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My Desk Is A “Butt Free Zone”

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.

{ 83 comments… add one }
  • lkb May 7, 2012, 5:09 am

    Just wondering if it’s possible to move the desk or move to a different cubicle. I like the cactus idea.

  • Jojo May 7, 2012, 5:14 am

    Put something very sticky on the desk and don’t clean it up for a while, or perhaps chalk dust. There’s nothing toxic that OP works with on a regular basis that could migrate onto the office desk for a while?
    They’ll soon stop when it becomes a hassle to clean the back of their trousers/skirt after ‘popping’ by.
    Or just allocate them a space on the desk and put a cushion there, it’s easier for you to wash the cushion every now and then than for you to stress about not being in control, particularly when OCD is an issue.
    It does sound like a gross invasion of personal space if nothing else. I hate it when people invade my space, it makes me very defensive. A sign is more than appropriate, particularly when people think they can just rearrange your desk to sit on it while you’re trying to work.

  • josie May 7, 2012, 5:46 am

    Just keep reminding them not to sit on your desk…..sounds like they are kinda dense 🙁 Perhaps you could glue a perimeter of up pointed pushpins on your desk? Colorful and functional and they’d get the “point” 🙂

  • --Lia May 7, 2012, 6:00 am

    If people are getting offended when you ask them politely not to sit on your desk, then there’s something in your voice or words that’s asking them wrong. Work on making your request swiftly (the moment it looks like they want to sit down) and without explanation (please use the chair). Do not mention the OCD. That only makes them think it’s a funny quirk that can be ignored. They may even think they’re helping you by doing exactly what you don’t like. The bottom line is that sitting on anyone’s desk when there’s a chair available and they’ve asked you not to is rude. It has nothing to do with germs.

    Is there something about the size of the desk or the height of the chair that makes people uncomfortable? I ask because I’m trying to look at it from the point of view of the people who are doing this. I’m trying to figure out what would make me do such a thing since I can’t remember ever sitting on someone’s desk even if I thought it was okay. All I can figure is if the desk were a shape and size that left me so far from the person I was talking to that I needed to get closer so as not to have to yell, or if the chair was so low that I was looking up at the person behind it, that’s the only thing I can guess might be making them do it. So first I’d put a chair of the right height nearer my chair or try putting it in various places.

    Then I’d work on my gentle firm voice. Person approaches and starts to sit on desk. You say “please use the chair.” Person sits down anyway. You say “no, please use the chair.” They begin talking. You raise your voice only slightly and say “don’t sit on the desk, the chair please.” And you continue until they get the idea. If they get offended and stomp off, GOOD. If they ask why, your only explanation is that you’d rather they sat on the chair.

  • L May 7, 2012, 6:43 am

    I just want to say the googly-eyed cactus is adorable.

  • coralreef May 7, 2012, 6:50 am

    Who does that? I mean, this is the first time EVER I’ve heard of someone sitting on a desk to talk to someone.

    You’ve asked them not to sit and they still do? I would probably be livid by now. Can you stand up to talk to them when they come into your office? Most people do not like to have someone tower over them when they talk. If you’re standing up, they will feel compelled to do the same. I’m sorry, that’s all I can come up with, short of physically pushing them off or “spilling” your coffee/water/soft drink when they come in for a butt landing.

  • AE May 7, 2012, 7:17 am

    Your tone of voice or how you phrase your request has nothing to do with their continued harassment. It is your workspace, they should comply. Failure to do so indicates a lack of respect, a desire to dominate the interaction, stupidity or all of the above. I say keep telling them, politely of course, to keep of the desk and don’t bother with explanations aside from, “I don’t want people sitting on my desk.”

    Is it the cubical kind of desk where the surface is held up by brackets? Those are not designed to have heavy weights (over 50 lbs or so) set on them. Sure, they’ll mostly hold up, but the repeated excessive load can weaken those brackets to the point of failure. Some such desks even have labels saying so on them. I know I saw a a safety video about that once.

  • The Elf May 7, 2012, 7:21 am

    I don’t get the germaphobe thing, but it’s your cube and not sitting on it isn’t an unreasonable request. I am a desk-leaner, but if someone asked me not to I wouldn’t think twice about it. It’s just not that big a deal.

    You have two routes you can take: The firm, polite approach Admin suggested (combined with the visitor chair to give them a place to sit), or the self-depreciating humor approach. I find that funny goes over well in an office so long as it isn’t insulting. If you can find a way to turn it into a joke on you, I think it would go over better.

    But above all keep your tone polite, light (if you go for humor), and in no way cutting or angry. If someone gets huffy and takes it to your supervisor, you’ll be able to say that you were professional about it. That’ll help turn the issue to your favor.

  • Livvie May 7, 2012, 7:23 am

    You need to separate what is yours particularly to deal with because of your OCD (and by deal with it, I think we nee to charitably think therapy, not just getting over it)- this extreme reaction to people leaning on your desk. It isn’t a normal reaction, people aren’t doing it just at your desk, and they aren’t forgetting you’ve asked them not to to make you feel uncomfortable.

    On the other hand, there’s no reason why you can’t ask them to use the desk chair. How about when seeing someone approaching say- Hey Coworker! How are you? Please, take a seat in my guest chair, easier for us to catch up that way.” all of this said with a friendly smile.

    I think rearranging your desk to make squatting on it a physically harder proposition is a good move, but I would leave off physically blocking people. That is going to come off as extremely strange and off-putting.

    And stop likening this to going to their house and sitting on the dining room table. It isn’t. It’s normal (if not scrupulously proper) office conduct. That is your OCD talking, and your OCD doesn’t play well with co-workers.

  • Lita May 7, 2012, 7:26 am

    You know, I’ve often wondered how to handle this one myself. I haven’t had to deal with it for a while now, but when I was in school, my TEACHERS had a habit of parking their derrieres on my desks (or other classmates’ desks) while they were going over work! Besides the obvious rudeness, how in the world are you supposed to work on a classroom desk with someone’s behind taking up the entire thing??

    Unfortunately, you really can’t tell a teacher off without repercussions, so all I could do was seethe and glare and hope they got the point…

  • Erin May 7, 2012, 7:55 am

    I’d combine the cactus idea with a sign that says “CHAIR” with an arrow pointing to the chair. Or maybe cut a piece of brown cellophane to look like a coffee spill and put that on the desk where they always sit.
    They shouldn’t be taking offense to a non-offensive thing like “Please don’t sit on my desk.”

    Is a standing desk an option? Maybe if you were standing too they wouldn’t be as inclined to sit.

  • MidoriBird May 7, 2012, 8:12 am

    I’ve never sat on someone’s desk, but I suppose it happens in a more casual workplace sometimes. Cactus is a good idea but it is best to NOT come across as a bounaries-ridden butthole when making it clear you’d prefer not to have people sit on your desk. I’d not like it either but it is clear to me people do this not to irk a coworker but because it is on their minds “I’m comfortable, you’re comfortable, lets’s talk” sort of thing. Do not make your desk dirty as your boss might not like it and if there was a bigwig coming through they’d notice. I WOULD do something like the cactus, photo frames, knicknacks, etc if they are allowed as a sort of desk-edge border that discourages sitting. At the same time see to the comfort of your coworkers by providing an extra chair.

    I have Aspergers and I always have to stop and tell myself “boundaries versus offending people” because for me, people crossing my personal boundaries comes up a LOT to my senses and I’ve had to learn self-control, because there is such a thing as blowing something out of porportion. Thankfully my boundaries don’t involve a desk, and nobody’s going to sit on my station’s counter. A bottle of antibacterial cleaning fluid is always nearby tucked out of sight and a handwashing sink and sanitizer are within arm’s reach if they sneeze, cough, hack, etc all over the place, to be used when they’re gone.

    Just don’t come across as a personal representation of the issue you’re trying to fix.

  • Mary2 May 7, 2012, 8:14 am

    I have encountered this issue in the workplace as well, in fact, I encounter it almost daily. I have to point blank “tell” the person not to sit on my desk and then roll out the chair and ask them to sit there. I also have to “tell” people not to touch my belongings or papers or whatever happens to be on my desk. I want to scream “Don’t touch that, it’s none of your business!” but I restrain myself and say, “please don’t touch that (paper) (file) (book) whatever” just as I have to say, “please don’t sit on my desk,” as I roll out the chair and say, “Sit here please.” I am known as being OCD but hey, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. 🙂

  • Chocobo May 7, 2012, 8:32 am

    I wonder if it might be effective when someone stops by to say: “Please have a seat!” and gesture towards the chair or pull it out for them. Since blocking through physical and verbal means is not working, perhaps a redirection will. Your coworkers will not be offended by you offering them a seat, and you get the added benefit of “preempting” the action rather than responding to it once it’s already done.

  • sidi-ji May 7, 2012, 8:34 am

    One request,and maybe one reminder per offender… That should have been sufficient. Further transgressions are purposeful. Whether these rudebys are giving you unsought help for OCD, or simply uncaring , they are diminishing your ability to use , and enjoy your space. No more Nice Polite Person. Double stick tape one way to go;)

  • Angel May 7, 2012, 8:47 am

    It has nothing to do with the OCD, and everything to do with respect in the workplace. You are not being unreasonable in not wanting people to sit on your desk. There is nothing wrong with your request, and people should respect it. I like the cactus idea, and also, just remain firm. “Please use the chair instead of the desk. Thank you.” No need to offer explanations. I personally have never heard of a workplace where people routinely ignore another co-worker’s reasonable request. I probably would have started looking for other employment by now. That really irks me to no end. Technically they are creating a hostile work environment for you.

  • Helen May 7, 2012, 9:02 am

    I agree with others who have said “Who does that?”

    Seriously, it’s not okay to sit on someone’s desk. It’s not cute, it’s not authoritative, it’s completely inappropriate.

    I agree about skipping the ‘OCD’ thing, because when you say it’s because you have OCD, you’re sending the message “I have something wrong with me, so please don’t sit there” when you should be saying in effect “What you’re doing is not okay, it’s violative of my space, don’t do that.”

    If they’re unable to behave like adults and respect your workspace, it is their problem, not yours.

  • LonelyHound May 7, 2012, 9:04 am

    I wonder if it a dominance thing as well as people blatantly ignoring your boundaries. I do not have a germaphobia but I have a space issue. (You have your bubble and I have mine.) I had problems with people sitting on my desk as they were invading my bubble. To get them to stop I would stand up and continue the conversation while looking down at them. After a few minutes or so the offending sitter would stand. After few times of this everyone remained standing when they talked to me. I never understood why that worked, especially because I said nothing to the person, so chalked it up to dominance.

    If that does not work. I say do the cactus, but make sure you screw it into your desk so they cannot move it.

  • kira May 7, 2012, 9:20 am

    http://www.etsy.com/listing/62239877/fake-spilled-burgundy-red-nail-polish You need some of these fake spilled models. Get a spilled coffee/nail polish.

  • Another Laura May 7, 2012, 9:25 am

    Aside from the OCD germ issue, another reason I wouldn’t want to have someone sit on my desk while conversing with me is the height difference. Most desks are probably about a foot higher then the seat of the chair so that legs fit comfortably under. So the person sitting on your desk is literally “looking down” on you while talking to you. I say get the cactus!

  • chechina May 7, 2012, 9:28 am

    I like the cactus idea. I was thinking a little barbed wire fence all around the perimeter of the desk. Or maybe gluing down some thumb tacks… too much?

    All kidding aside, I feel for the OP. S/he has stated her case and was ignored. The only thing I can recommend is a little firmness at this point as in, “*name*, we need to talk. I respect you as a co-worker and I want you to feel comfortable coming to me at any time. But I have asked you not to sit on my desk. This is something that really bothers me. And you continue to do it. What else can I say to you at this point to get through to you?”

  • Lucy May 7, 2012, 9:37 am

    My desk is too cluttered and too low for people to sit, but if people want to sit, LW could try providing a seat to deflect the butts before they land on her desk. Something space-economic, such as a stool, might work. But it has to be readily available: If she has to make a production out of dragging out the extra chair, people won’t wait and will sit on the desk, anyway.

  • Decimus May 7, 2012, 9:45 am

    The best way to ask people not to sit on your desk is probably “I’d rather not crane my neck to look up at you. Why not sit in this nice comfy chair?” It does seem oddly imposing to sit on someone’s desk, since it essentially lifts the desk sitter above the chair occupant.

    You could also try cluttering the edge of your desk a bit with papers, stapler, name plaque, whatever you might have.

    It’s certainly rude of them to do this.

  • Puzzled May 7, 2012, 9:51 am

    I don’t think OCD should even play a part in this. Just because it’s your workplace doesn’t mean that there still aren’t personal boundaries that need to be respected, OCD or not. Would these people walk into the supervisor’s office and “rearrange” or otherwise move things on the desk? No. People who behave this way need to be trained in as unoffensive way possible that it’s just not polite to touch other people’s things without asking, whether it be with their bottoms or their hands. I would stop worrying about hurting their feelings, follow some of the good advice above and consistently ask them not to do that, and if the situation continues, then perhaps YOU need to be the one to take the issue upstairs.

  • Daisy May 7, 2012, 9:54 am

    For heaven’s sake, this doesn’t have to be so Machiavellian! When someone enters your cubicle, immediately stand up. Smile widely and say “Hi, Whoever! Nice to see you! Have a seat!”, and gesture towards the chair. When they sit down, sit down yourself. People have an inbred sense of personal space and will automatically maintain it. When you stand up, you move into the space they intended to occupy. They’ll automatically step away (and into your cleverly placed visitor’s chair) in order to compensate. If they manage to plunk themselves down before you see them coming, stand up and keep smiling. In order to avoid craning their necks, and again to protect their own personal space, they’ll stand up as well. And keep the info about your OCD out of your work place. It’s never a good thing to let your co-workers feel you need a short refresher course at the Cracker Factory.

  • Anymouse May 7, 2012, 10:14 am

    First, I want to comment how happy I am the OP and most replies didn’t turn “OCD” into an adjective. It stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It is something people are diagnosed WITH and HAVE. You cannot “BE Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” or say “I AM SO Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.” Misusing this diagnosis is really offensive to those of use who have had family members institutionalized because of their losing battle with what OCD has done to their brains.
    Being anal and having OCD are NOT the same thing.

    Now that my rant is finished-
    OP, you are not being unreasonable or extreme from what I’m reading. You shouldn’t be forced to play well with coworkers who are being space invading aliens. If you truly have OCD, I’m proud that you haven’t flown off the handle and started smashing things at your desk and run out the door crying when one too many people have had a nice butt-plopping seat on your desk.
    Plopping your butt on a desk is NOT normal office behavior. For about 15 years of my life, I worked 4-6 jobs at a time, mostly temporary, so I saw a lot of office environments. I think out of the hundreds of coworkers I had, I maybe saw three people sit on someone’s desk, ever. And that office was run like a circus that caught on fire, so playing nice was thrown out the window anyway.

    Like other posters have said, there must be something about the layout of your office that makes the desk the easiest place to sit.
    If you’ve been asking nicely and coworkers still aren’t getting the hint, chances are they’re doing it to mess with you. Especially if you’ve mentioned your OCD. Thanks to so many people using a seriously serious and debilitating disorder as quirky adjective so often, people just don’t think of it as real.

    If they’re moving stuff to sit down (which would drive me NUTS. Don’t move my stuff!!!), I suggest getting some 3M double stick foam tape like is used to hang posters and pictures (it won’t leave marks on the desk). Put up a perimeter of photos, which hopefully won’t take up much of your work area. Put the sticky stuff all the way along the bottom. They’ll be too hard to move.
    Good luck!

  • Wink-N-Smile May 7, 2012, 10:21 am

    I like Jojo’s idea of providing a seat cushion, right there on the desk. You’ve already tried other options, and they refused to listen, or think they need to talk you out of it, you might as well play to them, and make them as comfortable as possible on that high-perch, hard desk.

    Really, who wouldn’t prefer a chair? That boggles the mind. But if they are that determined that they forgo the chair and move your stuff to sit on your desk, go for the cushion. Tell yourself that the cushion has turned the desk into a chair, and maybe your OCD will be satisfied.

    I get the OCD. I’m a stickler for a few things, myself, and logic doesn’t necessarily enter into it. I simply HAVE to do things that way. So, good luck with your desk issue, and don’t let anyone try to talk you out of it. You have a right to your OCD, and to your own desk surface.

  • Kim May 7, 2012, 10:27 am

    I never understood desk-sitting either. No OCD here but that’s irrelevant anyway.

    I saw someone do this on a neighbour’s desk and approached the neighbour later to ask because it just seemed so weird to me. Didn’t bother him at all. It seems very forward and way too familiar to me.

    I would have thought that having piles of paper in the way would be enough to ward off a desk-sitter, but I guess not. No ideas, just wanted to add that I’ve seen it before and don’t understand it at all. To me it’s just wrong.

  • Annie May 7, 2012, 10:38 am

    Yeah, I really think you can just tell them to sit in the chair, and they should all comply without a second thought. As Just Laura points out, it is much more comfortable to carry on a conversation on the same level, so that is sufficient justification (if anyone is rude enough to ask for justification). I’ve been noticing lately that the socially graceful people in my office actually kneel or squat when talking to me in my cubicle, so that they will be on the same level as me. I need to get a guest chair.

    I know it can be hard to ask something like that when you have OCD, because of the desire to hide your OCD. Try to keep it casual–after the first few times, this will become easy.

  • Cherry May 7, 2012, 10:48 am

    Oh, I am totally guilty of being a butt percher…

    However, if someone asked me to stop doing it, I would instantly. I sometimes work in the same office as my mother (I’m a temp) and she ABHORS butt perching.

    The one thing I will say about butt perching (although it admittedly doesn’t count here as there is the option of another chair, which there isn’t in my usual offices) is that I often do it if I need to talk to someone but they’re currently busy, eg, on the phone or talking to someone else. I do it to make it clear I’m perfectly happy to wait until they’re ready, instead of hovering over them impatiently.

    But I can see why other people find it irritating.

  • gramma dishes May 7, 2012, 11:04 am

    Lita ~~ Your post made me gasp in uncomfortable recognition. When I was teaching (second grade) I did indeed used to sit on one of the student’s desks to read aloud to the whole class. I honestly never thought of it (well, until now) as being rude. To me, it was just simply a way all the children could hear me and see my face as I read to them.

    No child ever gave me the evil eye. At least not that I noticed. In fact some of them would pat their desks as though signaling that they wanted me to use their desk that day. Now I’m mortally embarrassed that I did that. 🙁

  • gramma dishes May 7, 2012, 11:10 am

    If the chair is in front of your desk rather than beside it, maybe it makes it too hard for your “guest” to see and converse with you over the desk. Would substituting a bar stool (slightly higher than a regular chair) possibly be more comfortable for conversation?

  • Annie May 7, 2012, 11:11 am

    That makes me terribly uncomfortable as I sit low at my desk — this puts people’s genitals right at eye level and there’s just no tasteful way to say, “I really don’t want to turn around and see your junk every time you visit my cubical.” Fortunately, I only have a couple of rarely-visiting coworkers who do this.

  • DogLover May 7, 2012, 11:16 am

    I think in a casual environment with big cubes, this is common. In my cube, the entire walls are lined with “desk” so it’s easier for people to perch there then to take the chair. That part of the desk I never us anyway and it’s actually nowhere near where my computer, etc are. So for those who can’t understand how someone could do that, it’s possible it’s not a typical desk setup.

    Regardless, I have a lot of little quirks too and people don’t understand them sometimes because it’s something that wouldn’t matter to them. I have found it helpful to say “I have a thing about xxx and it really bothers me. Would you mind not doing xxx?” It takes the confrontation out of it – I’m not implying they did anything wrong, but that it’s something about me. It may actually be something they are doing that would be rude to anyone, but passing it off as my quirk makes it easier for them to take.

  • HonorH May 7, 2012, 11:20 am

    I would say always have some nice, neat stacks on your desk in prime “butt” real estate. When people start to move them, say, “Please don’t move anything; it’s there for a reason. Pull up a chair.”

  • Jenny May 7, 2012, 11:37 am

    I’d recommend not putting it in term of germs. Just that you’re stuff is going to get messed up.

    Here’s why – someone’s butt in clothing is actually much, much cleaner than hands. Second, it makes you sound a little loony. But if you put it as a respect rather than germs issue, they might listen. This isn’t a particularly polite response to this letter, but I think it’s one that is more likely to get results.

  • Rachel May 7, 2012, 11:39 am

    I dont understand why anyone would want to be so aggressive with people they work with. The op has an untreated mental illness so I can at least understand it but I don’t condone it. But the comments here suggesting they would rather confront their coworkers and make the office a living hell of tension are just beyond me.

  • Calli Arcale May 7, 2012, 11:54 am

    I don’t have OCD nor any sort of germ-phobia, but oh my gosh, I get creeped out when someone sits on my desk while I was working. It’s not the germs, it’s not the “this is a desk, it is not the sitting space”, though I certainly understand those. It’s the fact that it makes them tower over me. Nothing creeps me out more than someone looking over my shoulder, or someone towering over me while talking. I want to either back up a whole bunch to minimize the towering effect, or stand up. And it’s irritating for somebody to drop by my office and accidentally make me so intimidated I have to stand up. Bad enough they interrupt me while I’m working, but by creeping me out, they put me immediately on the defensive and then I’m off my groove.

    But it is what it is. Fortunately, it’s not very common in my neck of the woods. We tend to have huge “bubble space” up here, so not many people are inclined to get close enough to actually sit upon the desk.

  • inNM May 7, 2012, 12:43 pm

    Is it just me, or does anyone else feel the sitting on the desk by a visitor is also a sign of dominance…. Person A sitting above my head, looking down at me…. meh, maybe I’m reading too much from my film class on camera angles.

    I think the OP should approach the subject before the person has the chance to even enter his/her office: “Why, yes, I do have time to talk. Please, have a seat in that chair right there.” said in a polite manner, with the appropriately gracious hand gestures. Anyone who ignores that is just plain boorish or ignorant.

  • Lisastitch May 7, 2012, 1:01 pm

    I wonder if sitting on the desk feels like a quick, casual conversation to desk-sitters, while sitting in a chair feels like a more formal, serious, longer meeting. It doesn’t excuse their doing it when it bothers you, but if you can figure out why they are doing it, it may be easier to figure out how to get them to not do it.
    To me, standing up when they entered my office would be the first step. If they seem to be about to sit on your desk, pull out your visitor chair and say,”Oh, sit here so I don’t have to crane up at you”. Don’t make it about your OCD but about your comfort, which people will understand.

  • Goldie May 7, 2012, 1:25 pm

    I work in IT, where people are famous for social immaturity. Even so, no one sits on anyone’s desk. It just doesn’t occur to people to do this. It is gross. Planting your butt and genitals on the same surface where people work and *eat*, is disgusting. Do you sit on your dinner table at home? Does anyone sit on table surfaces at restaurants? Nope, it’s just not done. What’s OCD got to do with this? You are being perfectly reasonable. If they ignore the guest chair *and* move your stuff, then, short of covering your desk with push-pins, I’m really out of ideas. How weird.

  • Lisa May 7, 2012, 1:28 pm

    Count me among those who find it really weird that so many people are sitting on your desk. It’s got to be part of the culture specific to your office for some reason!

    LW, you mentioned that if you put up a sign your boss would tell you to take it down. However, I think if you use a sense of humor in the sign it might be more well-received. The cactus idea is cute. And I would not mention OCD… it’s none of the co-workers’ business.

    If someone asks you why, just smile and reply, “Oh, it’s just a pet peeve of mine. You know how everyone has their little quirks! Why do you want to know?” They will likely say, “Oh, no reason, just wondering…”

  • Miss Raven May 7, 2012, 1:34 pm

    I’m not without my share of neuroses, so I understand. I’ve found that being upfront with people is the best way to get across the importance of your request without offending anyone. For example, a little sign recently went up by our work sink asking us to please wring out the sponge after using because one of us finds the smell of old, wet sponge particularly abhorrent. The sponge, as we speak, is pleasantly dry.

    Your OCD is a condition like any physical condition and if your co-workers don’t “get it” or respect it, as the Admin said, they’re not worth your time.

    To a co-worker who wears too much perfume so it aggravates one’s allergies: “I’m sorry to have to bring this up, but I have really horrible allergies and they’re aggravated by strong smells. Can I ask you to please wear less perfume at work, since we sit so close?”

    In your case: “I’m sorry, but I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and it’s really maddening for me when people sit on my desk. I know you had no way of knowing, but in the future can you please sit in a chair when you visit?”

  • Challis May 7, 2012, 1:51 pm

    I like Daisy’s response.
    I agree with others that have said the OP needs to cut the OCD reason out of the scenario.
    Surely you are just not asking correctly? it is NOT an unreasonable request for someone to use the chair in your office that is provided for their bums.
    just stand, smile and say, “please have a seat” as many times as necessary.
    ‘No, that’s ok, OP, I’m fine here”

    SMILE– “please have a seat HERE” (point to chair)

  • Cat Whisperer May 7, 2012, 1:51 pm

    OP’s idea of putting papers and such on the desk to eliminate space for patootie parking sounds good to me. I’m not OCD, and I never really cared if people hitched their hiney onto my desk, but that was actually physically impossible given the amount of clutter on my desk. I guess OP’s idea of enough clutter to deter potential posterior parkers from using the desk as a seat just isn’t in it with the stacks of clutter I had on my desk.

    FWIW, my 30+ years in the workplace taught me to enshrine this rule as gospel where my work “territory” is concerned: I’ll ask you once politely, and if you don’t do as I ask, then I bare my fangs and raise my hackles and stop being polite. Leaving my stuff alone is not a request: it’s an order. If people tried moving my clutter around, all I ever had to do was snarl “YOU’RE SCREWING UP MY FILING SYSTEM , STOP IT OR GET OUT,” and they’d instantly desist. I didn’t leave any room for doubt that I meant what I said and that there were consequences for noncompliance.

    The trick to getting people to NOT do things you don’t want them to do is to let them know you mean business when you tell them to stop. My advice to OP: ask people once, politely, to not put their posterior on your desk. If they ignore you, then take your kid gloves off and tell them to GET YOUR [whatever term you use for posterior] OFF MY DESK NOW as emphatically as is necessary to convince them you mean business. (You can add “please” to your demand if you want to go through the motions of being polite.) I guarantee you that if you let them know you mean business, they will unpark their posteriors and hitch up to the guest chair. (Politely thank them when they use the guest chair.)

    If you’re emphatic enough and you really mean it, and you’re willing to follow up on your demand for people to remove their butt from your desk by telling them in no uncertain terms to get out of your cubicle if they won’t comply, your desk can become a butt-free zone. But you have to understand that there are people who won’t like you for doing that, and you have to be prepared not to care. This is, to some extent, a peck-order issue: by refusing to get off your desk, people are telling you that they outrank you on the peck order. To get them to stop, you need to let them know in no uncertain terms that at least as far as your territory is concerned, you rule the roost and your word is law.

    For myself, my office was where I spent most of my daylight hours during the weekdays, so by golly you didn’t mess with my territory and I didn’t care who thought I was being cranky about it.

    You can get people to listen to you, but you have to convince them that you’re serious, and that may mean raising your voice and being ready to tell people to get out of your cubicle. Just ask politely first. If they don’t take that hint, they’ve earned what follows.

  • --Lia May 7, 2012, 2:03 pm

    When I first read the letter, I pictured the sort of desk one sits behind. That is, the owner’s back is to the wall, the desk is in front of her, and a visitor would sit facing the desk, the owner, and the wall, in that order. I’ve reread and see that the letter clearly mentions a cubicle. In this case, the desk is parallel to the back wall, and if both the owner and visitors are to sit in chairs, they pretty much both face the desk. My guess now is that visitors sit on the desk so they can sit looking at the owner. That doesn’t make what they’re doing any less rude, but at least now I can fathom why they’re doing it.

    My suggestion now is to get a swivel chair, even if it’s at your own expense. If you can afford it, get 2. Arrange your office so that your swivel faces the desk and the other chair is behind you. When a visitor comes in, swivel to face the 2nd chair while you’re saying hello. Now if the visitor wants to sit on the desk, it’s going to be awkward because he’s now looking at the back of your head. Don’t turn. Continue the conversation while addressing your comments to the empty chair. Your first comments should be “please have a seat in the chair.” If the person doesn’t move, continue to invite them to sit in the chair as I recommended above while at the same time addressing the chair!

    This is one of those situations where body language speaks louder than words. If you tell them to sit in the chair while looking at them on the desk, they’re going to hear the words but feel on a base level that you’re paying attention to them where they are. If you both speak to the chair while telling them to sit in the chair, they’re going to figure it out. They may not get it consciously, but they’ll get it. All the attention goes to the chair, so the chair is where they’ll want to be. Win-win.

    (When I mentioned this to my boyfriend, I hadn’t gotten far in my explanation before he blurted out “the spikes they use for pigeons!”)

  • WrenskiBaby May 7, 2012, 2:23 pm

    Maybe people like the height of the desk for sitting. Try getting a tall stool. Then, as others have said, ask visitors to use it instead of your desk and use the progressive request technique:

    “Can you do me a favor? I’d really rather you use the stool instead of my desk to sit on.”

    “No, really, would you please use the stool?”

    “Sorry, but this really is important to me. Sit on the stool.”

    “Get your arse off my desk. Now.” Okay, maybe not with those words, but some people need to be shocked into really hearing what someone else says.

  • OP May 7, 2012, 3:03 pm

    Hi, I’m the OP.
    First, let me say “Thank You” for all of your suggestions and ideas. I will definitely try all them until I find one that people respond to. Just a few things I’d like to state:

    1. The way our office cubicles are made/situated, my back is to the opening. Most people are in my cube before I see them coming. We have 3 peices that make up our desk space: 1 triangular type peice that fits into the corner and has the opening for our computer equipment, a small square piece to the left and a larger rectangular piece the right. Most of the time, people sit on the larger piece to the right.
    2. Our cubes are the bracket and slotted wall type. The man who assembles them tells everyone that they are designed to hold only about 50 lbs but some folks have selective hearing. I have asked to have it moved up a few notches or lowered (so that it would be uncomfortable for people to sit on it) but I was told all desks are to be the same height. I was told that our chairs are adjustable to “compensate for height differences.”
    3. The sitting on the desk thing has been going on for as long as I have worked here, 10 years. The first 5 years I worked the front desk and it was not an issue because people knew better than to sit on that desk. When I moved to the admin office, that is when I noticed that co-workers would frequently sit on desks when chatting, getting things signed, asking questions. Not everyone sits on the desk but I can think of 5 “repeat offenders”. I guess they have been doing it so long they don’t realise that it really is unprofessional.
    4. The leaning is not so bad but when they hike up their leg and prop or pop their behinds on it, it makes insane. I have put a “visitor” chair in my cube several times but due to the limited space, it becomes a issue or the “repeat offenders” just ignore it.
    5. I have not told my coworkers that I have OCD because I know that would be a goldmine for some people with a terrible sense of humor. A few people have figured it out, due to the handwashing and desk cleaning but they have been great and don’t make it an issue or point it out to others.
    6. I think the reason it happens to me so much is because I’m the admin assistant. Everyone needs something from me everyday and they just want to plop down while I’m working on it.

    I have actually thought of the thumb tack plan but I would probably get in trouble for that one! Sometimes I think it would be worth it! 🙂

    Again, thanks so much for the suggestions!

  • Anymouse May 7, 2012, 3:08 pm

    Ahhh, reading –Lia’s response made me re-think how the desk is laid out. Yes, if OP is facing a cubical wall to look at her computer, then to get to see her face, the desk is pretty much the only place someone could sit unless she turns around very quickly. And this layout also ruins my idea of taping down objects, as they will also block OP from using the open desk space if it is only open on one side (back side being up against the cubical wall). If OP is very busy and doesn’t immediately look up when people approach, the coworkers sitting on the desk may be sitting down and leaning in just to get some attention.
    If this is the layout, then –Lia’s advice of spinning around in your chair is the best. No one wants to talk to the back of your head as you face into the cubical wall at the computer.

    But –Lia’s boyfriend’s advice will probably be get the fastest results! 🙂

  • Lita May 7, 2012, 3:46 pm

    @gramma dishes – I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel bad! In your case it definitely seems to be more of a bonding thing than anything particularly rude. Younger children love to be made to feel important by special adults in their life – I see it as the child whose desk was chosen feeling a sense of “yay, I was special enough for the teacher to use MY desk for reading time!”

    In my case, this was middle school and up – and there was really no need for the teachers to plant their butts on a student’s desk…I can’t help but wonder how many of them were using it as a passive-aggressive way of expressing displeasure with certain individuals in the class, and how many of them just honestly had no idea and were thinking “oh, I’ll just sit down here” without remembering people actually have a personal space bubble…

    I really didn’t go to the best school, now that I think of it.

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