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The 10 Dirty Secrets of the Office Break Room

Shh! Don't tell anyone, but your office break room is a prime source of anger, resentment and outrageous behaviors that are sure to eat you up inside.

Blogging about dirty office break rooms last week got me thinking about a makeshift Top 10 list because making wildly inaccurate Top 10 lists is an occupational hazard. Seriously though, if you've ever shared a break room with other people, then you know it's bound to lead to problems, pettiness and perturbed co-workers. So let's get down and dirty with a look at the 10 dirty secrets of the office break room:

1. Someone will walk off with utensils. Where did all the forks and spoons go? Yogurt in hand, you're rifling through the drawers and desperately scanning the counter tops to find that they're all MIA. But the designated office supply person/intern/temp just bought some, right? Right. You would have brought one from home, but you figured you'd just use a plastic spoon from the break room. Now your yogurt taunts you with its delicious, inedible presence. Maybe you have a spare wrapped, plastic spoon in your bag, desk or glove compartment from the fast food place you went to last week? Oh, please make it so.

2. Someone will steal stuff. We're still in a recession, so why spring for paper towels and toilet paper at the store when you can load up in the break room or the storage supply closet? A roll here, a roll there...will anyone really notice or care? Or maybe someone keeps stealing your lunches (see Secret #9). Break room theft can turn into a real problem for employers, but if employees haven't had a raise in two years and salaries aren't keeping pace with inflation then it's no big deal, right? Wrong. Don't steal. It's never a good idea. Besides, cleaning up messes gets difficult when the paper towels keep disappearing.

3. Someone won't clean up after themselves. Ah, now we get down to it. The Mystery Mess Maker. Every company has one. Or two. Or twenty (see Secret #5). You walk into the break room to find crumbs on the counter top, or far worse. The Mystery Mess Maker explodes things in the microwave, spills drinks on the floor and leaves sticky spots in the refrigerator for someone else to clean up. The type of mess varies, but the reaction is always the same: Couldn't this asswipe take TWO SECONDS with a paper towel to clean it up? Hey, where are all the paper towels?? Someday, you're going to catch this employee red-handed and shame him or her into shaping up, too. Until then, let's move on to Secret #4.

4. Someone will be anal retentive. This employee is the Mystery Mess Maker's arch rival, the person who leaves angry Post-It notes on the microwave about cleaning up, putting utensils and other supplies back in their proper places and how everyone needs to lend a helping hand OR ELSE. This person might also take on the task of cleaning up other people's messes while simultaneously complaining how he or she doesn't have time for this but someone might slip and fall on the soda splotches if no one deals with them and can't anyone take initiative around here?? I'm not your mommy! Actually, you're sort of acting like one.

5. Someone will see cleaning as beneath them. Someone? Let's make that almost everyone in the office these days! These employees have college degrees and nifty job titles and cleaning up after themselves and others is...well, it's someone else's job, isn't it? I'm too good for this, I was on the honor roll in college, I don't even do my own laundry, and can't we make the intern or temp do it? I'm pretty much already the VP of marketing, and I don't have time for tedious, menial tasks because I have to make 50 copies of the quarterly report for my boss. Oh, just give us a break.

6. Someone will take the last cup. Jim never has a second cup at home, but at work he's always taking the last cup without brewing a new pot for everyone else. But it's not just coffee, because this employee will also take the last [insert name of food item] without starting a new box. Yes, yes, yes -- just leave the task of opening it to someone else, will you? This employee probably doesn't replace the toilet paper roll in the office bathroom, either, which is arguably even more annoying. On that note, where did all the toilet paper go?

7. Someone will hog fridge space. You open the office fridge to put your lunch bag in there but can't find any room amid all the unappetizing Tupperware containers. One employee in particular seems to have staked out a 1' x 1' plot of space all to himself, too. Who does he think he is? This is a community refrigerator for everyone in the office. Chances are, some of this employee's "collection" has gone bad, too. Step up to the plate, Secret #8.

8. Someone will leave a moldy trail. Ugh, what's that smell? If the smell of the office fridge is bad, just wait until you really stop to take a look. An unlabeled container of moldy spaghetti dated six weeks ago -- yum! A half-consumed bottle of Snapple from...? Dates, as well as ownership of said items, remain unknown amid unconfirmed reports and sightings. The moldy trail runs cold, and you never seem to have an appetite anymore. Then one day, the anal retentive employee has finally had enough and throws all of the old, plastic containers and half-empty drinks away, possibly smoking out the offending employees who will then complain vociferously. Hey, I paid a lot for that container! Well, next time remember to take it home, will you?

9. Someone will steal your lunch. You hit the fridge at lunchtime to find that your lunch has been lifted again. The yummy roasted turkey and Swiss sandwich on the good bread is on its way to someone else's stomach while yours churns and burns with hunger and anger. Maybe you walk down the street to get some fast food and then spend the whole afternoon passing bad gas. Whoever is stealing your lunch is gonna pay big time. As soon as you figure out who the culprit is, because the nasty Post-It notes you're leaving on the fridge aren't working so far. Grrr. Note to self: Remember to pick up a few extra plastic spoons while waiting for my fast food order.

10. Someone will loiter. Why is so-and-so always in the break room? This co-worker has become a break room fixture, always making more food, talking to a co-worker, or sitting and surfing on a smartphone. It makes you wonder when he or she has time for, you know, actually working. This co-worker might be the biggest gossip in the company, but he or she might also be the most likely to catch the office lunch stealer or Mystery Mess Maker. Or maybe this employee is both? Hmm. Mystery solved!

Enjoy your break, and remember to stop and smell the roses. It's good for you, and flowers are a lot more friendly to the nose than that slice of unlabeled, moldy lasagna taking up valuable shelf space in the office fridge.


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