My Desk Is A “Butt Free Zone”

by admin on May 7, 2012

I need some advice from you and your readers on how to handle an issue at the office.

I work in the administrative offices of a museum. The people are generally friendly and get along well. When they stop by a cubicle to ask a question, get a signature or chat, some of them will sit on the desk. Some will just lean against it; some will hike a leg up and prop; some will put their full hind end on it. This drives me CRAZY!

I have a touch of OCD and this is one thing that sets if off. I know many people will think, “oh just get over it”, but with OCD you can’t “just get over it”. It’s a mental thing. Some people think they can “talk some sense” into me by pointing out that everything is dirty and has germs. IF just talking worked, people sitting on my desk wouldn’t bother me but it does. I once read a report that said desks were dirtier than toilets because toilets get cleaned but desks do not. I now religiously clean my desk. I wipe down the surface, keyboard, mouse and phone daily, with an antibacterial wipe. Once a week, usually on Friday, I will take everything off, wipe down all the surfaces with a disinfectant solution and wipe down non-permeable items as I place them back.

I have tried many things to block people from sitting on my desk: putting boxes or stacks of paper from the middle to the edge so the surface is covered; putting a “visitor” chair in my cube; physically block the surface with my arms or body. They just don’t get the hint. They will push the boxes or papers back to the wall and plop down; they ignore the chair and sit on the desk anyway; they ask “what are you doing?” when I physically block them. It’s inconvenient to try to keep the surface covered because I need the area to work. If I flat out ask them to not sit on my desk, they get offended and stay away. After they get over it or as soon as they need/want something from me, they come over and sit on it anyway. I thought about a sign that states “This is a desk. Not chair. Please do not sit on it”, but I’m sure my supervisor would tell me to take it down.

It’s my work space. I think people should respect that and keep their behinds to themselves. I don’t sit on their desks and I don’t want them on mine. It’s the same to me as if I went to their homes and sat on their dining room table. I’m sure they would not appreciate it.

(OMG, I am typing this letter and someone just sat on my desk. Full-booty sitting. Unbelievable!)

So, how do I politely but firmly get across to people that my desk is a butt-free zone? 0504-12

Buy a cactus, embellish it with googly eyes, park him right where the butt landing zone is and warn your co-workers that “Spike” is a temperamental pet.

 

 

 

Or buy this sign for your desk…

 

 

 

 

 

Or if those fail, politely ask people, “Please do not sit on my desk. Please have a seat here where I can talk with you better.” If your co-workers get offended by simple courtesies, they are cow-irkers and worrying about whether they are offended isn’t worth your time.

{ 80 comments… read them below or add one }

Mabel May 7, 2012 at 3:49 pm

I like what Anymouse said about putting up photos and tacking them down to the desk with double-sided tape. They won’t move them and you won’t knock them off if you brush by them. Sitting on another person’s desk if they’ve asked you not to is rude. I wouldn’t want someone’s butt on my desk either.

What bugs me the most is people taking stuff off my desk without even asking. I’ve been a receptionist for some time, and for some idiotic reason, people think the front desk is fair game. No. It’s MY workspace. No, you can’t have an entire pad of sticky notes off my desk–that’s what the supply closet is for. Those are my pens. It’s my hand sanitizer I bought with my own money. I had a boss who would come up and use MY sanitizer exclusively when we had company bottles scattered around the room. I hid it in the drawer so she couldn’t use it anymore. Grrr!
And the phone is the switchboard, so when you use it, I can’t answer any other calls!

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Bint May 7, 2012 at 4:01 pm

I’m with Rachel. And I’m also baffled at what is ‘gross’ about someone sitting on a desk. It is totally normal in so many offices. Do I sit on my dining table? Yes, I do. I sit on the kitchen sides and window ledges too. My clad arse has far fewer germs than my hands.

The OP has her own reasons for disliking it, as do others, but it is not gross, nor a hygiene violation. It may be an etiquette one, but these are not the same things.

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babbaloo May 7, 2012 at 4:57 pm

I keep a higher “shelf” across the front of my desk, kind of like those shelf things you can put across the sink and place plants, etc. on it? On this shelf I have my computer monitor, but you could put books across there, or files, etc. Anyway, it takes up nearly the whole front part of my desk, so when people need to talk to me, they come over to the side. I guess they could park their behinds there too, but there just isn’t any room for them to do so and nowhere to push the items.

Otherwise, it sounds as if you are a friendly person that people really enjoy talking to.

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Cat May 7, 2012 at 6:02 pm

Get a paper spike (one of those metal deals that have a foot and a sharpened spike for papers) and superglue it to your desk. Let them sit on that if they are so determined to sit on your desk.

Or get a piece of glass that will fit your desk top and leave a puddle of ink/something sticky on the desk where they sit. It won’t take many ruined pieces of clothing for them to learn to use a chair.

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FunkyMunky May 7, 2012 at 6:47 pm

I have the same issue with customers placing their children on counters. Your child’s backside is two pieces of cloth between a wrk surface (and often, a food surface). Hold them, or put them down.

Block the desk with objects, if they start moving things, ask what they are doing.
“I’m going to sit” Stare at them like they’re from outer space.
“Please don’t. There’s a chair right there.”

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Danielle May 7, 2012 at 6:49 pm

You could just do it the easy way. When someone makes a move to sit on the desk, just say, “I’ve got a chair here if you want to sit down.” In the right tone, it not only sounds like you are being EVER so thoughtful, but also gives the clue that, at least in your space, desk sitting is a no no. If they still insist on sitting on the desk, then they are the ones who are rude, and I wouldn’t worry about letting them know that you don’t appreciate them sitting on your desk.

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Carrie May 7, 2012 at 10:05 pm

OP – I have a cubical too.

I have this problem of getting engrossed in my work, and coworkers coming up behind me and scaring me to the point I almost socked one of them. They don’t mean it, they’re just so darn quiet! The best thing I did was to tape a mirror on the top of my computer monitor so I could see who was coming up behind me. That way no one ever caught me off guard.

Maybe you should employ this tactic, too, so you can see the offenders coming and catch them before they plop themselves down onto your desk. When you see them coming up behind you, you can immediatly turn around and say “Well, hi, coworker, do you need something? I can have it done in a jiff! Why don’t you sit right here while I do this?” ::pats chair::

Or, if you see them coming, you can stand up. If you’re standing, they’ll be more likely to remain standing, too.

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Feesh May 8, 2012 at 1:16 am

Livvie, I found your post to be insensitive and I wholeheartedly disagree with your closing statement, “That is your OCD talking, and your OCD doesn’t play well with co-workers.” It is the co-workers who aren’t playing well in this scenario. I’m sure there are people who are comfortable with desk-sitters, but when someone asks you to respect their personal space, you just do it. I cannot see how it is an inconvenience for the visitor to stand or sit in a chair instead of moving OP’s work to sit on her workspace. The only way the OCD comes into it is that a “normal” person may be annoyed and feel mildly slighted by the desk-sitting, whereas a person with OCD may agonize over it or, say, routinely wipe down the desk with sani-wipes. Either way, if they are uncomfortable with it, they deserve to be respected. I know that people with OCD do need to concede that not everyone will follow their “rules” all the time, but this situation isn’t about OCD; it’s about a basic level of respect. OP doesn’t need to get therapy; her colleagues need to listen when she asserts herself.

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Kate May 8, 2012 at 5:55 am

OP, you have my sympathy. I also work in admin and have fairly severe OCD. I ended up telling my co-workers because I was having panic attacks at work when people moved my stuff, and they have been pretty understanding.
I would advise placing a cactus like Admin suggested, but I know that changing the order of your desk can be hard with OCD.

I just want to congratulate you for managing to hold down a job with this condition. I know how hard it can be, especially when things are so unpredictable with co-workers interfering with your space, and I don’t think many people recognise that simple things like going to work can be an immense struggle when you have OCD.

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The Elf May 8, 2012 at 7:14 am

OP, did your employer buy the same cube furniture that mine did? Lol! I have the same set-up. It is so easy for people to come up behind me in that set-up. I’ve worked in a lot of cubes over the years, but that is the worst. I’ve actually considered getting one of those big mirrors so I can see someone approach behind me. Since the noise of a big cubefarm distracts me, I often listen to music over headphones, which makes it even harder to recognize that someone is there.

I’d move my computer to the other end if I could, but the outlets and cabinets aren’t set up to allow it!

I agree that being the admin makes it worse. An admin is the center of the office, the glue that makes the whole thing work. Everyone has to talk to the admin at some time for something, so I bet you get far more visitors that the other employees. Desk-sitting or desk-leaning is often for those quick visits, where you really don’t want to sit down in a chair (especially for people with bad knees, getting up and down is loads of fun) but also want to rest momentarily. When I lean up against a desk when I visit someone, it’s because I’m expecting a conversation that’s only a few minutes long, if that. Why bother sitting? But if someone asked me not to, I surely wouldn’t press the issue.

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The Elf May 8, 2012 at 7:17 am

Rachel, I’m of the mind that it is better to discuss something – politely – than let it fester. Confronting the person with the problem does not have to be mean or create an atmosphere of tension. I like to use humor when possible; they get the point and the laugh makes everyone at ease.

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Chris May 8, 2012 at 8:12 am

I’m going to say something and I’m fairly certain it will upset more than a few people. This isn’t my intention. I’m just trying to be helpful but blunt.

To preface this, I don’t understand how you feel day to day living with OCD. I don’t have a diagnosed case of OCD. However, I can relate. I live day to day with a diagnosed case of long term depressive disorder. I’ve run the whole gambit of it too, from a now persistent minor depression to a major depression only a hair’s width from suiciding in my bathtub. So I hope you can please see this harsh and blunt advice from perspective of one sufferer to another.

Its incredibly insensitive of anyone else telling you to “just get over it.” Your disorder, as with mine, is not something we just toss aside and get over in the span of a few moments of decision. However, you need to tell YOURSELF to “just get over it.” You need to take action immediately, if you haven’t already, to overcome your problem. Its not your fault that you are OCD; however it is your responsibility to take care of it for both your sake and the sake of others. Contact a therapist, find a support group, get medication if your case is severe enough. And always tell yourself to “just get over it.”

While I was healing from my worst point to now, I hit a point where I stopped healing. I could regale you with a list of excuses: I couldn’t afford therapy, I couldn’t afford my medication, I don’t have time, etc. The worst one was “I’m doing much better now!” I’d hit a point of complacency. I WAS better than before. But I was not over it. I still got depressed and despondent often. I never regressed to a worse depression but I stopped healing. And the truth is I was scared to heal further. I was SAFE at this point. I knew myself, I knew what to expect, and I knew how to deal with it.

Eventually I had a friend who had been with me and supported me through the worst of it get angry at me. He was the one who pointed out I, to an extent, LIKED being this way. He helped me see I was scared. He never once told me to “just get over it” because he knew that doesn’t work. But he did challenge me to continue healing. I found my own path and now I’m challenging you to do the same. Always tell yourself to “just get over it.”

For me I had to do the very things that coming from any other person would have wounded me. If I was getting upset, or felt myself sliding in a darker place, I’d have to mentally (and in one or two cases physically) slap myself and look closely at what was happening. More often than not I told myself I was being a selfish idiot about whatever triggered the decline. So for you start trying to catch yourself as your feel your compulsions arise. I understand wanting a clean workspace so I see no harm in your Friday cleanup ritual. But if you catch yourself unnecessarily washing your hands, or any other excessive behavior, stop and ask yourself WHY is this necessary? If your OCD takes the form of extreme germophobia, look up the disinfecting power of your soaps and sanitizers on the internet. If you understand, chemically, how they clean you can use that factoid against the irrational need to scrub your counters a dozen times. Try to approach your condition from a logical perspective and never let any point in your healing be “good enough.” If you have to obsess over something, obsess over getting better.

Now with all that out of the way, to help with your desk sitter problem here are a few things to keep in mind (and I know others may have said them, so please indulge me):

1) Their behavior is socially normal, if not necessarily entirely professional. You clean your own desk so you know that whatever they may bring with them is taken care of by your own hand. Try keeping, for now, some baby wipes at your desk and give the spot a once over after they leave.
2) As a desk leaner/sitter myself, I can tell you that more often than not the guest chairs of others are too low to the ground. I am a tall guy and a low sitting chair is INCREDIBLY uncomfortable to me. Assess your guest chair and, if feasible, get one that adjusts.
3) How far do you sit from your guests? My last job had me seeing coworkers and clients at my desk. If I stayed seated in front of my computer to talk to them when they were in the guest chair, I was a good two-and-a-half to three feet from them. That sort of separation becomes socially awkward. Move closer to them. By doing this you both convey that they have your attention and may successfully block the space on which they would sit.
4) Does your cubicle allow for you to install an overhead cabinet or shelf above the space the sitters use? Those, I find, deter sitters as they cannot comfortable lounge on your counter top.

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Aje May 8, 2012 at 8:42 am

Last year I was in my first year of teaching. If you´re a teacher you understand the first year is crazy madness. There´s a lot to think about. What I didn´t think I´d have to deal with is teaching the kids to leave my desk ALONE. They seemed to think the things on my desk were up for grabs. Pencils, paperclips my hand sanitizer… I came in one day to find a kid looking for a pen in my desk drawer and sampling some of the candy I put there! I had some wite out roll ons and I came in one day to find it had been used, broken, and returned. Thanks for that.

Wouldn´t they be horrified if I went into their binders and started snooping around?

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Mrs. Lovett May 8, 2012 at 8:44 am

@Livvie:

I think your comments were seriously insensitive and uncalled for. You are making the assumption that OP has not sought any medical help for the OCD with no evidence of whether or not this is true. If OP has seen a therapist or is seeing a therapist, it can take a lot of time for that to help with OCD. Medication is an option for many OCD-sufferers, but not for everyone. OCD medications have to be taken at a very high dosage, but it’s not safe to start at a high dose, so it can take a long time to reach an effective dose, assuming that medication is even effective for that individual. Sorry for getting on my soapbox, but I have OCD, and I just wanted to point out that it isn’t always as simple as it looks. Besides that, it’s really not your place to judge OP’s medical situation.

And your comment about OP’s OCD not playing well with others is completely unfair. Based on this post alone (and unless you know OP, this post is all you have to go on), OP’s only OCD-related issue is that he/she doesn’t want people sitting on their desk, which is their workspace. This is not an unreasonable request whether OP has OCD or not. I think the only reason OP mentioned his/her condition is to illustrate that the desk-sitting does not just cause irritation, it causes real distress and anxiety.

Please try to understand that not everyone is comfortable with the same things you are comfortable with, and OCD has no quick fixes and can cause serious anxiety to otherwise healthy and normal individuals.

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Shalamar May 8, 2012 at 11:20 am

Carrie, I have that problem too – I’ve actually yelled in fright when someone has quietly come up behind me and suddenly said something. I recently installed a mirror on my desk that is aimed at the doorway to my cubicle; my boss has teased me for being “vain”, but I’ve told her why it’s there – it’s not so that I can check my appearance all day long. :)

I, too, often find the need to wear headphones to drown out the sound of incessant chatting, carrot-chomping, or giggling (I have a cubicle-mate who has the annoying habit of tacking a high-pitched giggle onto the end of every sentence). The only problem with wearing them is that I have long hair which hide the headphones, and people often come up behind me and start talking to me without realizing that I can’t hear them.

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Enna May 9, 2012 at 5:22 am

@ Rachel and Bint: if someone is uncomfortable with colleagues doing something like sitting on a desk then asking them to stop is reasonable. The OP has made the point that desks can be dirtier then toliets if they aren’t cleaned. Yes you can sit were you want to in your own house but that’s different – you don’t have lots of different people sitting on tables etc whose personal hygine is unkown.

Also desks aren’t really for sitting on. My employer sat on a desk and broke it! It was a perfectly good desk before he sat on it. Chairs are desgined to carry a person’s weight – unless they are really old chairs that are wearing out. Germs aside it is safer to sit in a chair – my employer was lucly he didn’t hurt himself but he is going to have to splash out for a new desk at some point. Not all desks are steady and secure things – where I was an intern if you so much as nudged the desk in the wrong place the computer would full off! This happened about once a week in the office – I was lucky it never happened to me. People who sit on desks need to be careful that they don’t knock expensive equipment off like computers and that not all desks are designed to take someone’s weight.

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Feesh May 9, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Evil Feesh wants to add that if your desk is supported by wall brackets, maybe you could loosen them a little so the next desk-sitter learns their lesson. Of course you’d want to be careful to protect your computer and work, but if nothing else is getting through to them… :)

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whatever May 9, 2012 at 4:24 pm

i agree with the comment about the desk sitting happening when people expect the exchange to take only a few moments and sitting down in a chair might seem too formal/bothersome.

maybe instead of providing a regular chair, getting a bar stool might be a more successful solution, as the hight of the seat is almost the same as of the desk and would allow the visitor the same compromise between standing and sitting. putting a plant, pictures or other small decorative items on the edge of the desk while putting the stool right next to it will further guide the visitors to the intended seat.

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Jane May 9, 2012 at 5:08 pm

That would do my head in as well but for an entirely different reason. In New Zealand the Maori people consider it highly offensive to sit on pillows (that is for your head not your butt) and benches, esp kitchen benches where food is prepared. I am not Maori, but if someone sits on my kitchen bench they get told to get down in no uncertain terms. “Can you get off the bench please that is for food, not people’s behinds”. I even find myself doing it to people on TV it grinds my gears that much. Maybe I am OCD too?

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Enna May 10, 2012 at 9:15 am

I wonder if anyone at the OP’s place has had an accident form sitting on a desk? E.g. knocking something expensive off or breaking something? It would be embrassing.

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Wink-N-Smile May 10, 2012 at 10:59 am

Shalamar – I once had a boss who would sneak up behind me in my cube, get really close, and then do an evil chuckle. It was surreal – like something out of an old horror show.

“Muauahahahahaaaa” is bad enough, but the low chuckle, accompanied by the rubbing of the palms, was just really unnerving to turn around and see, let alone hear behind you while you are engrossed in your work.

I posted a mirror, too.

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Annie Nomus May 10, 2012 at 3:19 pm

I had a temp job once and I had to deal with a desk-sitting coworker. While she always seemed nice enough, there was always something about her that made me uneasy, she always seemed a little “off”, the type of person where if you were to show someone a transcript of a conversation you had with them it would seem totally pleasant and normal but in person there was something about her that was just strange and somewhat creepy. I was young at the time, only 20 and quite shy. I was not good at asserting myself, especially as this coworker was an older woman. Whenever she would come by my cube she’d park her great big behind on my desk, knocking over everything on the left half of my desk-and I mean everything, my cup of pens, paperclip holder, stacks of files, whatever was on there. She paid no mind to the fact that she knocked everything over, didn’t even glance down at everything she spilled-which of course in retrospect seems like a really passive-aggressive thing to do. I didn’t know what to do other than just tolerate her for awhile and wait for her to leave so I could reassemble my workspace and get on with business, again I was young and shy. If I were in that situation now (in my 30s) I would employ a “polite spine” and clearly ask her to move, but I was a wimpy kid back then. I was glad the temp assignment only lasted 2 months.

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OP May 11, 2012 at 9:17 am

@Enna- There has been accident with the desks, about a year and half ago, but not from any of “my” repeat offenders. We have a very short housekeeper and she could not reach the top of the shelves when they would do the weekly dusting of the cubes. One day, a bunch of us admin office staff came in early for an event and she was STANDING on my over-the-wall neighbor’s cube dusting. As she moved across the surface while she was dusting, you could hear the brackets creaking. I was praying it would hold because I knew if it went, my back wall would go, too. It held, that time.

A few weeks later, we came in at the regular time and a piece of my nieghbor’s desk had been broken into. The outer pieces were hanging by the brackets and the middle parts were resting on the floor. Part of my wall bulging from all the pressure. We got a report from the housekeeping supervisor that “Christie” had injured her ankle in the fall and had some bruising but would be fine. They bought “Christie” a step ladder and telescopic dusting wand to use after she healed.

An email memo was sent out reminding everyone that the desks would only hold X amount of weight and we should “refrain” from standing or sitting on the desks or “stacking heavy material, such as cases of office paper” on our desks. People did not sit or stand on the desks for few months, but eventually, they returned to their old behavior. I have personally witnessed “Christie” kneeling on the desks while dusting. She has the telescoping dusting wand and a step ladder but I guess it does not help as much as she would like.

I took the advice of one of the commenters and bought a stool for my cube area. It kind of throws people off seeing it there and so far, most people use it. I still have one person who wants to sit on my desk. She likes to “whisper” very theaterically. You know the type- knows a little about a lot and loves to tell what she knows but “whispers” because she thinks it makes her look less gossipy.

Again, THANKS for all the suggestions!! If the stool stops working, I will use some of the other great suggestions! I am actually trying to find a “butt free zone” sign like the picture admin used to accompany the posts. Anyone know where I can find one?

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OP again May 11, 2012 at 9:20 am

BTW, one of the reasons I religiously clean my desk is because once I saw “Christie” standing on my neighbor’s desk, I knew she was standing on mine, too and regardless of what you may think about people who have phobias or, in my case, OCD- that is just plain unsanitary.

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The Elf May 11, 2012 at 10:42 am

“that is just plain unsanitary”

Eh, not really. Depends. I wouldn’t want to prep food there, but would have no issues using the “clean” desk for work.

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OP May 24, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Considering all the things we step on/walk through as we go about our day, alot of it invisible -standing on someone’s desk IS just plain unsanitary.

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Karen May 30, 2012 at 11:34 pm

I don’t have OCD. However when I turn around in my chair I really don’t want to be addressing someone’s groin either!!

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Brockwest June 25, 2012 at 1:16 pm

You have OCD, which is a genuine illness, so I’m proud you’ve handled yourself to overcome your fears and enter the workforce. On that basis alone, you are justified in your complaints about people sitting on desks.

For those of us without OCD, there are many who wouldn’t even think a thing about someone sitting on the desk. You may wish to put a sign to please not sit on the desk. IF possible, have you thought about re-arranging your desk….so the far side is against the wall or cubicle, and you face the wall. There’s simply no room left for someone to sit on the desk.

That being said, I (blush) am a desk sitter. I’m also a wall leaner, a door holder and the like. Many people with back problems or pressure problems have a hard time standing, so learn to brace themselves against the nearest object if standing to talk. So we have OCD versus back, but in this case, it’s your desk, so OCD wins.

I think the comment about putting things on your desk to prevent sitting is a good idea. With OCD, you may not want clutter, but you CAN arrange the normal objects on your desk to be spread in such a way, that there’s simple no room for someone to sit. Maybe take two or three fake files and spread them neatly across the surface of the desk.

With most disabilities I would advise you to mention it at a group meeting and explain the situation, but unfortunately society hasn’t progressed to the point that OCD is accepted by everyone as “real” (it IS real.) You have as much right to have your OCD accommodated as someone else has the right to the use of a cane or wheelchair or hearing aids.

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me August 17, 2012 at 10:37 pm

keep a cleaning cloth and a bottle of bleach spray by thee desk, when someone sits on it say “oh! i was just about to clean my desk, please use the chair, so I don’t get bleach on your clothes.” then clean the desk.

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Annoyed! March 4, 2014 at 1:23 pm

I’m extremely late to comment- Its my first & new job and I found my way here trying to figure out how to get someone to stop sitting on my desk. Some of these comments made me laugh, mainly Carries- “When you see them coming up behind you, you can immediately turn around and say “Well, hi, coworker, do you need something? I can have it done in a jiff! Why don’t you sit right here while I do this?” ::pats chair::” Haha, thats just great! I don’t have a problem with the people at my office, its only my bosses son who sits on my desk. First off- he’s a fairly big guy and my desk doesnt support his weight. Secondly- my cubicle is a weird curvy L-shaped and I have files to my right where he sits so when he does sit on the desk, there is literally no room between his knee and my elbow. Can his crotch get any closer to my face!? It’s disturbing and annoying. Usually the conversations dont last long, so I dont see why he cant just stand there, lean on the cubicles wall, or place his hand on my desk for support. If its more than a minute then I understand sitting, but just for 10-20 seconds? Also, his cubicle is across from mines, just 5 feet away. All he has to do is turn his head but nope. He wants that sense of authority.

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