how to tell employees to clean up after themselves

We’ve all been there – you walk into the break room ready for your lunch break and find dirty dishes piled up in the sink, crumbs all over the counter, and a weird smell coming from the fridge. Not exactly an appetizing scene. Or you go to use the bathroom and find that the previous person left it, shall we say, not so fresh. Look, keeping shared spaces clean is just common courtesy and part of being a good colleague. But sometimes folks need a friendly reminder. So let’s have a little chat about cleaning up after ourselves, shall we?

3 Key Takeaways for Keeping It Tidy

Before we get into the nitty gritty, here are the key takeaways to keep in mind:

  • Clean up after yourself.¬†Whether it’s the breakroom, bathroom, or your own workspace, leaving things neat and tidy for the next person is the considerate thing to do.
  • Communicate respectfully. If you need to give someone a reminder, do it privately and kindly. Shaming people publicly often backfires.
  • Lead by example.¬†Model good behavior by cleaning up, even if you weren’t the one who made the mess. People often follow the examples set by coworkers.

Alright, let’s get into some practical tips!

Give the Office a Quick Scan Before You Leave

Make it a habit to just give your workspace a quick tidy before you head out for the day or go to lunch. Are there dishes in the sink you can load into the dishwasher? Throw away any trash and wipe down the counters and table. Are the chairs neatly tucked in? Give the bathroom a fast once-over too – throw away trash, tidy up anything out of place, and give the toilet a quick scrub if needed. Developing these small habits makes a big difference in keeping common areas pleasant for everyone.

Remind Folks Kindly About Cleaning Up After Meetings or Lunch

When you’ve just had a team meeting with snacks or a potluck lunch, it can be easy for everyone to get caught up in conversations and rush back to work, leaving behind a mess. In these cases, a gentle reminder as people are packing up can help. Something like, “Hey all, can we take just a couple minutes to clean up before we get back to our desks?” or “Before you head out, please put your dishes in the dishwasher and wipe down your area.” Make it a group effort, thank everyone for their cooperation, and set the expectation that leaving things neat is standard practice.

Address Repeat Offenders Privately

Hopefully just modeling good behavior yourself and giving friendly reminders will do the trick! But what if you have a repeat offender who just doesn’t seem to get the message? The key here is to avoid public shaming, which will likely just breed resentment. Instead, find a private moment to have a kind, constructive chat.

You can say something like, “Hey Steve, I wanted to touch base on something. I’ve noticed you’ve left dishes in the sink a couple times this week after lunch. I wanted to check in and see if there was a reason for that or if there’s anything I can do to help?” Give the person a chance to explain – there may be something else going on. Offer to help come up with a solution, and ask for their ideas too. If it seems they simply weren’t aware it was an issue, you can politely but firmly say you’d appreciate more care being taken to clean up moving forward.

The goal is to make it a constructive conversation, not an accusation. If the behavior persists after you’ve gently addressed it, then it may be time to loop in your manager. But start with the polite, private conversation.

Make Cleaning Part of Routine Office Processes

Beyond just giving reminders when messes happen, another helpful tactic is to build cleaning into standard office processes and routines:

  • Have a sign-up sheet for people to take turns cleaning the break room or bathrooms on a weekly or monthly basis.
  • Build in cleanup time after meetings or lunches on the agenda.
  • Have a written policy that the last person who uses the microwave has to wipe it down.
  • Keep cleaning supplies easily accessible and well-stocked.
  • Occasionally send out friendly office memos about cleanliness.
  • Start team meetings with a shout-out to people who have been observed tidying up. Public praise helps motivate!

The more you can make cleaning up just an expected habit, the less often you’ll need to address it reactively.

Lead the Way in Cleaning Up Common Spaces

Remember, actions speak louder than words. If you want to encourage your coworkers to clean up after themselves, step up and lead the way in keeping shared spaces spotless.

  • When you finish eating in the break room, load your dishwasher, take out the trash if needed, and wipe down the tables and counters.
  • Offer to fully clean the fridge every so often to throw out old food and spills.
  • Keep bathroom supplies stocked and give the toilet a quick scrub even if you didn’t make the mess.
  • Sweep up the hallway or lobby if you notice dust bunnies collecting.
  • Use your Clorox wipes to clean surfaces like the copy machine and water cooler.
  • Take initiative to fully tidy conference rooms after meetings.

Even if it’s not your own mess, modeling this behavior helps establish a culture where it’s normal to pitch in. Others will take notice and start mirroring you. And when you do gently remind someone to clean up after themselves, you’ll have even more credibility when they see you practicing what you preach.

Make Cleanliness Part of Onboarding & Training

Want to proactively address cleaning expectations from day one? Make it part of your onboarding and training for new hires.

  • Include office cleanliness policies and guidelines in the employee handbook.
  • Designate a coworker to give new hires a tour and point out where supplies are kept and expectations for common spaces.
  • Ask an experienced team member to buddy up with new hires and model tidying habits.
  • Have the cleaning schedule sign-up be part of orientation for fresh faces.

Start them off with clear guidelines and you’ll have an easier time down the road. No need to reinvent the wheel each time.

Get the Custodial Team on Your Side

If your office has a custodial service that comes in periodically, become allies! Thank them for their hard work, ask if there are any problem areas you should know about, and see if they have any requests for how your team can make their jobs easier. When they feel appreciated by you, they’ll become more invested in keeping your office spaces clean. It gives them more job satisfaction when people actually notice and value their contributions.

Make It Fun with Some Friendly Competition

Liven up the expectation to keep things tidy with some friendly competition! See if your coworkers would enjoy a little motivation in the form of a contest.

  • Have a leaderboard tracking points for cleaning tasks completed and shout-outs given. Whoever tops the board gets a reward like their favorite snack or a gift card.
  • Occasionally leave a fake piece of trash somewhere with a note that says “Congratulations, you found the tidiness test trash! Claim your prize!” When people find it and clean it up, they win a small treat.
  • Draw names and assign cleaning tasks for common areas. Whoever receives the most compliments on their work wins.

A little fun and games can lighten the mood around cleaning and get people more invested.

Express Your Appreciation!

Never underestimate the power of positive feedback. When you notice teammates making an extra effort to keep shared spaces clean, don’t be shy about expressing your appreciation:

  • Give them a high five and a “nice job, the break room looks awesome!”
  • Send a quick Slack or email thanking them for tidying up after the team meeting.
  • When you walk by someone wiping down the counters, smile and say you really notice and value them doing that.
  • Ask your manager if you can give shout-outs about cleanliness during a team huddle.
  • Customize a mug that says “World’s Best Dishwasher Unloader” and gift it to frequent helpers.
  • Bring in donuts “just because” for those who consistently tidy up without having to be asked.

People love to be recognized and validated. And what gets rewarded gets repeated. So offer up sincere praise and thanks whenever you catch someone doing their part to keep things clean!

Make Sure Offices & Equipment Are Cleanliness-Friendly

Harder to clean up when the office layout itself seems rigged against you? Look for ways to set up the physical workspace to make cleaning easier:

  • In break rooms, make sure trash cans and recycling bins are ample and conveniently located.
  • Provide disinfectant wipes and sprays for cleaning appliances and surfaces.
  • Ensure sinks are equipped with soap, sponges, and dish towels.
  • Mount wall dispensers for paper towels and hand soap near sinks.
  • Consider installing a dishwasher if you notice folks aren’t diligent about hand washing.
  • In bathrooms, provide brush holders with disposable toilet scrub brushes.
  • Put up signage with friendly reminders about cleaning expectations.
  • Look for appliances like microwaves designed to wiped down easily. Choose smooth surfaces that won’t trap food and spills.
  • Make sure office chairs have an easy path to be tucked in under desks so people aren’t tempted to leave them astray.
  • Use waste bins that are the optimal size and shape for the space. Too small and they overflow quickly. Too large and they hog precious space.

It’s human nature to take shortcuts, so design things to make the desired cleaning behavior convenient. Remove obstacles and unnecessary effort.

Address Any Morale Issues Contributing to the Problem

Now, occasionally there can be more going on than just someone forgetting or not realizing they should clean up. Many of us have been there – when you’re really burnt out, stressed, or resentful at work, summoning the motivation to tidy up common areas can feel like one chore too many.

So if you have a teammate who is usually conscientious but suddenly seems to be slacking on cleaning, check in on how they’re doing overall. Is their workload too heavy right now? Are they feeling frustrated or unhappy about something? Let them know you’ve noticed they seem overwhelmed lately and see if there’s anything you can do to help or if they need to talk. A little empathy and understanding might be all that’s needed to get things back on track.

Sometimes a messy break room is really about problems in the workplace culture itself. In those cases, addressing morale issues is key for creating an environment where people are happy to chip in. But that’s a whole different (lengthy) conversation!

Make It About the Team, Not Just Individuals

At the end of the day, keeping shared spaces clean is a team effort. So avoid framing it as any one person’s responsibility. Use language like “Hey team, let’s all be sure to…” or “Thanks for doing your part!” It’s not just one person’s job – it’s everyone’s. We’re all in this together!

Emphasize that tidying up benefits the whole team by making the office a more pleasant and healthy place to work. It shows respect for your colleagues and custodial staff too. Framing it as supporting your coworkers often motivates more than just rules or personal responsibility. Show how even small efforts contribute to the greater good!

And there you have it – some tips for politely but effectively reminding your colleagues to clean up after themselves! With a combo of friendly reminders, leading by example, making it a habit, and expressing appreciation, you can cultivate an office culture where consideration and tidiness are the norm. It may take some time, patience, and teamwork – but the payoff of having pleasant, sanitary shared spaces makes it well worth the effort.

Now enough talking (or reading in this case) – time to take action! Let’s go make our office a clean, shining example. Whatever mess you encounter – be the person who takes the initiative to tidy it up. I know you and the whole team have got this. Happy cleaning!


Keeping a clean office doesn’t have to be a drag or cause tension among coworkers. With the right approach of positive reminders, empathy, leading by example, and making cleaning a built-in expectation, managers can create a shared culture of consideration. Little daily habits of cleaning up after ourselves, addressing issues privately with care, expressing appreciation, and designing a workspace with cleanliness in mind allows things to run smoothly.

Cleanliness may require continued effort, but the benefits for morale, health, and professionalism are well worth it. A cluttered office can quickly become chaotic and stressful. But a clean, fresh, and tidy shared space allows creativity and focus to flourish.

So next time you’re leaving behind a common area, give it quick scan and spend the extra minute leaving things better than you found them. It’s a simple way we can show respect for our colleagues, our workspace, and ourselves