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Advice For the Workplace: Not My Dishes

Questions and answers on navigating the workplace in the age of emojis.

Welcome to ????, a blog about the everyday trials of the workplace. Here goes.

Dear 100: What do you do about co-workers who leave dirty dishes in the communal kitchen? Passive aggressive office-wide emails are not getting the job done! –Full Plate

Full Plate, ??? This is a question as old as dishes themselves. There was a period of brief respite from other people’s cutlery when “disposable” was more fashionable than “compostable” or even “reusable,” but here we are again: enlightened, earth-conscious, and surrounded by other people’s soiled tupperware. ??✨

First, some things you absolutely should not do: write any more passive aggressive office-wide emails, hang signs above the sink to the same effect, wash other people’s dishes and then moan loudly about it. These are unlikely to change behavior. They are also annoying.

Some suggestions:

  • A kitchen without a dishwasher is like someone asking if they can bring dessert to your dinner party and then showing up with angel food cake. What the heck? I hope your office has one. If they do, I’d suggest a rota whereby one person is responsible for flipping the thing on before they leave for the day and emptying it when they get in the next morning for a full work week. Responsibility is concentrated and brief; accountability is similarly easy.
  • Without a dishwasher, you and your plates are basically existent in a State of Nature. The only way out is to contract with others and consent to rule by an absolute Sovereign–in this case, a kitchen czar. This could be a rotating or permanent role, but the gist is: everyone is responsible for their own dishes, but the czar is ultimately responsible for the state of the kitchen. This discourages bad behavior by identifying a clear victim–I’m not going to leave my soup-stained soup mug to (indefinitely) soak, if I know that Karen from Payroll has to clean it. Will free riders continue to plague the kitchen? Of course. But at least the harms will be diffuse and not continually falling on the shoulders of the most fastidious, which I suspect is you, Full Plate. ⚖️✔️

I understand if you’re thinking: “Are you serious? Aren’t we too old for this? Everyone should just clean up their own shit.” I agree. They should, but they don’t. This where we go next.

Have a question about workplace etiquette for 100 Sunglasses Dolphins Hairdo? Email awhiting@washingtonian.com.

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Contributing Editor

Amanda joined Washingtonian in January 2016. She has written about Maryland brewery Flying Dog’s First Amendment fight, pored over Hillary Clinton’s emails, and come clean about owning too much stuff. She lives on H Street. She can be reached at [email protected]