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Restroom etiquette for the office

  • Story Highlights
  • Office bathroom etiquette is often the elephant in the room
  • Experts provide both male and female perspectives on common bathroom blunders
  • Everyone should flush, avoid talking, clean up after themselves and wash their hands
  • Guys, avoid taking along reading material or trying to network in the bathroom
By Rachel Zupek and Anthony Balderrama writers
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Talking over the stalls and bringing in work-related material is considered a no-no in office bathrooms.

We're no prudes, but as a rule we avoid discussing restroom habits in public. It's just not an appropriate topic for most conversations.

Yet, as the years go by and we spend more time in a professional setting, restroom behavior has become the inconsiderate, unsanitary elephant in the room.

We're overcoming our apprehension and kicking down the stall doors to expose the bad restroom practices that are driving us (and your co-workers) crazy. Considering that men and women often have different experiences in these situations, we're giving you both perspectives.

Here is some restroom etiquette for you to keep in mind at work. (Feel free to print this out and tape it up in your workplace washrooms.) Warning: Given the content of this article -- bathroom behaviors -- please be aware that it's a little bit more crass than usual.

Flush the toilet

She says: It's a pretty simple lesson you learned when you were three years young. No one wants to see what you made in the potty, so when you're done, flush it down.

He says: Luckily, guys can often avoid going into the stalls and thus dodge this issue completely. There are times, however, when the stall is the only option, and it's fair to say flushing benefits everyone, regardless of gender.

Talking across stalls

She says: This one could be personal preference rather than etiquette. Personally, I find it very strange and a little uncomfortable when a colleague starts asking about my weekend while I'm using the bathroom. Can you please wait until we're washing our hands?

He says: This goes for the urinals, too. If it's just two friends in the restroom, it might not be so bad, but once someone else enters, silence is best. Not everyone wants to hear about what you did this weekend -- it's like talking loudly in your cubicle, only more awkward.

Dripping on the seat

She says: I'm pretty sure this is another lesson we learned back in kindergarten. I understand that many women don't like to fully sit on the toilet seat for fear of germs. But doesn't it make you a hypocrite to leave your urine splattered on the seat for the next person to enjoy?

He says: Guys are just as guilty, though I dare say it's less about germs and more about carelessness. Whatever the reason, clean up!

"That time of the month"

She says: Without going into too much detail, every woman knows the rules when it comes to our favorite time of the month. Wrap it up and throw it away. Enough said.

He says: Um, TMI. But, most of us probably have not had to deal with this in a men's room (though unisex restrooms are a different story). But for the sake of solidarity, I throw my support behind this, too.

Oh, and, wash your hands

She says: I know where your hands just were -- you could at least pretend to wash them. What would your boss think if he knew you just shook his hand after using the restroom, fixing your hair and adjusting your undergarments? Wash up, people!

He says: Yes. A million times yes. I know that we can maneuver carefully and take a trip to the restroom without touching anything other than our belt, but we should still wash our hands. The worst offense remains when a guy comes out of the stall, fixes his hair and straightens his clothes, then walks right out the door. A few seconds of soap and water can kill germs and save co-worker anxiety.

Leave the sales pitch outside

He says: Bathroom chitchat should be kept to a minimum, and I don't think much more than a "Hey" should be exchanged in most situations. A true party foul, however, occurs when you try to network, make a business transaction or introduce yourself in the restroom. The last thing I want to do near the sinks is take your business card or shake your hand.

She says: This must be a guy thing, because I have yet to hear about a business opportunity other than happy hour mentioned in the bathroom. But, I second the motion to save your "Nice to meet you's" for after you exit the bathroom door.

Choose your reading material carefully

He says: If you're the kind of guy who likes to catch up on the morning news while you visit the restroom, that's your business. But please don't enter the stall with a stack of documents that you might be passing out to colleagues later. When you put a memo in front of me, all I'll be thinking is, "Was this on the bathroom floor?"

She says: Ew; do guys really do that? I've always felt that bringing reading material to the bathroom is a dude's deal, not to mention highly revolting. It's like telling the whole office what you're about to do. Most females get in and get out, so no reading material is necessary. Again though, I'm with Anthony on this one -- if you need some light reading in the stall, stick with the newspaper.

No phones, please

He says: If you're on the phone, I feel sorry for the person you're talking to. But it's particularly annoying because when you start talking, other people initially think you're talking to them and confusion ensues. Plus, we don't know if we're supposed to wait to flush or wash our hands until there's a pause in the conversation so we don't interrupt your call.

She says: Not to mention the fact that I don't want whomever you're talking to on the phone to hear me using the restroom. Sure, we're in a semi-public place, but I don't advertise your bathroom behaviors to my friends, do I? (Well, aside from this article...)

Don't get towel greedy

He says: By now you should be environmentally conscious, so using 10 paper towels when two will do is unacceptable. Not to mention it uses up the towel supply quickly and means I'll be the guy who has wet hands and nowhere to dry them.

She says: You know what else towel greediness means? A wet spot on the front of my pants -- and in a place where you never want one. Seriously, at least in the women's restroom, there are usually towels around the sink area to absorb the extra water that we tend to splash around when (and if) washing our hands. When people overuse the towels and leave none left to absorb the extra liquid, my pants do that job instead when I lean against the sink to powder my nose. You're welcome, towel stealers.

Rachel Zupek and Anthony Balderrama write and blog for and its job blog, The Work Buzz. They research and write about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. They are also very passionate about restroom etiquette.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority

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