The Stuff They Leave Behind

One of the most unexpected parts of someone leaving a company is finding the stuff they leave behind in their desks. Obviously the situation isn’t great, but the things you discover can be pretty interesting.

I once had to pack up the desk of a guy who got fired for poor performance, and I found an almost full bottle of vodka. That was a surprise! Probably explained his work issues. Besides the rare finds, you usually get a lot of pens, staplers, tape dispensers, and office supplies. What else am I missing?!

Food is another common thing left behind. From microwavable soups to candy and chips, departing employees almost always leave their snacks. Instead of being thrown away, these items quickly disappear once put in the break room, snatched up by hungry coworkers in no time.

Business books are often left behind too. Titles like “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and “Good to Great” stay on the shelves, suggesting they weren’t quite as life-changing as hoped. My own office has a bookshelf full of such books, now more for decoration than actual use. I also have textbooks from my HR master’s program that I’ll likely never open again.

The stuff left behind often gives clues about why someone was let go, especially if they were fired. Things like crossword puzzle books, magazines, video game consoles, and workout bands show exactly how the employee spent their work hours, not working. These items give a peek into their daily routines and distractions.

Half-used calendars are another common thing people don’t take with them. I could make a display of past employees with their old cat and muscle car calendars, complete with motivational quotes from every month. These items reflect the personal tastes and quirks of their previous owners.

But out of all the things left behind, the stories are the best. You can really tell how much someone impacted the office by the stories people tell about them long after they’re gone. If coworkers still talk about you at lunch or office parties a year later, it shows you left a mark. Good or bad.

5 thoughts on “The Stuff They Leave Behind

  1. I still remember a former supervisor at a company I was at in the early-mid 80’s. “Joe” (referred to behind his back as Sloppy Joe), had all kinds of embellished stories (such as working for NASA on the space shuttle), while his actual background was steel can manufacture. He also talked incessantly about his family, which isn’t terrible, if the rest of us knew what he was talking about. He referred to them by name (Mary, Bob, little Billy, etc.) rather than “my cousin”, “my ex-wife”, etc. I thought I had missed something and that everyone else in the plant knew who these people were. That notion was quickly dismissed by the plant manager who told me, “I have no idea who these people are; I just let him talk.” He was certainly a Legend in his own time (or mind) and was talked about for years!

  2. We recently laid off an administrative employee who was a hoarder and had her own office. We packed up 5 boxes of stuff for her to leave and then after she left we packed up another 2 boxes to send to her. After all that, we threw away probably 2 garbage cans of stuff including food and removed excess furniture and other unnecessary office-type stuff.

  3. We eliminated the role of a soft-spoken, middle-aged woman and IT was stunned to find that she had a subscription to a porn site coming to her email regularly. (It was in the early days of internet filtering, so it would not likely get through today. There were 3-ways, animals, ugh.) When moving an office to a new location, though, we held a contest to see who could produce the oldest item they had saved. Several people brought forward letterhead from their legacy company we had purchased, there were a pair of clogs that had been out of fashion for at least 15 years, packaged food with long-ago expiration dates, and yes, there were a few NSFW tidbits offered up, too. It was a great way to do some housecleaning, celebrate the passage of time, and even honor the legacy of the companies that had been merged together to form that organization.

  4. Once had an employee who abruptly walked out in the middle of the day. It was shocking for the rest of us and everyone was in stunned silence until someone said, “I get her stapler!” and the rush started. She’d recently received a dozen red roses and we divided them amongst ourselves. Turned into a fun afternoon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.