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strangely dramatic responses to mundane work events — Ask a Manager

We had the office water fountain wars. We installed some new water fountains about 5 years back–ones with filtered cold and hot water, for cups/bottles instead of the drinking fountains we had before. They have a small tray beneath where you fill your cup/bottle but it says on the machine, “No drain”. The tray is just to catch small drips or whatever. Fine, we were good with that.

We must have had someone new start or something about a year and a half ago or so because we started coming into the tray FILLED with coffee creamer. It was gross looking and I’m not sure how it was emptied (if facilities dealt with it or what), but every morning we would come in to more.

Coworker A took it personally, and we came in to a sign taped on the water fountain in all caps, “CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELF. YOU’RE AN ADULT. THIS HAS NO DRAIN.” Kind of aggressive, but whatever. We weren’t surprised that it was this particular coworker. But it had no effect. Every morning there was still dumped coffee and creamer in it.

But then, one of the people in my department, Coworker B, took it beyond personally. Like it was THEIR PERSONAL water cooler or something. They started putting signs up ALL OVER the cooler. To the point where it covered up the buttons where you pressed for water. They were all to the effect of, “YOUR MOTHER DOESN’T WORK HERE” in 72 pt font followed by “THERE IS NO DRAIN IN THIS UNIT. STOP DUMPING YOUR GROSS COFFEE.” And of course, it was still ignored.

So then Coworker B cut out foot prints out of printer paper and TAPED THEM TO THE FLOOR leading up to the cooler, and in front of the cooler as if to tell you where to stand. There was also a foot press from COVID times when we didn’t want to touch things other people touched with their hands. A foot print was taped to that too. And, still ignored!

It came to a head where Coworker B brought in one of those cameras you mount to your porch to check for porch thieves. So they put the camera on the water fountain. They didn’t actually connect it to anything, but they put it on there as . . . some sort of warning? I don’t even know. But when I saw it I KNEW that IT was going to have a problem (we’re a large enough company with our own security systems and servers and all sort of proprietary stuff).

Sure enough, the camera disappeared. And Coworker B was ranting about how the person who was dumping the coffee had stolen it, and was saying, “They stole the camera! That’s so messed up.” I didn’t care because I had given it to them with no intention of receiving it back. I knew it was in IT’s office because they’re the only ones who would have done that. And, surprise surprise, IT returned the camera to Coworker B and told them to knock it off, that it was a security issue, regardless of if the camera was turned on.

At this point, I think enough people had complained to our boss (including me) that all of the signs disappeared, and so did the foot prints, and all that was left was a sign saying “No Drain”. And then, another person was like, “Oh our sister company used to have this problem. Just put some paper towels in the non-drain and people will realize there’s no drain.” And we did that. And voila, the issue was gone.

This went on for weeks. It was insane. I like to think the culprit knew who was losing their mind and just kept doing it to piss Coworker B off, because they’re not super well liked in the office. I never did learn who was doing it, but it’s never been an issue again.

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