45

A few days ago, all my co-workers on our floor and I received an invitation for a full-scale office cleaning event that will happen on Friday afternoon.

The event includes cleaning up desks and tables, sorting/throwing away old tech stuff that we don't use anymore, taking care of and buying new plants for the office and more. The head of the office also promised free snacks, burgers, beer and great music to help us clean. Since our office has quite flexible working hours, for some (~50%) of us the event is outside our working hours, including me. The invitation didn't specify whether the event is mandatory or optional.

Now, it is possible for me to make adjustments to my typical Friday schedule, and include this cleaning in my working hours (by coming to the office 2 hours later in the morning). However, I would rather focus on my hobbies, education or whatever is important in my life at the moment on Friday afternoon. Also cleaning in general is not something that I like, and I don't think our office necessarily needs it. I also double checked my contract and I couldn't find anything related to the cleaning in the list of my responsibilities.

While I am extremely happy with the job, the flexibility it offers and my manager, I am worried that the company is using us as a free workforce. I am quite sure the company will not come to my apartment on Friday afternoon and help me with cleaning. On the other hand, I understand that being professional includes team-bonding exercises from time to time, and this might be one of them(?).

The situation is set in Scandinavia, mid-sized company and my position is software developer.

Asking for a friend.

  • 37
    Have you asked them whether these are paid hours? You seem to be making a lot of assumptions about their intentions. – Erik Apr 7 at 18:04
  • 8
    "set in Scandinavia"... looks at nick: "kukis"... hmmm – pipe Apr 7 at 21:50
  • 1
    The invitation didn't specify whether the event is mandatory or optional. Then why are you assuming it's optional? Is it the default assumption that any invite that doesn't specify is optional? – BSMP Apr 8 at 3:45
  • 5
    So on that one day - adjust your hours so that the cleaning event IS within your work hours. Problem solved; because you're no longer a free workforce? – UKMonkey Apr 8 at 9:11
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    @Erik even if it is paid, it's not a task that appears in the contract – Pierre Arlaud Apr 8 at 12:48
178

Go.

Or rather:

Go if everyone else is going.

Do the cleaning. Be part of the team. Have a say in whether things that are yours get thrown out or kept. Have a say on what gets added to the office. Be part of the team.

Comparing it to cleaning your apartment isn't fair. Your team doesn't use your apartment. You do use your office. It is two hours. The visibility of which will make you look good. The refusal of which can make you look bad. Especially if you are one of the few or only people not there. Then it will show you aren't willing to pitch in with the rest of the team.

Is it a team-building excersize? No. It's an office cleaning. Will it lead to some level of team-building? Yes. So just go.

Most of us hate cleaning. Sometimes we do it anyway.

  • 46
    +1 for the footnote – PM 77-1 Apr 7 at 18:45
  • 30
    Worth noting that this seems to be a rare event, not something that happens every week. That is one feature that distinguishes it from just milking employees for free work. It's just something that needs to get done. If the invite were recurring every week, a very different answer might be suitable. – jpmc26 Apr 7 at 23:04
  • 15
    I agree with this answer. I think that the OP's statement 'The event includes cleaning up desks and tables, sorting/throwing away old tech stuff that we don't use anymore,' introduces a complication that makes this different from the ordinary housekeeping that goes on in an office. The OP can't expect ordinary janitorial staff to make decisions about "old tech stuff". That's got to be done by the IT staff. – Charles E. Grant Apr 8 at 0:23
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    Indeed, since it sounds like this process will involve decision-making, rather than just ordinary janitorial work, you may want to be there to help make those decisions, or you may not like the results. You wouldn't want the team to throw something away you want to keep, or worse, to suddenly decide that "cleaning up desks and tables" means relocating your workspace without your involvement. Since the office is a place you spend a lot of time, it's in your interest to be there whenever the team is making decisions about the space. – Zach Lipton Apr 8 at 3:10
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    I don't think employers should ever rely on peer pressure to set up unpaid events outside of regular hours, no matter the intentions or the frequency. It's kind of a dick move because they know they're imposing this trade-off on you. If the event was truly optional, no one might show up. I agree it's in OP's best interest to just bite the bullet this time, but he really shouldn't have to. Bad marks for the employer who set this up without consulting the staff beforehand. – Lawyerson Apr 8 at 8:14
42

TL;DR

Go

Long version

At my company (~25 people, located in Germany), we're doing this once a year. It usually takes place on a Friday after lunch (during office hours, approximately ~2 hours). It's a lot of fun for everybody involved and a great opportunity for team building. Also, my boss participates himself.

Think about it this way: what's the worst that could happen to you? You could spend 2 hours doing something you don't like (cleaning) with people you do like (or at least respect). There are worse ways to spend your time.

(In case you're wondering: yes, I dislike cleaning very much)

  • Interesting. Is it labeled as a legitimate cleaning activity or more of a team building one? If it's the former, then an office surely requires more frequent cleaning than once a year, and if it's the latter then there are far better and more fun team building activities. – Egor Apr 7 at 23:33
  • 5
    @Egor clean up != tidy up. Cleaning personel could clean the office more often. But tidying up once a year could suffice. (sorting the books, shelves, desk, etc..). I think the goal is not team-building, but it is a side effect of doing something together. – Mixxiphoid Apr 8 at 5:14
  • 3
    We've got a regular cleaning crew that comes in once or twice per week. – Frank Schmitt Apr 8 at 6:40
21

Go even if not everyone else is going.

If it turns out I'm wrong, going once won't hurt your career, even if you don't get paid for it. You could even leverage a non-productive unpaid office cleaning exercise as an example of why you are in the future as careful about always getting paid as some feel people should be.

The people most integrated to the team will be going, unless they're otherwise unable to go. That likely includes the effective team leader, whether or not that's your manager. And it's team-building for everyone who does go.

We had an event like this at my first career job. This was, admittedly, in the US (Texas), and I was working for a contracting company, and this was at the contracting company office, rather than where I worked.

I expected it to be a team-building event. Two people showed up for it. I expected my manager to show up, at least, since he'd been the one to invite everybody. He wasn't there. The woman who was the other person to show up wasn't somebody I even recognized, but she somehow knew me, at least by name and contract.

She explained why three people weren't there. One of them was a sales manager, but the other two were just people I vaguely recognized as office staff. After waiting a bit longer, she said she guessed it would just be us, and we got to work.

She and the other three people she mentioned turned out to be the driving force of the office. She was the office manager, and one of the other people was the HR person I hadn't already met. Partially because I went there and gave it my best, and continued to be involved in things like that, I never needed to worry about having a contract, because the people who mattered knew me, and if I was an option for a contract, I was one of the first people they considered for it.

Also, while I wasn't interested in management positions (I was well aware I lacked the people skills to be able to do that), I was considered for them briefly several times, and most of the people I knew who rose quickly through the ranks at that company went to those events.

That particular company had a lot of optional events to go to that you could use to impress the people in charge, so there were other ways to make such impressions. But if you want to convince your office team that you care about the company and the work environment, there may not be a better way to convey that than going to this thing, because almost nobody likes to clean.

Furthermore, if you don't go, then you don't get to be the one to clean your workspace, which means you have no say in how your workspace is cleaned.

That having been said, I also strongly recommend that you talk with your boss about how the work for that will be compensated. That was a thing that I had failed to do, as I come from a workaholic family, and I was more concerned about making an impression about being a hard worker than I was for getting paid for every second.

But my manager called me after I turned in my next timesheet, confirmed that I had gone to the event, and reprimanded me for failing to fill out my timesheet correctly, and for having gone over on time for the week without approval. These things were considered important. It was certainly better for me to have gone even without having gotten the timesheet business right, but it would've been better if I'd have gotten that right, too.

If this office cleaning day is at the customer office rather than your employer's office, and your customer boss says it's unpaid time, double-check with your employer boss before going to this event.

Different companies are different, so rather than assume the company is a certain way, you should ask.

Note: Depending on who exactly is in your office, it may not be nearly as important career-wise as the event that I'd gone to turned out to have been for mine. But it's still team-building that's most likely with some of the most influential people in the office, and it's likely to get the notice of people that matter.

Of course, that's only helpful if you actually do a good job. At one of the later office cleaning events I went to, an individual performed in a way that inspired my comment about the importance of having a say in how your workspace is cleaned. That particular individual managed to influence himself out of a job.

12

Correct me if I am assuming wrong but I feel you think cleaning out desks is a janitor's job. And by making you do it, you feel it's free-loading. An office janitor is for cleaning the office floors & toilets & taking out your trash. He can't clean your desk as he wouldn't know what is unimportant.

You say this cleaning drive is for removing unimportant & useless things piled up on office desk & buying new stuff if required & redecorating the office space. Nobody other than you knows what's useless on/in your desk. One spends most of their time of day in office, so redecorating it does concern & affect you.

You are not getting paid in money but there is free food and beer. So the office management isn't strictly free-loading.

If you don't go, it shows that you don't care about office space & your co-workers outside your written work contract. Which is fine if you don't need their help in the future. They are not obligated to help you outside of their written work contract.

Standing out from a group only matters if its about ethics or morality. For anything else, it looks petty & arrogant.

TL; DR; GO

  • 2
    Last paragraph deserves another +1 :) but I'd be careful with the choice of words as they may be really strong ("arrogant"), "not concerned" could be a big deal though. – OldPadawan Apr 8 at 7:10
10

The first thing you need to realize is that this is not "cleaning" in the sense that you seem to be applying.

Generally, "cleaning" an office consists of functions such as vacuuming carpets, emptying wastebaskets, cleaning windows, etc. Or, in other words, janitorial services.

The activities which you have described (apart from the plant part) really require the participation of the office inhabitants, since tossing stuff out really does require a knowledge of what can be tossed.

With that said, any activity (other than parties) which takes place at your place of work and which affects the operation of the business really ought to be paid. So, you probably don't have to go. Just be aware that if you don't and something you need gets trashed, you are going to have very little grounds for complaint. Since you have flexible hours, "choose" to schedule your hours so that you are being paid for "cleaning".

6

If it's in "working hours"

You should go.

There are, however, a couple of caveats:

  • If it's in "normal" working hours (i.e. some weekday between, say, 9 AM and 5 PM), but outside your working hours, you should still go (and move your hours appropriately).

    If your hours are written in your contract (as opposed to just being a perk at the company's discretion), you may have a stronger case for not going, but I'd still recommend going.

  • If you already have other concrete plans (which doesn't seem to apply here), it's reasonable to decline the invitation. In this case, I would advise simply apologising and saying you already made other plans, without going into details. This would also apply if it's in your regular working hours but you've already put in leave for that day.

  • If they are just looking for a small number of volunteers instead of everyone, you could still go, but I wouldn't feel compelled to do so.

If it's outside working hours

You should go if most other people are going.

A similar caveat as above applies to already having plans.

How do you find out who else is going?

  • Look at how the invitation is presented. If they ask for "couple of volunteers", that's probably a good sign that the majority of people won't be going.
  • Check RSVP's, if possible. If the invitation is via Google Calendar, for example, you can see who is and isn't attending.
  • Ask around. Simple ask some coworkers "hey, are you going to the office cleaning [this Friday]?" in some informal setting.

Final notes

Important deadlines should be given higher priority. I'd say you shouldn't attend this if it would cause you to miss a deadline (or you have to work overtime to make up for it). Although if the deadline is more than a week from now, that wouldn't really be a reason to not attend.

Them asking you to do this isn't all that different from them just asking you to do whatever you do in day-to-day in your job (or attend a team-building, if you wish), so you could apply here whatever arguments you'd use for them asking you to attend a meeting or whatever instead at the given time. Related: How do I decline responsibilities that go beyond what's stated in my job description?

If in doubt, you should go. It is better to be the only person (or one of few people) to show up than the only person who didn't.

Going might allow for some networking to help you get ahead in your career, so you should go regardless of any of the above if that's particularly important to you.

5

You've described it as a general office activity using paid time and with a "party" atmosphere, including food and music. Sure, tidying up the supply closet and purging abandoned science experiments from the shared fridge aren't normal duties for software developers, but you have nothing to lose and quite a bit to gain by being part of the team. Other people have already said all that, but there's an additional factor: you said this is happening in Scandinavia.

I don't know if this is true for all of Scandinavia, but Norway at least has a long tradition of the dugnad, and it sounds like that's what's happening here. A dugnad is a community cleanup/improvement effort -- cleaning up the park, getting the school building ready for the new session, planting gardens, and so on. An article from Life in Norway describes the dugnad as part of the community contract:

I learnt about the dugnad quite early on in my Norwegian indoctrination. It was during my Norwegian language course in the beloved “På Vei” text book. The story was about a family who were new to Norway. They had recently moved to a block of flats and were invited to come along to the dugnad. The moral of the story was that dugnads are important and everyone participates. This, I can tell you, is true to the experience I have had so far.

In Aftenposten this weekend, I read an article by Hadia Tajik (the deputy leader of the Norwegian Labour Party) about the hot topic of immigration to Norway and she sums up the “Norwegian community contract” as: first do your duty then claim your rights, in that order. The dugnad embodies the first part: duty.

  • 1
    @Tinkeringbell thanks -- not sure how that happened (the letters aren't even close!), and Firefox was going to underline it in red either way so I didn't notice. Fixed now. – Monica Cellio Apr 8 at 16:10
4

While I am extremely happy with the job, the flexibility it offers and my manager, I am worried that the company is using us as a free workforce.

I am always surprised by people who work for companies which are flexible aren't willing to be flexible in return.

At least make an effort in changing your (work) schedule so that those cleaning hours in your X hours/week you're making. Start later that day or leave earlier some other day. If the invitation came late, and you already have other plans which are hard to change, then be open about it, say that the lead time is too short to change your schedule, but that you'll try to be part of this a next time.

Going will create goodwill. Ranking up goodwill will not hurt.

  • I certainly would not hire the OP for his inflexibility. People that see everything in black and white are usually trouble. – Jack Apr 8 at 11:28
3

Well I will try to give another perspective.

Where I work we have cleaning personnel that among other things are supposed to clean the desks. Some time ago they tried to "clean" the keyboards. I knew as I saw on my Java IDE a string of gibberish. Thankfully typing rm -rf / and enter is not easy with a random continuous cloth movement. Or at least it requires skill. Now I have a look around me and after filtering out the things that I will take after I leave, I have the following on my desk:

  • 2 desktops
  • 2 keyboards and 2 mice
  • cups used and unused (and mind you! don't you throw away my used cups because I collect them for recycling)
  • 2 notepads
  • some "stray" notes
  • a spare pack of A4 (walking to other side of the corridor is too much...)
  • a plant (no not me)
  • a paper rack and
  • a badminton racket.

How can I expect the cleaning people to clean the desk without messing with what I consider "my space"???

I can't and that's why once in a while I do it myself, without music, beer and burgers. It doesn't take that long (unless you let tons of stuff pile up) to justify 2 hours plus beer and burgers. The timing (Friday evening) plus the goodies sound to me like a "relax Friday" event on company's dime, but do something useful as well. I (like many others) say go. Just try not to make a mess with the beer and the burgers as it defeats the purpose. :)

But also make sure that you go for the right reasons. It's another thing to think that "you are used as free workforce" and another thing to think "damn why do I have to tolerate X guy's or Y gall's face for Friday evening?". All I'm saying is if the atmosphere in the company is good, the whole setup sounds like you will have a good time and a slightly healthier workplace after.

Caveat #1 I do my cleaning on working hours, but as I said it's a short task, maximum 20 minutes.

Caveat #2 You said desk cleaning and throwing away unused things. Carpet vacuuming, floor mopping, furniture moving are not included and are part of a different story.

  • I knew as I saw on my Java IDE a string of gibberish. You are away from your desk without locking your computer? – Abigail Apr 8 at 19:23
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    @Abigail good observation. Yes and no! That's a lobotomized Linux machine cut from the rest of the world. We rarely lock them. My Windows machine is another story. Win + L is a second nature before I leave my desk. – Stelios Adamantidis Apr 8 at 19:48

protected by mcknz Apr 13 at 15:17

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