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I'm currently working in a small office with around 14 coworkers. We have a tiny scullery just to make coffee / wash dishes and a bathroom. Most of my coworkers are men and they're developers. I'm starting to feel bothered with the hygiene of these common spaces as I spend a lot of time in there, I'm noticing that people don't care about the cleanliness of our office. Some stuff I've found just this month:

  • Sink drain clogged with paper
  • Recyclable trash mixed with common trash (we have two distinct baskets for each)
  • Urine stains on/around the toilet
  • Overflowing bathroom trash can
  • Dirty coffee mugs EVERYWHERE
  • Food crumbs on the balcony

We have a cleaning service but it's not enough if people don't really help to keep the office tidy and clean.

I've been around for less than a year and I'm not sure how to address this to my boss or other people. I talked about it with only one coworker and he was unconcerned about this. Maybe I should bring this topic to other coworkers/friends, but I'm worried to address this situation with them because I don't know if they'll feel ashamed.

TLDR: How to talk with my boss about the lack of hygiene on our workspace?

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    Hello peacekeeper, welcome to IPS.SE. Have you talked to any of your other coworkers about this? See if anyone else share this same feeling you feel about the hygiene? Or at least, has anyone else talked about this out loud at all? Or do all the 13 coworkers of yours seem complacent to the facts of the lack of hygiene? – Crazy Cucumber Feb 4 at 16:25
  • @CrazyCucumber I talked about it with only one coworker and he was unconcerned about this. Maybe I should bring this topic to other coworkers/friends. Im worried to address this situation with them because I don't know if they'll feel ashamed – Peacekeeper Feb 4 at 16:36
  • How often do the cleaners service the office? It makes a difference in is boss being cheap or are coworkers slobs. – Johns-305 Feb 4 at 19:30
  • @Peacekeeper : doesn't your boss see the mess in his office?! Or is he always going back and forth with no time to notice? – OldPadawan Feb 5 at 11:54
  • @Johns-305 I suppose its once a week – Peacekeeper Feb 5 at 15:25
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Given the situation that the cleaning service is there only once per week, your focus should be on Boss. Nearly every work environment I've ever been in, and it's a lot, is service at least daily with some areas multiple times per day.

The Interpersonal Skill here is Proffering. Presenting Boss with summary of the situation, with actual evidence, and proposing a solution.

It's important to not make this about Boss or the other employees. A space where there is at least some cleaning service will degrade over time simply because people will expect that it will be cleaned...eventually.

Start by pointing out some generalities. The bathroom floor is a good example because no employee is ever going to clean that. Or the breakroom floor or counters. Even if employees are somewhat careful, they're going to get grimy over a week. Be sure to keep it very general and about things that are just going to happen. Don't blame anyone.

Then, propose a solution that's easy to implement such as the cleaning service come thrice a week. Be prepared for Boss to object or attempt to negotiate, by suggesting more rules or such. Worst case, assign you cleaning tasks.

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I would begin with approaching at least a few more people in the office, and gauging how much they care. Something like this would probably suffice:

Hey there I was wondering if you knew anything about how often the cleaning service comes? It seems a bit messy in [room/space] sometimes.

This method will draw blame away from the people in question, and ask them how they feel about the cleanliness of the space.

After that, when you learn enough information about the cleaners, start suggesting ideas of how to help keep the space clean by "helping the cleaners", that way they won't really feel offended that you think the space is messy, but that it will be a good idea to help the cleaners and in general help each other keep the space clean. Something along the lines of this at a meeting with two or more people that you've asked about the cleaning:

Hey, I was wondering if we can help the cleaners with keeping the space cleaner? It seems that they are not able to handle all the spaces we use, so maybe we can help them out? How about this, if we can start cleaning up after ourselves, we can really keep up the space and make it look great! That will help the cleaners not feel so bad when they come! We can help keep each other accountable by gentle reminders, or emails?

Allow others to voice their opinion on what can be done, and how to keep each other accountable.

Insert any other idea you may have like a chore list, assignment list, to do list, etc.

The idea from this is to make an "invisible" entity that you can say that you want to help, rather than criticizing their inability to clean up after themselves. Positive reinforcement rather than criticism (even if it's constructive) helps in the long run and helps create better feelings towards each other, so that people don't criticize or blame others.

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    Very well put on the first sentence about asking about the cleaning service. The second sentence might need a little refining for, it sounds a tad bit passive aggressive. Maybe that same sentiment, but using different words like "the cleaning service does not come here frequent enough for them to be able to handle what we leave behind for them, maybe we should help them out by reducing their workload" or something. Keep the blame away from the coworkers at all cost. Very good answer besides. – Crazy Cucumber Feb 4 at 17:56
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EDIT : The reason why I advocate talking to the boss instead of the coworkers seemed to be unclear, so I'm editing my response to clear this up.

Personally, I wouldn't talk too much about this to my other coworkers. From what you describe, messiness is the norm in your office, people in general don't clean up after themselves. Even if some coworkers might prefer to have a cleaner work environment, you do work in an office where some people are okay leaving urine drops on the toilet seat for the next person to find. Those people won't be moved by a plea to help the cleaners out, and they probably won't like having their behavior monitored and commented on by a colleague, even in a non-accusatory way. Also, you risk being known as the one who "wants everything to be clean" instead of "the one who does kick ass analysis". If you're a woman, and are surrounded by men, sexism might even come into play. Since it is an office wide issue and there's a big chance coworkers will be annoyed by your remarks, it would be best if the incentive comes from above, your boss.

The only thing I'd might do is gently enquire around you, like in ElizB's response. If you find that some people are also bothered by the state of the office, you might go as a group to your boss. This will show your boss that this impacts a portion of the office, not just one person.

When talking to your boss, I'd focus on the state of the office, and not on the one dirtying it up :

I'd like to talk to you about our office space. I know that things getting a bit messy is normal, but from what I see our workspace can be quite unhygienic. [list examples]

Some battles you probably won't be able to (or shouldn't) fight. Some food crumbs on the balcony is normal. If you have already two baskets to recycle and people don't use them, you won't be able to force them. Even the overflowing trashcans, while disgusting, is tricky to fix1. Also, about the clogged sink, don't mention it if it has happened only one time. One time is an accident, it's not a pattern, so not a foreseeable problem. Focus on repeat offenders.

How you talk about it to your boss depends on what you know of him/her and your relationship with him/her. I'd be very candid, because I believe being kind and honest is always the best policy and is often the most effective, but I also know I can be very candid with my manager.

So, to my boss, I'd say something like this :

I'd like to talk to you about our office space. I know that things getting a bit messy is normal when you work together in one space for hours each day, but from what I see our workspace can be quite unhygienic. The sink has been clogged more than once, the toilets are often soiled with urine and the trashbins in the bathroom are often overflowing. Going to the bathroom can be quite disgusting. Also, there are dirty coffee mugs everywhere, which just gives an unhygienic feel to the whole workspace. Again, I know some of this is normal, and kitchen and bathroom etiquette are difficult things to manage in every office, but could we do something to reduce the volume and frequency of these incidents ?

With this script, I hope to convey my complaints while seeming reasonable ("I know things get dirty in offices, but we seem to get more dirty than the norm"). Also, I want to know at the end of the conversation if my boss agrees with me and plans on doing something. Because if he doesn't, you know this won't change. You have your answer.

Also, know that just because your boss agrees with you doesn't mean things will magically get better. Bathroom and kitchen etiquette are the most troublesomes to fix. The advice column Ask A Manager has a lot of posts on this subject (here's one). You'll also see in these kind of posts people's annoyance with colleagues who police their coworkers' behavior (again, why I'm for talking to the boss instead of talking to colleagues).


1Aside from asking the cleaning company to come more frequently, or assign a coworker to do this

  • While I can see how this answers the question, I can't see how this is in any scenario a better solution than the one in ElizB's answer. If everything goes well, with your suggestion, OP would end up in around the same situation as with ElizB's answer, but here I see way more factors playing in, that could lead to a undesirable outcome. I.e. the Boss' personality and their relation to OP are very important here for how applicable this would be. Could you give a bit more background on why you think this is a better solution? – dhein Feb 5 at 12:52
  • I think I explained why in the first paragraph of my response. If something is unclear, please specify. Plus, I actually answer the OP's question, which is how to have a conversation with their boss, not with their coworker. – MlleMei Feb 5 at 13:20
  • I didn't say you aren't answering the question. I just asked how the steps you advice to take result in any more favorable outcome/are any more likely(or at least equally) to lead to an desirable outcome than the already existing answers did. – dhein Feb 5 at 13:23
  • From what the OP witnessed, this is an office where messiness is the norm. People who are okay leaving urine drops on the toilet for the next person are not people who'll be moved to "help the cleaners". Also, by trying to change and monitor her coworkers's behaviors, OP risks to negatively impact her relationship with them. Nobody wants to receive a "gentle reminder" to clean up their mugs from a colleague. Since it is an office wide issue and there's a big chance coworkers will be annoyed by OP's remarks, it would be best if the incentive comes from above, and not OP. – MlleMei Feb 6 at 9:08
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    I'll edit my response since it wasn't apparently clear enough why I do believe OP is right to go to her boss directly instead of trying to handle the problem themselves. – MlleMei Feb 6 at 9:10

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