Hoarders At Work: Clean Or Consequences

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When you have to separate a very talented person from your company, it hurts. As my partner often repeated, “Nice beats genius every time.” Make sure you fit into the culture and connect with people at work in a polite and congenial way. Showing respect for your co-workers is paramount, no matter what else you produce.

Having empathy, sensitivity, and good personal habits are all part of the emotional intelligence that can come with good parenting, life experience or coaching. For many of us, relational skills are not innate or intuitive, but simply learned. The sooner, the better.

There are certain chronic personal problems that cut down even a towering intellect, great talent, or an otherwise hardworking individual.

Hoarding is one of those personal problems that can ruin your career. Unfortunately, this affliction seems to come with a “thick skin,” which may be a euphemism for an antisocial personality disorder. That’s why the hoarder acts like a victim when people are finally fed up, no matter how many times they’ve been told to clean up their act.

We think of hoarding in its extreme as a problem people have in their homes, where they can hide from onlookers. Hoarders often make less of a mess at work, because at the office a cleaning crew comes in and tries to toss away the worst of it. But sometimes, even the cleaning people can’t approach the task of untangling what should be saved and what’s trash. And, they certainly can’t file away piles or make order out of chaos.

You may have seen this at your office: a staff member who has an obvious insensitivity to the rules of shared space, despite repeated attempts to make them aware of how they are affecting those around them. Here’s what we dreaded facing at work, every day.

A small aisle through half open boxes and old lunch sacks led the way toward my co-worker’s desk, where she sat amid a half dozen empty Coke cans and a stained, two day old Starbucks vente cup.  To her left and right, sat small mountains of discarded documents, several pairs of reading glasses, pens, soiled paper towels and crushed flyers. On her credenza, a load of whatnot crammed the small space in front of books leaning at different angles. Color charts splayed open, a clutch of paper cuttings sat precariously atop the cutter, and an exacto knife stuck into a board perched above it all. The floor under her desk was crowded with more used bags, old paper and rotting food, giving her just a few inches of space to move her small chair.

No amount of asking, explaining, or doing got the office tidied, much less clean. A couple of times each week I stayed late, putting things in order. But it didn’t take a half-day before she was sunk in her mess, and we all were surrounded by it.

The best we could do was shut her door, but sometimes clients came in and we were mortified.

Her office mate got sick and stayed sick for months, perhaps from the dust and the dirt. Plus, he was just plain miserable from his increasingly smaller oasis of clean amid her uncontainable mess.

So, after years of trying to manage this, we had to be fair to everyone else in the office. We had to lose a hardworking teammate and a really talented person. No more hints, no more talks, no more cleaning up after her, no more good friend. We simply could not operate around the problems she was causing. In the end, it’s everyone’s loss.

Are you struggling with hoarding or another personal problem that’s cutting away at the goodwill of your co-workers? There are many support groups that offer guidance, often with a sponsor who has made their way through the problem you have. Do something about it, and let your co-workers know what your plan is.

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