Help me encourage communal cleanliness!
September 29, 2010 7:26 AM   Subscribe

I need suggestions for gentle, preferably clever or humorous signs reminding people to help keep the break room clean.

People's failure to clean up after themselves at work has become a problem; there are coffee cups, napkins, paper plates, etc. littering the communal break/workspace areas. Help me come up with signs encouraging folks to clean up after themselves - stuff like "Your mom doesn't work here" except not cliche; "That coffee cup isn't going to throw itself out" except funny. We're trying to cajole more than browbeat (browbeating is the next step). The target audience is a group of physicians in a hospital setting - feel free to use that for inspiration.
posted by nickmark to Grab Bag (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This is a self-cleaning kitchen - clean it yourself!
posted by lizbunny at 7:32 AM on September 29, 2010

Abandoned coffee cups will be used for specimen collections.

Your mother doesn't work here (and if she did, she'd tell you to clean up after yourself).
posted by motsque at 7:33 AM on September 29, 2010

Once, an anonymous hyper-irritated employee put up a sign in our break room reading "The sink does NOT have a garbage disposal. The sink does NOT have a garbage disposal. The sink does NOT have a garbage disposal!"

So I left a little sign of my own beneath it which read "This is the way the sink ends. This is the way the sink ends. This is the way the sink ends. Not with a bang, but a gurgle."

Nobody thought it was funny.
posted by julthumbscrew at 7:35 AM on September 29, 2010 [7 favorites]

What has been far more effective than notes and signs is the sensation of being watched. Well, that is what this psychologist did to get pple to pay their fair share for community coffee.
posted by Wolfster at 7:38 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Posted too fast. Put a picture of eyes on a sign or two. Check out the studies for the most effective type of eyes.
posted by Wolfster at 7:39 AM on September 29, 2010

I know this doesn't answer your specific question, but: in my experience, signs do not work. Ever. Nobody reads them, nobody cares, everybody just keeps leaving their crap around and your sign is just one more piece of paper in an already cluttered room.

Send a pointed email around to staff explaining that the room is filthy and people should make more of an effort to keep it clean, or else the break room will no longer be made available.
posted by ladybird at 7:39 AM on September 29, 2010 [5 favorites]

You've seen Passive Aggressive Notes, right? It's mostly what not to do, but there are a few winning notes in there.
posted by supercres at 7:40 AM on September 29, 2010

Hi there nice person who sometimes forgets to clean up after yourself. If you could please please be a little neater, I promise to post the clip to Youtube of what I did to your lunch before you have eaten it next time.
posted by timsteil at 7:40 AM on September 29, 2010

Not a suggestion for signs, as such, but maybe it might help you. When I was in undergrad, we had a student lounge at university that was really well-used, but also tended to get really dirty, as people didn't clean up after themselves. My sister and I brought in plants to put on the windowsills, and a few friends brought in old couches to sit on. Once the place started feeling homey, people started taking much better care of the lounge.

I suggest that your problem is similar - the employees don't think of the breakroom as "theirs" so much as "the company's, and therefore someone else's problem". If you can do something to make the breakroom feel more like a place employees can take some ownership in, the dirty problems will diminish a lot.
posted by LN at 7:41 AM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

hire a cleaner? any notes will just be seen as passive agressive and counterproductive
posted by mary8nne at 7:43 AM on September 29, 2010

My work has a log sheet in the kitchenette for people to sign whenever they've tidied up the kitchen or loaded/unloaded the dishwasher, with each signature entered in a monthly draw for a gift certificate. It works very well.

Any way to get a $5 coffee card or something on a monthly basis, can you get some admin person to ok the funds?
posted by lizbunny at 7:48 AM on September 29, 2010 [8 favorites]

Can you draw moderately well?

I'd put a doodle of a croaked over on his back or maybe just an unhappy brontosaurus. And write "UNTIDY BREAKROOMS KILLED THE DINOSAURS."

Or even just copy this, change the text, and draw dirty mugs and utensils scattered around him.

People like dinosaurs.
posted by phunniemee at 7:56 AM on September 29, 2010

^...doodle of a dinosaur croaked over on his back...
posted by phunniemee at 7:57 AM on September 29, 2010

"I eat off this floor, please keep it clean."
posted by foodgeek at 7:59 AM on September 29, 2010

I hung a bunch of Big Brother is watching you posters in a past workplace. Unsurprisingly, the deluge of dirty dishes only slowed for about two days until everyone acclimated, but they amused my coworkers and made the break room entertainingly creepy, so it wasn't a total loss.
posted by introcosm at 8:00 AM on September 29, 2010

I suggest finding the person whose job description includes cleaning the kitchen, and having their boss tell them in a straightforward fashion that the job needs doing better.
posted by emilyw at 8:01 AM on September 29, 2010

A sign in a pretty font, laying out a rational basis for good break room habits:

The trust extended by one individual to another must not stop at the breakroom door. It is in these unguarded moments that one must reaffirm the tacit agreement that exists between all human beings, regardless of one's private personal habits, regardless of how one keeps one's home. A civil workplace, a civil city, nay, a civil society depends on such consideration of one's fellow human beings.

In other words, don't be a @#$%&* slob!

(paraphrased from Julius Knipl)
posted by Danf at 8:01 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

The problem is that the outcome you want cannot be achieved with a sign. You might as well ask, "What can I put on a bumper sticker that will convince everyone who sees it to vote for my candidate?" There are always going to be a couple people who continue to make messes no matter what, and in order to maintain a clean break room (assuming there isn't a dedicated daytime cleaning person) you need to incentivize other employees to pick up after the messy ones. An accurate sign would say, "That mess you didn't make? You should clean it anyway"--but that would just anger people, even people willing to pitch in. Instead, you need to incentivize the behavior in a different way. The gift card drawing mentioned above is a good idea.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:21 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nice signs didn't work at our museum. A sign stating, "The coffee maker will be permanently removed if the break room is not kept clean. You have been warned." was remarkably effective. It was effective mostly because the slobs were coffee addicts, so YMMV.

Since they are doctors, maybe the best solution is to post some photos of various sickening molds, food-borne pathogens, etc. all taken from swabs of stuff left out to rot. It will look really gross, but that's sort of the point.
posted by Mouse Army at 8:50 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Having both been to and helped run events where people leave a huge mess behind, you have to account for peoples' laziness. If there is not a bin right there next to where they are making the mess, they will not put stuff in it. If they have to carry their rubbish even to the other side of the room, certain people just won't bother (or will forget).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:00 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

How about the Look of Disapproval?
posted by spilon at 9:10 AM on September 29, 2010

I've used this:

posted by micawber at 9:12 AM on September 29, 2010

If it's an OR lounge you're talking about, I wish you luck. I do contract work (autotransfusion) for about 30 hospitals and none of the lounges are tidy except one. That one has an older nurse who goes all Big Momma on the surgeons and guilts them into picking up after themselves. I can't imagine that any signs will help. Maybe removing the snacks (grahams, saltines, fruit - whatever it is you guys stock) and coffee for a bit under the guise of an insect issue? I wish I could help - good luck!
posted by PorcineWithMe at 9:32 AM on September 29, 2010

crimethinc "Wash Your Own Dishes" poster (fifth one down):
posted by outlandishmarxist at 9:34 AM on September 29, 2010

How about, "The rats came by earlier, they asked when you'd visit the kitchen again."
posted by magnoliasouth at 9:35 AM on September 29, 2010

How about, "The rats came by earlier, they asked when you'd visit the kitchen again."
posted by magnoliasouth at 11:35 AM on September 29 [+] [!]

Oops. That should be break room and not kitchen. Also you could replace rats with roaches if you prefer. Whatever sounds more disgusting. ;)
posted by magnoliasouth at 9:51 AM on September 29, 2010

Another vote for "signs don't work." Only policies work. And you have to follow through with them. No empty threats!

I once worked in an office so bad that we had to institute a policy that "everything which is here at 5PM will be thrown away, no exceptions."

I tell you what, after a few days of this policy being put into effect, that break room stayed clean.
posted by ErikaB at 11:43 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Usually, cleaning people are not there to do your dishes and pick up your random garbage that you are too lazy to throw away yourself. Suggesting "make some other poor sap do it" is not a real solution.

As for notes/signs, an office I recently worked in had the typical "Please Clean Up After Yourself" sign, with another sign next to it which had a huge arrow pointing at the original sign, and which read "Please Read This Sign". People thought it was clever. They still left the kitchen a total sty, though.

I think the KP sign-in sheet with monthly drawing for a small token item everybody likes (coffee card, movie tickets, the like) is a great idea. Or if you wanted to greatly simplify things and create an even better incentive, what about a small periodic splurge for everyone as long as the kitchen is kept clean? I'm thinking donuts every Friday, a coffee upgrade, something like that?

And, yeah, there's always the stick to that carrot - threatening to take away breakroom access.
posted by Sara C. at 2:19 PM on September 29, 2010

Post a sign with the following:

Study shows office workstations are dirtier than a toilet. Just imagine what's in our breakroom.

Next to which, post one (or more) of the following:
BBC article
WSJ article
NRC article with citations

Googling for "bacteria keyboards desks" will bring up plenty of results.
posted by invisible ink at 7:54 PM on September 29, 2010

I'm surprised by all these chiding sign suggestions. No one wants to be chided in the break room (or anywhere really).

We have a dishwashing haiku:

Wash one for the team
All the dishes will be clean
Your karma will gleen!

With a ridiculous clip art smily face waving.

When I see it, it makes me smile and feel virtuous about cleaning an extra dish if I'm already washing mine. I assume others feel the same because our kitchen stays pretty clean.
posted by paddingtonb at 9:36 PM on September 29, 2010

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