Addressing Food Hygiene Issues with a New Employee

Q: I work in a small office of smart professionals. Most of my colleagues are respectful and likable. We just hired our tenth employee and the early signs are discouraging. We never had a problem with people picking up after themselves in the kitchen and she will leave her dirty dishes there for days. She will not make a new pot of coffee when she has drained the last one. Her cubicle is already filled with food items, including old bags of popcorn. We have a pregnant colleague who has to leave the office if our newcomer uses the microwave to cook her fish. At times, we have clients in our office. I cringe thinking about having to explain the odors. I hate having to deal with this. She is ruining our formerly harmonious office environment!

A: Sometimes basic manners are assumed. However, the lack of such manners creates friction, especially when historically there has been a positive and clean work environment.

My advice: nip it in the bud before she assumes her behavior is acceptable. I have clients who leave notes above the sink “Dirty dishes will be deposited in the trash if still in the sink at 5pm.” Or “Make a new pot of coffee if you pour the last cup.” However, I prefer the more direct approach. “Sarah, since you started working here, our kitchen area seems to have suffered. Can you clean your dirty dishes and also make a new pot of coffee if you finish the last one?” If a few colleagues mention these issues, you may see an improvement. Plus, she is creating a perfect environment for vermin, rodents, ants, oh yuck. Her manager should have a talk with her about her office too. Once you start attracting critters, it becomes a challenge to have them look elsewhere for food.

Your pregnant colleague should not have to leave the office either! Mention to “Sarah” that foods that produce strong odors should probably not be brought to the office. A fishy smell can travel. It would not make a great impression if a client walked in.

If your new colleague hears this feedback from several sources, she may realize that she is not earning any respect from her colleagues on the food hygiene front!

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.