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A Messy Office Dilemma and Holiday PTO Tips

by Mary Isner / December 21, 2022

Many offices are reducing their space footprint, particularly since COVID. Employers now realize that it is just as efficient (and in many cases, more so) for employees to telework at least part of the time. But reducing space often comes with space sharing, which can cause challenges. In this installment, I offer advice on one of these challenges. I also offer pointers for taking holiday PTO, since ‘tis the season. Happy reading!

The Beyond Messy Cubicle Mate

Dear Miss Office Manners: My company recently downsized our space, and we now have cubicle sharing. Employees alternate between working from home and working in the office, which means that the same cubicle is used by different employees on different days. One of the employees I supervise, who was against this arrangement from the beginning, spent an hour yesterday complaining to HR and me about his cubicle mate. He said there is always a mess on the desk that he has to clean up. Food crumbs, personal photos and knickknacks, moldy coffee still in the mug, personal hygiene items…the list goes on and on. He said he spends the first hour of work disinfecting and housekeeping the cubicle. We cannot assign him to a new cubicle because of the way the departments are laid out. He has sent his cubicle mate emails asking her to please be respectful and to clean up before leaving for the day. He has even resorted to posting a note on the computer screen asking her to PLEASE make sure the area looks the way he left it. He is putting in a request with HR to work at home full time because he is at his wits’ end. Is there any guidance you can offer?

-- Trying to Be the Supportive Supervisor

Dear Supportive Supervisor:

My goodness…I know everyone has different levels of cleanliness, but this messy Martha is being downright inconsiderate. My first question is this: has your company conducted training on hybrid workplace expectations? While it might seem like common courtesy to leave the desk area clean and tidy, it may help to make sure everyone’s on the same page about how the space is to be used and left each day. If expectations have already been clearly communicated, it sounds like HR needs to step in to address this situation ASAP. It is unfair that anyone should have to come into work and deal with this first thing. Plus, what you are describing sounds like it might be a health hazard. I would arrange a meeting between your fed-up employee and HR so you can help explain the severity of the situation and the steps that have already been taken to resolve it. At this point, it seems like HR needs to take action and meet with Messy Martha. Once the ball is in HR’s court, you can offer support by continuing to advocate for your employee and by perhaps allowing an alternate work arrangement until the situation is resolved.  

Holiday PTO Pointers

Dear Miss Office Manners: My company has a “use it or lose it” leave policy, so I am taking a lot of PTO to close out this year. Any tips so that I don’t come back to a mountain of work like I have every other year in the past?

-- Holiday Time  

Dear Holiday Time:

Here are my tips:

  • Wrap up as much of your work as possible prior to heading out the door. This is pretty self-explanatory, but many people start to check out mentally before officially clocking out for the year. This can cause work to pile up at the beginning of the year. Stay focused to get as much work done as possible before you head out for the year. If you need to put in an extra hour or so to tie up loose ends, this may be in your best interest as it will likely result in a more reasonable workload when you come back after the holidays.
  • Give others plenty of advance notice of your PTO. Let those you work closely with know that you will be taking time off. People are often so heads down in their own work that they don’t stop to think in advance about other people’s schedules. Make sure you provide enough time to coordinate on work or to answer any questions as needed. This will also help you enjoy your time off without interruptions.
  • Set an away message detailing the length of your PTO. If possible, direct people to a coworker who may be able to help during the time you’re out of the office.
  • Next year, plan ahead. If this happens to you every year and causes a stressful start of the new year, try to spread your PTO out throughout the year, and plan fewer days out of the office near the end. I realize this is not always possible, so it depends on your unique needs. But I have found that the last week of the year is one of the most productive weeks because so many people are out of the office, and it is much easier to stay focused. It’s really a great time to get work done!

Hope these tips help. Happy holidays to you!

I hope you have found this week’s tips both helpful and enjoyable. Here’s wishing everyone a productive and healthy work environment. Be safe and well, everyone!

Tags: Office Manners

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Mary Isner

Mary Isner

Mary has a master’s degree in public administration and has worked as a facility planning analyst for Fentress since 2003. In her free time, she enjoys baking, decorating, and spending time with her family.