Please Don't Break the Office Equipment: When Uninvested Employees Go Rogue

Updated on February 16, 2018
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Beverly majored in Psychology at GSU and has a strong interest in workplace politics and what drives people to behave as they do.

Introduction

Have you ever noticed that some employees seem to not really care about saving money or taking care of company property as if it were their own?

When I was little, there were a number of rental homes near where I lived. They always seemed rundown with old junk cars in the front yard, cats having multiple sets of half-wild kittens, and broken and battered toys scattered around the yard.

My mom told us that people who rented houses often weren't vested or didn't care about maintaining them as much as people who owned them because they had not worked hard to get the property and planned to move-on elsewhere, so didn't really care if they trashed the place and left it for someone else to clean and repair after they were gone. While I think my mom might have been a little prejudiced, she did have a point.

Sometimes it seems new employees and employees outside the office, do not respect the supplies and equipment. They don't seem vested in the company and don't care when something goes wrong because they can walk away and let someone else deal with the problem and refuse to take responsibility for their lack of concern, but this can cause a lot of tension in an office as well as cost money and lost work productivity.

Having a basic background in how to use office equipment properly should be part of everyone's training and while it would seem obvious that everyone knows how to use a copier, fax machine, stapler, phone, turn on a computer, send documents to the printer and put files in alphabetical order, unfortunately, this is often not the case.

How to Be a Respectful Employee in an Office

  1. The printer/copier: Do not leave any paper on the copier with the top closed so that people have to remove your paper before they can copy their own. Do not leave the top open (dust and debris can get in and damage the mirrors). Do not white-out something and then try to copy the paper without letting the white-out dry. Do not run crinkled or stapled copies through the machine. The results of that should be obvious before you even try it. Do not create a paper jam and leave it for someone else to clear and do not use all the paper and not put more in. Lastly, preview what you intend to print so you do not waste hundreds of sheets of paper which may only cost seven cents a piece but add up to hundreds of dollars wasted over time.
  2. There is a reason why we keep paperclips separate from push pins and replace caps on markers. You would know this if you ever worked in an office yourself. Putting your hand in the paperclip box and getting stuck by half a dozen push pins is not as thrilling as it might sound and when brand new highlighters and black markers we use almost daily go bad or bleed all over everything because you forgot to put the cap back on or half-heartedly attempted to replace it but didn't wait to hear it click in place, it costs us a minimum of $1 each and makes our job a lot more difficult than it needs to be. By the way, using a black Sharpie to highlight text has the opposite effect of what you intended and cannot be undone...sigh!
  3. There is a place for everything and everything is not in its place. When we are working with customers in a fast-paced environment, we do not need to think where the stapler or tape roll might be hiding or reach for our pen and find a wad of tootsie roll wrappers in its place. The phone should face the user not be turned the opposite way around. It is hard to dial a number when the keypad is upside down. Please replace everything the way you found it or better yet, don't touch it at all! It's not like you use it for anything productive.
  4. Sticky notes are for temporary messages, not for creating a collage around the computer. Sticky notes, which are also kind of pricey, should not be used as a substitute for good bookkeeping. While it is great to jot a phone number down or leave a message for someone who is coming on the next shift, the notes need to be removed after they are read, not left for weeks upon end so that no one has any idea whether they are important or not and so cease to pay any attention to them at all as they collect like dry leaves around the desktop with no one willing to take the initiative to remove them just in case they might be important.
  5. Respect the equipment and the people who use it. Do not bang on copiers, stretch phone cords around the computers and entrap your coworkers or hog the common desk space so that no one can get to it or use anything other than you. Gently replace copier covers. Do not set an open cup of coffee near the computer keyboard or leave drip stains or worse yet, your bad breath, cologne or oily skin residue on any surface, especially phone receivers please!!!
  6. Do not download things on the company computer unless it is your job to do so. In case you have not noticed, there are these things called viruses that hide in downloads and disable computers. The company may well have anti-virus software installed, but don't tempt fate. It is okay to occasionally browse websites when business is slow and all your work is done, but be cautious about downloading viruses that can wipe out stored data and make your coworkers and bosses your very worst enemies.
  7. If you share departments near other offices, do not "borrow" their supplies and not return them or better yet, do not borrow them at all. Get your own!!! Okay, we all know that some offices are not as good as others about maintaining supplies, but just like at home, if you use the last drop of milk, don't put the empty carton back in the refrigerator. If you need to use something that is not yours, ask first, make sure it is okay and then replace it with your own office's supply fund.
  8. When planning big jobs, let someone know in advance. If you are planning on copying 200 booklets which need collating and stapling, you need to plan in advance. Make sure there is enough paper so you do not use the last of it. Make sure no one else needs to use the printer or copier during the time you are using it and make use of the copier's features (i.e. grouping, stapling, hole punching) so that you do not force underlings to put 800 sheets of paper in order and staple them by hand. Which leads us to number nine!
  9. If you do not know how to use a piece of office equipment, learn how or ask someone to show you. Also, it would be nice if you remembered, so the next time you will not bother others who are doing their own work. I am always amazed at someone who asks, which way does the paper go in this "thing". There is a diagram of all modern office equipment that shows you where to put the paper and in which direction. I could show you 'where to put it', but you might not like my answer.
  10. Use the proper equipment for the proper job. Do not use the office tape to put a flyer on the painted wall. It will tear the paint off the wall. Do not jam the stapler and then beat it and break the spring. Do not try to staple 200 copies with a stapler designed for small jobs not big ones, it will cause the stapler to perform badly and most likely leave unfolded sharp metal prongs to slice into the hand of the next person who handles the stapled paperwork.

Use common sense. There is nothing wrong with asking someone how to do something, but if you expect them to do it for you when they are busy doing their own work instead of doing it properly yourself, then you are a liability to the office, not an asset. Everyone, no matter what their status, should know basic office skills and courtesy when sharing and using supplies. It may seem silly to even mention these things when there are a lot more important things to consider, but keeping the office running smoothly, respecting equipment, and not abusing supplies can lead to more money and more time spent on other things like year-end bonuses and pizza parties

So don't toss the stapler with the stuck staples in the trash or switch it out with your coworker's stapler like you never broke it. Don't copy your butt or your face on the copier and do respect where things go and when you ask to borrow things, replace things as soon as possible as chances are the stapler, tape and scissors are needed on a minute -by-minute basis and not something you can go without for ten days without having to borrow someone else's while you order another until your old one shows up ten minutes before the new one arrives. Putting things back and doing your part to keep things clean and well maintained will go a long way in insuring a happy, productive workplace for all!

Ever reached into the paperclip holder and come up with a twenty foot long chain necklace? Yeah, someone made good use of that $10 an hour to learn a new trade.
Ever reached into the paperclip holder and come up with a twenty foot long chain necklace? Yeah, someone made good use of that $10 an hour to learn a new trade.

Who Knew It Took Talent to Use Such Things as Paper Cutters, Staplers and Hole Punches?

I've spent most of my adult life working in an office of some type and spent half of that working as the office manager, so I could tell some stories. I've seen paper wasted by the forest-load, lethal weapons made from rubber bands and pencils which were launched at empty boxes stacked along a wall, and brand new office chairs ruined in less than a week with chair arms and seat backs completely torn off . Did you think it was a recliner or a step ladder people?

Recently the paper cutter we had used in the office for nearly twenty years was found crushed between the copier and the paper shredder with the handle torn off. A replacement model of the same caliber would cost $150, but with some frugal on-line comparisons, we were able to talk our supplier into a decent replacement for $35.

Less than a month after purchasing the new cutter, I came in one morning to hear an awful sound and found a new employee trying to cut 20 sheets of paper with a blade designed for no more than five at one time!!!

I resisted the urge to shout, "What do you think you are doing?" and instead inquired, "You do know you are not supposed to cut more than five sheets at one time, right?"

The employee looked at me blankly and continue to attempt to cut the 20 sheets, putting a little more power into the cut thinking this would solve the problem rather than create a bigger one and destroy our second paper cutter in less than two months.

'Ca-Runch, Quoosh,' came the sound as the blade cut six inches into the papers and bent and shredded the rest. in less than two seconds, twenty sheets of shredded, bent and preprinted paper are tossed in the trash, not the recycle bin and it is all I can do not to clutch my heart and faint dead away on the worn-out carpet.

No Office Manager Wants to Micromanage Little Jobs, but Little Mistakes Can Cost a Lot of Money over Time

If you have to order the supplies, you know how much they cost and when you know that your department is on a budget and that employee work hours will be cut back and salary raises are contingent on meeting your budget, you tend to be extra cautious about little things that add up to a lot of money over time like using over half the tissues in a brand new box of Kleenex to clean up a coffee spill, when there is a mop and old towel sitting behind the cabinet, or bending paper clips into animal shapes or breaking them into little pieces and leaving them lying on the desktop like an elderly dog crumbling kibble.

Sure, everyone uses office equipment for personal use sometimes, like when copying a recipe, but when you print out 200 pages of comments on the color copier when all you wanted was the one page recipe but did not preview it before printing out a list of over 600 people commenting on how they loved or could improve on the recipe, then the misuse of equipment becomes costly for everyone.

I've seen employees use the office scissors to scrape dog poo off their shoes and and put the scissors back in the drawer without even wiping them off, or chew the tops off all the pens, or spray half a can of Lysol in the bathroom after passing wind or use five full-sized paper towels to dry their hands and a half a roll of tissue to wipe their bottom and clog up the toilet so it overflows onto the floor and leave it for someone else to clean up.

While you don't want to count out the minutes people spend in the toilet or limit them to five sheets of toilet paper for number one and ten for bigger jobs, there comes a point where you have to remind people that wasting supplies is just as bad as wasting time goofing off when there is work to be done.

All's Well That Is Taken Care of Well

There are some things that are dangerous to neglect, like leaving a space heater on high overnight without unplugging it or leaving the box cutter open and facing outward and pressed against a hard surface. There are other things that are annoying like leaving black pens in the crevices of the black keyboard so that when you begin to type, the pen jumps up at you and rolls under your fingers preventing you entering your access code and forcing you to start over again.

Being a good co-worker is like being a good roommate. If you respect others and the environment in which you work, all will go well, but if you make life more difficult by your presence, then it is unlikely you will last long in that position or have many friends.

Let's face it, we all goof off and make mistakes and it is the rare employee who does not take advantage of modern office equipment to do some personal work that they couldn't do at home, but constant abuses of equipment and fellow employees set the workplace up to be an unhappy place with a lot of arguing and complaining. If you are contributing to an unhappy workplace then you are part of the problem not part of the team and taking care of supplies and respecting others personal space goes a long way to creating a comfortable and productive work environment.

Questions & Answers

    What are some issues you have encountered in your office or work space and had did you solve the issue?

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