It’s inevitable: At some point during your work day, you’re going to have to use the bathroom. After all, you’re there for eight hours or more, and presumably eating and drinking throughout the day.
But unlike your home bathroom, where pretty much anything goes, the office bathroom is a shared space, and what you do while you’re in there can influence how others in the office perceive you. Do you really want your co-workers to think twice about shaking your hand or accepting a document that you’ve held because they’ve seen you leave the lavatory without washing your hands?
Before you take your next potty break, review these simple etiquette rules, and keep your reputation intact.
The absolute, number one rule of office is simple: flush. Before you leave the stall, double-check and if necessary, flush again. Some newer office bathrooms have low-flow toilets installed that aren’t always 100 percent effective when flushing, so it’s important to double-check.
Beyond flushing, clean up after yourself. Wipe any splashes or drops from the seat, and if you drop toilet tissue on the floor, pick it up. If you have a feminine product to dispose of, do so discreetly and according to the instructions and preference of your office cleaning crew. You don’t want to use a bathroom stall that’s dirty or messy, so why would anyone else?
And speaking of dirty and messy, if you are ill, take a sick day. There’s no need to make everyone else in the office suffer because you ate some bad sushi. If you are having digestive problems that are keeping you away from your desk for extended periods of time, go home for the rest of the day or until you’re better. Not only will you make the bathroom unpleasant, if you have a virus you could end up passing it on to your co-workers.
Chatty Cathy and Talkative Tom
For some people, the appropriateness of chatting with co-workers in the bathroom is more a matter of personal preference than etiquette. Some people are willing to discuss anything with anyone while they do their business, while others would rather be left in peace.
Since you might not know someone’s preference right off the bat, it’s best to only start a conversation when both parties are at the sink. Don’t talk between stalls (unless, of course, you are in the midst of a conversation with a co-worker when you both walk into the bathroom and continue) and limit conversation to greetings and pleasantries. You might be tempted to gossip about your boss or another co-worker or reveal the details of your wild weekend, but you never know who else might be in the room, or who could walk in at any moment. Save the gossip — and the networking or sales pitches — for happy hour or the boardroom.
And when it comes to talking on the phone, just don’t. While one survey found that almost three-quarters of Americans use their cellphones while in the bathroom (read more about that survey here) that doesn’t mean it’s the polite thing to do. Not only are you subjecting the other people using the bathroom to one side of a conversation (and creating potentially awkward situations when another bathroom user hesitates to flush or use the sink for fear of interrupting your conversation) your phone will pick up bathroom noises, and no one wants to hear that.
The Little Things Count
You know how annoying it is when you walk into a shared bathroom, only to find there isn’t any toilet paper, the soap dispenser is empty and the sink area is a giant puddle? Why would you leave it that way?
While you probably aren’t expected to clean the bathroom at work, you can do little things to ensure that the space is as pleasant as possible. If you use the last of the toilet paper, replace the roll; if you pass up a stall because there isn’t any paper available, replace it before you leave. Wipe up any splashes or spills on the counter, and let your office’s maintenance or housekeeping staff know right away if there are issues you can’t immediately deal with, like refilling soap dispensers or a clogged toilet.
Office bathroom etiquette is often the 800-pound gorilla among co-workers: Everyone has an opinion about it, but few want to discuss it. But given how much time you spend at work, and the likelihood of bad behavior, it’s important to understand the basics: If nothing else, hang up the phone before you take a break and remember to flush.
Rachel Dean writes about careers and workplace issues for several blogs.