Excellent co-worker is alarmingly untidy

Marie McIntyre
Marie McIntyre

Q: I have an intelligent, professional co-worker whose office looks like a pig sty. “Mark” must be some sort of hoarder because he never throws anything away. Stacks of paper cover his desk, and documents are haphazardly strewn across the floor. Plastic food containers and dirty utensils are everywhere.

Although Mark’s office has become a standing joke, it’s really not funny at all. Mark is never able to find information when we need it, and the clutter gives visitors a bad impression of our business. His office is like an obscene gesture to everyone who works here.

Our supervisor is located in a different building, so he isn’t around very often. We’ve mentioned our concerns to Mark, but he doesn’t seem to care. What can we do about this?

A: Office hoarders seldom reform without a clear directive from management. Because your supervisor only visits occasionally, his reaction to Mark’s mess may simply be due to it being out of sight, out of mind. But since the rest of you encounter this chaos on a daily basis, you must help your boss understand the problem.

For example: “We need your help because Mark’s office has become a serious issue. He can’t find important information, and the clutter makes a very negative impression on visitors. His old food containers are disgusting and unsanitary. Mark won’t change unless management insists, so we would like you to talk with him.”

With any luck, your boss will wise up and begin some serious performance coaching. This means establishing firm expectations, following up to be sure they are met, and imposing consequences if the problem continues. But if your supervisor wimps out, the only remaining option might be a group intervention. Or perhaps a group clean-up.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author. Send in questions and get free coaching tips at, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach.