How to Get Co-Workers to Clean up a Kitchen or Messy Break Room

How to Get Co-Workers to Clean up a Kitchen or Messy Break Room
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The Setting: The Office Kitchen Destroyed by a Mess

Let me paint a picture for you. There is a foul and mysterious oder emitting from the office breakroom. Upon entering, the first thing you notice is a sink piled high with dishes. The trash bin is overflowing, and there are food stains on the wall behind it. The refrigerator is crammed full of unmarked and questionable food. The microwave has splatters in it. Some mysterious substance that is both sticky and stinky is painting the surfaces. There you are, completely disgusted by the site you see, with thirty minutes to the end of your lunch period, four hours to go before you get to go home, and no appetite.

What are you to do in this situation - your co-workers are messy. There’s nothing much worse than coming into this scene than trying to figure out how to get co-workers to clean up kitchen messes. Luckily, there are some tricks to get a little more order and a lot less mess in your office life.

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1. Make it a Food Safety Issue

Before you dig in and start scrubbing, cleaning other’s messes, make sure you point out how it is that dirty kitchens can harbor bad bacteria. For some people, this will be enough. If you focus on food safety issues and proper sanitization, you will help to answer the question, “Why should I care?” that some of your coworkers will certainly ask. By pointing out that a clean office kitchen isn’t just a matter of aesthetics, but that it’s also a matter of health, you can motivate others to care about their environment. For some people, the visual aspects of a mess doesn’t bother them at all, but they may be concerned about sanitation.

2. Make Sure Everyone Knows What to Do

Not everyone received a domestic education while at home. For some people, they have never been taught how to clean (or they expect that someone else will clean for them). Organize a kitchen sanitization meeting where all employees are trained on how to properly care for their eating space. Demonstrate how to disinfect the kitchen and the steps necessary. Make sure to post the list of things to do to keep the kitchen clean on the wall where everyone can see it.

3. Create a Kitchen Cleaning Schedule

Each day, someone should be responsible for ensuring that the office kitchen or break room is clean. Sure, you might get some groans, but if everyone gets a turn, then if the kitchen isn’t cleaned one day, you will know who is responsible, and the person who has to clean the kitchen the next day will put the pressure on. By assigning responsibilities, you will keep people from having that ambiguous attitude towards kitchen duty - and because everyone gets a turn at cleaning the kitchen, they will be less likely to leave a mess out of empathy with the person whose responsibility it is to clean that day.

4. Anticipate the Person Who Can’t or Won’t Clean

Every office has the mess-maker. That person, who whenever it’s his or her responsibility to clean will say “I forgot” or “I didn’t have time.” Anticipate this! Have consequences for repeatedly shirking on kitchen duty. For example, if someone misses kitchen-cleaning duty three times, then maybe he or she loses kitchen privileges for a week. By anticipating this person, you can help keep the kitchen clean (and ease the burdon on other co-workers).