Where Have All the Bloody Teaspoons Gone?

If your workplace provides coffee, tea, or other beverages, you might notice that the spoons are the first thing to go. Plastic spoons are easily replaceable, but they are not environmentally sustainable and haven't always been available. Scientists at an Australian research institute used metal flatware teaspoons, which tended to disappear. So in 2005, they set about doing on study on the phenomena.  

In January 2004 the authors found their tearoom bereft of teaspoons. Although a flunky (MSCL) was rapidly dispatched to purchase a new batch, these replacements in turn disappeared within a few months. Exasperated by our consequent inability to stir in our sugar and to accurately dispense instant coffee, we decided to respond in time honoured epidemiologists' fashion and measure the phenomenon.

A search of the medical and other scientific literature through Google, Google Scholar, and Medline using the keywords “teaspoon”, “spoon”, “workplace”, “loss” and “attrition” revealed nothing about the phenomenon of teaspoon loss. Lacking any guidance from previous researchers, we set out to answer the age old question “Where have all the bloody teaspoons gone?” We aimed to determine the overall rate of loss of teaspoons and the half life of teaspoons in our institute, whether teaspoons placed in communal tearooms were lost at a different rate from teaspoons placed in individual tearooms, and whether better quality teaspoons would be more attractive to spoon shifters or be more highly valued and respected and therefore move and disappear more slowly.‚Äč

They worked out their methods and set up a pilot study. They marked 70 teaspoons with numbers to track them. They found that 80% of the teaspoons disappeared during the study, and the half-life of a teaspoon was 81 days. At that rate, they predicted that 250 new spoons would have to be purchased each year to maintain an adequate supply. Extrapolating to the other workplaces of Melbourne, they estimated that 18 million teaspoons could go missing each year. The entire study is worth a read, because of gems like this found in the conclusion section.

Teaspoon displacement and loss leads to the use of forks, knives, and staplers to measure out coffee and sugar, inevitably causing a reduction in employee satisfaction; in addition, large amounts of time may be wasted searching for teaspoons, both factors leading to decreased employee efficiency.

The study was published in the British Medical Journal, and you can read it here.  -via Metafilter, where there are more tales of missing spoons, forks, pens, socks, and screwdrivers.

(Image credit: Auckland Museum)

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