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Just Because It's on a Desk Out in the Open Does Not Mean It's Community Property

Many employees have desks and/or work places that are accessible to everyone. Their “stuff” is still their “stuff.”

A few weeks ago I spoke to a young lady who complained to me about co-workers helping themselves to items that do not belong to them.  This employee, we’ll call her Matika, works in an office that is an open space.  She sits in the front.  There are approximately 8 – 10 employees.  Most of the staff is in sales so they come and go frequently. 

Apparently her geographic location in the office invites borrowing or, in some cases, taking things from her desk.  She often comes in and has no have pens, pencils, paperclips etc.  Not only did they help themselves to things on the desk but items in her desk as well.  It got so bad that she sent out an email to the office reminding everyone that the items on and in her desk were not community property.   In addition, she printed labels with her name and adhered them to all the items on her desk.  She is contemplating chaining some items to the desk.    

I know how this feels.  One time I came back from a vacation to find that my beloved scissors, ‘Snippy” were missing.  I sent out an email pleading for the culprit to return Snippy unharmed and no questions would be asked.  I received a ransom note informing me I was to release the stapler or Snippy would sleep with the fish, rusted.  At least someone had a sense of humor.  Snippy did turn up eventually.  I apparently had locked him in a drawer and forgot I put him there.   

Another issue that Matika brought up was people walking up and reading her computer screen.  Some people have the audacity not only to blatantly read your screen but to also ask you questions about it.         

How about if someone opens your mail?  Would that be OK?  Same thing.  Just because a co-worker does not have a private office does not mean they are not entitled to privacy.  The company may be permitted to read anything on an employees’ computer but individuals do not have that right.  Besides, it is annoying. 

I also spoke to a lovely woman named Mary who works in a similar environment.  She told me, “Look, it goes with the territory. If you are at that front desk people are going to use your office supplies.”  She told me that, of course, it is annoying but she knows it isn’t going change.  She said, “If you do borrow something please put it back when you are done.  Come on, we all learned that in kindergarten.”  Mary also told me she used to work for an organization where she had to put away and lock up every item on her desk.  If she didn’t, they were gone forever.

Work can be stressful enough, please, return the pen.

Heron August 05, 2012 at 12:15 PM
Did Matika bring in her own pens, paperclips, and stapler? Or are they company supplies? If the company paid for them, then they aren't really hers. I work with a woman who is always locking supplies up, but the company pays for them! So honestly, I can't see putting the energy into "protecting" them from others who work for the same company.
Sue Smith August 05, 2012 at 12:59 PM
One day I showed up to work and someone took my keyboard because theirs broke!! There are limits. Get your own stuff, don't take someone else's supplies... It's called lazy.
Edith August 05, 2012 at 01:31 PM
I have been away for a few days and had co-workers "clean-up/neaten" my desk for me, and also re-pot a plant I had growing. The plant had been fine before - if I thought it needed re-potting, I would have done it. I ended up bringing it home and don't think it fared too well. I leave the papers spread out on my desk in a way that *I* can find things. I don't mind having them sit at my desk and help out by doing some of the work that needs to be done, but don't touch the papers that don't have anything to do with what you are doing! I end up having to sort through everything instead of just a few things. The thought of having to come back to clean up what others have "done for me" always ruins the rest from vacation...
Heron August 05, 2012 at 01:34 PM
If people are doing things like swiping someone else's keyboard, then there's something wrong with the way the company is being run. Where I work, if your keyboard is broken, you call IT and they replace it. Are there companies where everyone has to bring in their own supplies, including keyboards? Maybe I'm naive but I've never worked at a place like this. I don't know - maybe at the Watercooler everyone brings in their own things??????
Jim August 05, 2012 at 05:49 PM
These supplies may be company property, however, it takes time and effort to get replacements. When you sit down to work at your desk, you want to focus on your agenda, not on resupplying your office supplies! Just because the supplies belong to the company doesn't give someone the right to take something from someone. else's desk. You don't want someone to take your office supplies, so don't take supplies from others, without their permission.
RobF August 05, 2012 at 09:21 PM
I have a "mailbox" at my job that I keep allergy meds or snacks in for my personal use that I bought with my own money but I have coworkers that think it's ok to help themselves. I don't have a problem sharing when asked but to just take it is down right rude. Having a desk is the same thing. If its not yours, don't touch.
Heron August 05, 2012 at 11:51 PM
@Jim - If it takes "time and effort" for you to get things like pens and paperclips, then there's something wrong with the way your company is providing supplies. At my company, every department has a supply cabinet with pens, highlighters, staplers etc etc in it. It takes less than a minute to get to the supply cabinet. A co-worker of mine is concerned that others may "take our supplies" - something I can't figure out since we all work for the same company, and every department has supplies. So she locks the cabinet and hides the key, making it difficult to get a pen. I think the author of this article, as head of human resources, should be looking into WHY people can't get the supplies they need. I would never deliberately take things from another person's desk, but it's easy to understand why, if in a rush to get things to someone important, I would grab a stapler/highlighter, whatever.
Lisa Stamatelos August 06, 2012 at 12:36 AM
@Heron I am not head of HR at Matika's company.
Matika August 06, 2012 at 12:49 AM
As Matika I will clear up a few things. My company is small but we do have a supply cabinet that is literally behind my desk. And the cabinet is actually more convenient to get into than my desk. So most of the things are bought by the company. Although there have been a few things I brought in myself. Also, most of the other employees are independent contractors, so I don't think the company is mandated to buy them their supplies. I don't mind when people borrow something, but they don't put it back. And like Jim said, it bothers me because when I need something like my stapler I don't want to have to go on a search for it. Especially because it makes the company look bad when clients are waiting around for something stapled or a pen.
Billy Bubba Smith August 06, 2012 at 01:11 AM
That's part of the problem, there is always someone willing to justify something that is just rude. We've become a society that has just become extremely rude. Whatever happened to what we learned when we were 5 or 6, don't take anything that is not yours and if you need to borrow something, ask first ( and say please), then return it and say thank you. Simple, right?
Psychodog August 06, 2012 at 02:04 AM
Billy Bubba is right, everything we need to know we learned in kindergarten. Now, if only we would remember what we learned!
Rob August 06, 2012 at 02:47 AM
I count my blessings every morning when I get up...I don't have to travel to an office and deal with office crap. Work exclusively from home for many years now and have never looked back. The best part is that I can fart anytime I want and nobody would know.....
Smitty Chesterfield August 06, 2012 at 03:59 AM
I heard about one guy whose red stapler disappeared, and he didn't get any cake at an office celebration. They finally moved his desk to the basement. I guess management didn't like him.

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