How to Handle the Office Slob

Q. I work in a professional office and we have customers coming through all the time. The office manager does a good job making sure the place looks presentable, but we have one guy whose office is a dump. There are piles everywhere, reports stacked behind his desk, newspapers from who knows how long ago, water bottles and dead plants. When I have customers come through, I close his door; I don’t even ask any more. What will it take for management to talk to him?

A. What it typically takes for management to get involved is knowing about a situation and seeing the negative impact it has on the business or colleagues. Office managers everywhere welcome the help in maintaining a professional environment – and not just the common space.

But not every situation needs to be left up to management. Your colleague may not be aware of just how bad the situation is or what the mess communicates to your customers; the professionalism of his work, or the quality of your organization. Try discussing the issue with him on a day there are no customer visits. You might say, “We have customers coming through all the time. I’d like to have them meet you, but I don’t want to bring them into your office. It’s kind of out of control. Do you think there is away for you to keep it looking more pulled together on a regular basis?”

Don’t name call, or try to embarrass him. Just present the issue and see how he responds. If he doesn’t see the mess, you’ll have to be more direct. You might say, “The stacks of papers, empty bottles and dead plants don’t present you or us in the best possible light. Can we figure out a way to clean up your office and keep it that way? I’d be happy to help – the first time.”
Everyone has a comfortable work style and his environment may not matter to him, or even be enough for him to notice. However, when it starts to impact business and customer perceptions, it is OK for colleagues to get involved.
If this has been a problem before, then I encourage you to discuss this with the office manager, or your own manager to get support.
-Elaine Varelas, Managing Partner, Keystone Partners
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