” and everyone else.

          1. ferrina*

            Don’t forget “entitled” and “greedy”!
            I’ve seen women called that for daring to ask for the same thing a white man had (all other factors were equal or the women was better qualified).

            And of course, “selfish” when refusing to do an Entitled White Man’s work for him. And “cold” or “rude” when declining to be his therapist. (occasionally it’s other demographics, but I’ve seen it most in white men)

    3. Ellis Bell*

      Having seen this sort of thing happen myself, I always wonder if they get encouraged to apply for the position, or get a lot of glowing feedback, or if they literally just pull the confidence from the ether.

    4. JP*

      Yeah…I’m dealing with something similar. Sort of. He at least isn’t senior to me on paper and in spite of my boss’s assurances, but I’m not sure he realizes that. I have years more experience, more education, am more competent and more efficient. Quantifiably more efficient, like five to ten times depending on the task. But, he’s just such a swell dude, how can I compete?

    5. Smithy*

      As an older millennial woman, I’d certainly seen this from men – and women – across my career, where there certainly have been colleagues who appear to get gains through those types of applications. They get jobs they’re unqualified for, and I beat myself up for not challenging myself to go for stretch jobs. However, with a bit of hindsight, the reality is more that I have benefitted when I’ve done what AAM has said about applying for those 1, 1.5 reach jobs – and I’ve also seen a lot of those colleagues who’ve gotten the crazy reach jobs not exactly be happier.

      Sure, they make more money than they’re worth for a time. But they’ve very often been incredibly stressed and hired into jobs by an employer willing to hire someone who’s not qualified for the job and also rarely willing to admit it. So they’re not training for those gaps, and I’ve regularly seen people work themselves silly to learn how to do that job for that employer – but not necessarily become an expert at that job so they could do it anywhere else. In one case, I’ve seen someone stuck as a Sr. Director of the largest Global Llama Grooming department I know of in our sector. But she’s not the strongest at US Llama Grooming, and she’s really weak at Global Llama Grooming – but she knows how to run this massive team that only exists at this one employer. Sure it’s benefit her financially in the short term, but it’s come with huge stress and not benefitted her with a vision to a longer professional life.

      And that’s when someone doesn’t end up pushed out. I had a former boss, promoted/paid way way above his experience level. That served him for 5-6 years in a similar way (stressful job but paid more than he could make anywhere else, and he didn’t have skills he could offer that would secure a similar salary). He was eventually pushed out and then it took him ages to find to find regular fulltime employment. And being sector familiar…..I’m going to doubt the salary matched that old one.

      These are just some stories I know. I’m sure there are others where everything worked out fine and an idiot is happily making more than they should. But so often I’ve seen people who get those jobs end up being so stressed and find themselves stuck well before retirement age.

      1. Spearmint*

        I’m with you on the perils of advancing too quickly. I know a woman who similarly flew too high too soon and was worse off for it. She worked in sales for a large tech company and even at age 24 was one of the top salespeople in her territory. I think it went to her head a bit though, since she jumped ship to become the chief salesperson of a tech startup. It has not gone well. She was stressed all the time and did not close a single deal, and now she’s looking to return to large corporate sales.

        1. Smithy*

          A completely different person – rose really high in a large established place, and arguably without the actual experience to justify some of those promotions. Also super stressed, and ends up getting pushed out/fired for making an error that she couldn’t be protected from.

          However, she does have connections that let her land in a Chief role in a start-up. But she’s never worked in a start-up before, and now the rumors are that she’s crashing out less than a year in. So she’s in a position where she was effectively fired/perhaps not eligible for rehire where she sprinted up the career ladder, and her quickie rehire was in a role that she’s not been successful in.

          None of the people I’ve mentioned I’d necessarily celebrate for being excellent leaders or coworkers. I also wouldn’t want to be one of their direct reports. But none of them were so awful as professional people that they shouldn’t be in my industry or anything like that. But through these rapid rises they have managed to burn connections, limit their networks – it genuinely can have downsides for amounts of money that in the long run may not be that much. Especially if you’re at risk of periods of unemployment for getting fired.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            These stories remind me of the meme of the dog floating in the space station saying “I Have No Idea What I’m Doing.”

      2. Capt. Liam Shaw*

        Honestly I have only had one manager who I actually admired and felt was very good at his job. I have had about dozen or so others who have been male, female and some were POC. All of them sucked to some degree, the worst being a woman who beat me out of a promotion only to get let go after the FI in question got fined by the NCUA due to mistakes she was responsible for.

        Frankly I think more managers suck than are good. And that cuts across all genders and races.

        If a manager treats me like an adult. It figure that least “meet’s expectations” if I wrote them a review. Sadly that is a tall order for most.

    6. Original Bob*

      As a middle age, white male I wish you luck finding a new job where they value you much more than your current org.

      1. Clare*

        Thank you for your allyship! Sensible, ethical, considerate, middle aged white males are invaluable – because the rest of us can point you out to the others and say “Look, if Original Bob can think about others, why can’t you?”. Peer pressure works much better than pressure from those who aren’t like us.

  5. CL*

    OP4: every office I’ve worked in, the cleaning crew is specifically instructed to not throw away papers or disturb material on desks. They don’t want to be responsible for an important document/item going missing. Throwing away the old calendar is something that staff in your office should do. As for the cobwebs, that may be a “deep cleaning” task your office doesn’t pay for. They regular cleaning is probably emptying trash, wiping down the kitchen, and vacuuming once a week.

    1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      What about picking up trash up off of the floor?

      It would seem reasonable to me to treat a 3 year old calendar lying on the floor as trash to be disposed of, or at least as something that needs to be picked up. Leaving it there makes me wonder if anyone is cleaning the floor at all, as it did the LW.

      1. Vivonne*

        Nope. I worked office cleaning crew jobs during college, and we were specifically instructed never to throw out stuff like that. The only things we could toss out was what was in the actual trash. So many people had stuff left lying on the floors that was apparently super important and couldn’t be disturbed that this was a blanket rule. We vacuumed the clear floor spaces weekly, wiped down counters, cleaned the restrooms, and emptied the trash. That was it. We didn’t have authorization to dust for cobwebs, clean desks or blinds or glass, or to move anything left lying around. That was up to the employees working in the space – if the calendar was trash, they’d have to move it to a trash bin to signal that. Until then, that’s work materials and we were not allowed to touch it.

      2. An Office Manager*

        A cleaning crew is highly unlikely to throw away anything that’s merely *near to* a trashcan (or on the floor in general) unless someone from the office staff has explicitly marked it as to be thrown away. It’s a CYA thing that I’ve seen expressly written into contracts.

        1. doreen*

          If I wanted to dispose of something that didn’t fit in a wastebasket, I had to put a note on it. Putting the item outside my office next to the trash can wasn’t enough.

          1. Smithy*

            This here. I will also say that with office cubes, the amount of space that people have is limited and while a calendar in a hallway may be one of those obvious things – I’m sure there are plenty of items on the floors of people’s cubes that do have an intention of being saved.

            Additionally, anyone working on any part of work that might be audited – the number of years things need to be saved is in that 5 to 10 year range depending on what it is. So again, a cleaning crew contract likely isn’t going to go into flipping through a calendar to see if its blank or used. All of that.

      3. SarahKay*

        Honestly, I’m more side-eyeing all the non-cleaning office staff who haven’t bothered to pick up that calendar in the last two years. Someone just pick the blasted thing up and put it in the bin.

        1. Be Gneiss*

          This!!! This is the office version of everyone complaining about the sock next to the hamper but nobody picking it up.

        2. House On The Rock*

          Yes same! Instead of using it as an example of cleaners not doing their job (which, as others have pointed out, isn’t necessarily the case), why not just put it in the recycle/trash bin if it’s bothersome.
          I’m waiting for the letter saying “I’m part of an office cleaning crew, and some weirdo has left a 3 year old calendar sitting in the middle of the floor as what I can only assume is a test of our ability to vacuum around it”.

      4. BubbleTea*

        I work from home so it’s a little different, but I’ve often made important work notes on torn envelopes. For the brief period where I had a cleaner, I asked her not to throw away anything with handwriting on it.

        1. Relentlessly Socratic*

          My home supervisor (my cat) likes to play with toilet paper tubes and crumpled receipts. My cleaner will physically show me something to ask if it’s okay to toss.*

          *I try to pick up all the cat toys, but sometimes she’ll find one that I missed. I don’t leave them around as tests for her…

      5. AngryOctopus*

        It’s trash TO YOU. Cleaners are not paid enough to deal with the “what happened to X” or “why was Y moved?” that can result from them moving things. So they go around them. As others have said, it’s not the cleaners place to decide what can be thrown out or moved. They are likely internally rolling their eyes at “wow this calendar is still there? Jeez” but they don’t want to touch it lest it start a cascade of complaints.
        I’ll note that OP themselves hasn’t bothered to pick it up, which I encourage them to do, so the cleaners don’t have to navigate around it anymore.

      6. kiki*

        Honestly, I can see this both ways. The fact that nobody on the office staff has bothered to pick up the paper for 3 years would almost make me wonder if they wanted it there? But yeah, if I were cleaning, I would probably at very least move it to a nearby desk or counter.

        BUT! Some cleaning agencies have very strict rules about moving things– they don’t want to be responsible for something going missing that was actually left on the floor for some actual reason (though I don’t know if that really exists).

        1. Emikyu*

          At my old job, it was very common for people to come into my office and leave stacks of important documents on the floor. I preferred this, because a) there were so many documents my desk could not hold them all, and b) I knew everything on my desk was something I had specifically placed there, and everything on the floor was something I hadn’t gotten to yet.

          It was an inelegant system, to be sure, and I would have preferred an electronic solution that didn’t generate as much paper, or at least more desk/shelf space. Sadly I had no say in that part. Still, at least this system worked.

          If the cleaners had picked up and moved the stacks of paper, even without throwing them away, it would have resulted in absolute chaos and possibly some very expensive mistakes. I’m sure it looked ridiculous to them that I was apparently building forts out of large bundles of paper. But they knew they were not to move it, and fortunately they did not do so.

          1. Orv*

            I do IT support at a university, and I’ve been in professors’ offices where you had only a narrow path to maneuver through the stacks of paper. It seems to be a really common thing.

      7. RagingADHD*

        Our contracted cleaning service will only throw away items that are in a trash can or that have a big red sticky label provided by them that says “TRASH / BASURA.” Doesn’t matter what it is.

        This very explicit rule protects their workers as well as the company staff who might accidentally knock important papers off the desk or forget that they placed a box of supplies by the door to take down to their car.

    2. Nebula*

      Yeah this was my thought, that the cleaning contract only covers certain things and when people were in the office all the time, they dealt with the rest. Now people aren’t coming in very much, whatever they would have done isn’t happening.

    3. Industry Behemoth*

      LW4: This happened about 30 years ago, before Internet and email.

      A newspaper columnist held a monthly contest for which readers submitted their entries by US Mail. One month he had to cancel the contest because as the paper entries came in, he was storing them in a cardboard box under his desk. A cleaner mistook them for trash and threw them out.

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

      Yes, this. I have to label items that don’t fit in the garbage can so they get taken, and the custodians don’t break down cardboard boxes or take away huge piles either — it needs to fit in their cart; an office clean-out would require a ticket to our facilities dept so they can bring in an indoor “dumpster,” and they will haul it away when full, but the filling part is an office worker job, not the custodian.

      In my experience, custodians typically don’t do:
      • Dishes left in the sink (owner of the dishes)
      • Clean out a stinky refrigerator (individual responsibility or often the administrative assistant)
      • Dust desks/shelves or wipe down keyboards/mice/monitors (up to the desk occupant)
      • Clean the carpets beyond a vacuum of the room (hire a carpet cleaner if there are stains)
      • Exterminate pests they may find (hire an exterminator)
      • Fix any broken or leaking things (facilities or outside vendor)

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Caveat: you can contract with the cleaners to do these things. But it will be VERY specific (cleaners will only wash plates and cups and silverware, or if you have a dishwasher they will run it on Tu and Fri, they do not empty it. Cleaners will deep clean fridge on Specific Day, and anything in there not in the crisper drawers is thrown away, no exceptions.), and they’re still not going to throw anything on the floor away (unless the contract states what objects and from where, so if someone complains, they can say “we are asked to throw away anything smaller than a bankers box, no matter what, if placed in this hallway”. Then it’s on management to tell you to not store your files in the hall or the cleaners will ditch them).

        1. Shan*

          I always remember at my last company when a memo went out reminding everyone that it was our job to put our dishes in the dishwasher, and that the cleaning company charged an additional $10k annually if they had to regularly move the dishes into the dishwasher in order to complete their contracted cleaning tasks (I don’t know what the threshold was for that, but people had definitely started leaving ALL the dishes in the sinks.)

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

          Theoretically sure, but in my experience the custodial company actually wants nothing to do with any of that for their own employees, whether it’s because of extra liability issues or hiring challenges. There’s a big difference between work that is mainly clean, dry, fast and safe, and work that is gross, wet, time-consuming, and has a higher potential for injury.

  6. ENFP in Texas*

    #3 – No longer your circus, no longer your monkeys. It’s her boss’s/mentor’s job to address the dress code if they perceive it as an issue.

    1. Madame Arcati*

      Indeed. I too am a mid forties woman and I may think thoughts in my head about the office-appropriateness of some of the outfits worn by a few people in their mid twenties I see around the office. But I would never say anything unless it was someone I was directly line-managing.

      1. English Rose*

        Yes, there’s a mid-20s woman in our office who wears very casual stuff including tight leggings and crop-tops, and we are very often treated to seeing things we would prefer not to see. But that’s definitely for her manager to pick up. (And I wish they would!)

        1. mostly harmless*

          There was a woman in an office I worked in who wore completely inappropriate attire. I mean, completely inappropriate – for a business casual environment. It was wild – and not in a good way.

          Various employees brought it up to HR, and she was told to dress appropriately.

          That was an extreme case, but the point stands. The OP – if she seriously believes the organization’s professionalism and reputation are at risk – could reach out to her prior manager and suggest that they have a word with the newbie about the level of professionalism they are projecting. But even then, I would hesitate to do that unless the attire was truly inappropriate.

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        I mean, I’d say something if a full on wardrobe malfunction was happening, like a split seam or full on view of bra frontage, but that’s just basic manners in a public place.

        1. kalli*

          And privately, at the time, not some unspecified time after based on a photo which may not even reflect what actually happened.

    2. oranges*

      OP doesn’t even work there anymore but she’s seeing photos on LinkedIn or something? And now she wants to cold call this woman to criticize her clothes? Wow, talk about a wild overstep!
      “She doesn’t even go here!”

  7. LinZella*

    OP # 3: I wonder if you know the new person’s schedule, even roughly, or if you’re going to be at the same event, and have photos, you could share with her.
    Not mentioning what you or anyone else is wearing. But maybe something like, “Oh I bet you’re going to be at the Llama Awards dinner. It’ll be nice to catch up. I can introduce you the Groomer VP and the best buyer company.”

    This is a rough idea, but if she happens to notice (fingers crossed) how you and the other professionals dress, maybe it’ll hit a spark for her.
    Good luck!

    1. BubbleTea*

      If she’s not noticed the difference between how she and others dress in person, I doubt a photo would help.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      Nah. It’s really not in LW’s purview to address this any more–she doesn’t even work there any more! It is a very odd thing to be invested in.

      1. Tio*

        Agreed – this advice is going so far extra. “Figure out a stranger’s schedule, arrange to be at an event with them, hope she notices how you dress.” For a job that OP is no longer in. OP would be far better served in letting it go.

  8. msd*

    I googled paper take out boxes and there are a lot of options and readily available. It would be an expense but using your paper ones and throwing them away after use seems like a possible solution.

    1. LJ*

      I think OP is already using disposable containers and throwing them out. The comments are about being more “environmental”.

      1. Corey*

        The person you are replying to is comparing paper disposable containers to plastic ones, not disposable containers to reusable ones. Paper has a much lower footprint.

        The assumption is that the LW’s coworkers wouldn’t be making such a big stink if the LW were already using paper containers, but who knows.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          I don’t see where the letter specifies the materials of the work-provided disposables in use – and the majority (by far) of that these days is paper/cardboard, so I’m not sure the comparison in this thread is meaningful for the situation at had?

          1. msd*

            Since paper/cardboard is not reuseable I doubt that’s what the company is using. I also doubt they are using dishware so it must be reusable plastic containers. I would argue that paper/cardboard ones that are thrown away are more environmentally friendly than any form of plastic (which will eventually get thrown away). Plastic is rarely recycled even when put in a recycle bin.

          2. Corey*

            The comment you are replying to covers your question. We are weighing your assumption against another and working off of the one that makes more sense.

    2. amoeba*

      Eh, just getting additional reusable ones and taking them home into the dishwasher seems much easier though, if you’re already buying and bringing your own containers!

    3. Phryne*

      Paper that is infused with oils or food remains can no longer be recycled though, and will be burned like plastic.
      I would think taking the containers home and washing them there solves the problem. My workplace has banned all single use containers including coffee cups and that’s what people here do.

      1. doreen*

        It can’t be recycled , but as long as it isn’t plastic coated I can put it out with yard waste and food scraps for composting collection and presumably could put it in my own compost bin if I had one.

      2. AngryOctopus*

        A lot of municipalities are starting to be able to do this recycling, so check your municipalities recycling website. Our curbside compost said in their last email to us that you don’t have to cut up pizza boxes for the compost anymore, they can be put out with the recycling (they contract directly with the town, so they know what the town can/can’t do). They did have a long explanation why, which I admit to just skimming, just thinking “oh cool, I can recycle those”.

      3. Dancing Otter*

        Ever if the paper ones end up being burned, cellulose is a renewable resource, unlike most plastic. Further, paper burns a lot cleaner, even greasy dirty paper.

    4. run mad; don't faint*

      If this is like my daughter’s university, they’re trying to phase out styrofoam take out containers in the university cafeteria. The cafeteria supplies the reusable one; it meets their standards for size and weight or whatever qualifications they need it to have. My daughter’s is the same size and shape as the styrofoam ones they used to use. I doubt they will let OP bring in random containers. Asking for or paying for an additional reusable container from the cafeteria is the best way to go here.

      1. run mad; don't faint*

        Or the LW could take Alison’s advice about continuing to use disposable containers and referencing a medical issue if necessary of course!

      1. fhqwhgads*

        Generally speaking stuff with food on it isn’t recyclable. But also, at this point the US “recycles” more than it could possibly process, and sells it’s recycling to other countries, which may recycle it, or may put it in their own landfills…so yeah, we’ve all kinda been sold a bunch of hooey on recycling at this point.

  9. phira*

    My partner has OCD and I absolutely feel for LW2 here. I would continue to use the disposable trays and use Alison’s language re: medical issue. One person using disposable trays really should not be such an issue, and I hope your colleagues back off.

    I don’t think it’s reasonable for LW to be expected to bring home the dirty containers and run them through the dishwasher every day as a solution to their coworkers overstepping. My partner would probably just skip lunch entirely rather than deal with the reusable container. As LW says, OCD is not something you can logic your way around, or cajole away with reasonable-ness. If LW says that the reusable trays are a no-go, then please believe them that they’re a no-go.

    1. Anon OCDer*

      Thank you for this. If I had a nickel for every time someone responded to an OCD boundary with “well, why don’t you just [do obvious thing that would work for someone who does not have OCD but is not at all applicable to how my brain works],” as if they have solved the puzzle, I would be a very wealthy woman. Telling the letter writer to just wash the containers at home may be, depending on how her brain works, like telling a wheelchair user “well, why don’t you just walk on your hands?” Because it is not how things work, and if there were an obvious solution, I am sure LW would have thought of it. Folks with OCD tend to be very creative with masking and workarounds.

      So yeah, if everyone could cut those comments out and believe the letter writer when they say they need the disposables, that would be great.

      LW, when things like this come up for me, I don’t say that it is a medical issue because it would pretty obviously out my diagnosis in some cases. So I just agree with the person in principal, and say that I cannot do the thing. “It’s so great that the university is focusing on sustainability. I have to use this tray, but it is awesome that you made the switch. Do you know if they are looking at the environmental impact of our endowment investments? Because I think that could really make the biggest difference.” People will get board with the novelty of the washable trays soon. Breeze over this until then.

      1. Junior Dev*

        Co-sign. I have anxiety which is very well managed right now. One of the reasons it’s well-managed is I’ve identified areas where it is not worth it to subject myself to the scary or overwhelming thing, and use other resources. Example: I rarely buy my own groceries in the store, I use the online order + pickup system. If someone were to try and come up with ““helpful”” suggestions to force myself to go into a grocery store, my only focus would be trying to change the subject ASAP, because trying to explain the logic behind my anxiety triggers to most people never ends well. Am I physically capable of buying groceries? Yes. Is it worth sacrificing the next 3+ hours of my life recovering from the experience? No. And this is pretty minor compared to what many people with OCD experience.

        Anxiety isn’t logical. OP deserves to feed themselves and do so without undue stress or hassle. What constitutes a minor inconvenience to their colleagues has the potential to stop them eating at all, or make the entire experience of eating at work extremely fraught. They have the right to do a completely normal, if slightly less environmentally optimal, thing that helps them manage their illness more effectively.

        I don’t think people who haven’t experienced chronic physical or mental health issues have any idea how exhausting it is to manage them every day, how much of a relief it is to find a routine for that that works pretty reliably, and how disruptive and scary it is to learn that routine may not be available anymore. Let them use their takeout containers. If you claim to support accommodating people with disabilities in the workplace, don’t nitpick when someone says they can’t safely do something.

        1. Zweisatz*

          Honestly thanks for reasoning this out that it can make sense to just accept the workaround because the consequences of forcing yourself through it aren’t worth it.
          As somebody with low energy most days, this is a helpful mental approach.

        2. Emikyu*

          Co-signing all of this, as someone who is very concerned about the environment but can’t always use the most eco-friendly option due to disability.

        3. I Have RBF*

          Yeah, I feel this from a physical disability perspective.

          Our local utility company keeps harping on “Flex Your Power”, doing thing like turning the A/C down to 78 deg F!! If I let my room get that warm, I get nasty rashes on my paralyzed side, and I can’t sleep. Sorry, maybe do better as a utility and not gouge us on power costs because you can’t manage your own transmission lines without causing wildfires, which then ratepayers have to pay more for when they get hit with lawsuits. And quit screwing over people with solar – they are the ones preventing you from having rolling blackouts in the afternoon, FFS.


      2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        > Do you know if they are looking at the environmental impact of our endowment investments? Because I think that could really make the biggest difference.”

        You know what else could make a difference? cutting out flying, driving rather than taking public transport, etc etc etc. Maybe OP should ask the colleagues about that next time they give her a hard time, or ask if their vacation trip was really necessary and why can’t they just spend their week off at home, and so on.

        1. amoeba*

          This is not how that work, though. Single-use plastic is a huge environmental problem indeed, not just for its carbon footprint. And yes, flying and driving less is also extremely important, but using whataboutism and pointing out the imperfections in others’ lifestyles is not a good way to go about this.
          The colleagues don’t know about the LW’s condition! For them, it just looks like for whatever reason, she prefers the disposable (laziness, lost her container, whatever, there are so many reasons that OCD or a different mental health condition would never even come to my mind!) And yeah, pointing out behaviours in a friendly way (like “Oh, you can get another one if you’ve lost yours!” isn’t harassment.

          1. Zweisatz*

            This is not about equal environmental impact (plastic VS. air travel), but about equal rudeness to the recipient. People don’t need to lecture OP about their behavior the same as OP doesn’t lecture them about other private matters.

            Would I do it? No, for me it would be too confrontational and risks backfiring. But I think it’s fair to point out the similarities/hypocrisy.

        2. Despachito*


          The colleagues unfortunately fell for the newest fad and are behaving unreasonably and pestering OP about it. Typical herd behavior.

          I don’t think any of us is able to reliably say that “if I do X, I am saving the planet, and if I don’t, it’s doomed”, and it is ignorant to pester other people about their choices like that. The colleagues probably contribute to the overall pollution in an array of other ways OP doesn’t, and it is pointless to argue about that with a “holier-than-thou” attitude.

          1. Starbuck*

            That’s a bit much, the coworkers aren’t doing anything wrong by participating in using reusable containers. They should have dropped it with the LW by now, but it honestly doesn’t sound like they’re being particularly strident about it.

      3. Ellis Bell*

        I really like the no-explanation statement paired with a distraction! I think it would be really rude to try and “solve” OP’s problem when they haven’t provided anything that needs solving. The distraction is the perfect place to take the conversation to.

      4. fhqwhgads*

        OMG yeah. I keep telling well-meaning people “if you give me a ‘why don’t you just’ about a thing you think is comparable to whatever I’m OCDing about that currently doesn’t bother me, you’re much more likely to add a new compulsion to my list rather than removing the existing one.” Like seriously, don’t point out internal logical flaws in other people’s OCD. It’s not logical to begin with, and people make it worse.

      5. Orsoneko*

        This comment is so infantilizing, it’s infuriating. “Oh look, why don’t you do this thing that is terribly obvious to everybody else?”

        Thank you. Sure, maybe the person with OCD hasn’t spent *enough* time thinking about this from every conceivable angle and has simply failed to consider the obvious workarounds that would occur to literally anyone. It’s not like the word “obsessive” is right there on the tin or anything.

        (I have OCD.)

        As far as actionable suggestions go, I do think there’s a good chance you can get away with framing this as a personal (non-clinical) quirk. I feel like the pandemic normalized a certain amount of hyper-fastidiousness about contamination, even with things like this that don’t have an obvious through-line to COVID. If a coworker said “yeah, it’s a weird thing with me, I just don’t like eating out of containers that haven’t been through the dishwasher,” my mind would not immediately jump to OCD. It probably helps that I’m not operating from a layperson’s understanding of how OCD works, but I still think people are likely to accept such a statement at face value as long as you’re breezy enough about it.

        1. Orsoneko*

          Reposing my comment with the tagging fixed. Blame the OCD ;)

          This comment is so infantilizing, it’s infuriating. “Oh look, why don’t you do this thing that is terribly obvious to everybody else?”

          Thank you. Sure, maybe the person with OCD hasn’t spent *enough* time thinking about this from every possible angle, and the most obvious workaround simply hasn’t occurred to them. It’s not like the word “obsessive” is right there on the tin or anything.

          (I have OCD.)

          As far as actionable suggestions go, I do think there’s a good chance you can get away with framing this as a personal (non-clinical) quirk. I feel like the pandemic normalized a certain amount of hyper-fastidiousness about contamination and sanitation, even with things like this that don’t have an obvious through-line COVID. If a coworker said “yeah, it’s a weird thing with me, I just don’t like eating out of containers that haven’t been through the dishwasher,” my mind would not immediately jump to OCD. Granted, it may help that I’m not operating from a layperson’s understanding of how OCD works, but I still think people are likely to accept such a statement at face value as long as you’re breezy enough about it.

          1. Jarissa*

            I love your suggested approach here!

            I have a family member who went through something sorta similar — her workaround worked for about two weeks, and then people were commenting on her cloth napkin collection and making THAT awkward. They only stopped when she started quoting _The Road to El Dorado_ at them: “Wouldn’t be prudent. Not at this juncture.” (and if they but-whyyyy?’ed at her: “The stars are not in position for this tribute. Are you going to get that report on the greebly experiment done today, or what?”)

            I think she would have been happier from the start if she’d had your suggestion of just brushing off the first comment with an implication that the precaution against substandard hand-cleaning is *basic sense*.

    2. Clare*

      LW2, I recently went into surgery for endometriosis that had been undiagnosed for 14 years. It rapidly became so severe I lost 19% of my body weight. As you can imagine, I’m physically pretty fragile right now, but I LOOK super fit and healthy to most people. So there’s at least one valid reason why a healthy looking person might say something like “Unfortunately because of a medical thing I can’t use any dishes with a chance of having bacteria on them”, OTHER than OCD. Now, you might not be someone who could get endo, but my point is that anyone who assumes that the ONLY possible medical reason for not using the reusable could be OCD is wrong. Feel free to go with “Can’t, medical thing.” without fear of outing yourself.

      P.S. don’t let anyone, including yourself, beat you up over the impact your medical needs have on the environment. Once society decides to take care of the needs of people with medical conditions, THEN they’ll have the spoons to be able to make a bunch of changes to go green. You can put on your oxygen mask before helping others.

      1. Clare*

        Anyone who is interested is helping the environment, you could do a great deal of good by fighting for better support and less stigma for people with medical problems.

        LW2 can’t use the reusable trays. I can’t use diva cups, and period pants are my backup under disposable products, not a solution. My good friend still has to use plastic bags at the store because his ADHD means he never remembers to bring reusable bags, even though he really wants to!

        In an imaginary, fantasy, ideal world, there would be no mental heath stigma and lots of support. LW2 might have a friendly colleague who would run the tray through their home dishwasher or we’d have developed an OCD treatment that could get LW2 to the point where a through handwash with a special soap in a known sink was OK, or one of the other helpful solutions I’m sure well meaning people are about to post. I’d have had endo surgery at 14, avoiding 14 years of pain so bad I’d vomit, and allowing me to use a diva cup. My friend would have a support person to remind him to pack reusable bags in his car, or a well integrated digital assistant tailored to his needs.

        We have nothing like any of these things. And we get the extra burden of being the ones who have to advocate for awareness and fight for support and solutions to our problems, despite being the ones who have the initial burden of having them! Please don’t be surprised or disappointed when people like LW2 and I don’t have the energy to fight for the environment. We’d actually genuinely love the luxury of being able to do so. We’re just too worn down from our daily battle for survival.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          I have ADHD and my reusable bags are always in my car because I forget to take them into the store with me. I’ve even forgotten them when I put them on the passenger seat! People With A Normal Brain™ just do not understand how any of this stuff works. I have struggled for years (and continue to struggle) to come up with routines that will ensure that I have what I need when I leave the house and that yes, I really did turn off the stove.

          The amount of ableism in the comments today is beyond exhausting. I may just have to skip out for the rest of the day.

          LW, don’t listen to these chumps telling you to wash your own tray.

          1. fine tipped pen aficionado*


            And as a reminder, the real sustainable solution would just be for the workplace to ensure plenty of time for lunch and the cafeteria to use and wash proper reusable dishes. The impact of all this heartache over one person’s food container is negligible. We should all behave more sustainably where we can but as long as folks are still taking PJs across town I refuse to feel shame or anxiety about refusing to adopt any practice that makes my life worse.

            1. Dinwar*

              “And as a reminder, the real sustainable solution would just be for the workplace to ensure plenty of time for lunch and the cafeteria to use and wash proper reusable dishes.”


              Apply the 5-Why method of incident investigation: Why is the OP using single-use containers? Because they bring lunch to their desk instead of eating it at the cafeteria. Why do they do that? Because they’re over-loaded and can’t take time to eat. Why is that? The university won’t properly staff the LW’s department. Why is that? Well, that’s something we commenters can’t answer, it’s the BOD’s responsibility for that university.

              What many people here are doing is the equivalent of seeing a guy get cut on a jobsite and lecturing that guy. It feels satisfying in the moment, but it’s also the most ineffective way to address an incident (google “Behavior Based Lose Management” for details). The proper way is to look for the root cause–which the LW actually gave in the letter!–and address that. Fundamentally this is not a sustainability issue, it’s a staffing issue hiding behind sustainability.

              This should give the anti-management segment of this commentariat pause. Management has managed get away with understaffing by making the LW the villain in everyone’s eyes. It’s worth considering what other tactics management is using to deflect blame.

            2. Impending Heat Dome*


              Whether someone is neurotypical or not, it’s not our job as employees to take on our employer’s responsibilities around their materials usage. If the employer thinks that disposable to-go containers aren’t how they want to do things, then stop offering them. It’s gross to create a culture where you give someone a to-go container and then shame them for using it. What’s next–demand people come into the office and then shame them for their gasoline usage?

              Besides that, it’s literally not at all my job to worry about my employer’s carbon footprint. That’s what leadership gets paid to do. I am happy to throw my recyclables into the recycle bin, use the refillable bottle station (because there is one, right?) and print fewer things out, but for SYSTEMIC things like “We have paperless systems for as many of our tools as we can,” and “We have bottle-filling stations on every floor,” and “We use porcelain plates instead of paper containers in the cafeteria,” those are all MANAGEMENT decisions and responsibilities, not mine. I refuse to waste brain space solving that problem for them, much less feeling bad about using the materials they provide in order to be effective at my job.

        2. DisabilityDisregarded*

          Not to mention the people with physical disabilities who can’t use a dishwasher or who need the plastic bags with handles inside their reusable bags or they can’t remove items or insert any number of other things here.

      2. Hyacinth*

        Yes to your last paragraph.

        I wonder if LW’s coworkers are being a bit unintentionally rude. It is rude to police a colleague’s sustainability efforts. Because: You never know what’s going on with other people, and you’re not qualified to judge how they manage their life.
        The colleagues should do what THEY can for sustainability, and get off their little judgey high horses!

        1. Thegreatprevaricator*

          So much scrolling to find this comment! My thoughts exactly. My office and organisation also has a commitment to ecological responsibility. I do not police my colleagues choices! What is the outcome they are looking for in making these comments? I would be wondering if it is more about affirming own choices rather than actually making a difference re environment (collective action addressing policy and regulation is shown to be much more effective than policing individual behaviours). This all feels a bit performative and I feel for the OP.

            1. Thegreatprevaricator*

              I was thinking more of government policy. I wonder if the co-workers expending energy on helpfully ‘reminding’ their colleague about environmental responsibility are also helpfully reminding their elected representative about the importance of effective legislature and policy in reducing environmental harms? Because I am willing to bet not. Taking individual responsibility is great but focusing on the individual’s actions with greater scrutiny than the entire surrounding context is less effective. One doesn’t cancel out the other but I’m sceptical that it’s particularly effective if your aim is actually to affect and halt climate change.

              (See also public health issues eg Covid. So much focus on individual mask wearing and so much failure of government to do the right thing, repeatedly. Which had greater impact? I’m in the Uk and I think I can safely say our government failed us. All the reminding people to wear their masks would not solve the many, many failures)

            2. Totally Minnie*

              I didn’t get the impression from OP’s letter that using the reusable containers was policy, more that it’s strongly recommended. And guess what? Even when things really are written into policy, there are these things called “disability accommodations” where people who can’t follow the policy for health reasons are exempt from it, like the employee from the intern-dress-code-petition letter who wore sneakers every day because of a health issue.

              OCD is a health issue. OP is not able to use reusable lunch containers because of a health issue, and they need advice about how to get their coworkers to stop being nosy and pushy about it. They did not write in asking for commenters to berate them about their environmental choices.

        2. DisabilityDisregarded*

          That’s part if the problem with workplace policies – they do facto say you’re supposed to police this with no regard for whether it’s reasonable or even possible for everyone to do the particular this.

        3. e271828*

          This is quite right. It IS rude to police other people’s trash, lunches, laundry, or transportation choices. It is so much more productive to offer best choices that work for some people and work to, or support efforts to, offer better choices for everyone eventually. In the meantime, myob.

      3. KatyKat*

        Now, you might not be someone who could get endo, but my point is that anyone who assumes that the ONLY possible medical reason for not using the reusable could be OCD is wrong.

        I live with someone with OCD, and even so my first thought if I heard Alison’s language (“I have a medical issue that makes these the best option for me”) would be something like arthritis, carpal tunnel, or a skin issue that prevents you hand washing dishes easily. So please don’t feel that you’re trapped between the choices of outing yourself or suffering these comments! Your coworkers are being rude and you have a right to eat lunch with the same minimal level of effort they’re expending.

    3. NforKnowledge*

      Thank you for the illustration that there’s rarely a simple “just do this, duh” solution to other people’s problems, and that often just not eating feels like a simpler solution (which would obviously be worse for LW2).

      LW2’s coworkers are being SO rude, and I absolutely hate people getting on their high horse about individual “sustainability” stuff. People have no right to expect others to inconvenience themselves for the minutest of impacts. If they want to reduce plastic waste they should vote and otherwise pressure governments to regulate the INDUSTRIES that are causing the vast majority of it! Nagging me is just the easiest thing that makes them feel like they’re doing something (with the added bonus of feeling smugly superior)

        1. JSPA*

          People are already actively encouraged to take responsibility for their actions. that’s not a pass for haranguing or guilt-tripping others.

          What you’re doing here is right up there with suggesting to random coworkers that they’d be lighter if they ate less. It’s at best one more voice in an overwhelming chorus of guilt-trippy noise, and more probably, experienced as actively, pointlessly cruel and/or harmful.

          You can drive yourself as hard as you see fit, to do every one of the little things. Heck, you can tell yourself that doing it despite whatever is troubling you, makes you a great human being. (Self-affirmation is fine.) But when you decide that that somehow gives you the right to extrapolate from yourself to other people? No. No, it doesn’t.

          There’s a certain strain of modern thought that mistakenly equates “passing judgement” with “education,” and “berating random people for how they’re doing less than you are” with “speaking truth to power.” Those are different things.

          Yes, even in a world where most things are overpackaged, one can choose to keep an eye out for less-packaged options. But we don’t all have the same access or the same needs. If someone has an immunocompromised family member, they may choose to buy pasteurized eggs in styrofoam. If they can walk to the corner store, it may be more eco, overall, to buy what’s there, then to make a special trip to the coop.

          Regardless, we each get to do our own calculus on the topic.

        2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          This is the privilege problem with the eco-nags. So many times, people want to ban plastic drinking straws without regard to disabled people who need plastic drinking straws–and refuse to believe them when they say they do actually need them. They shame people who buy plastic wrapped precut veggies regardless of whether people have arthritis or need to get dinner on the table in the one hour they have between their first and second jobs. The people responsible for damaging the environment to unsustainability are the ones who set the policies and the ones who pay them. The people who are going along as best they can in the system that was set up by others have little to no responsibility. And certainly don’t have the responsibility to sacrifice themselves doing something that will never move the needle.

        3. Dinwar*

          In many areas when they banned single use plastic bags plastic use went up. Turns out few people were using the bags once–unless they were ripped or soiled with food waste (like meat drippings) they’d use them as garbage bags or to clean up after their dogs or whatnot. Since the bags were “free” people didn’t mind the fact that they were cheap, low-quality things that had a super-high failure rate (rips and the like). Once the bags were banned people had to buy plastic bags for those purposes, and once you pay for something you want it to be robust. So they started selling thicker bags, which used more plastic and caused more waste.

          The point is, if your “solution” doesn’t take into account all variables–INCLUDING human behavior and actual use-cases for the thing in question–it’s not a solution. It’s wishful thinking and snobbery. And it can actively make the situation worse.

          As for sustainability, I remember comments like yours during one of California’s water crises. I did some digging, and found that if they stopped growing alfalfa–just that one crop, which shouldn’t be grown in a semi-arid environment to begin with–they’d fix the crisis. Individual actions could not possibly impact it significantly (say, above 20%). If cities stopped using water entirely it wouldn’t free up enough water to alter the crisis (and, you know, massive death and destruction would ensue). Guess which one people advocated for.

          Quite often the stuff we as individuals do is meaningless. It is not infrequently invisible, statistically speaking, even in aggregate. We should be focusing on industrial contributors to pollution, such as power plants and cement manufacturing and the fishing industry; THAT could have a measurable impact.

          Bear in mind, that’s ignoring the well-documented issues with using plastics for food (especially hot food).

          1. Just Another Zebra*

            OMG this!

            I’m in one of those states. I used those cheap plastic bags for kitty litter and our bedroom / bathroom trash can liners. Now that I don’t have a surplus of plastic bags, I have to buy the can-liner sized bags from the store, and they get thrown out just as quickly. But like you say, I’m now annoyed to be paying for those, so I want something of decent quality because I’m paying for them. It’s all a bit counter-intuitive.

          2. Be Gneiss*

            The Midwest tradition of the bag-o-bags is so real that some of us have a nice hand-crafted special bag we bought at the local craft fair to keep our stash of bags in – because those bags are USEFUL.

          3. Old and Don’t Care*

            In many cases single use plastic bag bans are more about the light weights of the bags then the amount of plastic used. Lightweight bags end up blowing all around, specially on the beach and into the ocean. That is the specific goal of the bans in some South Carolina beach communities I am familiar with. The fact that people would switch to sturdier plastic bags is, if not a feature, not a bug.

            I would also disagree with the idea that people don’t care if those babes have a super high failure rate. First, if your grocery bags constantly rip you’re probably going to start double-bagging, so no plastic savings there. Second, I use grocery bags for all my trash. I haven’t bought actual trash bags in years. Bags that rip are useless to me as trash bags and do get wasted.

            But all this does reinforce the point that this is all complicated.

    4. I should really pick a name*

      I don’t think it’s reasonable for LW to be expected to bring home the dirty containers and run them through the dishwasher every day as a solution to their coworkers overstepping

      We all agree the coworkers are overstepping.
      But the coworkers aren’t the ones who wrote in.
      The LW can’t force them to stop commenting, but they might find it worth the hassle of bringing the containers home if it brings a stop to the comments.
      You might think it’s unreasonable, but the LW might not.

      1. JSPA*

        the LW didn’t ask “how can I somehow use containers.”

        We have here not only a professional person but a professional person and their psychiatrist, confirming that there’s no simple hack that makes the containers magically possible.

        These are two intelligent, trained people who have given hours’-worth of thought to the issue.

        The likelihood that multuple members of the commentariat can, with five minutes of thought, come up with a hack that’ll make containers work, when the LW and therapist can’t? Essentially zero.

      2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

        The OP didn’t write in to ask if she should give in to workplace eco-bullying and damage her MH, but to ask:
        “Any ideas on a good script for getting them off my back?”

        Alison”s scripts about a medical issue look very suitable, especially if the coworkers are actually “nice” as the OP thinks.

    5. Anon for this comment....*

      As a fellow OCD sufferer (or at least I think so; I’ve never been formally diagnosed, but my last therapist was treating me for it even though he “didn’t do diagnoses”), I’m seconding this comment. I don’t object in principle to the suggestions for possible workarounds (maybe there’s something the LW hasn’t thought of, that actually could work for them), but it seems like almost every comment assumes the LW is only a stickler about the dishwasher, and otherwise interacts with dirty dishes like a normal person. Obviously I can’t speak for the LW, but as someone with dirty-dishes-related OCD, I can tell you that’s definitely not how it works for me.

      I actually have the opposite preference — I like to wash all my dishes by hand, both because then I can be absolutely sure I’m getting them clean, and because I hate opening the dishwasher to put stuff in (it involves coming into contact with surfaces that have probably touched dirty dishes! or that people have touched with wet dishwashing hands!). But even with this preference, I avoid washing dishes in the office whenever possible — their sponge and dishsoap setup is never exactly what I prefer; there’s often other dirty dishes in the sink, which could splash dirty dish water onto my dish as I’m washing it (yuck!); there’s usually not a properly clean place to try my dish afterwards; and the office sink doesn’t have hand soap so that I can wash the dishsoap off my hands when I’m done. So if I had to wash (or even rinse!) a dish in the office (especially if I had to stick my hand in the drain afterwards and collect the little food bits that came off my plate, in order to be a good office citizen!), I would simply skip consuming whatever the food was. I don’t use the office coffee mugs; I just bring a travel mug from home.

      Personally, if the LW’s reusable tray sealed, I could close it up after lunch, put it in my bag, and then wash it when I got home. But if I had to use a plate or container that didn’t seal, it would be a no-go: I’d have to keep the dirty food plate sitting on my desk all day (since I don’t want to rinse it). This actually wouldn’t bother me, but I assume it would bother my officemates. Then I’d have to carry the dirty dish very carefully home, to make sure I didn’t get food from it all over myself or my car as I transported it (non-OCD people would have this issue too, right?). Altogether, this is probably enough of a hassle that I’d just start backsliding into using disposable dishes (or bringing my own container with a lid).

      (For another fun tidbit about how my brain works: if I rinsed or partially washed a dish at work, that would take it from the “used but not super gross” category to the “dirty!! contaminated!! yuck!!” category for me. For some reason, objects which have been partially but not fully cleaned are some of the grossest to me.)

      Anyway, I’m just giving examples to demonstrate the sorts of little things which could potentially bother someone with dishes-related OCD. Obviously I have no idea which specific things bother the LW (my sense is that it’s pretty arbitrary and that different people with OCD will have different, and often incompatible, instincts here). It’s more to give an overall feel of the types of considerations involved. So *maybe* the LW is fine with rinsing dishes in the office sink. But it’s also extremely possible that that wouldn’t work for them. So if you’re making a suggestion to the LW, I would venture a guess that, the more dishwashing-like steps it involves, or the more dirty-dish-handling it requires, the less workable it is likely to be.

      1. I Have RBF*

        Yeah, my spouse has some dishwashing compulsions. She can’t start cooking without washing every dish in the sink first. She will use bleach, vinegar, etc as well as dish soap on plastic with grease on it.

        I had a bad habit of forgetting my dishes at work. They got thrown out.

        If you considered all dirty dishes to be a biohazard, to be handled with gloves until they could be run through a dishwasher, you would not want that at work. It doesn’t even have to be OCD, just an upbringing with strict kitchen/dishware cleanliness standards for whatever reason.

        It’s easier on the mind and body to just use disposables. For someone like me, with ADHD, it’s one less thing to forget. I won’t use styrofoam, because I think it melts into hot food, and yuck. But the cardboard ones? Yes. I’ll use those without guilt, because they are compostable, and will properly biodegrade in a landfill.

        But I think having your coworkers nag you about using disposables for lunch is over the top bullying. It doesn’t matter why you don’t use the reusable, it’s not their business.

        When I was working for a university, they gave us reusable lunch containers – sized for kids, IMO. It didn’t work for bringing my lunch (it couldn’t even hold a single sandwich unless it was made with cheap narrow loaf bread), and it didn’t work for the cafeteria either. It was cute, but a joke for actual lunch. If my coworkers had nagged me about using it, I would have laughed in their faces.

    6. Susie*

      I agree. The problem here is the co-workers policing the LW’s food practices, which unfortunately the commenters are continuing.

      I’m very pro-waste-reducing measures but changing one person’s practices at the expense of their mental health isn’t going to save the world, it’s just going to make them feel like crap.

    7. e271828*

      From a sanitation point of view, I do not have OCD and I agree with LW taking the to-go box.

      If the university wants to encourage people to use reusable containers for the cafeteria, it is the university cafeteria’s responsibility to ensure that the reusable containers are washed and sanitary for food use, not the individual’s.

      The program described looks more like a ploy to shift water and other resource usage onto individuals and allow the university cafeteria to trumpet how much they have reduced their water usage with the reuse program. It is always going to be more water-efficient efficient for reusable materials to be washed and sanitized in bulk at the cafeteria, rather than scattering them around for personal washing in a sink somewhere. So this program is more greenwashing than green, and LW can point that out if they like. The actual carbon footprint is negligible and carrying the university’s dirty trays home to wash is not LW’s responsibility.

      1. Rachel*

        It is honestly shocking to me that the university is having people wash their own containers. I used to work at a college that switched over to reusable to-go containers. We were all issued one container when we started. We would take the food and then when we went back for the next meal we dropped the used container into the used container bin and got a clean one from the clean pile. The dirty containers were run through the industrial dishwashers in the cafeteria, along with the plates and silverware. We were not expected to be in charge of washing them at all. And if you lost yours you would get charged for it.

  10. Goldie*

    #3. This person’s clothing is not your business. Norms change over time. When I worked in politics 25 years ago pantyhose were required, no sandals, no sleeveless shirts. Those rules have all changed. And they are changing way more. College student on a date is dressier than what I initially imagined when I started reading your email. Shake it off, not your business not your problem, accept that her way of dressing works for her.

    1. Sleepy in the stacks*

      LW3, I really think you need to let this one go. It’s not your position anymore and if there is a problem, it will be addressed. It’s really hard to even say she’s not dressing appropriately without an example of an outfit because everyone can have different levels of what’s appropriate for a date, lol.

      Fashion norms change over time. I would never dream of wearing some of the “office inspo” outfits I see on TikTok, but plenty of people do and are allowed to wear those outfits.

    2. KateM*

      Yes, if this person is actually wearing appropriate clothing, OP will come across very, VERY badly. Maybe it’s OP who is out of date with office norms – I do sometimes wonder if I am. :D

    3. Dido*

      yep, if male senators can get away with wearing sweatpants and hoodies, a woman can look like “a college student going on a date” when meeting with them

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        I was waiting for the Senator Fetterman comparison.

        Yes, college student on a date is actually fine for meeting politicians these days. Have you seen how Sinema dresses?

        1. Gray Lady*

          Part of the issue with Fetterman is that visitors and non-elected employees in the Senate are still expected to conform to the dress code, but the Senators no longer are. So I doubt it would be just fine, from a career standpoint, for her.

          That said, LW’s not in a position to do anything about it that would be appropriate.

      2. Donkey Hotey*

        re: Fetterman, I think NPR handled the Senate dress code issue well. They pointed out a New Jersey Republican “wears a pocket square most days, and also voted to overturn the 2020 election.”

    4. RVA Cat*

      This. Also thanks for the Monday earworm. So many letters come down to “cuz the haters gonna hate hate hate”.

    5. Environmental Compliance*

      I admit that I am very curious how the new person is *actually* dressing, because as a 20-something I was definitely getting snide comments for wearing *business casual* – nice pants, blouse, cardigan, very typical of the office setting I was in – but there was some woman who thought I should be wearing a skirt suit set instead and that I was “dressing for the evening” (???). There was nothing wrong with what I was wearing, but this particular woman was *really* needlessly offended by the lack of skirt. A skirt suit set would have been waaaaaaay overkill & out of line of the rest of the office.

      But seriously, OP3 needs to let it go.

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        LOL at the dressing for the evening comment. I am old enough to remember when there were all these ads in women magazines for the perfect day to evening outfit. Perfect for the office then add a scarf or change your purse and poof ready for a night out.

        1. Tammy 2*

          Day to Night Barbie really impacted my expectations about what it was going to be like to be a working adult.

          1. Anon Again... Naturally*

            I was thinking the same thing when reading Petty’s comment! Especially since I saw Barbie in IMAX this weekend and that doll has some key appearances (she’s one of Sasha’s childhood dolls that she and Gloria play with, and she’s the doll Gloria pulls out of the Goodwill box).

      2. Sleepy in the stacks*

        Something I’ve (in my late 20s) noticed throughout my time in the professional world so far is that we’re expected to put like 200% effort into this kind of thing due to our age??

        I got a similar lecture when I worked in an office where jeans and a nice blouse were very much the norm. A coworker on the same level as me but who had worked there for years and was 20 years my senior, pulled me aside and told me that I really should be wearing pantsuit to work everyday. I would look so out of place if I did that! I felt I always looked nice. Jeans weren’t ripped, blouses were appropriate, etc.

        I don’t know why this happens to younger professionals who aren’t inherently doing anything wrong. I’m not sure if it is a “it happened to me therefore it must happen to you” scenario or just not realizing that current fashion changes over time or what. Forgive my word salad, I hope I made sense lol

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          I honestly think it’s a bit of both “I had this happen so therefore” and changes to current fashion, tbh.

          The woman who did this to me – I was 24? or so – was about 15-20 years older than me, which I only knew because she liked to tell me so. She was also the same level as me, and I think part of it was a little bit of projection on her part because I was more quickly getting the larger and more complex projects.

          Not to say that perhaps the person *should* be more dressy, of course, but maybe some reflection on *what* exactly OP3 is picking up on as “not appropriate”, and whether it’s their particular taste or actually very off for the environment that the work is taking place in.

      3. Clubbing It*

        Yeah, the olds can get super-weird about this stuff. As a twentysomething I was once informed by a woman in her 50s that I was “dressed for the club” because I was wearing jeans (dark wash, non-ripped, bootcut jeans. With boots and a long-sleeved shirt.). Almost everyone in that office wore jeans. She wore skirt suits and looked like she’d stepped straight out of the 80s. I was not the one dressed inappropriately for the context!

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          The outfit this particular woman had an issue with was: light tan pants w/belt, plain flats, a plain pastel blouse (not see-through and hit my collarbone) tucked in, and a nice knit cardigan, minimal jewelry – I actually only had one set of ear piercings at the time, even – and a very smooth bun. I really wanted to ask her what clubs she was going to as clearly I was going to the wrong ones.

          She’d really hate my outfit today, with jeans, t-shirt, and giant oversized mesh floral cardigan thing. With dangling frog earrings along with extra piercings on one ear. And big ol poofy curls. And a lot more smoky makeup.

    6. Daisy-dog*

      Giving the LW the benefit of the doubt: I know that at that age, it can be difficult to differentiate the different levels of “nice” clothing. Certain tops are very similar, but the material or the detailing can make them not quite right for a professional setting. I’m in my 30’s and went to college in the era of wearing “business casual” to go out. Except those pieces were made of a different material than what should probably have been worn in the workplace. However, I’ve never actually worked anywhere with a professional dress code, so most of those pieces would be fine. They were also very affordable, so I tended to see some of those worn by women of all ages in my companies.

      A key thing to note to LW: This person may not have the money yet to invest in good pieces. And while a mentor or friend could suggest options like secondhand shopping, it really shouldn’t be an acquaintance. Especially since the judgment is based on photos. If that is not the case, then that’s for her manager to determine if it becomes an issue.

      1. Missy*

        It is also possible that the organization might be intentionally working to change their image to seem less “stuffy” and more “hip”. Walk into Nordstrom’s or another pretty high end store and find low cut suit jackets styled with no shirt underneath or crop top pantsuits. Way too fashion forward for the legal profession or finance businesses, but if they are trying to attract clients who are in more creative fields or tech that look is perfectly on-trend.

      2. Momma Bear*

        I wouldn’t be too quick to say it doesn’t matter. DC is a weird place and sometimes way more formal than people expect. I know people who work in offices where skirts and hose are still expected.

        Business attire can be hard, especially as a woman. I don’t think LW should say anything – not her circus anymore. But I do hope someone takes this person aside if her attire is really not up to par. When I worked where I would meet VIPs, our boss was very clear that it was “suit and tie or equivalent” for those meetings – regardless of what the VIP wore. It may be that whoever sent her on these meetings did not properly clarify the dress code. That’s on them, not LW. This new hire will either figure it out…or she won’t. If LW noticed, probably someone in her org did, too, and better it come from them.

    7. lilsheba*

      I agree. And seriously people need to stop focusing on dress codes, they don’t matter. We have proven during the pandemic that work still gets done no matter what people are wearing.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Dress codes have become more lax, certainly, but they still matter. She may be perfectly fine wearing the outfit in the office, but when you meet a Congressperson, that’s different. I would never go to a client site in what I wear day to day in the office.

        Either way, it’s up to her bosses to talk to her about it if it’s an issue for the org.

    8. BlueberryGirl*

      I think more importantly even if the her way of dressing doesn’t work for her, it isn’t the Letterwriter’s place to say anything. If the person’s bosses think there’s an issue, they’ll address it. The LW isn’t the person who should be doing that.

  11. Lights*

    If OP1 would call friends, family or a rabbi over A if there’s a crisis at 9 pm yet A is “very involved” in the current crisis, then maybe there needs to be a re-establishment of boundaries. Sounds like A is over-involved because OP has indicated that’s necessary when it really isn’t.

    1. Mel99*

      I found that bit a tad confusing, because if it’s a crisis surely they’ll want help quickly? So surely it would be a good thing that A is responding to them at night? If A wasn’t responding after hours there wouldn’t be any point in contacting them at 9pm anyway because they wouldn’t answer.

      Maybe I’m misunderstanding but it sounds like there is some level of expectation that they’ll be available any time for something urgent, and OP has been contacting them late about non-urgent things as well, not expecting a response. But if A has to check the message to see if it’s urgent, it makes sense that they might reply to it at the same time. Especially when they’re fairly new to the job and they’re both still working out their dynamic.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        I think they are saying they wouldn’t call A at 9pm anyway. They would call a friend or family member. But A keeps saying they can call at that time, even though they have no intention of doing so.

        It sounds to me like A is only supposed to be available from 9 to 5, say, but they keep offering assistance outside of those hours and while the LW has no intention of taking them up on that, they are afraid other clients may take advantage, expecting A to be available 24/9 until A burns out.

      2. fhqwhgads*

        It read to me like the crisis is ongoing, and A isn’t responding at 9pm but rather texting out of the blue to remind OP that if they need anything, to reach out. So it’s like a random follow up from A that implies A’s still thinking about work at 9pm.

    2. Nebula*

      Possibly, though I read it as the LW welcomes A’s help during A’s working hours, but A has said to call or text ‘any time’ when that isn’t something the LW wants or requires. So it’s not that LW has indicated something is necessary when it isn’t, it’s that A is misunderstanding what LW needs.

      Also seems like two different uses of crisis there, there’s an ongoing ‘current crisis’ and then LW talks about ‘a crisis at 9pm’ which seems more acute. So A would naturally be involved in something that’s happening over the course of days/weeks/months, but is not the person to go to for ‘it’s 9pm and I suddenly need help right now’. But A considers herself the person for both. If that is the case, then maybe it would be helpful for LW to be explicit about not needing A outside of working hours, if that hasn’t already been said, but I don’t think this is necessarily because LW is contradicting themself here.

      1. kalli*

        And it could be something the agency/org is putting on managers as well, like ‘check your email until 2am in case of changes to the next day’s schedule’ and A is being paid on-call rates for, especially if she does management for a couple of clients in various configurations that LW doesn’t need to know about.

    3. Irish Teacher.*

      I took it as there are other people who might not be available around the clock but could help for a short-term issue if necessary. Like if the LW needed to be driven to hospital at 9pm, their family, friends or a rabbi would do it, but those people are not able to offer the support A does on a daily basis.

      I didn’t take it to imply that A is not needed for the current crisis. Just that A’s support between 9am and 5pm is sufficient for the current crisis and there are people who can “fill in” if something highly unusual happens outside those hours.

      Like when my dad had cancer, he had drivers who drove him to his regular hospital appointments, but if he had say fallen and broken a bone, he would have called a friend to drive him to hospital and it wouldn’t have been appropriate for those drivers to tell him to call their personal numbers for any health crisis or that they would be available to him 24/7. That didn’t mean he didn’t need their help in getting to hospital. At one point, he had appointments every couple of weeks and he didn’t have anybody who was available that often (the hospital was at least a half an hour’s drive away and his appointments could take various lengths of time, so there could be a long wait).

      I don’t see any reason to assume the care manager is currently more involved than the LW needs or that the LW is calling her outside working hours. It sounds like the LW needs the support within working hours, but the care manager is calling her afterwards asking if there is any more she can do.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        Yeah, she mentioned e-mails out at random hours, but I assumed they were things like “there’s something about my care I’d like to discuss with you when you have a chance” and A e-mailed back immediately, saying, “are you all right? I can come over immediately if this is urgent” when the LW maybe just wanted to ask “can you drive me to a hospital appointment next week?” or “could you look into whether I’m entitled to X benefit?”

    4. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      “ I find it very unnerving to get texts from her after hours telling me to text her or call at any time”

      I wasn’t sure how to read this. Is this in response to LW1 reaching out and the carer addresses the question/need and then says this is fine and for LW to reach out any time? Or is this randomly at 8pm on a weekday or any time on a weekend, apropos of nothing?

      Why is LW unnerved by this? That would be an important clue about what to do.
      In other words, is the carer having poor boundaries and getting over-involved, or are they just more involved now because there’s a crisis?

    5. boof*

      I’m going to guess what it’s like as a medical professional (and I don’t know what A is), we might know someone’s contact info, and that there is some kind of serious problem happening. Sometime’s it’s temping to hover over a chart or check in, even when it’s probably appropriate (and even better in some ways) to try to log off outside of normal business hours and trust people to call if needed, and otherwise to butt out. Sounds like A is reaching out at odd hours when LW would much prefer they stick to usual business hours for their own sake.
      LW you can’t control A and I’m glad you’ve got someone good on your side, at most you can lightly remind A that it’s ok for them to do their own thing / you will reach out if it’s something only they can handle! Like “I got this for now, thank you, now go to bed! :) / do something fun!” (if texted late at night – it’ll come off as both a thank you and that you expect them to be doing other things than hovering over you at night!) or “you are so great at your job, you don’t need to check in on me at night it’s just awesome having you on my side!” etc during a normal hours meeting when you’re reflecting on how things are going – basically you wont’ control them but you can remind them any time it involves you what’s a normal work boundary / that you don’t expect them to be available 24/7 etc

      1. kalli*

        If I had a client tell me to go to bed or to go have fun I’d be concerned about the exact kind of overreach/overinvesting that’s already happening.

        And I see it at my job and I am concerned because we are paid to be responsive outside of business hours as our clients are often not available during the day, and we charge clients per email… so they have to pay us to tell us to go to bed when we’re working with them in their available time in order to meet a deadline that they don’t understand is a deadline. We’d love to knock off at 5pm and switch off but that’s just not our job, and even if it was, we don’t need clients telling us what to do like they’re some 16yo fanfic writer reminding us to drink water because the next chapter is 2k and it’s very long.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      LW has OCD. See the comments above. This is probably not going to work, or they would have just done it already.

    2. Daisy*

      Yeah. As I said above, the problem is the pushy co-workers, not the OP’s OCD management (which they are the absolute expert on).

  12. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP2 (to go containers) – as the reusable ones were bought by the university in bulk, presumably they are a mainstream brand. You could get some (enough so that they have time to go through the dishwasher while you are using another one) the same – or see if the university will provide some spares. You could even give a half true explanation like “I need to sanitise things in the dishwasher before reusing them due to a health condition”.

    Isn’t it interesting that these colleagues have only started caring about this since the university started this initiative? I wonder if there is a bit of group-think going on here where they are hassling you because of being different from what the current ‘programme’s says you should be doing, rather than an environmental conscience having suddenly developed at the same time as the university’s.

    1. Pennyworth*

      I’m guessing the reusable containers are plastic, and some plastic is hard to get really clean without a dishwasher, so I think it is reasonable to want to wash them that way.

    2. Emmy Noether*

      Eh, I think it’s not uncommon for there to be a sort of convenience threshold for environmentally friendly actions. Maybe the cafeteria didn’t allow bringing one’s own reusable containers before. Maybe being provided with containers finally made it easy enough to do it (rather than buying and bringing one’s own container and/or lunch). Similar to how many people will commute by public transport if it’s only slightly longer, but not if it takes double the time. It’s also easier to do it as a group than being the only tree-hugging weirdo who does things differently (speaking from my experience as the tree-hugging weirdo), which further lowers the threshold.

      So what colleagues are asking is more in the line of “why isn’t this very low threshold low enough for you, when it is for us?”. Which still isn’t ok to ask (because there may be an issue like the LW has that they don’t want to disclose), but slightly less cynical.

    3. Michelle Smith*

      I really like that line about sanitizing due to a health condition. It’s more information than just saying “medical condition,” which invites more questions about what kind of medical condition could possibly result in an inability to use reusable containers (if you’d asked me before I read the letter, I’d have genuinely struggled to think of a single one that made sense). It doesn’t immediately say OCD to me, but it does seem more legitimate than just saying “I have to do this because I have a medical condition” for some reason I can’t fully articulate atm.

  13. Jackalope*

    Don’t know if anyone else thought of this, but #4 reminded me of going back into my eerily empty office late 2020 and early 2021 to pick stuff up and seeing all of the calendars still on March 2020 like it was the month of the zombie apocalypse or something. I wonder if the change in the level of cleaning was related to everyone leaving the office for awhile and it hasn’t gone back to normal for some reason.

    1. Nebula*

      There are whiteboards at the end of rows of desks in my office indicating when people are supposed to be in, and lots of them still have the rota up for March 2020. I do find it a bit eerie.

    2. EvilQueenRegina*

      I did think of that, but also a former job where in my first few weeks of being trained, I ended up in this office that appeared to have been vacated very abruptly – whoever had been there before had left dirty mugs, a calendar left on November 2010 (this was March 2011), photos of someone’s baby and some random printed out emails. I never did know what that was all about – I know there was restructuring going on about that time, but layoff departures don’t usually happen quite that abruptly where I am.

    3. I'm just here for the cats!!*

      My mom permanently works from home, but there are still people in the office. She left her calendar in her desk cubical. Her manager will go in and change the callendar, even though its still 2020. She said she likes the pictures.

    4. MigraineMonth*

      Lol, yes. I had to pause using the “Zombies Run” app in 2020 because “Imagine a world where a highly infectious disease makes it dangerous to leave your home, and everyone is just trying to survive until scientists develop a vaccine” was just too real.

    5. Elsewise*

      At my terrible job that I had last summer, there was a guy who had nothing on his desk but a collage of pictures (all of himself and no one else, shoutout to someone from the open thread last week) and a calendar set to March of 2020. He even worked in the office sometimes, he just never corrected it.

  14. Despachito*

    OP 3 – don’t do that.

    Why do you feel the urge to? It is not your circus, not your monkeys anymore, and this person is a stranger to you. And there is no guarantee you are right either – different people can have different opinions on what is “professional” clothing, and she may be perfectly OK in that sense. And if she isn’t, it is up to her boss to tell her, not you.

  15. RandomComment*

    OP2 – if the trays are made of plastic, then it’s probably better not to use them because each wash will create microplastics into the environment. If it’s made of plastic, it’s better not to eat hot foods from them because the heat will cause the plasticky chemicals to leach into the food you will eat.

    Apart from the excellent advice from all other readers (i.e., your colleagues can stick their noses outta your lunch), maybe you can line your tray with home-compostable baking paper?
    – any grease won’t stick (probably),
    – tray is used,
    – easy clean by disposing of tray liner.

    fwiw my go-to for environmentally friendly lunch: biscuits and water. I’m trying to develop something healthier for me though.

    1. amoeba*

      Huh? I’m sure if they’re actually made for this use, it’s fine – there are many different kinds of plastic, many of which are perfectly safe for hot food and washing!
      That said, if you want to put them in the dishwasher, I’d check if they’re dishwasher-safe first (the ones my university used are, but maybe not all?), and otherwise possibly buy a dishwasher-proof alternative for myself, be it plastic or metal or whatever you prefer. (If the canteen is fine with that, of course, but if people are washing their own dishes, anyway, I cannot really imagine they’d have any kind of hygiene rules about this…)

    2. BubbleTea*

      I realise people are trying to help, but LW will have thought of other options. This isn’t how OCD works, it can’t be logicked. LW already knows what their brain will tolerate and what it won’t. It’s not based on science, it’s based on OCD logic. I don’t have OCD but I have some similar issues related to a different brain condition, and it doesn’t matter how much I know intellectually that Solution B is fine, if my brain has decided that only Solution A is safe then that’s all I can do.

        1. Jackalope*

          Is it all ableism, though? Normally when people write in for help there’s discussion about what the person might be able to do to deal with their issue that they wrote in about. In this particular case we know that the OP has OCD, and she specifically said that she can’t use dishes without them going through a dishwasher. If she’d said that due to her OCD she couldn’t reuse dishes at all and needed to have paper/plastic plates only, then suggesting ways to use a dishwasher wouldn’t be appropriate. But she specifically said that the issue is reusing a dish that hasn’t gone through the dishwasher. It’s entirely possible there’s a reason she can’t take the container home and run it through her dishwasher, whether that be her OCD or cafeteria policy or what have you. But given what she specifically said in her letter, trying to find a way to use the specific dish solution that she mentioned seems… normal for the comment section.

          1. Daisy*

            Yes, it is. If it is your brain, there is a set of arbitrary conditions which only you understand, and the sort of obscure nitpicking you describe is (1) utterly unhelpful, and (2) collectively mimics patterns of abuse which demean and belittle your competence and reality.

            The OP said they can’t. Trust them and move on.

            1. amoeba*

              But they didn’t say that! Which is probably why Alison also suggested the option of taking home the reusable containers? They didn’t mention that option at all, it was “reusable containers with hand-washing in the office kitchen” vs. “disposable”. I mean, sure, it’s possible that they also considered other options and discarded them due to whatever reason, but if so, there’s nothing in the letter to indicate that. Which is why people are suggesting it! Just pre-emptively not suggesting things because we assume that the LW couldn’t possibly do that because of their OCD doesn’t seem like a better option to me?

            2. Lexi Vipond*

              But they OP didn’t say that they can’t. They clearly explained why they can’t use dishes which haven’t been through a dishwasher, and didn’t include any information about difficulty using a dishwater, which would be very relevant. And we’re asked to take people at their word.
              (I think we’ve even been asked not to base advice on the idea that everyone with condition X must do or feel Y, although that doesn’t seem to be in the main rules.)

              1. Happy meal with extra happy*

                But OP is specifically asking how to deal with their coworkers, not how to manage their OCD….

              2. Juicebox Hero*

                I get the impression that what the OP needs is for their dirty dishes to go away RIGHT NOW, i.e. straight into the dishwasher and not sitting around dirty all afternoon until they can take them home and put them in the dishwasher.

                The disposable containers made for an easy, no-disclosure-needed workaround until their coworkers started getting all self-righteous about the ecological angle.

            3. Gerri’s Jaunty Hat*

              It’s not nitpicking though. OP said the boundary is, reusable dishes must have gone through the dishwasher. Commenters are making suggestions within that parameter.

          2. Peanut Hamper*

            Read this, and then read it again if you still don’t get it:

            I also don’t want to disclose my mental health issues with my colleagues. There are so many stereotypes and stigmas that surround OCD and I’d rather not be branded with them. Any ideas on a good script for getting them off my back?

            LW is not asking for dish help. She’s asking for a script to get her coworkers to stop making these comments. Anyone suggesting that she just do something different with regard to the dishes is being ableist.

            1. Hiring Mgr*

              It was AG’s own suggestion, which usually makes it seem ok for the rest of the commenters. As far as I know, it’s pretty common in these letters to not always only answer the question exactly as phrased.

              But I do agree that it’s so obvious here if it was workable the OP would do it. Maybe this would have been a good letter to ask an outside expert on, since it sounds like those of us non-OCDers don’t get it

          3. fhqwhgads*

            That analogy doesn’t work because it’s OCD. It’s not a good idea to try to advise a person with OCD on how to work around their OCD unless you’re a medical professional qualified to do so.

            Plus it’s balderdash that to coworkers are butting in about this anyway. No need to try to solve the problem of Doing A Thing A Coworker Has No Right To Tell You To Do when an easier reasonable solution is “keep not doing it, they should mind their business”. The employer clearly knows there are use cases when the disposables are needed since they continue to provide them.

      1. LinesInTheSand*

        Yeah. I wonder if there’s a way to deflect the coworkers. “I can’t do the trays for medical reasons. I’ve been doing this other eco friendly thing though and it’s super cool and working well for me” which you shouldn’t need to do but it might steer the conversation away from those godforsaken trays.

  16. Green great dragon*

    LW1, the thing that is within your purview is to reassure her that you don’t expect answers to your emails late at night, and that you are really grateful for her effective care management and don’t expect her to also whatever-it-is.

  17. Tinamedte*

    LW1, your concern for your fellow humans is heartwarming to me. The world sure needs more of that. I hope you will both be well!

  18. Matt*

    For all the possible solutions mentioned for #2, for me the main point is that by all environmental concerns, it’s just none of those nosy coworkers’ business how OP 2 transports their food. Point. If the coworkers would chastise OP 2 for eating meat while the organisation promotes vegan, or for driving a petrol powered car, or whatever, everyone would pile on how ridiculous and missionary that was (and rightful so). In my opinion there is only one warranted reaction: “I have my reasons, could we please close this topic? Thanks.”

    1. Satan’s Panties*

      IKR? I love when people act like the only reason you’re not letting them make your decisions for you is that you must not be listening, so they have to tell you again and again, or you must not understand, so they have to explain as they would to a kindergartner. Gah. LW hears and understands. It’s still. her. decision. And the fate of the planet does not depend on one lunch tray.

      1. I Have RBF*


        I used to get the same crap because I wouldn’t commute by bus/light rail/train/bus, until I pointed out just how long such a commute took, including missing connections because I literally can not run, and that I was exhausted by the time I arrived. (2.5 to 3 time as long, and hard on the body.)

        Now I WFH, which eliminates the carbon from commuting entirely, yet my utility usage is not significantly higher.

    2. Trippedamean*

      Exactly. I’ll admit to sometimes being a pushy, judge-y coworker but there’s a point at which I stop saying something because everyone has reasons for doing the things they do and they need to have their own reasons to change a behavior before they’ll change it. Even if LW1 just didn’t care about their effect on the environment, harassing them about it is pointless. Their coworkers are wasting their own energy and making their coworker uncomfortable, not protecting the environment.

      1. boof*

        If you can’t really change the world, might as well find a scapegoat!
        … maybe it’s not that bad but seriously, nagging one coworker will not fix the great pacific garbage patch.

  19. bamcheeks*

    LW1, I don’t know if you’re using your personal email address, and if so this might be weird, but you could just do the very basic thing of having an email signature that says something like, “I am sending this at a time convenient for me, and do not expect a reply outside of normal working hours”?

    1. Queer Earthling*

      Also if you haven’t LW, you may be able to type up the email when you’re thinking of it, and schedule to send during working hours?

  20. oh no, oh no, oh no you didn't*

    LW3. Hate to say this but times have moved on, she’s dressing as per her norms. As a male who is 55, dress codes have changed dramatically over the past 35 years. I work with the military – that gives the impression of immaculately dressed people doesn’t it? No, business casual and casual are the norm nowadays. I visit many Military bases & sites as an “ambassador” of our business and very very few people are “formal business” dress. 20 years ago, I wore a tie every day, I haven’t worn a tie in years.
    Personally, if I saw a 20-odd year old in very formal business attire firstly I would be surprised, secondly I’d think Salesperson or Defendant

    1. bamcheeks*

      She might be, or she might not have made the switch. I graduated into the early 00s, aka “it is nearly impossible to buy a top that meets the top of your jeans unless you go to old people shops”. It took me about six months of going to work and spending the whole day feeling awkward and tugging my top down to realise that I did indeed need to go to old people shops, and then another six months to save up enough money to buy things from old people shops!

      If LW’s replacement is really, REALLY far out of the boundaries of appropriate, trust that her manager will address it. If it’s just a case of adjusting her own norms and figuring out what the balance of work-appropriate, affordable and still feels comfortable is, she’ll get there and having someone a few years older try to tell her probably won’t help.

        1. bamcheeks*

          It was the opposite– I never wore crop tops, but pretty much all the trousers, skirts and jeans I’d worn as a student had a 4″ rise, and sat on my hip bones or lower. My tops mostly came down past my belly button, but there was usually a 1″ gap between the two. I had to start going to less young-fashion and more business-casual type shops to find trousers with a higher rise and longer tops.

        2. kiki*

          I don’t think that’s what bamcheeks is saying– in the 00s it was difficult to find work-appropriate clothing carried in shops geared towards younger folks. To find fully work-appropriate clothing, a lot of times folks in their 20s had to go to stores geared towards folks who are significantly older. That isn’t insurmountable, but often stores geared for folks in their 40s and upwards are significantly more expensive than those geared towards recent grads. The clothing carried there may also look a bit out of date.

          I graduated in the 2010s, but I encountered a similar issue– there’d be a lot of clothes available at stores like Forever 21 or H&M that were marketed as suitable for offices and were *almost* reaching that criteria but there was some major flaw. A lot of the blouses had cold-shoulder cut-outs, the pencil skirts were just a touch too short, the heels on the pumps were just a bit too high, etc.

        3. But what to call me?*

          That doesn’t sound at all like what bamcheeks is saying. They’re saying that when they graduated, the fashion that was meant for people in their teens and 20s was *heavily* weighted towards low-cut pants and short shirts, which it was. Finding something that let you bend over or reach up high without exposing parts of your body that you’d rather not show at work, without looking like a kid who had tried and failed to dress up like their parents or grandparents, was difficult.

          1. But what to call me?*

            Forgot I’d opened this in the morning and not refreshed and other people would presumably have responded by now

  21. LifeBeforeCorona*

    Bring your own reuseable containers from home and use them. The idea of reuseable containers at work or school is good in theory but not practice. We’ve tried it several times at my academic institution. Students were issued their own containers at the start of the school year, in theory they return them and exchange it for a new one. Instead cleaning staff found them abandoned all over campus with science experiments growing in some, (very gross) and the containers had to be disposed of because they were beyond cleaning. For health and safety standards the containers must be run through a dishwasher. Washing didn’t always remove obvious stains so people were less inclined to use them because the takeout containers looked unclean. The compliance level was low, people liked the idea but not the extra steps involved in actually using the containers.

    1. bamcheeks*

      Not that this is helpful to LW, but I wonder what the supposed advantage of these resuable plastic containers is over ye olde ceramic plates. Just that people are supposed to wash them themselves instead of it being the catering staff’s job?

      1. doreen*

        I don’t think it’s a matter of the plastic being preferable to plates – it’s preferable to the disposable trays. OP says their dept usually gets their meals to go – and even the disposable trays may be preferable to having people bring plates and utensils back to their office.

        1. bamcheeks*

          Possibly, but it could also be the classic, “has silicon valley invented buses again” — there is a pattern which happens a lot where the old thing is replaced with a new modern thing, then people realise the new disposable thing is creating a huge amount of waste, so replace the disposable thing with a slightly more durable version of the disposable thing which is still waaaay less durable than the original version. It’s not uncommon!

          1. amoeba*

            In the places I’ve seen it, it was always for takeaway, not for eating in! (Also, they were generally cleaned by the restaurant when you gave them back, like a deposit system, so definitely not to save on that…)

      2. Silence Will Fall*

        Whatever happened to the tradition of grabbing a dine-in setup to-go with the intention of bringing it back the next day until a campus-wide email has to go out begging people to please bring back all the trays/plates/silverware they have piled up everywhere but the cafeteria?

      3. amoeba*

        For my university, those were brought in for takeaway, not for eating in the restaurant! So ceramic plates would not have been an option.
        It actually worked really well – the cleaning was done by the university though, so you just rinsed it and gave it back the next day and they’d run them through the dishwasher. I think the recipe for success was the 10 bucks deposit! So in theory you actually “bought” the container – I took one home and kept it because I actually really liked it. But if you gave it back, you got your money or a new container. So the rate of abandonment was pretty low, because, well, broke students.
        It’s also actually a system that’s not just used by that specific campus but quite widely in multiple European countries – i.e., you can get and give back the boxes at every restaurant that participates. There’s a similar one for cups as well, there are even “drop off boxes” at the train station.
        Will post a link below, it’s a bit off topic, sorry, but maybe somebody’s interested…

      4. RagingADHD*

        Trying to carry ceramic plates / bowls across campus to eat at your desk is just going to leave a trail of lunch across the grounds, your clothes, and your shoes. And/or get your lunch spattered with rain, leaves, pollen, or whatever.

        Plates balance things. Containers contain things.

    2. Not your typical admin*

      This!!!!!! It’s really not any of the coworkers businesses what containers lw is using. I’m very into using reusable containers as much as possible, and reducing waste. There’s times though they’re just not practical.

    3. Michelle Smith*

      This might not be possible for a couple of reasons. Usually you’re not allowed to bring in outside containers to cafeterias. These ones issued directly by the college might be the only ones allowed to be used. Also, LW would still have to keep the dirty container in their workspace all day and then take it home to put it in the dishwasher. That might be triggering for them. I think it’s better to focus on getting the coworkers to mind their own business than asking LW to change their behavior.

  22. Ground Control*

    One of my biggest pet peeves is when we blame individuals for not fixing a societal problem – this is plastic straws all over again. It’s so convenient for a university to claim they’re being environmentally responsible when they’ve put the responsibility entirely on employees to actually take an action ever single day.

    I have OCD and even though it’s pretty well under control with medications, it’s still something I’m constantly thinking about and a massive mental load has accumulated over the decades. OP needs to be free from ever having to think of this again. They don’t need to find a solution that makes their coworkers happy, they don’t need to take other eco-friendly measures to make up for using disposable items every day, and they don’t owe anyone an explanation because this is a tiny little blip in the grand scheme of saving the environment .

    1. Michelle Smith*

      “One of my biggest pet peeves is when we blame individuals for not fixing a societal problem”

      I could not agree more on this point!!

    2. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Yes, I always think of this as outsourcing responsibility but taking all the credit. If the university wants to do something eco-friendly, then there are lots of things they can do on their own end to ensure that. They don’t want to do that, though, they want the employees to do the actual work.

  23. Free Will*

    I don’t think the container LW should say a thing about a medical issue making that the best choice. And I’m not a mental health provider so I’m not going to offer solutions for the container. I do think, though, that the LW can set a boundary with her colleagues. A simple “To each their own” with a shrug or “I’m comfortable with my choice” or a more pointed “I’m comfortable with my choice and I’d appreciate it if you’d stop bringing it up” will send the message that it’s none of their business.

    1. Matt*

      I’d rather not use the wording “To each their own” – this has fallen out of favor since it was a Nazi concentration camp entrance sign (“Jedem das Seine” = “to each their own”) just like “Arbeit macht frei” (“work makes free”). It’s probably mostly a thing in German speaking central Europa, but I guess some people could react adversely to it.

      As far as the intention goes, I wholeheartedly agree.

      1. Jay (no, the other one)*

        I’m Jewish and fairly sensitive to Nazi-adjacent language. I’ve said and heard “to each their own” all my life without a concern and have never heard this before. Huh.

        1. Silver Robin*

          +1 yeah, that is not even on the radar in the US. It is an entirely innocuous phrase here, in my experience. In fact, pretty sure I have used it. interesting

      2. amoeba*

        Thanks! It was pretty common here in Germany until a few years ago, but people have become more sensitive to that meaning, so I second avoiding it when possible. (Yeah, even here, some language falls out of use, even though we’re usually pretty behind with that, haha…)

      3. RagingADHD*

        It was an idiom in Latin, and referenced by Shakespeare. I have never heard of it being connected to the camps before, and I’d be very surprised if the average English speaker outside your region has either. It just isn’t a common cultural association at all.

      4. Gerri’s Jaunty Hat*

        It has not fallen out of favor, it’s a common and completely regular saying. Maybe in Europe, if you say that’s a known thing, I’ll believe that. But that’s not remotely true in the US. It has no connections at all, it’s just a standard phrase.

        There’s a difference between phasing out problematic sayings vs the linguistic orthorexia of trying to purge anything an evil person ever touched, regardless of the problematicness of the actual words in question. I’m sure a nazi has at one point asked “Where’s the bathroom?”, that doesn’t make that question suddenly a fascist dogwhistle.

      5. Lucia Pacciola*

        And I’d rather not give up perfectly cromulent words and phrases just because someone dug up an obscure association with Nazi Germany. But to each their own, I guess.

    2. Tammy 2*

      But she…has a medical issue that makes using the disposable containers the best choice.

      It’s a simple, honest answer. There’s nothing better for sending the “none of your business” message than citing a medical issue and refusing to elaborate.

      1. Dahlia*

        And they specifically say they don’t want to discuss their medical issue with their coworkers, so that’s not a good solution for them.

        1. Clare*

          As I said in a comment above, “I can’t take the risk that there’s leftover bacteria on the reusable tray for medical reasons” is both true AND applicable to plenty of medical issues other than OCD. If anyone pries into what the medical issue is, a simple “Wow that’s rude” would be a sufficient reply. (Or a sad smile and a “I’m going to pretend you didn’t ask” if they felt like being more gentle).

      2. Willow Pillow*

        On the contrary, it’s an answer that often results in prying or unsolicited advice – just look at the comment section here. Lets’ trust that if it really were that simple, OP wouldn’t have needed to written in for advice.

        1. Clare*

          Isn’t that walking a bit close to the ‘Don’t wear skirts, it often results in creepers looking up them’ style of behaviour management? If mentioning a medical issue results in prying then those colleagues are way out of line and will have earned whatever spray the letter writer chooses to give them.

          1. Willow Pillow*

            I have invisible disabilities myself. The prying can be incredibly tiring – imagine every “why can’t you just wash the container at home” comment as an in-person conversation. It’s happened more with work practices in my experience, and the “spray” (as you put it) can backfire. Many of us aren’t able to take that risk.

            LW has stated that they don’t want to disclose – if they were to say “I’m not going to wear skirts because there are creepers on my train line”, the respectful response isn’t “could you wear a long skirt?”

  24. cabbagepants*

    #5 at my company a job listing for Level II can also result in a Level III or Level I hire, at hiring manager discretion. So as Alison says, adjusting by one level may not be a big deal.

    But by the same token, when a former intern with no other experience and who hadn’t even completed his master’s is applying for a job requiring 7-10 years of industry experience, that just his application thrown into the “LOL no” pile.

  25. Vibesgirl*

    LW #2: The academic institution I worked for had a similar program, but you turned in your reusable to-go container and they gave you a replacement one that had been run through their dishwasher each time (so all containers were getting washed and sanitized by the kitchen before re-use). If they’re asking you to re-use your own to-go containers, they may actually be in violation of local health code regulations which usually don’t allow restaurants/cafeterias to use containers brought in from outside. It might be worth asking someone in admin about this, or, perhaps just reach out to someone in charge at dining services to see if you could set up a situation for yourself where you swap out your used container for a freshly cleaned one.

    1. Nora*

      This! Many university and hospital cafeterias have reusable container programs, where you turn in your reusable takeout container when you’re done with it and they wash it in the industrial dishwasher.

      I don’t think OP should worry about that themselves, though. I suggest they point it out to their nosy coworkers to direct their energy somewhere productive.

    2. I'm just here for the cats!!*

      Yes! I think this was how my university did it. Or at least thats what we did for some folx. The OP could even just say they are worried about cross-contamination or worried for those who have severe allergies.

  26. Dinwar*

    #2: Your colleagues are obnoxious jerks. If this were a push for vegetarianism, or to become parents, or any other lifestyle choice it would be obvious. They are hiding behind the moral halo of recycling to mask their jerk behavior–but they’re still jerks.

    I am HIGHLY dubious about whether or not reusable containers are better. It takes a surprising amount of re-use to make reusable containers the environmentally friendly option. Due to the higher energy costs of production and the nature of the materials, plus the impacts of washing the containers (not minor), they can be the less eco-friendly option. It can take 100 re-uses of a coffee mug before you break even compared to some disposable ones when you look at CO2, and 1,000 when you look at ecological issues, for example. For someone like me, who drinks….too much coffee, we’ll leave it at that….it makes perfect sense for me to use a reusable ceramic mug; for someone visiting the office, a cheap paper cup is the ecologically better alternative.

    If they gave you plastic containers it’s worse. They can leach a variety of chemicals into your food, which can really mess up your hormone balance, especially if the container is heated (such as if you put freshly cooked food in it). You also have the issues of microplastics (we joke that PFAS/PFOS are today’s PCBs, and microplastics will be tomorrow’s). Let’s face it, most of the plastic reusable containers out there now are junk and will need to be thrown away within a year. The odds of you getting 1,000 uses out of that container in a year are slim. Even if you try to recycle it, multiple studies have shown that the majority of “recycled” plastic merely ends up in a landfill in another country with less rigorous environmental regulations.

    (If you REALLY want to make waves, use paper and argue that you’re doing grassroots carbon sequestration. I’ve done this a time or two, mostly to get a rise out of people and to illustrate the complexity of these issues. Unless you have a deep understanding of the ecological impacts of paper recycling, though, you may want to avoid this.)

    And before anyone says it, I’m hardly anti-environmentalism. I’ve spent fifteen years in environmental compliance and remediation; my commitment to cleaning up our world is a matter of public record. What I’ve learned is that these are not easy questions. Even something as apparently simple as switching to reusable food containers can lead to more harm than good if you’re not very, very careful. And I get quite irked by people who read a one-page flier and have the audacity to lecture others on these issues. 99% of the time they don’t actually know what they’re talking about.

    1. Environmental Compliance*


      As an environmental person who gets these sorts of weird, oddly accusatory questions all the time – it does get a little tiring when someone reads half a paragraph from some random internet source and now is The Expert On All Things without having even a partial thought towards the sheer complexity of many environmental issues. If it was as simple as “mandate only reusable”, don’t you think a heck of a lot more places would be doing exactly that?

      Common Fix-Everything Solution by me right now is electric vehicles. Our electric is very primarily coal, with some shift over to natural gas; but we are pretty high-usage on the grid already, let alone adding the amount needed for that many EVs. Not to mention the rural aspect – you have stretches with absolutely no charging stations at all for way past the range of a typical EV.

      Do what you can for the environment and recognize that everyone’s way of helping out is going to be different.

      1. bamcheeks*

        There’s an advert for an all-electric SUV I keep seeing in the UK that says something like, “built for adventure” and shows it driving up an empty mountain and I always wonder how exactly they think that is going to end.

      2. Emmy Noether*

        The electric vehicle thing also gets me. People like to pretend those run on… magic, I guess?

        The silliest suggestion I ever read (in a book on living more sustainably) was to throw out one’s plastic reusable containers and replace with glass, because glass is better than plastic! Definitely one of the most appearance-over-actual-sense things I’ve ever come across.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          I had a couple people at work (heavy manufacturing – large site – lots of people) very angrily ask me why we don’t compost food waste. Well, for one, none of you can apparently stop putting plastic film in the recycling, which automatically reroutes it to MSW, so my level of confidence in proper segregation of food waste is slim to none. Let’s focus instead on energy waste from running equipment for no dang reason, hmm?

        2. Caramel & Cheddar*

          People really forget the “reduce” part of “reduce, reuse, recycle”, don’t they? Not buying something new to replace something you already have that might be less environmentally friendly than the new version is also an environmental choice.

          1. Too Many Tabs Open*

            I drive a car that’s nearly 30 years old. A newer car will almost certainly use much less gasoline than my car. Would it use enough less gas over, say, five or ten years to make up for the environmental impact of manufacturing the new car? I don’t know.

    2. pally*

      Thank you! In addition, in some places, water is scarce, hence the impact of all that washing of the reusable items is larger than the use of disposable items.

    3. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      “It takes a surprising amount of re-use to make reusable containers the environmentally friendly option. Due to the higher energy costs of production and the nature of the materials, plus the impacts of washing the containers (not minor), they can be the less eco-friendly option.”

      OMG this!
      Not quite the same thing, but when a friend was doing research on reusable diapers vs. disposable, she found that if you’re on the East coast, reusable came out on top; West coast/drought prone areas, disposable was actually more eco-friendly because of the added water usage.

      I’m wondering, LW2, if it would make sense for you to look into compostable disposable containers for this purpose? Obviously if it is a significant added cost to you, then it is a no, but might be worth looking into. (And, if nothing else, share with your employer as an alternative to the reusable containers for others who might also be a little squicked out by this – honestly, even absent the OCD diagnosis, I can see this being an ick factor for a lot of people for the reasons stated!)

      1. OyHiOh*

        Living in the mountain West, this was exactly where I ended up on the diaper issue when mine were little. I loved (and still do) the cloth diaper cover aesthetic so I ended up using a hybrid system (disposable insert, cute cloth with a waterproof liner cover) and some of the pics of my babies scooting around in the summer wearing just those are my favorites of all time. Water usage is no joke in my part of the US and many cities around me are putting IMO very reasonable restrictions on residential and/or commercial growth in order to make sure we don’t outpace our water demand. There are serious economic development concerns in doing so, but we (the region) are looking further west at cities like Las Vegas and Los Angeles and taking steps to not end up in the same situations water wise.

    4. I Have RBF*


      I used to be an environmental chemist. I did things like groundwater testing and smokestack testing.

      In general, unless you have a really good system for cleaning plastic containers, using paper disposables is probably better – paper is renewable and compostable, plastic isn’t. They have some really nice stuff made out of bamboo these days.

      The point is it’s all about trade-offs. Ideally, the less that is petrochemical based, the better. But for some things plastic are the best thing. For others, while they might seem the best, they actually aren’t in the long run. (Reusable! But not reusable often enough to make up for the fact that it is plastic.)

      1. Dinwar*

        I’m on the remediation side these days. We use a tremendous amount of plastic, because it’s cheap, readily available, and impermeable (until it breaks anyway). Anything that doesn’t check all three boxes simply isn’t good enough. Upping costs means either losing business or cutting costs elsewhere; stuff that’s hard to find may as well not exist at an industrial scale; and if it lets stuff through it’s not doing the job it’s there to do.

        If we could find something that’s cheap, readily available, and impermeable that’s not made from oil we absolutely would–it would be a tremendous selling point! So far nothing else fits the bill.

        Also, I feel I should apologize for the amount of sediment in our VOC samples sometimes….. :)

    5. Starbuck*

      I think people are bringing a lot of anti-environmental-campaign baggage into this when that may not even be what is mostly driving this. It’s a big new thing of note at work, so it’s probably just an easy/obvious topic of conversation for them to drive into the ground. Annoying, for sure. I think the deflection response ideas are all great, because making it boring is the best way to get them to drop it and move on to a more interesting topic. Hopefully some new work drama comes up and pushes this from all their minds so that OP can use whatever container(s) they like in peace.

      But interestingly in these types of threads, I feel like I see way more people complaining about environmentalists and sustainability campaigns with not-everyone-can-eat-sandwiches sort of comments than actual preachy environmentalists (I find this true IRL as well!)

  27. Knitting Cat Lady*

    Is there a possibility to start a petition for a deposit model for the reusable containers?
    As in you pay a deposit of e.g. 5$ for your container when you buy lunch which you will get back when you bring the container back.
    This way the containers get run through the industrial dishwasher and properly clean.
    Much more sustainable than hundreds of people running their trays through the sink.
    Incidentally this is how practically all staff and university canteens have been run in Germany since forever…

  28. DisabilityDisregarded*

    OP2, I am disabled and cannot use a dishwasher or wash dishes by hand. I can’t carry heavier dishes at all (I use disposable everything at home out of necessity and do all my cooking in a microwave or toaster oven). While I’ve been working predominantly from home for the past 10+ years, this has been a problem to some degree or another at most places I’ve worked for the past 20ish years. I’ve had places that went so far as outright forbidding the use of disposable dishes/cups/silverware but also requiring you to put all of your dishes in the dishwasher. I sometimes had to ask someone to carry all of my food to a table or a desk, had to carry empty dishes in weird balancing acts hoping I didn’t drop/break them and then leave them in sinks against policy (pro tip: people generally won’t carry someone else’s dirty dishes to the kitchen), constantly get yelled at or, worse, have people silently glare at me, had to forego food and drink during the day when offices wouldn’t accommodate disposable dishes/cups/silverware, and more.

    It is obnoxious and unfortunate. I am extremely sympathetic to the goals of these policies and others but they, like several other recent changes to normal expectations for behavior or everyday workflows, are very problematic for many people with various types of disabilities (in my case the inability to get plastic bags with handles, especially at grocery stores, has severely limited my ability to both shop for myself and get takeout – I need to use them inside my other bags to safely reach/remove items from them. Plus most automated processes are not accessible, and there are many other examples).

    1. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      Sending all my sympathy. One of my friends has a disability that requires her to use a straw and makes a metal or glass straw unsafe, but she also has a severe allergy to an ingredient commonly used in the glue in paper straws, so she’s had to bring her own plastic straws everywhere. It’s not like places who give you a paper straw by default even know what ingredients are used in the straw, much less do they tell you.

      In an ideal world, automated processes would be a great way to reduce the load on manual processes so they would be more available to folks who need them most. Unfortunately in this world it’s just a way to cut more labor costs and makes life harder for everyone, but especially people with disabilities.

      1. Clare*

        Please forgive me if you already know this and I’m not suggesting your friend switch, but as a backup if the world completely stops manufacturing plastic straws in the next 20 years, has your friend tried the soft medical-grade silicone reusable straws? If they’d suit her needs she could buy one and throw it in the back of a kitchen drawer just in case. I sincerely apologise if she can’t use them either, I only mention it since it wasn’t in your list and they’re neither rigid nor glued.

  29. Office Plant Queen*

    LW2, do you feel like chemical sanitizing meets your needs in the same way heat sanitizing with a dishwasher does? Commercial kitchens are required to use a 3 compartment sink if they don’t have a dishwasher – first sink wash, second sink rinse, third sink sanitize. Usually the sanitize step involves a dilute solution of chlorine bleach in warm water. The FDA has specific rules around water temperature, concentration of bleach, etc. I know OCD doesn’t follow rational rules, but I also know that for my husband, it has sometimes helped to go to a source of authority on the subject (such as a nurse/doctor saying “no, you can’t get rabies from that”)

    1. I'm just here for the cats!!*

      This might work if the cafeteria can clean the container for them. But it sounds like everyone is just cleaning them in the office’s kitchenette sink. Which, I want to know who is cleaning THAT. I work at a university and the custodians do not clean individual areas or kitchens. Thats up to the office to clean.
      So the OP could say, I don’t think our sink gets cleaned very often and so I don’t like cleaning my container in that sink.

      I think the best option for OP is to get several containers (even if she has to buy the extra one) and wash them at home.

      1. Office Plant Queen*

        I actually meant that OP could probably bring supplies like bleach, bleach test strips, and a collapsible tub to store in the kitchen, assuming that chemical sanitizing is an option for them. Most office sinks I’ve seen arent even 2-compartment, let alone 3. Forgot to add that part!

        It still might not be practical to do at work, even if it is psychologically acceptable. Especially since coworkers are already nosy, apparently!

        1. Longtimelurker*

          Honestly, as someone with multiple disabilities, I can’t imagine doing that. OP said that the office is so busy that they work through lunch, so it isn’t difficult to assume that setting up a sanitizing station to hand wash a single dish is going to take more time than they have available. Not to mention, that makes it even more of a Thing and can draw more unwanted attention (“Did you see longtimelurker bring in a thing of bleach? They brought a tub to wash their own dish” etc.).

        2. Dinwar*

          Depending on the workplace this could lead to a host of issue. If I were to bring in bleach I’d have to have an SDS, do a chemical inventory, have specialized training, a formal SOP based on the ASTM or US FDA guidelines, and a bunch of other stuff. It’s not unwarranted; we routinely have acids sitting around (as preservatives in sample bottles), and acid + bleach = a really bad day for everyone. I have twice experienced someone screwing up reading labels on containers and causing this to happen (not in this job, but in a previous one).

          University lab protocols tend to be more loose than private industry in my experience, but they’d still have to cover the liability issues associated with having this onsite. For that reason alone they may not allow it.

    2. HonorBox*

      But I think the assumption is that the coworkers are washing their dishes in a sink within their office area, not the kitchen. A random employee wouldn’t be allowed to go into the dish room anyway, not to mention the LW said that they’re taking their food back to the office and eating at their desks. While what you’re saying is spot on, the logistics don’t work.

  30. Trout 'Waver*


    I’m going to disagree with Alison here. I would apply to the posting and here’s why:

    A new technical facility opening up typically fills positions from high to low. The hiring manager screening resumes may be specifically marking under-qualified resumes for review at a later stage when they go to fill the Jr. and I positions. Sometimes the hiring manager can be in a rush when they get to the stage of filling the junior positions so having some pre-screened folks to call can help them fill the positions quickly.

    The caveat is that you have to be aware of your weakness here. In the cover letter make sure to mention that III is a huge stretch but you hope to be considered for more junior roles as well.

    I would not blanket apply to every III position in the industry, though. The fact that they are opening up a new facility from scratch is a key point here. Despite encouraging you to apply, I will say that your odds of being successful are lower than normal here. Don’t get your hopes up.

    Also, don’t sell yourself short! I’m a STEM technical manager and I would love to have people with sales backgrounds on my team. I’ve never seen a project fail due to lack of technical skills but I have seen tons of projects fail for communication issues. It’s a lot easier to teach and grow technical skills than people skills.

    1. Sneaky Squirrel*

      Echoing your last paragraph. I’m not in STEM but our technical teams have mentioned to me a number of times that they value the sales backgrounds. It’s much easier to hire someone with the client communication skills and then train the technical skills than it is to hire someone who has the technical skills but doesn’t have the client communications side.

  31. HonorBox*

    OP2 – I’ve not read all the comments yet, but I’m assuming this will be a less popular opinion. Keep using disposable. Do what works best for you. Your coworkers need to mind their business. Sure, you were given reusable containers to use. But you know what? Those can break. Those can get grimy. Those can be lost. Those can get melted in your dishwasher. Lie. Tell your coworkers that something happened to the container.
    Or, do as Alison suggests and ask for a few more. Tell whoever is in charge of distributing the containers that you feel more comfortable washing them at home and need (not want) a couple more. And by the way… I would too! I’ve seen work sinks and sponges.

  32. CheeryO*

    LW2, I work for an environmental agency and get all sorts of pressure at various times to carpool, use communal dishes, etc. I do my part when I can, but I have my boundaries when it comes to time/energy investment. You have to become the master of the casual brush-off and just accept that people might judge you a bit for not playing along. If you say that it’s a personal quirk about germs/cleanliness, I’m sure you’ll get more sympathy without necessarily invoking OCD.

  33. Scared Of Foodborne Illness*

    I can relate to letter #2. I have a phobia of foodborne illnesses and germs on food since I had bad food poisoning 14 years ago and lost 20lbs unintentionally. To this day, I only use disposable cups, plates, and silverware unless I absolutely have to use plates and utensils that are not disposable and I will sanitize them before and after use.

    1. I Have RBF*

      Yeah, I wouldn’t use random dishes that hadn’t been washed in my home or an industrial dishwasher.

  34. cloudy*

    Oh OP2 you’re not alone in this. I dealt with similar comments when I had to use disposable dishware for a couple of years. I was using them because I injured my wrists and couldn’t hand wash dishes (my apartment didn’t have a dishwasher). That was 6 years ago and I still have a hard time with dishes on some days.

    While sustainability is important, there needs to be a place for considering how people with disabilities can be included in these kinds of conversations. Sometimes things like disposable items are important accessibility tools, and it seems like so many environmental campaigns just kind of steamroll over that.

    Unfortunately I don’t have any advice other than to do what you need to do for yourself and your needs. I like the idea of mentioning that it’s for medical reasons as that seems like it has a chance of at least making people more unlikely to comment.

  35. I am sure my no kids, not driving, tiny apartment is a smaller carbon footprint than yours*

    Because no one has said this yet,
    “Keep your eyes on your own plate.”
    Would be my response to all of this.
    I have a hidden disability.
    Want to lecture me about my use of a plastic straw?
    Please keep your eyes on your own plate.
    And I am aware…
    Thank you for sharing.
    And do not engage .

    1. NYNY*

      THIS. And I resent people who fly in private planes telling me I should give up my 20 year old SUV, which I drive 2500 miles a year.

  36. Wendy*

    Why are some Ask a Manager readers being judgmental regarding letter number 2?

    This is regarding the comments for letter number 2.

    1. Anon OCDer*

      OCD is a really misunderstood diagnosis. People think it’s “oh, I have some quirks around cleaning.” They cannot imagine the torment of having aspects of your thinking and behavior that you cannot control. It’s horrible to know something is irrational and have to do it anyway as you attempt to move through an incredibly judgmental world.

      This is often such a supportive community, but clearly not about this. Super disappointing. I would never expect the whole world to understand everything about my diagnosis, but when I encounter something I don’t understand, I try to approach it with curiosity and empathy, not judgement.

      1. Phobic*

        As someone with psych diagnosed full-on DSM-5 Specific Phobia, yup.

        ‘Yes, I know it’s not rational. No, I’m not going to walk under that spider. No it’s not funny. Yes, I know it’s not rational, that’s WHY I can’t control it. If you’ve got such amazing precision control over your own brain please tell me what it’s like to never have had a song stuck in your head?’

        Commiseration to all my intrusive thoughts buddies in the comments.

    2. Dinwar*

      In addition to what Anon OCDer said, our culture has a tendency to treat recycling and the like as moral issues, rather than practical or engineering issues. Don’t get me wrong, I believe helping the environment is good–but the discussions we have on that topic are always extremely shallow, dealing only with the obvious actions and not the unseen consequences thereof. This is a question for scientists and engineers and some of the greatest minds of our generation, and we treat it as….well, “Captain Planet”.

      Ironically this makes actual advancements in environmental protection more difficult. A lot of the things that would have a significant impact aren’t obvious, or are counter-intuitive. This leads to things like the destruction of critical habitat for endangered species so that we can install wind turbines, or increased plastic waste because putting a bottle in a green bin is something we see, whereas the waste going to Malaysia or India and being dumped into an open-air trash mound isn’t something we personally witness.

      It’s Us vs Them tribal thinking, something we all can fall victim to but which is never a good thing.

  37. So Tired*

    LW 2, I understand your comment about the “importance of responsibility in being a good steward to our environment”, but please remember it’s big corporations who bear the brunt of responsibility for ruining the environment and thus should face the biggest burden to help fix it. Yes it’s important as individuals to do what we can to help as well, but this isn’t something you’re able to do right now and that’s ok!! Maybe one day you’ll get there but for right now this is something that doesn’t work for you, and that doesn’t make you a bad person or anything like that. If you think Allison’s advice of getting a few more reusable plates so you can take them home and put them in the dishwasher will work, feel free to try that! But if they’re not safe for the dishwasher (which I could see if they’re the kind of material I’m imagining) then don’t feel bad about sticking to the disposable ones and letting your colleagues know that’s what works for you.

    Also, friendly reminder that running your dishwasher uses less water than washing dishes by hand, so please don’t let anyone make you feel bad if you run your dishwasher nightly! Just in case that comes up.

  38. I'm just here for the cats!!*

    #2 Talk with your cagetieria or whoever is in charge of the boxes. When I was in college I worked for the campus dining and we had a similar program where you could purchase a reusable container for your to-go items. Sometimes what we would do would grab a new container to replace the other one. I don’t know if the cafeteria has the extra ones or not but could you ask them?
    Another thing we sometimes did is clean the container for the person. We had a small dishwasher in our area. This was a heavy-duty machine not your typical home dishwasher so it would sanitize items in like 5 minutes. We would pop the container in there and then by the time the food was ready we would take the box out and wipe it with a clean paper towel if it had any moisture on it. Maybe the cafeteria would be able to clean it for you? Especially if you say that you don’t think that it gets clean enough in your office sink.

    1. kalli*

      The potential of receiving ‘someone else’s’ container back or someone else touching it between being cleaned and putting food in ‘(even if they also cooked the food) may not be great for OCD but if the cafeteria were allowed to provide cardboard containers that would probably be fine.

  39. Emily*

    LW #1, I think it is wonderful that you are concerned about A and don’t want her to burn out. I actually have a bit of a different take on this than Alison. While it is entirely possible that A does want to be working this much, I was in the social work field for almost 5 years, and I saw how the expectation can become that you should always be available for your clients/always be doing more for them, and it is indeed exhausting, and I did indeed burn out.

    Therefore, I do think you should say something to A. If you do get the impresssion that she is doing this by choice, then I do think you need to let it be, even if she does end up burning herself out. However, I think it’s great that you are setting boundaries and using a support system that is not just A.

    Depending on the dynamics, if you get the impression A is getting the message either explicitly or implied from the organization she works for, it may be worth saying to someone higher up than A that you value so much the work that she does and she is the best Care Manager you have had, but you’re concerned about the hours she is having to work, and you don’t expect her to be available to you after hours (unless that is supposed to be part of the job). This may not change anything (where I worked they gave a lot of lip service to caring about our health and not wanting to overwork us, when they actually worked us to the bone), but I think it is at least worth bringing up.

  40. Non-profiteer*

    LW#3 – please, just focus on your own work and your own clothes and stay out of it! My boss, who came of age in DC in the age of power suits, one time pre-pandemic tried to get me to borrow a suit jacket from her when I was going to meet with an agency. I WAS wearing a jacket, it was just kind of a drapey one – and it didn’t have shoulder pads (SHOCK! HORROR!). When I showed up to the meeting, the contract lobbyist who was going with me was wearing freaking palazzo pants! I was dressed fine. The meeting went fine.

    During our next one-on-one, my boss brought up a friendly reminder to dress professionally with a suit jacket when meeting with agencies or going to the Hill. She was my boss and I know she had the right to give me this feedback, so I only pushed back a little and then accepted the ‘advice’ and we moved on with our lives. She is still my boss. I mostly love having her as my boss. Yet…I still remember this piece of errant criticism and how wrong it was. And now post-pandemic? She shows up to meetings in sweatshirts.

    Little comments and things like this really stick in your mind sometimes and never leave, even if they don’t have much consequence.

    1. umami*

      I know it might not seem helpful now, but I hope you can frame it as advice on how to be taken as seriously as possible in your role, not a critique of your own style. I am probably your boss’ peer, and expectations ‘in the day’ of how women should dress in the workplace are wildly different than they are now. I went to a conference about 10 years ago with a panel of high-level women leaders, where they discussed how nice it was to no longer have to wear pantyhose, which was something I never thought would be OK! It was liberating to see these women wearing sleeveless dresses with bare legs and still being taken seriously, but that isn’t the case in every industry. So even though I am comfortable dressing a little more comfortably and ditching pantyhose and closed-toe shoes, I always have blazers in my office to toss on when I’m going to a meeting that might be more suited (no pun intended, heh) for that.

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        It really was not that long ago that women were expected to wear a *skirt* suit to an interview. Not just a suit. But paired with a *skirt*

        Reference: I am an elder millennial.

  41. pally*

    RE: #2 In some places, water is scarce. Hence the washing of all those reusable containers makes the bigger negative impact on the environment than would the disposable containers. In which case, I would be eyeing those co-workers right back.

    I’m sorry they are making your situation more difficult for you, #2. Don’t cave.

  42. Michelle Smith*

    OP2 my heart really goes out to you. I think people can have the best of intentions when creating these kinds of policies, but some people take it too far and think it’s then their place to tease and pick at others for not fully complying. It’s not fair that you should have to disclose your personal medical history at work to get people to back off.

    Do you have any work friends/friendly acquaintances you can trust? Someone who can push back on your behalf when the comments start up and tell folks to mind their own business? Sometimes people are quicker to back down and keep their comments to themselves when they realize they don’t have the support of everyone else in the room.

  43. Chickadee*

    LW2 – I think the magic phrases are “I have a medical condition” and “I’m worried about hygiene,” either used alone or together. If you want to redirect your coworker’s do-good energy, you can follow up with “I wish the cafeteria used cardboard instead of styrofoam” or something along those lines – make the focus on the cafeteria offering more eco-friendly one-use options in addition to the reusable containers.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!!*

      I like the option of “worried about hygiene” especially if the communal sink is not cleaned very often.

    2. AngelicGamer*

      I really like the “I’m worried about hyenine” because we’re getting into cold/flu season. COVID’s not over. And so on. It completely takes the focus off of any other reason too. So, yeah, great idea.

      I would also ping whoever is in charge of this about cardboard take out boxes too. A lot of the take out places around me have moved over to either cardboard boxes or making sure their plastic can be recycled.

  44. I'm just here for the cats!!*

    #3 leave it alone. It’s not your job anymore and maybe this dress style works better for her. And if you are just going by photos of one day you really can’t judge her. I’m not sure if she had to fly out to see these politicians but maybe she did and she lost her luggage. Or something happened and she had to change into what she had available. It’s not your job anymore.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      I can see the “you may also like” links at the end of the article when I’m on the article-specific page, but I have noticed that for the past few days I haven’t been able to see those links on the main website page.

  45. LucyGoosy*

    LW 2 – I have reusable tupperware that I rinse out after lunch, put in a separate bag, and run through the dishwasher at home each day. Is there a chance you can do that?

    Otherwise, yes, my heart goes out to you on this. My office has one person who is VERY into reducing our carbon footprint, which is great, but sometimes is divorced from the realty that we all live in. (Ex. he begrudges my team every time we print something…but a lot of our job includes making sure people have physical copies of documents for legal reasons.)

    1. There's a G&T with my name on it*

      I came here to suggest similar – or several tupperwares (or bamboo-ware if you don’t like plastic) so you can save the water if you only run the dishwasher every other day or so. I get a tad tired of people who are all about the tiny eco habits while overlooking say, their frequent long haul flights…

  46. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    People should concentrate on doing what they can in their own lives to protect the environment, maybe also campaigning for structural changes in society & industry that would have genuine effect.

    Just stop pressuring coworkers or neighbours to copy you.
    What is easy or at least doable for you may be one heavy spoon too many for someone else who is coping with more than you.

  47. Cake or Death*

    “large cobwebs across the corner of another.”

    I don’t know, the fat spider that lives in my driver’s side side-mirror of my car can rebuild his web in a couple hours, since I basically destroy it every time I get into my car lol. So I’m not sure cobwebs necessarily mean it’s not getting cleaned, you might just have an ambitious spider.

    1. RagingADHD*

      If the cobweb is getting rebuilt, that’s worse, because it would mean the spider has a food source. Ie, there’s some kind of bug infestation in the office. Your car spider is outside, where bugs belong anyway.

  48. fhqwhgads*

    #2 I wonder if your coworkers/the employer have thought about the water wasted by handwashing individual dishes and done the math on the environmental impact of that vs the disposable things you’re using? I’m mostly assuming the coworkers are harping on it because it’s a Thing The Employer Said To Do, and not out of their own sense of environmentalism, but it did occur to me this practice is probably one of those empty gestures meant to look environmentally friendly when it probably isn’t – or is at least neutral to the alternative.
    So that might be a tack you could try too. (I have a lot of experience finding logical, plausible explanations for things I am totally doing because of my OCD but don’t want to explain when people question me.)

    1. LJ*

      Not to mention the sanitary issues. Not just for OP, but there’s a reason most buffets say you should grab a fresh plate each time!

  49. RagingADHD*

    #2, if the coworkers want to hassle someone about sustainability, why are they hassling you as an individual instead of hassling the cafeteria management or the university purchasing department to get compostable/biodegradeable single use containers? There are a lot of reasons why people might need a single use item, which is why single use items continue to exist.

  50. Bookworm*

    #2: No advice beyond what Alison and some others wrote, but also just wanted to send sympathy. I don’t have OCD, but never wanted to use the shared dishes at my workplace unless absolutely necessary because I was also a little concerned about cleanliness given how some co-workers would leave their dishes in the sink. Which is why I chose to buy my own gear for my own use and responsibility to clean, etc.

  51. Tara*

    For the letter writer about the disposable food trays. I have an allergy to most commercial dish soaps (and some hand soaps that are in offices). I refuse to wash dishes at work because there is a very high chance I will break out in hives. If you wanted a less vague medical reason to not wash dishes, you could use that. Yes, I get some strange looks but people just shrug it off. A few mention wearing gloves, but I say I’ve got a system.

    It gets less awkward with time. Good luck!

  52. Sneaky Squirrel*

    #5 – If you don’t even qualify for Level I, then I would recommend not qualifying for Level III or the recruiter/hiring manager is going to perceive you as naïve for applying for jobs well out of your league. But definitely don’t sell yourself short on those entry level jobs! Apply for the Level I and maybe even the Level II jobs where maybe you don’t meet all of the criteria but the role would be a reasonable jump up from your skill set. Technical skills can be taught; but many technical jobs also have a customer service/client relations aspect that is much harder to teach to those who don’t already have it.

    If it’s a bigger company, the most likely scenario is that a recruiter not directly involved in the day to day work sees the resume for the Level III and immediately rejects it before it is even received by the hiring manager.

  53. Longtimelurker*

    OP 2 – One other option would be to add something like, “I didn’t want to get into medical issues at work, so I didn’t mention it earlier, but . . . ” to Alison’s script if you are worried people will wonder why you didn’t say that sooner.
    I have multiple disabilities that mean I frequently need to use disposable instead of reusable products, so I’m sending lots of empathy your way. I deal with a lot of people shaming me for being wasteful (I’m not open to discussing this in the comments, I’m managing my situation in the way that works best for me, my family/support, and I am aware of my options and have considered them – I’m assuming OP has done the same).


    1. Longtimelurker*

      Another option I just thought of, if you are okay with something that might come across as more abrupt, is something like “Oh, I know that’s an option, but I’m going to stick with this, thanks!” to get across the message that you don’t need the reminder. You can say it in a kind tone and with a smile, as if you are really thanking them for letting you know but also thanking them for not bringing it up again. If they do, you could then say “Oh, you already mentioned that to me, but I’m going to keep using reusable. I focus on other sustainability efforts/am reducing water waste/some other general non-answer here” if you don’t want to mention the medical component.


    As a professional in my 20s, my first thought when I read Letter #3 is that if a colleague in my 40s told me I need to change the way I dress, I would think, “okay, are you going to fund my shopping spree?”. Doubly so if that person was not my manager and had no knowledge or say in my compensation.

    Even if you think this person can afford to dress nicer based on your assumptions about their pay, it takes a long time to build up a well-fitting professional wardrobe, and younger workers have more demands on their finances than ever. Obviously there are options like thrift stores and shopping sales, but I think it’s worthwhile to remember that there is often a huge financial component to physical appearance. Echoing what Allison and other commenters have said: stay out of it.

    1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      Was coming here to bring up the budget piece!

      I was fortunate that, when I was first starting out, my mom and I were roughly the same size so I frequently raided her closet, though this was harder once we no longer lived together! I started more slowly building up on my own during graduate school, and strategically requesting gift cards to particular stores for birthdays/holidays. I mentioned in another comment that I was interviewing for jobs when the expectation was not only suits for interviews, but SKIRT suits. (That was STARTING to change around then but was definitely still preferred!)

      My wardrobe now – as a fairly high-level professional – probably appears much more casual than it did when I was first starting out, but that’s because norms have changed. (Also, I work in government!)

  55. Molly Millions*

    I wonder if HR or whatever department instituted this reusable policy would be willing to send an all-staff email discouraging “eco-shaming” or whatever the proper term is. I’m sure there are multiple conditions (arthritis, allergies, etc.) that would prevent people from hand-washing dishes, and this might not be the only policy that doesn’t take into account the needs of disabled people.

  56. umami*

    I’m a little confused by the old calendar thing. If you see an old calendar on the floor, and you are certain no one wants/needs it, why are you walking by it after a year of being there and blaming the cleaning crew? If it is so obviously trash, just … throw it away? It’s fairly well understood, at least in my experience, that unless something is in a trashcan or otherwise labeled ‘trash’ it is not going to be disturbed by the cleaning crew. There may be other valid items to point to indicating a lack of deep cleaning, but something being on the floor is not one (and I’m looking at the empty copy paper box and the old grocery store bag by my desk as I write this because they might ‘look’ like trash but are not).

    1. I Have RBF*

      This. Most cleaning crews are told to not touch stuff on the floor unless it is very obviously trash, and that means crumpled or shredded. One guy where I used to work hoarded books and papers in his office, and had a major hissy fit if they were moved.

      Cleaning crews usually empty trash cans, vacuum floors, wipe down common surfaces and maybe clean the coffee pot. They aren’t paid enough to risk deciding whether something not obviously trash is trash or not.

  57. Gender Menace*

    LW2- I know a bunch of other folks have said this, but I’m going to reiterate that you need to do the best thing for you, and there’s nothing wrong with saying its a medical accommodation!

    I have OCD and while contamination isn’t a big part of it for me, I do get intense about meat germs. Our dishwasher broke and it took maintenance weeks to get us a new one, so my partner and I bought a bunch of paper plates for cutting meat, etc, so I didn’t spiral about washing everything super thoroughly for ten minutes. I felt terrible because I try to be environmentally friendly, but my partner pointed out that being green is a privilege and this wasn’t coming from laziness- this was an accomodation.

    (Plus, it helped because my partner’s ADHD made getting the dishes handwashed very, very difficult for a few weeks, so the plates helped us all around.)

    People who police other people suck, especially at work. I hope you’re able to advocate for yourself!

    1. Gender Menace*

      (quick immediate reply to clarify that I didn’t intend to imply people who use paper plates are lazy, but my spiral brain was having a rough time thinking that *I* was just being lazy and unwilling to wash dishes, and my partner was reassuring me)

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        When we have parties with a lot of guests, we frequently break out the paper plates. The amount of dishes generated as it is, is staggering and often requires multiple runs of the dishwasher.

  58. Misshapen Pupfish*

    LW2, you’re not alone! I also have contamination-centric OCD which is manageable for me now (it wasn’t always) but I will have certain “quirks” for the rest of my life. That leads me to be more wasteful than I’d prefer sometimes. For example, I must wear gloves if I have to use a restroom that doesn’t allow me to wash my hands before touching my clothing. While I can manage with only one glove per visit, that means each day at work I’m using at least one latex glove. Personally I can be super cagey about my “weird” habits and would really prefer people not comment on them. But you need to do what you need to do to feel okay. Being questioned about it feels so awkward but I try to brush it off with non-answers. The message is, this is the way it has to be, and I’m aware it’s unorthodox, and I don’t need to explain to you why I’m doing it. Wishing you luck!

  59. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    I’m actually a little horrified the university cafeteria allows it as most will not let you reuse plates (serving spoons etc could be touching a questionably washed plate). We have re-useable to go boxes at our cafeteria and you bring back the dirty one and exchange it for a clean one and the used ones go through the commercial dishwasher with the sanitize cycle.

    1. I Have RBF*

      ). We have re-useable to go boxes at our cafeteria and you bring back the dirty one and exchange it for a clean one and the used ones go through the commercial dishwasher with the sanitize cycle.

      This is the better way, rather than risk the cafeteria getting blamed for an improperly cleaned to-go container.

  60. stay in your lane*

    LW 3: Honestly, why do you think it’s appropriate to comment on her attire?

    I’m genuinely curious. You don’t work there anymore, she doesn’t report to you, let it go.

  61. Lobsterman*

    LW2, please just keep using disposable and relate that you have a relevant medical accommodation you would prefer not to discuss. It’s best not to give an inch on this stuff.

  62. RagingADHD*

    LW#3: It is interesting that you say you have fond feelings for your former workplace, if you think they are incompetent at hiring and onboarding people appropriately in order to help them succeed in the organization’s mission.

    Do you have any reason to think your replacement isn’t succeeding? I’m sure if she were having trouble, and you have a good relationship, she would ask your advice.

  63. Pocket Mouse*

    LW #2, would you be able to share the feeling behind your actions, without mentioning OCD? Such as, “Something about washing dishes by hand doesn’t sit well with me, I have to use a dishwasher to feel like they get clean enough to use again.” And then either “So this is my best option for the foreseeable future” or “Until [university] installs a dishwasher in the kitchenette, this is what I’ve gotta do.”

    If someone pushes further, you can end it with saying you’re aware and you’d appreciate it if they refrain from commenting in the future, and/or redirect responsibility for significant environmental impact back where it belongs: on your employer and major corporations.

  64. Dragonfly7*

    LW2: “I have a medical reason that makes this the safest option for me.” I would say the same due to a food allergy and that the break room water at my workplace is lukewarm on a good day, but I’m also the person who would try to get extra containers so I can rotate them.

  65. SB*

    Ah lovely, organisational cost savings disguised as environmentalism…this is becoming more & more prevalent & the burden is borne by the people least equipped to bear it. If they want to switch to reusable they should be accepting the containers back for washing, not putting the onus onto the customer to do the labor for them.

  66. Raida*

    2. Coworkers are hassling me about using disposable lunch containers

    I’ve got a few mates and relatives with varying OCD tendencies, their suggestions boil down to:
    Get five of your own.
    Bring in five clean containers on Mondays
    Use one each day and take home the used one each afternoon.
    Clean it in your dishwasher and place it ready to be picked up on Monday to go to work.

    We don’t know what material their reusable ones are made of – that can increase the urgh feeling – so get something you are happy with if the material of the work provided ones is a factor.

    It’s annoying to carry to and from work – but your other options are tell everyone to back the fck off about chucking away containers, tell everyone you have OCD and expect a lot of ‘helpful’ information about how the stuff from the sink is clean (and that ‘yucky’ is for toddlers you’re an adult so get over it that’s selfish), bring in your own lunch, don’t eat lunch, enquire about where a dishwasher is located so that you can clean this item sufficiently well each day knowing that might be futile.

    To me, this is what this boils down to: Either you do or you don’t want people knowing about the OCD.

    Once you’ve decided one way or the other, you know your options. Acknowledging that regardless of your approach, by doing things differently to everyone else it’s likely to draw questions. Something like “I’m just most comfortable running this through my dishwasher at home, to each their own!” and hoping they don’t pry.

    1. RagingADHD*

      There is no either / or. The LW clearly stated:

      “I also don’t want to disclose my mental health issues with my colleagues.”

      So I’m not sure why you are responding as if that were up for debate and they were having trouble making a decision. They are not.

  67. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    Re #2, I agree with Free Will and Dinwar — coworkers don’t need to know anything about personal medical issues. Your colleagues are being incredibly obnoxious; you have absolutely no obligation to twist yourself into knots trying to explain yourself to these meddlesome self-righteous boneheads. If it were me, the next time it happens, I’d look coworker right int the eye and calmly, reasonably say: “Do you really think you’re the first person to tell me that? Do you really think I don’t know, or don’t understand, the company’s policy? Doesn’t it seem much more likely that there is probably a REASON that I still use disposables, for reasons that you don’t need to know?”

    I suppose you’ll likely get The Huffs and Wide-Eyed Retracto-Head and “But I was JUST trying to HELP”, which of course you can ignore for the BS it is.

  68. Nysee*

    OP – do your dishes have to actually be in a dishwasher? Would you be able, for example, to boil water in your office kitchen and use it to rinse your tray?

  69. Dahlink*

    LW2 – If your office has a microwave and the microwave isn’t a total nightmare, you could possibly look into some kind of steam sterilizer for getting things extra clean. This is what I used at work when I was pumping and needed to make sure things were super sterile. It would probably depend on the dimensions of the container, but you’d basically be doing the kind of sterilizing a dishwasher does and possibly a bit extra and it would use very little extra water in addition to hand washing. You could maybe even improvise something.

  70. Guliver*

    Office cleaners might not be throwing away things like a 3 year old calendar, but if it’s on the floor they ought to be at least picking it up and putting it on the nearest piece of furniture so they can, you know, clean the floor!

  71. Original Bob*

    Op2: Unless you’re dumping barrels of used motor oil in the local creek tell your coworkers to politely mind their own damn business.

  72. Mr egg*

    I also struggle with dishes for a variety of reasons, and I mostly try to use compostable disposable options. It’s frustrating that they’re not able to recognize that these solutions aren’t accessible for everyone, and I hope you can figure out a solution that doesn’t force you to share your personal business

  73. MsJayTee*

    LW1 First A sounds amazing, I’m disabled and I know what you mean about the admin. One thing you could do to get A to pace herself more is frame it as being good for you. So if you say that you don’t expect an immediate reply to things sometimes your just sending information while you remember to do it, but when she’s replying it would be better for you if she waited until working hours. I know my disability affects my memory so I tend to do any follow up actions straight away, if the same applies to you then say it would be better for you to receive her replies during working hours.

  74. OCDLW*

    LW2 here. Thanks for the suggestions, everyone. Unfortunately the reusable trays are not dishwasher safe, so taking them home with me is not an option. To clarify, the disposable trays are made of a sort of paper/cardboard material, so I assume they biodegrade better than Styrofoam. I’m definitely looking for other ways I can cut my carbon footprint to make up for this.

  75. I need coffee before I can make coffee*

    OP#2, your coworkers are a bunch of virtue signaling busybodies who don’t know what they are talking about. Reusable vs. disposable is not perfectly cut and dried as Dinwar explained above. If you were not allowed to use disposable anymore, they would not still be providing them. Find some way (either politely or bluntly, according to your personality) to tell them to mind their own business, and do not disclose any personal reasons.

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