Workplace Restroom Etiquette and Best Practices

Men who consistently leave the toilet seat up secretly want women to get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and fall in.
~ Rita Rudner 

For many years one of the hats I wore at my financial services company was that of disaster recovery liaison; during the September 11 attacks I helped employees get to safety and managers to provide business continuity for customers, and later I was trained in the planning and implementation of a corporate disaster plan to prepare for the 2009 flu pandemic. That latter experience combined with my current role as business etiquette consultant and trainer has taught me that practicing good hygiene and showing consideration of others is simply another form of teamwork.

So to help ensure that employees remain healthy, productive and pleasant to be around, I offer the following 10 restroom etiquette and best practices that are expected of professionals in the workplace:

1. Keep your restroom(s) clean, orderly and welcoming – Most companies employ a housekeeping staff to keep restrooms clean, tidy and sanitary. But staff members can do their part to keep restrooms shipshape for themselves, clients and other guests by disposing of trash in the appropriate receptacles, cleaning up messes in the stalls and around the sinks (regardless of who made them) and leaving such facilities in as good of or better condition than they were found.

2. Don’t use the loo as a meeting room – Some might remember those scenes from one of my all time favorite TV shows from the 1980s, Cagney and Lacey, in which Christine and Mary Beth held private and very dramatic meetings in the women’s room away from their male coworkers. (I confess to having engaged in such meetings with my boss in another life.) But these two lone female detectives usually had the room all to themselves, so the key is don’t discuss any private business or personal matters if others are in the room; it’s not safe or considerate. Likewise check email and texts if necessary, but refrain from talking on your cellphone.

3. Be aware and considerate of others – Open doors and enter restrooms carefully so you don’t bump into someone coming out. Speak in a modulated tone and keep in mind that the loo should be a kind of sanctuary. There is nothing more disconcerting to someone sitting in a stall when a group of people enter talking loudly, laughing and even screaming. Before entering a stall check if you can see feet, tap on the door and push it open slowly just in case. Include additional courtesy flushes if necessary. Avoid spraying pungent air freshener or perfume. And for heaven’s sake don’t bring food into the restroom.

4. Use the disposable seat cover properly — or not at all. Disposable seat covers seem like a great idea, if only they would come out of the dispenser one at a time and without being torn to shreds and stay put on the toilet seat. Some authorities don’t think they are necessary, but if you are among those who feel more comfortable using the covers, go here for a lesson in proper usage that professional organizer Amada LeBlanc tried to give to Steve Harvey.

5. Practice proper flushing & toilet seat etiquette – Whether it’s a matter of forgetfulness or a bad habit, it’s rude for men to leave the lid up if they are sharing the space with one or more women in a small workplace. It’s a fact that closing the lid will help reduce what is called “aerosolization” of the “matter” that is in the toilet at the time of the flushing and which sprays over everything in the area, including people, toilet paper, handbags and briefcases, the floor and even the sinks, paper towel dispenser and / or hand dryers. (This is a great reason to shower and wash your hair each evening!) More immediately, you can assume that the toilet seat and toilet paper have matter on them from the last flushing, so wiping down the seat with a cleaning wipe and disposing of the first several toilet paper squares are good practices. In addition, wiping off your shoes frequently as well as your handbags and attaches can cut down significantly on the many kinds of germs and microbes we pick up during the course of the day. Try not to place your handbags and briefcases on the bathroom floor, wipe them frequently and keep them off of desks, tables, counters, etc.

6. Wash your hands properly – According to a recent study, Americans need to step up their hand washing routines. Washing your hands after using the restroom — and that includes touching anything and everything — is essential to stopping the spread of germs that make you and other people sick with cold and flu viruses, Salmonella and E. coli. Doing your part helps reduce the suffering caused by these illnesses and helps your company’s bottom line by keeping people on the job instead of home recovering (although if you do become ill stay home until you feel better or are no longer contagious). Wash your hands properly with soap (plain will do) and water (cold, warm or hot all work well) for at least 15-20 seconds — kids learn this good habit by singing Happy Birthday or the Alphabet Song while washing. Refrain from touching the faucet with your bare hands after washing or you’ll just get those germs right back; instead use a paper towel, if available, to turn off the water or use a cleaning or hand wipe on the faucet before you begin. For more details on these best practices, go here. In a pinch — there is no soap, for example — use a hand sanitizer until you can wash your hands.

7. Dry your hands properly – Dry your hands thoroughly; you don’t want to meet someone after you’ve just left the restroom and offer a wet hand to shake! Avoid using those high speed dryers that sound like B-52s taking off if at all possible and stick to retractable cloth or paper towels. Finally, don’t touch the doorknob or door on your way out; use a paper towel or facial tissue and protect your clean, dry hands.

8. Use toilet tissue properly and politely – If you use the last of the tissue, replace it if possible or stick a note on the door that there is none. Check before you settle in a stall that there is toilet tissue available. Be helpful if someone else becomes stuck in a stall with no tissue and pass some through if you are next door or in the main part of the restroom.

9. Protect the restroom combination and keys – Many companies install combination locks on the doors of restrooms to protect their employees. New employees, clients and guests should be able to use the facilities, but exercise caution in providing those combinations and keys to strangers while remaining cognizant of OSHA rules. In high traffic areas you might want to change the combinations and locks periodically.

10. Display polite signage – When users of workplace restrooms do not practice proper etiquette and consideration toward those with whom they share the space, putting up signs that remind everyone to do so might be in order. Just ensure that the signs themselves are polite and considerate; it’s great to be witty and humorous but refrain from lecturing, vulgar or insulting signage that sabotages efforts to improve behaviors.

Visiting the restroom should be a refreshing, rejuvenating and tranquil experience, and we should all do our part to make it so for ourselves and others. What other improvements can and should be made?

Until next time,


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