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I manage a team at a large tech firm. One of the individuals on the other team (not my direct report) has been bringing in dozens of boxes of donuts to the office every day and insists on sharing them with every colleague. He is also known to have a habit of hiding donuts around the office, leaving them in random drawers and filing cabinets. This behavior has caused a rise in ants infestation and some employees have raised concerns over the health hazards caused by consuming spoiled donuts.

Management is unsure how to handle the situation, as the employee is a valued member of the team and their donut-sharing habit is seen as a quirk rather than a problem.

What is the most appropriate course of action for me to encourage his manager to address this bizarre and potentially disruptive behavior in the workplace, balancing the employee's positive contributions with the health and cleanliness concerns caused by their donut-related antics?

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    Wait, why would "some employees have raised concerns over the health hazards caused by consuming spoiled donuts"? Why would they consume spoiled donuts and complain about that to the management? Do they feel pressured to eat whatever they find in a drawer?
    – TooTea
    Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 22:45
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    “This behavior has caused a rise in ants infestation and some employees have raised concerns over the health hazards caused by consuming spoiled donuts.” - Is it common for people to just eat random donuts outside of their box? I get the ants, but can’t spoiled donuts, just be thrown away?
    – Donald
    Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 5:17
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    Are you working at a nuclear power plant and does the individual look in anyway like this..
    – iLuvLogix
    Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 15:44
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    Dozens of boxes of donuts per day sounds like someone is wasting a lot of money. Also must be a huge company if people didn't grow super tired of all the donuts after like a week.
    – Erik
    Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 18:58

5 Answers 5

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It seems to me that the key issue from a management PoV, is not the bringing in of the Donuts per se, but the leaving them in funny places and the problems with Ants.

How I'd handle it:

Firstly - I'd remind All Staff that the appropriate place to keep food is in the Kitchen area (I'm assuming that you have a kitchen area).

Then I'd have a sit down with the Co-Worker with his Manager - and essentially have a conversation like this:

"We love the enthusiasm that you bring to the company and we want to see it continue - all we ask is that after you've offered whoever a Donut, that you don't leave Donuts on peoples desks or other areas, but put the box of Donuts in the kitchen - send an email to all Staff to let them know where the donuts are if needed - then if there are any left at the end of the day, you are responsible for removing them from the Kitchen.

This is a Health and Safety/Hygiene issue, We've had a couple of issues with Ants and we don't particularly want to have to implement a draconian rule about it.

So please, Continue to bring them in and offer - but put them in the Kitchen and make sure they are tidied away if uneaten."

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    As a suggestion, the employee could instead of donuts leave pieces of paper saying "this coupon redeemable for one donut", while keeping the actual donuts in a secure place. Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 19:48
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You are not the employee's manager. So, the first person who should talk to him about it should be his manager and not yourself.

A simple strategy is to email his manager to ask his manager to inform him:

  1. People appreciate the employee's sharing of donuts.
  2. Please put donuts only in the kitchen area.
  3. Don't put donuts in random drawers and filling cabinets.
  4. Donuts left in drawers and filling cabinets may cause ant infestation and food poisoning.

You can tell his manager that you want to remain anonymous regarding this request if you wish. This means the employee won't know that you send his manager this message.

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    This seems right to me. If no one has had a discrete word with the employee that should be the first action before doing anything public (which presumably everyone will know who it is aimed at) Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 7:51
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The simplest starting point is surely to identify a manager with whom he has a good relationship, and simply have that person ask with a wry smile "Say, John, you know those donuts everyone loves, did you lay some up in the shared filing cabinet? We're starting to get a bit of a problem with insects!". That alludes to the problem with food that gets inappropriately hidden and forgotten.

If the problem is also that there is constantly a greater supply of donuts than demand, and there are problems with remainders becoming spoiled, then a device can be used like "Also, Doris in H&S says anything left out for sharing must have a use-by date shown on the container" - so that people know when to discard leftovers.

Or "The rat-catcher says anything left out for sharing, mustn't be left out overnight - it has to go in the fridge".

I don't think a reasonable person would take umbrage at any of these remarks or requests.

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Food sharing can be great for team moral, so don't just view it as a 'quirk' which is a somewhat negative view. Instead, select a specific location where food can be placed by people, for others to share. For our company it is one of the small kitchens. Cleaning staff will throw away any remains at end of business day.

Have a private meet with the employee commending their generosity and team spirit. Could you please place future food items at this agreed to area. We need to control mess, infects, staff health and safety (finding and eating something old). If someone got sick, we would be forced to completely ban the entire activity, which we do not want to do.

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Tell them to stop

Management is unsure how to handle the situation, as the employee is a valued member of the team and their donut-sharing habit is seen as a quirk rather than a problem.

There seems to be a lack of awareness in management that it's okay to tell people to stop doing something. This needs to come from their manager. This applies to dirtbags who aren't pulling their weight and also to the number one employee in a firm.

"Hey, D'nut, stop leaving do-nuts all around the office. It's causing an insect problem."

"Ha-ha, but I think it's funny."

"It isn't, it's a hygiene issue. Stop."

"Ha-ha, I'm going to do it anyway because I'm so quirky!"

"Not funny, your next stop will be leaving do-nuts around your house because you won't be allowed to bring them here any more."

All the answers so far are pussy-footing around setting the expectation. This is not required. Obviously when you have a discussion with people you include why, but employees don't necessarily have to be convinced of why they need to do or not do something. Someone who think's it's okay to leave do-nuts in filing cabinets just needs to be set straight, the same way that someone who is sexually harassing other employees needs to be set straight. The only difference is the severity of the actions and consequences.

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