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5 Tips for Common Courtesy in Office Restrooms

Updated on December 17, 2013
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Times Sure Have Changed

It's no surprise that public restrooms have changed over the past few thousand years. With the advent of running water, privacy and courtesy, the restroom experience has changed dramatically - and the rules of what is considered considerate should change as well. Although customs differ throughout the world, in the United States restroom time is private time - and certain rules should be in place. In the workplace, restrooms are inevitable - but that doesn't mean that the rules should be different simply because you're surrounded by people that you may know - who may even be your boss. These rules should be considered common courtesy - regardless of the type of business - and they should not be broken under any circumstances. While these rules may seem obvious, they're anything but - and if you've spent any time at all in a corporate restroom environment, you're probably all-too-familiar with the reality that they're not often followed - if they're followed at all.

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1. Do Not Strike Up Conversations

I don't know what it is about restrooms - women's restrooms in particular - but in our particular culture, they seem to have become a social hub of activity that is almost impossible to avoid. It's a common generalization that women move in flocks when it comes to restroom breaks. While you may not have the opportunity to travel to the restroom in herds while at work, it is commonplace to run into someone that you know. I don't know why, but this leads a lot of people to believe that this gives them the right to have full-blown conversations (including ear-shattering laughter in an echo chamber) in the work restroom. No one wants to hear all of the gory details of your weekend misadventures when they find the two minutes required to sneak away from their desks and use the restroom. Personally, I feel like I suffer from some kind of restroom social anxiety - it's hard to concentrate and get things done quickly and efficiently when I'm surrounded by a lot of noise and distractions - and this anxiety is elevated a hundred-fold when in a restroom - especially at work. This is not an experience that I feel like sharing with the world.

Additionally, don't assume that the conversation rule only applies if you're having a conversation with another person who is physically present. I'm shocked to discover that it's also commonplace all of a sudden to have full conversations on your cellphone in a restroom - even at work. Does the person on the other end of that call not know where you are with all the flushing (and other unpleasant) sound effects? Is it considered polite to carry on a conversation with someone who has no control over where you're physically located in a restroom environment? While some conversations are inevitable and unavoidable, I don't carry my cell phone into the restroom with me while at work. I leave it behind, unless it's already on my person and in my pocket. I don't feel like talking on the phone is appropriate or respectful for the person on the other end of the line - or anyone who may be sharing the restroom with me. Hang it up, and keep quiet. It's the least that you can do.

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2. Shared and Acceptable Space

Our restroom at work has five stalls, including a handicapped stall on each and every floor of the building. This may seem like a substantial amount until you realize that our office has thousands of employees, and it's almost unheard of to have the restroom all to yourself at any given time - and more especially during high-traffic times surrounding lunch and on the way home. While the restrooms are rarely ever full to the point of a waiting line, chances are incredibly high that you may be sharing your restroom break with one or more people. That being said, it's astounding to me that in the rare moments that I begin my break alone, I'm often joined by another person - who for whatever reason - decides to use the stall RIGHT NEXT TO MINE.

Maybe I'm just a weirdo, but I have a "favorite stall" where I feel comfortable. This is the second stall closest to the exit door. Almost without fail, someone will come into the restroom and use either the first or the third stalls - ignoring the rule that I thought was blatantly obvious - to respect the space between restroom patrons. When traffic times are busier, having someone right next to you is understandable and often unavoidable. When traffic is lower, however, respect your fellow patrons, and leave some space. The last thing I want when visiting the corporate restroom is to know that someone is sitting right next to me - and potentially judging me for something I cannot help. This is especially unforgivable if they're also blatantly ignoring all of the other rules in play - often breaking multiple rules at once without a single clue as to what they're doing wrong.

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3. The Courtesy Flush is not Optional

One important thing to remember is that at work, your restroom experiences are not necessarily a solo experience. It's not always possible to wait until you're home before visiting a restroom, and utilizing the facilities at work is often unavoidable. That doesn't mean that this experience has to be equally unpleasant for all of the people that may share the space with you through no fault of their own.

The courtesy flush is not something that can be minimized or taken too seriously. Not only does it mask any unpleasant sounds that may be occurring in your stall or an adjacent one to yours, but it can also eliminate unpleasant odors as well. This is an incredibly opportunity to demonstrate compassion and consideration for your co-workers - or even perfect strangers. Although I don't like what the courtesy flush represents, I am always willing to respect the person that does it out of consideration for others - and themselves. Flush the toilet before unpleasant effects can simmer and marinate. Do it for yourself. Do it for the rest of us. We understand that you can't exactly help it and when you've got to go, you've got to go - but that doesn't mean that the experience has to be gag-inducing for everyone unfortunate enough to be there with you.

I also would like to add that the courtesy flush becomes less necessary when the space between stalls is respected. While not a guarantee, keeping space between yourself and another person is a way to ensure that odors do not drift away - and thereby out of your control.

4. Keep Sound Effects to a Minimum

There is a big difference between using the restroom within the comfort of your own home and using the restroom in a public setting. This one is short and sweet. Keep in mind at all times where you are - and who is around you. They may be a nameless set of shoes from your current vantage point, but they are real people - and their comfort should be considered equally to your own.

Chances are good that you don't want to hear a civil war happening in the stall right next to yours - and they probably don't want to hear the battle currently raging in yours. Instead of thinking only of yourself and the pain that you may be in, give a moment's pause to consider the other people. You never know when you're going to be sharing a space with your boss - or the Vice President of your company. While you may never know - it's likely to be an experience they won't forget if something bad emanates from your side of the wall - and it's probably not an embarrassment that you'd like to be forced to live down.

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5. Clean Up After Yourself

I can't tell you the number of times I've walked into a restroom stall only to find toilet paper stuck to the floor, an unidentifiable wet spot on the floor and splatters on the seat. While there's a high chance that this may be water residue from the previous flush (designed to be nuclear rated to ensure that all substances are completely eradicated) you can never know for certain. Before you unlock the stall door and venture into the wide world of cubicles beyond, take a look around. Not only does this give you a chance to double check for personal items that may have been left behind, but it also gives you a chance to take stock. There is a list that should be considered.

  • has everything been successfully flushed? If not, a second flush is warranted - and appreciated by those who come behind you
  • is there anything embarrassing that has been left behind?
  • it doesn't hurt to perform a cursory wipe of the seat
  • make sure that there is no paper stuck to your shoe if the previous patron failed to follow these steps

In Conclusion:

While these rules cannot possibly be enforced, they should be considered - especially for those of us who have to visit these commodes on a regular, daily basis. It not only makes the process quicker and more painless for us, but also leaves the facilities in better conditions than when we found them. In a society and culture where common courtesy has often left the premises, it never hurts to think ahead and leave things better for the next person who may be next in line.

If you ever enter a stall and are immediately revolted by what you find there, keep that revulsion in mind before you leave one. Pay it forward, and keep consideration in mind.

© 2013 Julie McFarland

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      Nero Walker 3 years ago

      "Chances are good that you don't want to hear a civil war happening in the stall right next to yours - and they probably don't want to hear the battle currently raging in yours."

      Hilarious! :D

      I think a lot of the 'cleaning up' problem comes from people who are terrified of germs. They hover instead of sitting on the seat and then don't clean up the spillage because they're terrified to touch the seat in the first place. Probably the same people who don't pick up toilet paper off the floor.

      They don't realize it's people like them that are making the place so dirty.

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      sheilamyers 3 years ago

      I agree with all of these rules. Yet the one thing that makes me the angriest is when people don't clean up after themselves. Like you said, if you drop a little bit of toilet tissue or something, pick it up. Then there are the people who take the wrapper off the new roll of toilet paper and, instead of throwing it in the wastebasket, they wad it up and leave it on the back of the toilet. And do I need to mention the people who dump their cold coffee or other drink in the sink and then don't rinse out the sink? I hate to think what these people's bathrooms look like at home.