A co-worker’s extremely messy office has become a standing joke, but it’s really not funny at all.

Share story

Q: I have an intelligent, professional co-worker whose office looks like a pigsty. “Mark” must be some sort of hoarder because he never throws anything away. Stacks of paper cover his desk, and documents are haphazardly strewn across the floor. Plastic food containers and dirty utensils are everywhere.

Although Mark’s office has become a standing joke, it’s really not funny at all. Mark is never able to find information when we need it, and the clutter gives visitors a bad impression of our business. His office is like an obscene gesture to everyone who works here.

Our supervisor is located in a different building, so he isn’t around very often. We’ve mentioned our concerns to Mark, but he doesn’t seem to care. What can we do about this?

A: Office hoarders seldom reform without a clear directive from management. Because your supervisor only visits occasionally, his reaction to Mark’s mess may simply be due to it being out of sight, out of mind. But since the rest of you encounter this chaos on a daily basis, you must help your boss understand the problem.

For example: “We need your help because Mark’s office has become a serious issue. He can’t find important information, and the clutter makes a very negative impression on visitors. His old food containers are disgusting and unsanitary. Mark won’t change unless management insists, so we would like you to talk with him.”

With any luck, your boss will wise up and begin some serious performance coaching. This means establishing firm expectations, following up to be sure they are met, and imposing consequences if the problem continues. But if your supervisor wimps out, the only remaining option might be a group intervention. Or perhaps a group cleanup.

Looking for a bully-free workplace

Q: I recently left my very first job because I was a victim of workplace bullying. Other employees gossiped about me, and I was teased and ridiculed excessively. After awhile, even my closest co-workers became involved. Eventually, my supervisor, her boss, and the executive director all began acting like bullies.

With the entire organization lined up against me, things seemed to be spiraling out of control. I dreaded going to work every day because I was constantly humiliated by everyone around me. Now that I’m looking for another job, how can I keep this from happening again?

A: Genuine workplace bullying is a serious issue. However, the determination of “bullying” can be complicated, because it’s often a matter of perception. Since the circumstances you describe are both unusual and extreme, involving literally everyone with whom you worked, there are two possible explanations.

First, perhaps you unwittingly wandered into an occupational hellhole where perceived misfits are mercilessly tormented. That would actually be good news, because you are unlikely to encounter such an exceptionally evil environment ever again.

On the other hand, since this is your first job, you might be overreacting to relatively normal workplace interactions. If that’s the problem, you will soon find out, because the pattern will repeat. So if your next position presents similar challenges, you should consider talking with a professional career counselor.

Submit questions to Marie G. McIntyre at yourofficecoach.com.