Thursday, January 22, 2015

Co-Worker With A Clean Fetish Could Be Mentally Ill

Dear Tazi:

I have a co-worker who I will swear is obsessive-compulsive. "Alfred" is constantly cleaning around the office. I don't mind when he cleans the common areas (our lunchroom microwave is spotless) but I do have a problem when he comes over to my desk when I am not around to "straighten up" the area. More than once I have had to hunt for important notes and files, only to discover that Alfred threw them away because they were not written neatly, and therefore looked like "doodles and scrap". Yesterday, Alfred threw away the iced coffee I had just bought on my lunch hour because it upset him that the cup was "sweating" onto my desk and making a ring on it.

I have tried to talk to HR about Alfred, and they in turn have tried to correct his behavior, but apparently Alfred has a disability, and the law requires he be given reasonable accommodations. The company is afraid to censure him for his behavior, which makes me think it is related to his disability.

I am ready to completely lose it on Alfred! His presence makes me anxious, and I am afraid to even get up and use the ladies' room out of fear that my important projects are going to disappear! Can you think of a polite way that I could deal with Alfred? Overall, he is a very sweet gentleman and I realize that he means well, but he is driving me batty!

Frustrated Slob

Dear Frustrated Slob:

Your signature tells me that your desk must look like an eye-sore to Alfred. While it is your business to keep your desk in a way that you can manage to get your work done, it is businesslike for your desk to look like a hurricane just hit it. While this does not excuse Alfred's behavior, it does explain it. For the sake of sanity for the both of you, I am going to suggest a compromise.

If there is any form of paper or notes that are important to you, put them in a clearly labeled folder (you might even ask Alfred to make this folder for you, so he will recognize it when he sees it). Make it clear to Alfred that anything that is in this folder is not to be thrown away! The next time Alfred is unable to resist the urge to clean your desk while you are at lunch, he will understand that the contents of the folder are important; he may try to organize the folder, so if you have the contents in a particular order let Alfred know that everything is in place and the most he is allowed to do is align the edges of the papers.

If there is anything else that you do not want Alfred to touch - your iced coffee, for instance - let him know. Explain to him that rather than throw out your coffee he could wipe down the sides and create a coaster out of napkins or paper towels. While Alfred probably cannot overcome his basic urges to clean and tidy things, he can redirect these desires into healthier and more appropriate reactions. Please understand that Alfred does not mean to drive you "batty"; mental illness - if that is what is affecting his behavior - can be extremely difficult to overcome. Patience, understanding, and instruction are what is needed.


Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with a Bachelors of Arts in Communications. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.

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