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Background: We have a break room including a kitchen at my place of employment, where most (about 25 of 30 employees) are scheduled to care for the kitchen on a daily rotating wheel. Some of my co-workers mess the kitchen up on a regular basis and ignore the agreed upon etiquette and when it was my turn I often got upset and felt disrespected because of this. I went to the HR - manager and had me removed from the wheel in exchange of me just cleaning up after myself. (I was essentially only using the coffee machine, the maintenance of which is explicitly not part of the kitchen duty). Now we got a new HR manager and she immediately put me back on it again. I talked to her also and she had me removed again, but the new HR lady was much less understanding.

Also necessary background: I am working as software developer and management knows, that i am not content for quite some time now and might start looking. We have discussed this in detail and we are working on solutions on how to shape my personal development, but nothing concrete was established.

Current situation: Fast forward a week and my line manager asks me timidly to just do the kitchen chores again. I decline and he informs me that top management (!) has decided, that my home office privileges would be revoked. Upon my question of who exactly made that decision (so maybe I could talk to him directly) he said it was management decision, so all three decided that way.

My problem: I really don't care that much about the kitchen chores, that i would chose to not being able to work from the comfort of my home once a week. I am just much more baffled that top management would: a) even care about it b) think that this course of action is a good idea given my circumstance For me this reeks like some kind of power play. Maybe new HR lady thinks she needs to establish her dominance? I am not quitting because I generally like what I do and my direct collegues are gems to be around, but seeing such a toxic understanding of the employer - employee relationship from the former doesn't shine a positive light on the whole situation. Edit: J. Doe summarized my problem very well in the comments:"In the end, it's not about cleaning, but about pride and power"

Finally my question: Is there a tactful way of approaching top-level management about the topic without needlessly escalating this trivial matter further?

And maybe a bonus question: Assume I ultimately decide to do kitchen chores again to not lose my home-office day: Is there a way to go about it without losing face and implicitly admitting to HR lady and top management that they have the power to use any gained privileges beyond what is specified in my contract to pressure me into getting whatever they want from me?

Pre-empting answers:

"Try talking to people messing up the kitchen." -> Have you ever tried changing a person? :D I did. It seemed like it made it worse (can't say if intentional or not though. I suspect they really don't give a single fuck.)

"What's your problem? Just do it like everyone does it." -> Especially after trying to get the messy people to change their behaviour, makes it so that whenever they leave their filth after I cleaned everything, I feel extremely disrespected and it upsets me for the rest of the day. I have accepted that I can neither change them nor me, so I chose to avoid the situation, which I think is the most healthy approach.

"TheWorkplace special: Just quit your job." -> Come on - let's at least try to make it work.

Some more non-essential background:

In my country the employer cannot force an employee to do anything radically different than what they are employed for.

There is no system as to why the other five people are exempt from kitchen chores and others aren't.

Home office is one day a week - established since covid, not in place since I started and optional for everybody (if feasible).

Even though I am working as SW developer, I am also hugely involved in most other technical parts of the business and have regular client interactions which I get extremely good feedback on. We have one other senior dev and two new part time hires, that don't have a formal coding background (hard to find..). Those two are much more work for us, than they are productive at the moment. In the past years pretty much every other SW dev either quit or changed positions inside the company (partly because the code base is VERY bad and some core parts are holy cows personally coded by the CEO 20 years ago, which are not to be touched). What I mean to say is, I am not easily replaceable and think to know my worth. Top management should know this too...

The solution to not being on the kitchen chore wheel was, that everything from the kitchen that I use, I would clean immediately and put it away. That way I was not putting any more workload onto the current assignee and it worked for over a year without problems.

Update I didn't get a direct answer here - mainly because all of you focused on the kitchen thing even though my problem was with they way upper management reacted. And looking back that might have been entirely my fault, because I put too much emphasis on the kitchen. Therefore I chose to take an approach, that completely ignores everything to do with it and sent an email to the CEO/CTO (direct manager of my line manager), with the intention to highlight my objection of using unrelated privileges as leverage:

Dear Mr. [CEO Bossman],

I am very open to arguments about my performance in relation to remote work (like perfomance metrics or availability) and why I in particular need to be in the office 100% of the time.

On the other hand, I believe that using home office as leverage against employees, is a sign of a toxic understanding of workplace relations. Of course, if the decision is final, I will accept it.

The CEO was quite bewildered by the E-Mail and replied he had no idea what this was about. Showed that interaction to line manager, so home office is back to business as usual. Now I guess I will have to have some talks to untangle the rest of this mess (did HR lady make the management decision up? Did my line manager misunderstand what he heard from her? Did another management team member go over the head of the CEO? Did my CEO lie and is just playing dumb now?). Also I don't know if this would have worked out, if it was truly his decision, but at least then I would have known more about the methods he might use to pressure me in the future.

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    How much time does it take to actually clean up? Also, I'm having a hard time understanding why you feel you should be exempt from this shared effort yet other coworkers should have no objection to doing it. Your reasons (...which seems to be that after you clean the kitchen will get dirty again) could be applied to anyone sharing in these chores.
    – rob
    Jun 7 at 19:50
  • Your country is very essential background.
    – gnasher729
    Jun 7 at 19:56
  • @rob it very much depends. Sometimes its just ten minutes if noone cooks and few ppl are on site. But can range up to 40 minutes total (morning unloading dishwasher; clean some stuff. Afternoon clean after ppl that cooked even though thats their duty, load dishwasher even though that should be done by the ppl that use those dishes. Later afternoon unload dishwasher in time before the late afternoon coffee and cake craze kicks in) Jun 7 at 19:58
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    @toothhygiene not to be an ass... but being in meetings at 9am often "upsets" me. But until there's an industry that pays specifically for happiness I think we're stuck getting paid for doing work.
    – rob
    Jun 7 at 20:09
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    In the end, it's not about cleaning, but about pride and power, is it? I don't have advice for you, but i wish you luck.
    – J. Doe
    Jun 8 at 12:22

4 Answers 4

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Finally my question: Is there a tactful way of approaching top-level management about the topic without needlessly escalating this trivial matter further?

No, because you have not demonstrated to HR or management a legitimate reason for why you ( and only you ) should be exempt from the kitchen rotation. You are not the only one who is left cleaning up after the employees with the poor etiquette.

Furthermore, if management had considered this matter to be trivial, they would not have revoked your home office privilege when you decided you did not want to do the same work that all of your other coworkers are required to do.

This is a case where you need to look for a new company to work for if you are adamant on not performing the kitchen chores.

Assume I ultimately decide to do kitchen chores again to not lose my home-office day: Is there a way to go about it without losing face and implicitly admitting to HR lady and top management that they have the power to use any gained privileges beyond what is specified in my contract to pressure me into getting whatever they want from me?

The thing is, they do have the power, they have already used the power to remove your home-office day. It doesn't matter if you admit to them implicitly or explicitly the power that they have already exercised, it is not going to change anything.

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    Exactly. Who ever came up with the idea "go ahead and leave the kitchen as much of a mess as you want whenever you use it, one poor sucker will be responsible for cleaning up after everyone, but don't worry it's fair because everyone takes a turn being the poor sucker." This is a terrible policy. Everyone should clean up after themselves, or there should be a paid cleaner. That management is doubling down and messing with unrelated benefits to make you comply is really all you need to know. You won't win. Clean up after ungrateful slobs or find yourself a new kitchen. Jun 7 at 20:27
  • @sf02 as I wrote in my question some (I think it is about one in five) people just don't need to do it and there is no rule to it. Also it is not a matter of "do the kitchen or go". But your second answer may be the eye opener I need.. Jun 7 at 20:34
  • @KateGregory thank you! But it's not even like there are no rules but those "slobs" just don't care about them Jun 7 at 20:36
  • When we arranged cooking / cleaning in our student house, it was decided that if you cooked then you cleaned as well. Simply because some would use every pot & pan to do a simple dish while others could do 3 courses with a minimum of pots etc. So if you made the mess then you cleaned... A good learning experience for some.
    – Solar Mike
    Jun 8 at 7:07
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I'll note that while I find paying office workers who are likely getting paid more than cleaning service to clean seems odd (although I don't think outlandish) I'm not sure what you're actually looking for in answers.

Is there a tactful way of approaching top-level management about the topic without needlessly escalating this trivial matter further?

Escalating this trivial matter is precisely what's happening- what do you expect?

If you don't have a specific reason as to why you should be exempt but others shouldn't- it just seems like whining. If I was in "top level" management and got bothered with something so inane I think my head would explode.

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I don't really understand what the problem is? If somebody wants to pay me a software developer's salary to do maid work then that does not sound too bad to me. I clean my own living areas every day without a cent in remuneration. If somebody wants to pay me to clean after other people, especially if it is a good salary like what Software Devs get then who cares? Take the money.

If the pay is good enough I will be anybody's mother/father/maid. I get that cleaning after a bunch of manchildren is baloney but who cares? If my employer wants me to take time off my software developer duties to do dishes and hoover the carpet who am I to question that warped logic? If it gets you paid then it gets you paid.

People often have a skewed sense of work. There are no 'bad' jobs. There are jobs where you the employee are undervalued. There are jobs where you the employee are exploited. There are jobs where you are compensated fairly and you enjoy the work.

Even if you are in a job where you are intensely unhappy still see it as a career stepping stone. A means to a career end. If you progress your skills and keep on moving forward in your career then even the 'bad' jobs can move you forward in life.

I would do whatever housework they want from me. It is incredible that any grown adult would need anybody else to clean up after them, but if your employer wants to baby a bunch of spoiled brats and pay you 60K$ to clean up after them then even if that situation is incredible (not in a good way) you don't have to question that.

Take the money and run. I was forced to be a father to many children in the nearly 10 years I worked as a teacher and I never got close to a Software Dev's salary for all the surrogate work I ended up doing.

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  • I appreciate your answer, but I fear it is completely besides the point. As I pointed out in "My problem: I really don't care that much about the kitchen chores [...] but seeing such a toxic understanding of the employer - employee relationship from the former doesn't shine a positive light on the whole situation." Jun 8 at 16:05
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Step 0: Look for a better position elsewhere. Currently you should have zero problems.

Step 1: Get back on the rota. Then decided how long you would like to take cleaning the kitchen. Your choices are either two minutes or four hours, nothing in between. If anyone complains that it isn't clean enough, you switch to four hours. If anyone complains that you take too long, you switch to two minutes.

If you are in the UK and female, this could become very expensive for the company when they let you go. Perfect timing would be to have a job ready when they fire you, and get major compensation plus start right away in a new job.

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  • I like the energy of your answer :D. I would still like to try to work it out and not burning bridges though Jun 7 at 20:00
  • If you are looking for petty revenge you could make as big a mess as possible every day that you don't have to clean it. That could lead to an escalating filth war that wastes time and money.
    – Matt Bell
    Jun 7 at 20:45
  • Even with a wanted profession like sw dev, having a job ready when they fire you is much easier said than done. When your possibly new employer asks you when you can start, they will not like to hear 'when the kitchen war is over'. Jun 8 at 5:32

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