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This question already has an answer here:

I have reviewed how can we prevent theft of food from shared fridges by coworkers and whilst similar I think the differences warrant me posting this as a separate question.

Me and my team (12 in all) share a tiny communal kitchen space with another team consisting of 8 people including their manager. Both teams work in completely unrelated disciplines and have no contact between them apart from the simple fact that we’re based in the same building and share a kitchen.

Each team has a small fridge, for people to keep milk/sandwiches/lunch etc. I buy a couple of pints of milk each morning which generally gets us through the a day’s tea drinking. Unfortunately, over the last 3/4 weeks the milk has been used by the other team quite extensively, to the point where upon checking their fridge they have none in there and by midday ours has been completely used.

I’ve been off for a week and returned on Monday to find what I can only describe as open warfare between the teams, generally comprising of blanket attacks of passive-aggressive (through to openly aggressive) notices and post-its being left in the kitchen. Both sides are contributing to this, I understand it started with a ‘Development Team only milk’ post-it and has now escalated to what are (admittedly amusing, but) unproductive insults.

I put an immediate stop to my team leaving notes etc. however the ‘milk theft’ is still ongoing. I’ve spoken to my counterpart in the other team and without repeating the conversation verbatim essentially explained that whilst I’m in no way suggesting that my team are blameless in the great note-war that’s been ongoing that I understand their frustration at what is essentially theft of their property. I was left pretty stunned by his response which was along the lines of ‘I don’t use milk, I can’t tell them what to do, they’re not children’ and a general lack of any interest in working with me to resolve the situation.

I cannot take this any higher, myself and my counterpart in the other team both report into Exec level (different directors) and I refuse to take such a petty matter to my boss who is genuinely too busy to be bothered over something so small. In fact I feel stupid posting this on here but I’m literally at the end of my rope. Nor do I really want to stop buying milk for ourselves, I shudder at the thought of us spending a day without tea and honestly don’t see why we should have to in this situation. As we work in an austerity measures ridden Public Health Service there is no possibility of the organisation footing the bill for anything which is the reason I buy it for my team in the first place.

How can I influence my counterpart to address this matter with his direct reports?

UPDATE

I may have missed a few details in the original post (in the interests of trying to keep it from essay length) such as;

  • I raised the option of having a shared milk fund about 3 weeks ago (when this had first started) and was pooh poohed by both the other teams manager and its members on the grounds that they had 'only used a little bit of the milk' and it wouldn't happen again.
  • There is no confusion whatsoever over who has bought the milk, I made it clear at the same time I discussed a shared fund that this was milk I bought out of my own pocket for my team. We literally have to beg for things like stationary due to the reduction in public spending over here so there can be no doubt that anyone is under the impression this is being paid for out a budget funded by the tax-payer.
  • Moving the fridge is impossible, whilst it's small it is about waist height and we've no spare plugs for it to be plugged into regardless.
  • We don't really have the option of buying a mini-fridge due to the lack of plugs already mentioned and due to the fact that it's a hospital building everything has to be PAC tested by an external company for health & safety and insurance purposes (public sector bureaucracy).

I'm going to plump for keeping the milk out of the fridge for the next week and in our (entirely separate) office. Unless they actually walk in and try to take it, in the extremely unlikely possibility of this happening they'd be turned away politely but firmly, this will prevent them from using it. I appreciate it's not going to resolve the simmering hostility between the teams but honestly don't see why I should be further out of pocket as a result of petty thievery and the poor management of them by my counterpart. I don't resent for one minute shelling out for my team, it's a small thing on my part that keeps morale up in an incredibly stressful environment but at £10.00 a week (about $16 I think) I'm not doubling it in the interests of appeasing another team with no real belief that this would change their behavior.

marked as duplicate by Jim G., yochannah, Jan Doggen, IDrinkandIKnowThings, Michael Grubey Sep 29 '14 at 19:53

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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    comments removed: Comments are intended to help improve a post or seek clarification. Please don't answer the questions in the comments. These can't be easily voted on as the best answers, and they may inadvertently prevent other users from providing real answers. Please see How should I post a useful non-answer if it shouldn't be a comment? for more guidance. – jmort253 Sep 27 '14 at 18:06

12 Answers 12

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If he were interested in managing the situation it wouldn't have been a giant mess waiting for you when you got back so you have an uphill battle. If a line along "This is effecting morale and productivity on both of our teams" doesn't work then I wouldn't expect much help from him.

An couple of outside of the box solutions may be to move your teams fridge into your team area for a few weeks and see if that helps.

Edit: https://cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/25583/how-long-does-it-take-for-milk-to-spoil-unrefrigerated

Another alternative would be keeping it out of a fridge and in a supervised area. If you are buying it everyday it likely would be used up before it turns bad.

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    You could also try setting up a pool for it and asking everyone from both teams to donate a little. That way it doesn't strictly "belong" to any one side. – HamHamJ Sep 24 '14 at 15:41
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    Most offices have kitchens for a reason, and it would be simply impossible to move an entire refridgerator to another room. That being said, it would be feasible to get a mini-fridge to keep in someone's office for the sole purpose of holding the milk. This way it's basically monitored by the person in the office as well. – David K Sep 24 '14 at 18:46
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    @DavidK The OP called it a small fridge, I interpret that as either a minifridge or apartment sized. Fully agree full sized fridge not feasible in most workplaces. – Myles Sep 24 '14 at 18:58
  • @Myles with 1 kitchen per ~40 people (at full building capacity) the fridges where I work are the size between narrow apartment sized an extra wide side by side; and when the building was mostly full were used to capacity. Except at small businesses, a kitchen/breakroom to employee ratio low enough that mini fridges would be big enough would surprise me. – Dan Neely Sep 26 '14 at 13:08
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    If you keep the milk out of the fridge, you could always grab a small freezer bag and perhaps an ice block to keep it cool in your office. – Bob Tway Sep 26 '14 at 13:25
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If you buy twice as much milk, will the problem go away? Can you afford to buy twice as much milk out of your own pocket? If so, can you put half the milk in their fridge with a "gift from XYZ team" note? (Or, to be really blunt: "this milk is a personal gift from Clair, who manages the XYZ team.")

I think this is what I would do, at least for the first week. I would take down all the "don't use our milk" notices and put milk in their fridge for them. Then wait. When things are somewhat calmer, a "kitty" labelled Milk Fund with a suggested donation of x per cup of tea, or y per week, might let everyone involved feel like they're not taking advantage of someone. If that seems risky, a chat with the other manager when things are calmer, asking if the other team could chip in for the milk they use, might be better received than your previous request, which came at the height of the note wars and involved deniability (it probably isn't my team drinking your milk) that evaporates when it's clear the labelled milk in their fridge is getting used.

My guess is that at this point the hassle of running out of milk and the bad feelings on your team are outweighing the cost of the actual milk consumed. So I would (for a week or two anyway) just give them what they're taking, to eliminate those pains, and when things calm down address the lesser pain like how much you're personally spending to keep two teams, one of whom isn't even yours, in milk.

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    +1 for the practical solution of "get more milk". Though I might recommend that the OP also consider working to un-silo the two teams. If you can't play nice over something so petty, what happens when a real (business) problem comes along? – Telastyn Sep 24 '14 at 18:39
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    Sounds like this team would just end up taking the money from the kitty too. – corsiKa Sep 24 '14 at 19:48
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    I think you should stress that it doesn't stop at buying milk for everyone. The follow up is what fixes the problem and buying the milk for a week or two brings the needed temporary peace to do that. – user15729 Sep 25 '14 at 7:31
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    +1 for friendly overture to the other team. Their boss appears to be encouraging a bad attitude and zero cooperation - this is not a boss that will garner much personal loyalty. By being the better person, you'll get friendly with the team and improve conditions overall for both your team and the other one. – Jenny D Sep 25 '14 at 8:09
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    You should not befriend a bully. – o0'. Sep 26 '14 at 14:26
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Have you talked to someone normal on their team? Maybe they don't know you're paying the milk yourself and think it's paid by the company.

If you try that and they act like **, you can move it up the chain and you might end up with a whole floor for yourself. I would not go to my own boss, but to his. Tell him the whole team including the manager is acting immature and you wish for this situation to be resolved, so your team can work in peace.

If possible suggest spliting the floor and making another kitchen space only for them. Of course the needed space will be taken from their office area.

This is not a question of milk, it is about beng the manager and protecting your team from external threats. You gotta treat it like any other serious problem.

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    Maybe they don't know you're paying the milk yourself and think it's paid by the company. -- quoted for emphasis. If they don't know this, they probably think you're hogging all the company milk. – SQB Sep 25 '14 at 5:55
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    "It is about being the manager and protecting your team from external threats. You gotta treat it like any other serious problem." ... by seeking and destroying at all costs. Seriously, if I were an exec and someone bothered me with this, getting them their own floor or kitchen sounds expensive and quite unnecessary. An appearance and public warning of firing sounds a lot more effective to me. – user15729 Sep 25 '14 at 7:36
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    What I mean is stealing milk is just the start. If you don't put an end to it, your team will soon be abused for office materials and other stuff, run it more postit-wars and won't be able to work at all. – user27270 Sep 29 '14 at 13:47
  • And guess who will get an own floor if your team's performance drops. ;) – user27270 Sep 30 '14 at 12:45
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Since the only problem is the milk, and you're buying a couple of pints a day, another small fridge is probably overkill. But an insulated lunch bag with a ice pack would certainly keep the milk cold, and that could easily be kept in your area, rather than in the shared kitchen area. The ice pack would probably be safe in your fridge, so the only expense is the insulated bag or box.

This only works if the problem is only the milk being taken.

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There are some good answers on here, but just to add to the suggestions - can you add a lock to the fridge?

Here's one product aimed at dormitories - perhaps not the best supplier, but you get the idea. Then you can keep the padlock key in your office or cut copies for each team member.

It's a bit passive-aggressive, but it keeps all items safe (and "clean").

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    Go even more high tech. Use a digital lock and give everyone on your team (the|a) code: amazon.com/Keyless-Refrigerator-Lock-System-Doors/dp/B00GMXRUFW – Aaron C. de Bruyn Sep 26 '14 at 18:00
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    A lock on the fridge seems like an obvious solution. – Sparr Sep 26 '14 at 21:05
  • But the fridge is shared isn't it? So would need to put the milk inside a locked box in the fridge so the other team still had access to the fridge itself. – Martin Smith Sep 27 '14 at 11:15
  • @Martin Smith, question says each team has a small fridge... But a locked box would also work. – Rob Church Sep 27 '14 at 11:55
  • Oh yes, sorry, should have double checked before commenting. – Martin Smith Sep 27 '14 at 12:19
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I think that the main problem is that the other team leader has refused to acknowledge a problem or participate in solution-finding on this issue. If another try at working with him fails, try reaching out to the other team members directly. They're probably mostly reasonable humans who recognize and want to solve the milk problem.

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    I agree. The old adage is "don't cry over spilled milk" and I think that applies here, but I personally need my coffee to be productive in the morning, and I need my milk (and copious amounts of sugar) to be able to enjoy my coffee.. – corsiKa Sep 24 '14 at 19:50
  • @corsiKa "copious" That means a whole dang lot, plus two more cubes. Try an energy shot. Same crap, really and is only one or two gulps, assuming you don't like the taste, but some are not bad. – user15729 Sep 25 '14 at 7:39
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    @corsiKa: "I personally need my coffee to be productive in the morning", sure, the root problem is the questioner's team's drug dependency, and that's a much tougher nut to crack than milk supply or even the animosity between teams and non-cooperation of the other manager ;-) – Steve Jessop Sep 25 '14 at 12:27
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Have you tried suggesting sharing the cost of milk between departments? This was a solution I had I at previous workplace (also public sector, as it happens). We had a system where everyone in the department would specify whether they would contribute to the cost of milk on a monthly basis - similar to how a lottery syndicate works. Since most people would be contributing you would know very quickly who is freeloading.

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    Hi aleksanderhil, the poster of this answer already suggested sharing the cost of the milk. Is there anything more you could add to this answer to help differentiate it? Thanks. – jmort253 Sep 26 '14 at 4:23
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    this site has specific requirements for answers: Back It Up and Don't Repeat Others. Consider editing your to comply, since as pointed in above comment, as written now it appears to violate Don't Repeat Others requirement – gnat Sep 26 '14 at 15:30
  • I hadn't read the other comment. I wouldn't repeat an answer just for the sake of it. – JTTpndr Sep 27 '14 at 9:34
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I don't like the ‘buy more milk’ solutions. They encourage bad behaviour. (And having dealt with a similar issue in the past, I don't give much credence to ‘they think it's company milk’. Especially considering the protracted flame war of notes I think they know full well that what they're doing is wrong. People generally do.)

So I think the best solution is to store things that get stolen out of their reach. Milk, freshly bought, can easily keep for a day, no problem. If other food gets stolen that does need to be refrigerated, there are really cheap desk fridges nowadays.

But expecting people to change is folly.

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    Unfortunately having two teams at loggerheads encourages bad behaviour. The "buy more milk" solutions have the potential to decrease the animosity between the teams, and the animosity needs decreasing for a practical long-term solution. – Alnitak Sep 25 '14 at 11:27
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It does sound childish all in all, and if the other team's not interested in working with you then stronger measures will have to be taken!

Buy powdered milk and keep it in your area.

powdered works just as well for tea or coffee, not so good for cereal unfortunately but you could try alternative breakfasts, like very nice smelling bacon sandwiches that you can waft around the other area's team whilst making "mmm, ooo, ahh" noises.

For some people there never is a problem, until its a problem that affects them. One day when they go tot the fridge for the free milk and there isn't any is the day they wake up to finding a solution. Until that day comes, they'll keep on taking their free milk.

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What about buying a lockbox or a toolbox for the milk?

  • Measure the standard milk container.
  • Find a lockbox that will hold it. Amazon has lockboxes of all sizes.
  • See if that will fit in the fridge.

Need to use a smaller lockbox?

  • Buy small milk containers, like the kind they serve in school, and place as many as will fit in the lockbox.
  • Store the actual milk container at home. Put the milk in a thermos that will fit in the lockbox.

You can hang up the key on your side of the office, or place it in someone's desk drawer to hide it out of sight. Don't get a combination lock because they're worthless if the other team finds out the combination.

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One answer that has not been mentioned here is that this is basically theft. In my company, if you are caught doing this, you will have to explain this Human Resources and you are likely to get a warning.

Of course, this is a very extreme solution, but if you documented all the actions you have taken and have proof, this may solve the solution once and for all. Since you have no interactions with this team, this will not impact negatively your team.

If you have the proof that this was mentioned, that you discussed with the other manager and employees, human resources is unlikely to take this kindly if you bring it as an issue.

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I like the "more milk" idea in the answers, but here's an alternative.

Since the milk is consumed within a few hours, is there a reason for why it has to be kept in the fridge? Maybe you could store the milk in another place that's only common to your team, or in your office after letting the whole team know. This would be a temporary measure so you could send a message to the second team, and also see if someone tries to steal it from under your nose

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