Office Etiquette: How to Survive a Workplace Kitchen Dispute

Some workers can’t stand a dirty kitchen and will follow the rules to keep it clean. Others don’t mind and will fail to observe office etiquette when it comes to the kitchen, much to the annoyance of those who do try to keep it clean. This annoyance can fester and, eventually, could spill over into other areas of the company’s operations if you don’t address them. If you’re an HR manager with a kitchen dispute on your hands, here’s how to handle the situation:

Consider the company culture

What kind of culture is there at the company? Is there an emphasis on people working together as a unit, on being part of a community? If so, then it’s all about harmony and getting on together as one. Is the culture more individualist — the type that places an emphasis on personal achievement? Identifying the culture will help you to adopt the right approach.

Identify a common interest

In this case, the common interest is ‘a clean, healthy workplace’, which benefits the employer and the employees. No one wants to get sick and be off work because of a germ they caught in the workplace itself — and once they’re back to good health again, they might not want to continue working there. Keeping the workplace clean, in general, is a good way to retain staff.

Communicate this common interest to the employees

Educate the employees in the importance of a clean kitchen. Hold a seminar on clean kitchens versus dirty ones. Let the employees know there is a ‘clean kitchen’ rule and routine by advising them of this in regular emails. Post notices in the kitchen. There may be employees who genuinely don’t know about the system, but after you’ve sent out your email or posted your notice, no one will be able to feign ignorance.

Look after the kitchen as a unit

There’s no need for the HR manager to become an enforcer type who everyone hates and makes sure all the rest obey the rules of the kitchen. Instead, let the employees of the company create their own rules for keeping the kitchen clean. Create a ‘committee’ to monitor the kitchen and keep everything in check. Appoint some ambassadors among the employees to inspect the kitchen regularly. This encourages a spirit of cooperation and avoids singling out one person as the enforcer.

Don’t let a kitchen dispute get out of hand. Resolve the conflict with the approach above. The workplace can then go back to being a happy one which encourages harmony between workers rather than allow underlying kitchen-based tensions to fester beneath the surface and affect how employees work and interact with each other.

By Peter Jenkins