At work, the lunch or breakroom is often a place to mingle or hide out during breaks. Sometimes, though, it can be a place of crime. Crime in the workplace? Oh yes. As an etiquette consultant, one of the most common workplace complaints I hear concerns the lunch thief. Thievery isn’t the only breakroom complaints however. Therefore, I’ve developed a few tools to deal with this diverse group of breakroom irritants and offenders.
What causes some employees to exhibit such poor behavior?
When frustrated with coworkers, many will come to me with their workplace stories and questions. The first question is usually about why their coworkers would steal their lunch or fish smelly in the microwave. My answer is simple: Most forget that the workplace is a shared space, so they become too comfortable and forget to use their best manners. Additionally, many these days have an air of entitlement, as if everything around them is theirs–so impolite and so unfortunate.
If I witness a theft, what do I do? Talk to the employee or go to the manager?
If witnessing theft, even of someone’s lunch, most often it’s best to report it. However, it depends on the workplace. If you know the person well, you could jokingly mention that you witnessed something that appeared like he or she was very hungry. Most often, though, it is best not to talk directly to the person. He could become defensive or angry and may retaliate. It is the manager’s job to handle issues such as this anyway.
When reporting this type of behavior, it is best to avoid mentioning names. Just mention that there is a problem and that it may be best to address it. Often an office-wide email does the trick.
Fish in the microwave and other smelly issues.
Odoriferous in nature, this breakroom offender forgets that smells travel far in the workplace. He brings fish, garlicky dishes or something equally smelly for lunch and broadcasts the aromas by warming it in the microwave. His burned microwave popcorn is similarly pungent. What can we do about it?
Seek clearly written policy from management. The entire staff should receive a copy of the policy so all understand taboo lunchroom food items.
There’s a hog in the breakroom and she doesn’t clean up after herself!
This offender does not like to share. She brings in oversized lunchboxes leaving little room for others. Many times this person leaves takeout boxes in the fridge and frozen lunches in the freezer and never retrieves them. Of course, this person is the same one who never cleans up after herself. Besides screaming incoherently in anger, what is the best solution?
Again, it is best to seek clearly written policy from management. It is most helpful for the policy to be presented to the entire staff during a meeting. During the meeting, all could define what the breakroom tasks are and how to share the various duties.
Do (s) and Don’t (s)
- Pursue office policy about cleanliness and theft in the breakroom.
- If witness to a theft in the breakroom, discuss it with management without mentioning the offender’s name.
- Don’t steal others’ food.
- Don’t bring smelly lunches.
- Don’t burn microwave popcorn.
- Don’t hog the refrigerator space.
- Clean up after yourself.
- Monitor your behavior; don’t make others do it for you.
- If you are the boss, create rules for breakroom behavior.
More by Rebecca
Office Etiquette 101: How to Deal with Irritating, Loud, Sick and Clueless Coworkers
How-To Become a Valuable Employee and Wow the Boss