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I worked at my company for 6 years now. When I go out to lunch, I typically leave my office lights on. They remain on when I come back. Recently I came back from lunch to find my office lights turned off. Is someone trying to tell me something I thought? I don't know. But oh well, back to work.

Today this happened again, so it was not an accident the first time. It is not related to saving electricity because if it was, there'd be a company-wide message, and someone would come and address me directly.

With company culture it seems like it is acceptable to turn lights off in someone's else's office only at the end of the work day when it is clear the person has left work and didn't turn them off.

What do I do? My mind is full of "is someone trying to convey a passive-aggressive message to me?", is someone playing games? A prank? Do I attempt to catch the person? Do I go up to every coworker asking them who knows why my lights were turned off?

Note: my issue is less about the lights being On or Off. What bothers me more is that someone unknown has entered my office when I believe they didn't have any business being in there. Another part is my heightened anxiety that the lights being on or off have a side-effect of being used as a signal for when I am in or out of my office. For example, is someone trying to see when I'm back?

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    Does your office have a door which can be shut, and/or locked? – dwizum Feb 3 at 18:58
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    Is there any particular need you have for the lights to be on all the time? – Upper_Case Feb 3 at 19:11
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    @Chris I would put the desire to control your office more prominently. You will find the answers more helpful as right now everyone is focusing on the lights. – Matthew Gaiser Feb 3 at 19:36
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    @Chris. 'Your' office is not your office. It is your employers, and you have basically no expectation that other people stay out of it unless there is some sort of security need, in which case you should lock it. – DJClayworth Feb 3 at 20:26
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    @MawgsaysreinstateMonica At least you will have five minutes of fame on the "You won't believe these real notes left in an office" websites. – DJClayworth Feb 4 at 14:51
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Turn the lights off when you leave the office, and on when you get back.

That way, people who want to save the environment, or save their employer money, will not be tempted to disturb your office.

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  • This is the best answer. Anything else is unnecessary defensiveness. – DJClayworth Feb 3 at 19:59
  • This idea shows a beautiful sense of creativity. – dwizum Feb 3 at 20:09
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    Or suggest that your company fits LED lights that turn off when no one is in the room – Neuromancer Feb 3 at 23:55
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    @Neuromancer I once tried to debug a difficult problem in an office with lights that turned off when they thought the room was empty. The problem was that I tend to sit VERY still when I'm really concentrating. I would be totally into what was happening when the computer went wrong, and the lights would turn out, breaking my concentration. I hated them. Put a switch near the door, where it can be flipped as the occupant walks past on their way in or out. – Patricia Shanahan Feb 4 at 0:25
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    @kirbby - try putting one of those fancy sensors in a server room. They don't work (servers are kicking off more heat than a human body). You're left with "cheap" actual motion sensors and the frustration of having to wave to turn the lights back on every 15 minutes. – dwizum Feb 4 at 14:58
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What do I do?

Turn your office lights back on as soon as you return.

Your lights do you absolutely no good when you aren't there.

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It is not related to saving electricity because if it was, there'd be a company-wide message, and someone would come and address me directly.

It is not related to a formal corporate electricity-saving initiative. It could easily just be someone with an interest in saving electricity.

And it may not have been intentional or part of a plot. My father habitually turns off lights when he leaves the room, sometimes even with people in them. Someone could have visited to see you, seen that you were not there, and flipped the switch on the way out.

It could easily have been two different people. Lights have only been turned off twice, which is hardly convincing evidence of an active scheme to turn off lights.

Or it could have been one of those flash power outages. Those occur periodically.

I personally wouldn't do anything about it. Lights turned off are not worth spending time addressing and certainly not political capital going around accusing people of turning off your lights.

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In a comment, you clarified your goals:

I think my goal is to keep lights on in my office. And as a greater goal, have people generally stay out of my office unless they have a business with me, or they are HR, or perhaps my boss or someone directed by them

Given your first goal, it seems like there are many things you could try:

  • Shut and lock your door when you're not in your office.
  • Put a sign by the light switch, asking that people leave your lights on during the day.
  • Simply turn the lights back on when you enter your office after lunch.

Your "greater goal" feels more difficult to address. On the one hand, it can be natural to want a sense of privacy in spaces that we identify as "ours." But, on the other hand, as a way to challenge your frame of thought, "your" office is really your employer's office (in most jobs at least), and while it feels like personal space, it really isn't. So unless your employer has a policy about staying out of others' offices, you may want to think about trying to let go of your sense of control over your office. If you have things in there that need to be protected, they should (hopefully) be in lockable cabinets or file drawers. If you're given a key for the lock, and culture permits offices to be locked, that's a signal that there is an expectation of privacy. But if you don't even have a key for the door, that may be a signal that the employer doesn't expect people to consider their offices as private space.

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What do I do?

I would do nothing but turn the light back on.

Most likely it is someone who is eager to save the company money regarding the cost of electricity or they are attempting to do their part for the environment.

In either case, it takes no time to just turn the light switch back to the on position. Don't let this little thing mess with your head, and I don't believe this is worth any sort of confrontation or any additional energy expenditure on your part.

In my workplace, its very common for the lights to be turned off when no one is using an office.

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    What also basically takes no time is turning the lights off when you leave. – DJClayworth Feb 3 at 20:28
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Put up a sign that says "Please do not turn these lights off during working hours", and leave it at that.

If it's respected, then no further action is needed, if not, then inquire.

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    Why would he do that? What is the reason why he should leave the lights on during lunch? – DJClayworth Feb 3 at 19:58
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    @DJClayworth Last time I checked, we do not concern ourselves with motives.\ – Old_Lamplighter Feb 3 at 20:05
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    @DJClayworth, Sabbath would be a good reason. And if he's not Jewish, he could always convert. If you ask me, this light switch situation kind of demands it. – Stephan Branczyk Feb 4 at 14:30
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    If he's Jewish and at work on the Sabbath a light switch is the least of his worries. – DJClayworth Feb 4 at 14:48
  • @DJClayworth Oy, another goyem chiming in. – Old_Lamplighter Feb 4 at 14:56
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You mentioned that this is making you anxious, so let's approach this from that side.

It is fairly normal behavior to turn out lights, even in other people's rooms.
As others have mentioned, this could just be someone overly environmentally conscious or someone trying to save the company money.
I have had both sorts of coworkers.
An example of one is a coworker I had who used to turn off my monitor at lunch and after work, despite the fact that it goes into hibernate mode after 5 min. Energy saved? Very little, but for that coworker, they felt good doing "every little thing" to save the company money.

It's very unlikely that someone is signalling when you are in or out of the office. To know that, they would already have to know you were in or out, defeating the purpose.

It would be a very, very lame prank if it was one.
No one is playing games with you.

Lastly, remember that your office is not yours, it's your company's. If you can lock your door, then only those the company has authorized to enter your office can enter and it should be assumed that they can enter freely. If you can't lock your door or don't even have one, then you shouldn't be assuming any sort of privacy or ownership to begin with.

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