Workplace Topics

January 12, 2012

Frankly, some office restroom manners stink

Frankly, some office restroom manners stink

(Andy Zapata / Special to NWjobs)

Every office has a bathroom, every non-robot worker has to use the bathroom, and sharing a bathroom with co-workers seems to be an almost universally unpleasant experience.

My workplace bathroom advice, from a decidedly male perspective, is simple: Stop behaving like monsters.

Don’t stand two feet away from the urinal while doing what you’re doing. Are those grunting sounds really necessary? And for the love of whoever invented running water, flush the toilet!

For more cogent advice, I turned to some experts. Peter Post, co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business,” says bathroom manners have long been a nettlesome workplace issue.

“I think people assume people are just going to be reasonably clean when using the bathroom,” Post says. “But then you invariably get in a situation where it’s being left a mess, and then it becomes a company problem, and some poor manager has to have a meeting with the staff saying, ‘We need to fix this.’”

Up or down?

Post says one of the hot-button items on any restroom complaint list involves the toilet seat, particularly in unisex bathrooms. The assumption would be that female workers are annoyed that male co-workers are leaving the toilet seat up.

Not so, Post says. Men have apparently proven themselves so wholly incapable of proper aiming that most women have thrown in the toilet paper and would prefer that the seat be left up.

“There are a lot of women now who are asking the men to leave the seat up and just let them put it down when they come in,” Post says. “They do that to be sure that the seat is up when the men use the bathroom. That way, they hope, the seat will be clean when the women come in.”

He says that in any office with a unisex bathroom, female employees should decide which they would prefer -- seat left up or down -- and the men should politely comply and still try to work on their aim.

Text, yes. Talk, no.

Here’s another loathsome loo habit that has come about in recent years: For some, it seems, technology has battered down the doors of human decency and made it acceptable to carry on a phone call while tending to other bodily business.

I have no problem with people toting a smartphone into the can and checking Twitter. Heck, you can wheel your PC into the stall for all I care. But to hold a conversation amid the sounds of flushing … and other things? Horrifying.

From nowhere near the bathroom, I called Jacqueline Whitmore, author of “Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work.” She says the phone-in-the-bathroom issue is one she hears all the time.

“My answer to that is, if it’s a public restroom, it’s probably not the best place to carry on a phone conversation, especially if it’s with a client,” Whitmore says. “My advice is, ‘Text, yes. Talk, no.’”

Aside from bothering others who are in the restroom, Whitmore points out that a person could unwittingly reveal confidential client information: “I think people forget that other people listen.”

If you’re dealing with a chronic bathroom phone caller, she suggests bringing it up, without identifying the perpetrator, to a supervisor or during a staff meeting, suggesting a company policy against talking on phones in the restrooms.

There are endless co-worker quirks that make bathroom visits uncomfortable: the person who bikes to work and then takes a towel-bath in the sink; the one who always strikes up a conversation and keeps you standing in the restroom far longer than a person should stand in a restroom.

We’ve all been there. In fact, I think I’m going to go there right now. I promise I’ll leave the seat up. Or should I leave it down?

Maybe I’ll just use the bathroom at Starbucks.

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heather on March 30, 2012 12:50 PM | Reply

I liked your quote:“My answer to that is, if it’s a public restroom, it’s probably not the best place to carry on a phone conversation, especially if it’s with a client". You should not conduct business meetings in the rest are more either. I once heard any human resources manager discussing a recent background check they performed at When I walked in, it was as if I caught them with their pants down.

Mika on April 13, 2012 1:14 PM | Reply

All I can say - above all else - is JUST CLEAN UP & FLUSH before you leave. All else is secondary. BTW: I saw the site. Nice! Next time I hire a nanny for my 2 children, I'll definitely use it.

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