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Kitchen confidential

I am an instructor, and I often use your column in my Office Administration course for Business Management undergraduates. My class benefits greatly from the advice you give and has decided to submit two questions as a group. (Readers: I’ll answer one question this week and one question next week.)

How do you handle a complete lack of manners in the workplace? For example, co-workers eating your food without permission, food that has gone bad in a common kitchen area, and co-workers who feel so at home that bodily functions during meal time are freely shared.
C. P., Warwick, RI

Your question covers ethics, taking responsibility for yourself, showing respect for others, and plain old-fashioned, everyday manners—and you haven’t even left the kitchen. Theft of food is no different than theft of money or anything else and should not be tolerated in the workplace. If you know who the thief is, you can try talking to him, preferably right while he is eating your food. “John, that’s my sandwich you’re eating. Did you realize that?” Let him know if it happens again you’ll report him to your boss. If you don’t know who the thief is, ask your boss to bring up the issue at the next staff meeting. If the boss is unwilling to intercede, you may have to avoid the problem altogether by using an insulated lunch box and keeping your food at your desk where it can’t be stolen.

Not taking the time to clean up your kitchen mess or leaving food to go bad in the refrigerator or cupboards is irresponsible and disrespectful to fellow employees. As a communal area, the kitchen should be left tidy and clean for the next person. Posting some common sense kitchen rules is important. Where there’s a rule, there should also be an enforceable sanction for breaking it. Get together with a couple of like-minded colleagues and propose a set of rules and consequences for your kitchen such as: names and dates on all containers; no food more than three days old in the fridge; clean and put away your dishes immediately—no dishes left to soak in the sink; wipe down the counter or your table after use. As for consequences, those who break the rules lose the privilege of using the kitchen for a period of time.

A discreet burp—followed by an “excuse me”—gets a pass, but a loud belch or other bodily noise requires a trip to the restroom. If someone near you repeatedly shares freely, ask to have a word in private. If the situation doesn’t improve, the next time he lets go, turn to him and say, “Larry, I’m sorry but that’s just unnecessary. Do you really have to do that and ruin lunch for the rest of us?”

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