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Management: Dealing With The Office Fridge, Part 1: Keeping It Clean
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Management: Dealing With The Office Fridge, Part 1: Keeping It Clean - Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Dealing With The Office Fridge, Part 1: Keeping It Clean

Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Dealing With The Office Fridge, Part 1: Keeping It Clean

It can turn friends into foes, lunchtime into stress time, and the breakroom into the schoolyard, and just about every workplace has one. It’s the office fridge, and few pieces of office equipment cause more stress, conflict, and revulsion. Since the space belongs to everyone, it tends to be nobody’s responsibility unless someone in the org chart has “fridge monitor” written into his or her job description. This often results in forgotten remnants of meals past, sometimes as many layers deep as the ancient city of Troy. In many offices, just opening the refrigerator door for a few seconds can cause cubicles within a fifty-foot radius to echo with the sound of gasping and retching. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and a nicer communal refrigerator can be had with just a few adjustments.

Every office has someone with a servant’s heart, that member of the team who brings St. Patrick’s Day cupcakes just to see the smiles on people’s faces, the one who washes everyone’s empty food containers after the Thanksgiving potluck, the one who chips in a few extra bucks on the restaurant bill to cover for those who round down (you know who we’re talking about). This is your new fridge cleaner.

It’s important to understand where this person’s motivation is, because if you offer extra pay or some other reward, you’re less likely to get him or her to agree. Your office giver is someone who understands where a need is, who gets satisfaction only from knowing that the need has been met. Your fridge monitor may appreciate being thanked publicly, but he or she may just as likely prefer that nobody make a big deal out of it. The key is to communicate how grateful everyone will be, whether the rest of the office denizens are vocal in their thanks or not.

It goes against a lot of office culture to assume there is someone in the company who wants to take on this disgusting, menial task, but that person is there. Send an email asking for volunteers, promising no reward except the gratitude of everyone else, and someone will eventually respond. It may take a few public requests for service, but eventually someone will step forward.

When someone does, let him or her decide on the terms, as in how often the fridge will be cleaned, what the KEEP criteria will be, and what the TOSS criteria will be. But do offer a few suggestions, encouraging him or her to go for the burned-to-the-ground approach, tossing everything that’s a maybe, because “maybe someone will need that mayo” is the attitude that got your fridge where it is today. Offering everyone in the office fair warning (“put your name on it or lose it by Friday”) gives the fridge cleaner the freedom to make every call in favor of the dumpster.

Be warned that once a fridge cleaner has been found, he or she may become possessive of the job (as in, nobody cleans this fridge but me) or of the fridge (as in, don’t leave that there; I worked really hard to clean this fridge!). You certainly don’t want someone to become overly territorial over what’s meant to be shared space, but allow some leeway here if you want your volunteer to stick with it. If things get a little tense, privately remind your fridge cleaner that he or she is doing an insanely important task, but if there’s no joy in it, he or she should probably let someone else give it a shot.

If somehow there’s nobody in the fold willing to take arms with some extra-strength cleaner and a damp sponge in the name of camaraderie, one new rule could save you a lot of the hassle: at the end of the day Friday, everything goes. A gentle reminder to all stakeholders that the fridge is there to hold a day’s lunch, and not to be long-term storage for personal condiments, ingredients, or science fair projects can be all the regulation your office needs. That locker you rent at the mall is there to allow freedom of movement while you’re still shopping; you don’t leave your belongings there forever just to have them available the next time you cruise the mall. Similarly, the office fridge is a day-by-day convenience. Encourage everyone to remove all their stuff daily, and no later than Friday for sure, and everyone comes to the office Monday with a fresh, clean space for staring again.


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Management: Dealing With The Office Fridge, Part 1: Keeping It Clean - Executive Leadership Articles

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