What stacking a dishwasher can tell you about human behaviour

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Ever noticed how badly other people stack the dishwasher at work? No? Just me then.

But wait. This is important. It isn’t really about dishwashers at all.

The dishwasher is merely a metaphor. For everything.

And as Hive’s self-appointed Dishwasher Organisation & Reorganisation Co-ordinator (yes, I’m a DORC and proud of it), I’ve noticed a number of worrying trends:


1. Other work colleagues don’t share my enthusiasm for dishwasher organisation (see visual reference below)

2. Advocating for change in dishwasher organisation doesn’t exactly make you popular


Nonetheless, it occurred to me that stacking (or not stacking) a dishwasher tells you some deeply profound things about human psychology, and ones that might have a much broader relevance beyond dishwashers.

So, the question I began to ask myself was, “if I can understand what’s driving this behaviour in the kitchen, perhaps I can start to change it.” And if I can change it for dishwashers, maybe I can change it elsewhere too.

And maybe if I can change it, you could too. And then we’ll all be agents of change and we can change the world and build a brighter, cleaner future together!

Maybe I was over-reaching. But it was certainly worth a try…

So, as any self-respecting communication professional knows, you should always start with insights. And the first essential insight was to understand who I was dealing with.


Audience insight

Smart, educated, strategic, conceptual, creative, technical and time-poor – and incapable of applying any of these principles to dishwasher management.

Next, I needed to understand more about how my colleagues interacted with their environment, so I conducted a thorough analysis using essential behavioural criteria.

Behavioural insight



Colleagues are noticeably better at stacking the dishwasher in the morning but become progressively worse (read: lazy) as the day progresses.

Behavioural conclusion:
People suck, but moreso in the afternoon.


Teaspoons appear to be totally exempt from any civilised dishwasher protocols – apparently they self-clean in the sink. Amazing.
– Bowls create an almost impenetrable logistical dishwasher challenge – preferred angle of delivery: diagonal

Behavioural conclusion:
People like to find different solutions to different problems. If in doubt, just wing it.


Opening a dishwasher door is – apparently – both hazardous and tiring, and best left to professionals.
– If the front 20% of the dishwasher looks full, the remaining 80% of the dishwasher has to be full. Obviously.

Behavioural conclusion:
People are easily spooked. Boo! Plus, people see what they want to see… For example, I’m definitely not losing my hair (the front 20% looks great).


If people see other bowls or mugs lying around, it can only mean one thing – time to join the bowl and mug party!

Behavioural conclusion:
The power of the herd is strong – everyone likes a party, but people only want to rock up when there are other people around.


After a while randomly discarded mugs and glasses become invisible to the naked eye – a bit like banner ads.

Behavioural conclusion:
In the increasingly ferocious battle for our attention (thanks, social media), ‘mug-blindness’ has become rife. Plus, it’s much easier to filter stuff out if you’re not really looking for it.


If you wish it, your dreams can come true… Abracadabra, a sprinkle of stardust and everything magically finds its way into the dishwasher. Huzzah! We had the self-same magical cleaning fairies back home in Leeds – until my mum kicked me out for not tidying up after myself.

Behavioural conclusion:
Everyone misses their mum.


Suitably armed with this raft of in-depth and emotionally challenging insights (N.B. I tried an email survey but I only got one response: ‘you suck’), I decided my colleagues were ready for the full power of my recently patented DORC behavioural change programme.


Action initiatives

So I focused my efforts around 5 core behavioural initiatives (blending the best elements of tried and tested behavioural change models). If these didn’t work, nothing would.

1. Make things simple

 ACTION: Production of simple, mind-blowingly informative (and not at all patronising) instructions and tips for the kitchen  

2. Help people to understand the benefits

 ACTION: Summarise potential health, emotional, social and environmental benefits

3. Reinforce positive behaviour

ACTION: Offer chocolates to anyone filling the dishwasher optimally (encouraging them to spread the word)

4. Ensure people feel inspired

ACTION: Distribute photos of famous role-models filling dishwashers 

5. Build a social community

ACTION: Create an internal slack channel ‘#dishwasher club’ and see the viral chatter soar!


Wash-up (see what I did there?)

I’d really like to say that people have embraced my engaging, informative and ‘not-at-all patronising’ dishwasher filling instructions and tips. I’d also like to say that they’ve really bought into the overwhelmingly convincing list of benefits, emotional or otherwise, and been equally inspired by the photos of famous dish washers (people as opposed to machines). Even the #dishwasher_club slack channel has proved to be somewhat of a slow-burn, with only 8 super-fans to date.

What does this tell us?

Maybe dishwashers are immune to behavioural change models?

Or maybe I just need to be a little more patient?

After all, we have a new dishwasher! And I even received a delightful card from my colleagues to celebrate.

Is that a pristine set of gleaming plates and glasses I see on the horizon?



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