Communal spaces in offices are never without controversy. Employees complain freely about everything from the piles of dirty dishes in the kitchen sink to the cubicle walls that seem to amplify every little sound. The bathroom, however, is a different kind of beast. Though we have many grievances about what goes on in office restrooms, rarely are they vocalized—it’s the kind of unpleasantness that dare not speak its name. Maybe it’s time to bring this out into the open; otherwise, what hope do we have for change? There are bathroom etiquette rules, both universal and gender-specific, that most of us pick up on early in office life. But for those who don’t understand what’s wrong with talking between urinals or not washing your hands (you know who you are), it’s time to get educated.
Restroom Rules to Live By
When it comes to basic bathroom decorum, men’s and women’s demands are often the same.
Don’t be stall (or urinal) neighbors if you can help it.
If there are multiple stalls or urinals in the bathroom, and someone is already using one of them, don’t opt for the stall or urinal right next to that person. We should strive for as much privacy as possible, even in a public space.
If every toilet’s taken, wait outside for one to become available.
Some of us have shy bladders. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s something to be aware of when you’re waiting in line for a stall or urinal in a small area. If they’re all occupied, step outside and wait for someone to exit. Why would you want to stand there and listen to someone else’s bathroom business anyway?
Conversations can wait until you’re done.
Even among really good friends, it’s strange to talk while peeing (or otherwise). Equally awkward is trying to engage someone in conversation when you’re at the sink and he or she’s in the stall. This is especially important in men’s rooms; small talk at the urinals is a big no-no. Unless you’re both at the sinks washing up, keep your lips zipped.
That also includes cell phone conversations. Your poor coworker in the adjacent stall shouldn’t have to hear you fighting with your boyfriend in the middle of peeing. Regardless of the matter, it can wait until you’ve left the restroom.
Always flush. No excuses!
It’s not like I’m against water preservation. I don’t see anything wrong with the phrase “If it’s yellow, let it mellow,” as long as you’re in the privacy of your own home. But your coworkers don’t need to see that, nor do they want to risk a random person’s pee splashing up on them when they do their business. They’ll probably flush before sitting down anyway, so all you’ve preserved is the smell of stale urine.
Wash your hands, or at least pretend to wash them.
Everyone claims to wash their hands after using the bathroom, but we know that’s not true. How many times have you heard people exit without doing so? If you don’t care about being gross, at least run the water for a few seconds to put your coworkers’ minds at ease.
Clean up after yourself.
If paper towels drop on the floor, pick them up and throw them away. If you spill water on the sink, wipe it up. Even more important: if you get urine on the toilet seat because of hovering or bad aim, wipe it up! Please don’t make others sit in your mess. Also, if you’re using a toilet seat cover, make sure it flushes down. Leaving it on the seat because you don’t want to touch it is wrong and bizarre.
The Great Gender Divide
Most bathroom rules are universal, but there are a couple of situations that don’t translate between men’s and women’s areas.
For women: get in and get out as quickly as possible.
Men seem to understand the bathroom’s perfunctory role and use it accordingly, but some women like to socialize, fix their hair and makeup, and hang out in the bathroom for longer than necessary. Meanwhile, some poor woman’s in one of the stalls, waiting patiently for her oblivious coworker to leave so she can do her non-pee business. In case you didn’t know, you’ll almost never hear anything but peeing from another stall in a women’s bathroom; a woman will sit silently on the toilet until everyone has vacated to do anything else. If that’s the situation, do your thing and get out of there ASAP to give your coworker alone time. Restroom lighting’s harsh and unforgiving, anyway. Plus, it’s just good bathroom karma.
For men: don’t use stalls when urinals will do.
Using a stall only for peeing is a men’s bathroom faux pas. That just leads to pee on the toilet seat lids and floors, which is annoying and nasty, plus your coworkers will think you’re embarrassed about … you know. The only time it’s okay is when all of the urinals are occupied.
Bathrooms need not be the sources of frustration and disgust that they’ve come to be in so many offices, just as long as people know how to conduct themselves. Though, considering that the number one complaint among most workers is the failure of others to wash their hands—that rule most of us learned around age three—we might have a long way to go before that point.