Is It A Problem If The Boss Is A Hoarder?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a hoarder boss:

Should staff be concerned about a boss who is a hoarder? The office is filled with tall stacks of papers and stuff (including things like empty copy paper wrappers), leaving a very narrow footpath from door to desk.There is no place for a second person to sit in the largest office space of our company. The desk itself it completely stacked with papers that extend above the monitor of the laptop computer, so that the computer seems to be nestled in a cave. Empty cups and used paper plates with forks on them sit on top of the stacks of paper.We dare not leave important documents with the boss, because they get lost in that office.

Yet, this same boss insists that staff maintain ‘neat and tidy’ workplaces, and will spend an hour of staff meeting time to complain about the cleanliness of the common kitchen area (where the boss’ dishes are usually the ones left dirty in the sink). Is this a serious problem? If so, is there anything staff can do to make the situation better? There is a lot more going on here than this question addresses, but I’m curious how you’ll reply to this much of it. Thank you.

Signed, Worried

Dear Worried:

Whether your boss’s habit of letting trash build up as you describe is hoarding or not would have to be determined by someone with expertise who can see the situation first hand. It certainly seems to fit the description. You may want to check this link, to find out more about the obsessive-compulsive disorder of hoarding.

One thing you will realize, when you research it in this way, is that if your boss is a hoarder there are no easy solutions, and that trying to “cure” her (I’ll use that gender for ease of writing) could create a very upsetting situation for her and the rest of you.Something is going to need to be done though. There are several problems about this behavior, apart from the unsightly appearance of the office. For one thing, it obviously has had a negative effect on how you and others feel about her and her work. You don’t work with her as you should, because you don’t trust someone who would let junk pile up to the point that you’re afraid she’ll lose something important.I wonder how long she has been this way and if her work has suffered because of it. It seems inevitable to me.

There is also the issue of a work place being sanitary and free of rodents and bugs as well as odors. That kind of trash must surely create a problem.What you do to bring about a change is a challenging proposition. If there is someone higher than her in the company you should contact that person and ask them to intervene, just as you would if you noticed any other disruptive or potentially very harmful situation. Take photos of the office in case there is any doubt.If the boss is the highest person in the company you may have less options. At least the most senior employee may want to talk to her and volunteer to help her clean up the place. Or, you could simply make a point, each time you are in the room, to say, “Can I throw this empty cup away? It’s really gross looking.” Or, “This could be a fire hazard. Let me pick up these empty wrappers and take them out.”You may not be able to get her to clean it all up, to the point of starting out again with a clean office, but maybe you could start reducing the clutter in that way.I can’t help but wonder if there is a custodian or other maintenance person who has tried to clean up, at least around the trash can!Perhaps you could use the situation I mentioned above as a reason to get custodial staff to clean it up.

You could say it smells bad or you saw a rodent or bugs, or some other reason why things have to thrown away.If you are in a larger office building, consider talking to the manager and asking him or her to come by the office ostensibly to check things out, and then to say the condition of the room could be a hazard for one reason or another. In addition to those ideas, surely someone in the office is close enough to the boss to discuss the situation helpfully.If you know a friend of hers, perhaps that person could be asked to intervene. Or, maybe you could arrange a meeting with someone important enough that your boss would clean her office to have them there.Consider also forcing the issue a bit. Find a reason why several people need to meet in the boss’s office at once, to show how really crowded it is. Make people have to move things around to find a place to stand or sit. That alone might be helpful.But keep in mind, if your boss is a hoarder, all of those things may have no impact, but the matter is out of her emotional control. Like alcoholism or anything else, she may wish she wasn’t that way, but can’t help herself. If you know a psychologist or if your business has an HR person who might know a psychologist, perhaps you can get more direct advice from someone who would know better what you could do. So, I think you know the answer to your question about your boss’s collection of trash. It might be hoarding and it might not be. But whatever it is, it is having a negative effect on you and others, on your boss and on work. You didn’t ask for specific advice, but maybe the thoughts above could be helpful, if you haven’t tried them already.Please let us know what develops with this, since it is certainly an interesting situation! Best wishes!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.