Workers dish to Moneyish about colleagues stealing food and even microwaving wet socks in office kitchens.
Tempers flare in workplace kitchens.
Any communal space is a feeding ground for drama, but there’s something about packing everyone’s food into close quarters that seems to bring out the worst.
Take the epic “who stole the shrimp fried rice” thread that captivated Twitter last week, where Los Angeles comedian Zak Toscani live-tweeted the investigation into an alleged lunch theft at the post-production company where he works.
“Co-worker got his lunch stolen and they’ve agreed to let him watch the security camera tape. This is the most excited I’ve ever been at any job ever,” he posted March 29th, setting the scene for a thread that has been retweeted 178,000 times and drawn more than 8,000 comments.
Co-worker got his lunch stolen and they’ve agreed to let him watch the security camera tape. This is the most excited I’ve ever been at any job ever. Ever.
— Zak Toscani (@zaktoscani) March 29, 2018
The footage reportedly revealed that a female colleague threw away the takeout, and the plot thickened after she returned to work and denied taking the lunch — while also implying the victim was a snitch for telling HR. Toscani ended by writing that while everyone knows who did it, “we may never know why.”
This reported thief isn’t the only person out to lunch when it comes to keeping her hands off of other people’s food. Dr. Gail Barnes told Moneyish that she had just sliced herself an apple in her Chicago office kitchen a few years ago, and left the fruit on a plate next to her lunchbox while she turned around to make tea. When she looked back, a man was eating her slices.
“I was stunned! I looked at him, and he looked back at me, and he ate it all in front of me,” she said, explaining she was “too shocked” to tell him to stop. “In the end I said, ‘Did you enjoy that?’ He didn’t flinch!”
Community college instructor Shaindel Beers told Moneyish that lunch theft was so bad in her Oregon office several years ago that someone once stole the breading off of her fried chicken — and then put the rest of it back in the fridge. Another time, she’d packed whole wheat pasta because she was taking a gestational diabetes test later that afternoon. Someone took it, so she had to eat her stash of Ramen. She failed the test.
“I have no idea if I would have failed it if I’d had my healthy meal, but thinking about the possibility that I had to spend a day getting three blood tests made me REALLY angry at the lunch bandit,” said Beers, 41, pointing out that this kind of lunch drama gets serious when people have dietary restrictions and health issues.
She complained to HR and the office debated setting up a camera in the kitchen, but too many people were against it. “We were basically told not to leave anything in the refrigerator overnight, because it was suspected that the person stealing lunches was on the custodial staff,” she said, adding, “It was never confirmed who was stealing the lunches.”
Turns out, offices are rife with lunch thieves. Almost 1 in 5 workers (18%) admitted to eating another co-worker’s lunch out of the office fridge, according to a 2017 American Express OPEN survey. And 17% admitted they’d left the office microwave dirty after using it.
Another cardinal sin of the office kitchen is microwaving something stinky, such as heating up fish or burning popcorn. In fact, Aspen City Hall in Colorado actually banned putting fish sticks in the microwave last summer. “Yes, there was a fish sticks incident. Yes, they did away with fish sticks, fish products and broccoli,” an official told The Aspen Times.
— Hannah Benson (@_hannahbenny) March 29, 2018
But it doesn’t get grosser than this: A Long Island nurse who wished to remain anonymous told Moneyish that a doctor once put his wet socks in the hospital microwave to dry them off. “We made mincemeat out of this idiot!” she said, recalling that the nurses confronted him with, “What’s wrong with you?” She added that while this happened seven years ago, “the story is epic throughout the hospital, and this M.D. remains shunned.”
“When it’s work colleagues and you’re eating together, you’re sharing a refrigerator together, mishaps are bound to happen. And they do,” business etiquette expert Thomas P. Farley, a.k.a. “Mister Manners” told Moneyish.
So what should you do if you catch someone stealing your lunch, leaving dirty dishes in the sink, or you’re gagging on microwave fumes? Farley walked Moneyish through the dos and don’ts of resolving office kitchen clashes.
Do label your food. “Some of the reasons why I think this happens is that people haven’t labeled their food. Your yogurt looked like their yogurt, and they didn’t even realize it when they took it,” said Farley. So clearly label your food and drinks to avoid any confusion – and to further stake your claim to whatever you’ve got in there.
Don’t leave food in the fridge for too long. Farley also noted that after keeping something in the fridge for more than a day or two, “some people might consider it abandoned and free game,” he said. “If your office cleans out the fridge at the end of the week, and now it’s Friday afternoon, someone might feel justified in helping themselves to the rest of that apple pie.”
Don’t put up a sign. “The thing with signs is that we’re surrounded by so many of them, that after a while, signs just become part of the scenery,” said Farley. And people don’t take kindly to passive-aggressive notes. “Putting up a sign like, ‘Your mother does not work here. Clean up after yourself,’ is more likely to make someone laugh or ratchet up the bad behavior,” he said.
Do chat with the culprit in private. If you know without a doubt who did this, catch them alone and have a polite word with them. “I would not go on the attack,” said Farley. “Start with, ‘It’s probably my fault for not more clearly labeling my food, but I just noticed that you seem to have enjoyed the yogurt that I brought to work this morning. Is there anything I can do in the future to label my items more clearly so we can avoid this confusion together?’ You know and they know exactly what happened, but they’re just going to get defensive if you back them in a corner. If you do it in a gracious way, they will be far more likely to think twice before it happens again.”
Do report this if it’s a serial offense. If you’ve spoken to the culprit and they keep repeating the bad behavior, then it’s time to bring in HR or your supervisor. “If there is perpetual fridge theft, then you really do have a larger issue here. If someone thinks it’s OK to go into the fridge and take items clearly the property of someone else, what does that say about the honesty of the individual, and could that person be stealing more from the company?” noted Farley.
He suggested sending an email or setting a meeting with your boss or HR that paints this larger picture, saying something along these lines: “I hate to even involve you in this. I know it seems insignificant, but I need to let you know that something has been going on, and I have been trying to handle it quietly on my own for a few months now, and I have had no success. I would really appreciate your help in putting an end to this situation.”
“As we are in workspaces that are increasingly more open, we’re seeing, hearing and smelling more things (from our co-workers) than we ever have before,” Farley added. “So it’s really incumbent on everyone to be extra considerate.”
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