Q. One of my colleagues tosses her trash into my wastebasket (near the opening to my cubicle) as she walks by every day. She doesn't even break stride, she just tosses as she passes by. What's wrong with her basket in her cube (6 feet away) is a mystery. This behavior is odd but hardly actionable... until this morning. I find her most recent toss missed, and her soiled paper towel is *next to* my wastebasket. I placed the item in the basket and then used some hand sanitizer. How am I supposed to respond? I am not going to literally clean up after her again.
A. Open work areas can pose some challenges, and people with a lack of awareness of other people, or boundaries often need the obvious pointed out to them. An easy answer might be to move your wastebasket away from the opening to your cube. I know it is aggravating to change your preferred location, and the cleaning people might not appreciate the loss of access, but it may lead to a great way to begin a conversation that will eliminate communal trash.
As she proceeds to stride by, and begin her toss, we will hope she notices the basket is not there. She may ask where it is, and you can say “I moved it so people don't use it, as they miss and I don't want to pick up other people's trash. And I don't want someone's smelly lunch in there either, so I am helping you, and other people break the habit of using my basket.”
The work environment is full of petty annoyances. If you can ignore them, please do. If not, the sooner you put an end to them, even if people wonder why you care whose trash goes into your bin, the better. A light hearted comment about her being one of the many basketball players looking at lock out might be appropriate, as her aim is clearly missing.
People in cubicles and more open work areas need to be VERY considerate about a host of behaviors including voice volume and nose blowing and TOTALLY considerate about not participating in other behaviors including grooming (NO nail clipping!) and other bodily functions. All these issues should not need human resources policies, but do need a considerate and assertive workforce.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
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