Down Because of the Dirty

Dear Anita,

For some time now, I have been tolerating the slowly encroaching mess that is accumulating around me at my office. Everywhere I look, something new is piling up. How can I politely inform my coworkers to be respectful and keep our office clean?

Working in a messy space can be distracting, disruptive, and downright disgusting. Many people are trying to save money by bringing home-packed lunches, and the tidy disposable containers you get from the Mexican place around the corner are being replaced with Tupperware that has the tendency to get lost in the crevices of the break room refrigerator or be left out for days without getting washed.

Like many before me have said: “At our office, we are like family. But that doesn’t mean I will clean up after you like momma.” I would first advise that you consult your HR Manager. The last thing you would want to do is go step on people’s toes and look like the bad guy over a dirty dish. Most likely, this will prompt your HR manager to handle the situation themselves – with a diplomatic memo, email, or posted sign.

A simple reminder to all staff members of the office’s cleanliness standards will hopefully inspire a change. This would include removing old food from the refrigerator, taking care of take out boxes, and having a one-week limit on all perishable food. Even if it is in a fancy container or looks sentimental, it has got to go or be dated with a Post-It.

Another suggestion is to post friendly reminders in the break room and communal spaces letting people know that they are responsible for cleaning up their own messes. If that doesn’t do the trick, you could announce that the company will be removing funds from the party/fun activity budget to pay for the cost of disposable plates and utensils until the situation improves.

And to make it sting a little more, if you go for several months with no improvement, lock the break room door for a week. Can’t dirty up an area that isn’t open for business!

Let’s hear your worst stories of grime and gook from the office! Post them in the comment box, and I’ll vote on which one is the nastiest.

Good luck in your search for cleanliness!


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ameliarojas
    Jun 15, 2012 @ 12:02:53

    Great advice Robin! I also suggest picking up, in other words leading by example. Some may follow and want to naturally want to start picking up, cleaning the fridge and so on. When other employees see this and the manager starts to give that person a “pat on the back” others may want to do the same. I do this where I live, unfortunately some neighbors do not pick up after themselves, but I take the initiative and pickup and I have noticed some moms picking up after their kids now instead of simply leaving the mess outside. So I quietly pick up without giving any looks or any comments, just simply pickup and now others are following, nice! But then again I realize that not all will follow, but that’s okay I continue to do what’s right regardless of what others may think or do.



  2. m.capriola
    May 29, 2012 @ 06:56:05

    I worked in an office, and at the end of the year we decided to clean the ‘fridge which was being used by us and two other offices. Some of the tupperware containers we didn’t dare open. From the looks of it, not only had life spontaneously generated but it was starting to form political systems.

    The staff cafeteria in the main building sometimes went thru periods where people were kind of messy. Management cured that in part by threatening to close the cafeteria. Also, the dishroom attendants who were responsible for cleaning the cafeteria started getting on people’s backs if they got caught leaving a mess.

    Anyway, going to HR or to the Office Manager is the thing to do. They have the authority to post memos and assign cleanup tasks.



  3. Andrew
    May 24, 2012 @ 12:43:46




  4. Robin
    May 24, 2012 @ 09:59:43

    There is a book that everyone in business should; if not read -at least look through, Visual Systems: Harnessing The Power of a Visual Workplace. Appeal to the bottom line. Increased productivity, reduced waste, and improved moral. Visual management works! It does take some time in the beginning to get things sorted, set in order, standardize process, shine it up a bit, and then sustaining through establishing new habits, workplace rules, and processes. You could take internet research and go to management with ideas on places to get started that will be fast to complete but show a big impact. It may be as simple as the copier/ fax areas to assure paper jambs are cleared by posting how to info…having supplies that are use every day at the area and set reorder points. Take a pic of the area as it is supposed to look, post it nest to the area…anyone who sees the area getting “out of order” can “fix” it with no excuse….”I didn’t know!”~



  5. pravinchn
    May 22, 2012 @ 08:46:49

    Reblogged this on pravinchn.



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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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