I have enough problems at home with fridge wars but the office kitchen has also become a bit of a battleground. As we return to work the Story of ‘who stole the shrimp fried rice’ may still be resounding with us. The amusing whodunit shared by comedian Zak Toscani was a light-hearted look at an alleged lunch theft where he works. But it turns out that the theft of lunches and abuse of the office kitchen is a general workplace problem. The most horrifying tale I have ever heard is the story of an employee who put the toilet brush in the dishwasher! So office kitchen etiquette is not always a laughing matter and here’s how we can tackle it.
In Toscani’s tale of woe, he reported ‘Co-worker got his lunch stolen and they’ve agreed to let him watch the security camera tape. This is the most excited I’ve ever been at any job ever’. It transpires that the video shows a female colleague throwing the food in the bin. Later she denies taking the lunch. So we know who did it, but we don’t understand why. Maybe it smelt?
Now as it happens lunch bandits are an epidemic. According to a survey by online grocer Peapod ‘71% of employees have had their snack, drink or meal stolen out of communal-office kitchens. Not only that but in urban areas, 40% of employees admitted to having been the perpetrators of lunch theft.’ The survey did not look at those who simply threw away somebody else’s lunch, perhaps because it smelled.
Smelly food is an office issue, along with the dirty microwave and dishes left to magically put themselves in the dishwasher, without the toilet brush we hope. So, here’s a guide to help resolve office kitchen wars.
Kitchen Do’s and Don’ts
Label your food and drink to avoid confusion. One carton of milk looks very much like another.
Don’t leave food in the fridge for too long. Chances are it looks abandoned and free game. But with a label on it, the kitchen bandit will know they are stealing from a person.
Avoid signs about washing up and cleaning the microwave. As a Consultant, I visited so many offices with worn out notices about washing up. They just become part of the scenery, and for some colleagues, it might encourage their behaviour.
Talk to colleagues about your missing food, smelly food, splattered microwaves or not washing up. But be polite. The aim is to stop the food bandit ‘inadvertently’ eating your food, to prevent odours permeating the office all afternoon or not feeling saddled with cleaning up after kitchen bandits. So, don’t accuse people always ask first unless you catch them red-handed. In which case, be gracious!
With the best will in the world, there may be serial offenders. That is when it is time to raise it in a team meeting (as a general and not a personal issue) or with line managers and Human Resources where necessary.
We are sharing more open workspaces, so these issues are increasingly important. Keep your manner professional and non-accusatory and keep the peace.