Paul Butler | Keeping your workplace clean

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile

I find litter-picking so cathartic. I’ve only recently got into it but I really enjoy it. There’s something so rewarding about seeing some litter, picking it up with the picker-upper that my wife bought me recently as a gift, and placing it into my trash bag. I love where we live and I’d like to think my small contribution makes our community an even nicer place to live. 

On our litter-picking walks we’ve encountered three types of people. Firstly, there are those who are grateful for my efforts and tell me so. Secondly, there are those who are grateful for my efforts but blame the landscape contractors for not picking up the trash, as if it was their responsibility to clean up after their customers (like in a restaurant).  

Thirdly, and sadly, are those who seem completely oblivious to what I’m doing and even if they notice me seem disinterested as to why I’m doing it and of course offer no acknowledgement of my contribution. 

It occurred to me at dawn this morning that the litter pickers of the world are rather like those who are attempting to make a positive contribution to the working world.  

Allow me to explain: 

The litter-pickers in the workplace are those who keep their own work areas clean and tidy; they’ll not throw paper towels on the floor of the communal office bathrooms; and will wipe down staff-kitchen areas.  

The litter-pickers in the workplace are those who as a last resort will whistle blow when others are metaphorically trashing the organization, its values and its employees. They want to help keep the workplace clean of unethical debris, fraudulent activity, lying, stealing, wasting resources and sexual harassment, to list a little of the litter. 

Yet rather like my lonesome efforts on the sidewalks and paseos that surround us, some people at work want to blame others — thinking that someone else, somewhere else, should have done something else about the trash that’s now appearing on the floors and walls of the organizational brand. Others are oblivious to what’s really going on within an organization and don’t really care as long as they’re still picking up a paycheck. 

Sadly, there are many companies that today no longer exist because there were no “litter-pickers” willing to stand up and step out against those who could care less about the “neighborhood.” Such arrogant and self-centered leaders have brought countless organizations to their knees while the trash of corruption, nepotism and financial irregularities blew through the corporate corridors. 

So, what drives me on to pick up someone else’s mess? Well, simply it’s being able to look over my shoulder and to see something better than how it looked a few seconds earlier. I’d also like to think my example will encourage a passerby to think twice about dropping trash. 

Relating this to the workplace, I’d encourage you to not trash your own workplace and if absolutely necessary help clean up the mess of others. I’m not suggesting you do someone else’s job but there may be an opportunity to better serve the customer by you picking up the trash. There may be an opportunity for you to train someone how to do something better by your example. And when the big dumpster comes along labeled “Corruption,” or “Abuse,” be prepared to blow the community whistle and call the professional litter-pickers in.  

One thing I know for sure is that everyone knows litter is a bad thing. Not one single person has ever said to me, “Leave that litter — I like the mess it makes.”  

Likewise, employees, customers and vendors all know the workplace is a better place when the trash is taken out and best yet, not given an open doorway to slip in. In this upside-down and confused world, I have hope that people still know, deep down within the engine of their DNA, what is “right” and what is “wrong.” 

If you see me on the paseo, please give me a virtual high five for encouragement, just as I hope my words here are an encouragement to you. 

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]. 

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