I’m not sure why, but the office I’ve been working in for the past couple of months seems to have a high concentration of people who don’t grasp the unwritten rules of office etiquette to which I am familiar. Rules that I like to believe are common place in the U.S. professional workplace. I’m not saying that there is an unusually large percentage of people from other nations working here. I’d say the mix is similar to most other places I’ve worked. And as a I.T. contractor, I can say that I get around.
I can understand that people can be a bit uneasy in the restroom. Let’s face it, its not the the most pleasant place to spend time. Everybody’s heard some story about somebody, somewhere catching something from a visit to a dirty restroom. But come on, unless you work in a gas station, you’re not using a gas station bathroom. You’re slapping your pampered backside down on the same, daily-sanitized porcelain as other people who spend their whole day doing nothing more irresponsible than eating an extra donut or drinking burnt coffee.
I see some crazy stuff people do to deal with the terror of the white collar restroom. Toilets embalmed in toilet paper. Unflushed urinals. Piles of paper towels laying in the corner between the wall and the hinge-end of the door. I’m all in favor of the touch-free bathroom experience, especially in bars and the airport. But in the office of a computer consulting firm? What the hell?
Let’s review. Here are the restroom related things people must begin doing immediately. Immediately.
- Flush the damn toilet. It’s so easy, even if it isn’t done for you automagically. Most flush levers offer little resistance, so training is not required.
- Throw your paper towels in the trash where they belong. Yes, I read the same report you did. Door handles have cooties. If you must open the door with your partially used paper towel, take it with you until you find a trash can. Do not, repeat, do not throw it on the floor where you think there should be a trash can.
- Clean up your mess. See #1 and #2. Be creative, you can apply this rule to toilet seats and sink counters.
- Wash your hands. Every single time. This week I witnessed a guy walk out of a stall and directly out the door. Toward me. I ran screaming in terror. And this guy died of typhoid. Actually he probably didn’t, but he might be really sick by now. I wouldn’t advise shaking his hand. Or Sheryl Crow’s, for that matter. (Yeah, I know, supposedly it was a joke, but if you use a paper towel to open the door, you probably want to use one when shaking her hand, just in case.)
The Break Room
This important point of office interaction is one of the other major locations of ridiculous violations of etiquette and common sense. Unlike the restroom, the point of this area is enjoyment. You’ve got your water cooler. The coffee pot. The snack machine. And so forth. People loiter and talk here. (Well, probably not as much as they should. Nobody wants to be seen as that slacker who’s taking a five minutes away from his or her desk.) But for some reason, this area of pleasure is often transformed into an irritation by people who don’t clean up after themselves, or take the extra minute to replace supplies they’ve used. And you know not everybody is running late to a meeting. And if they are, maybe they should consider hitting the break room after the meeting. (There’s a lot more time then!)
But enough talk. Let’s get to the list of break room rules.
- If you kill it, you must fill it. This is the single most important rule of office life, and strangely the one most often broken. If you take the last bit of coffee, and it’s earlier than 4:30 PM, you are a complete bastard if you don’t start up another pot. If there’s any any doubt lingering in you mind as to whether you should make one or not, do it. Or face possible retribution in the afterlife. From the holy book of Second Lumburgh: “Yea verily, quoth the Lord, he that drinketh the dark nectar of the bean and replaceth it not for his brethren shall be wretched in my sight. I shall smite him with pimples in uncomfortable areas, and cause his hair to wither and fall upon his resting cot. And also I shall smite his coffee, that it be as decaf all the days of his life. Thus it shalt be, totally.” Hey don’t shoot the messenger here, it’s there.
- Clean up your mess. Yep, it works here too. Isn’t it great how applicable this is? Keep thinking, you’ll find some other great places to apply this rule! (Exceptions apply for people who bring in pastries.)
- Lab experiments in the office fridge. Though I don’t use it myself, the office refrigerator is not a petri dish for the budding mad scientist. I wouldn’t care about this one, but I get sick of seeing the all-office email about cleaning out the fridge. It’s kind of implied by #2, but merits special mention.
- Separation of your drool and the water purifier/cooler is essential. You know I love working with you. That doesn’t mean I want to make out with you. Really, your cold sore looks so much better on you than on me. Please, please, please leave a bit of space between the shared water tap and you 6-month old water bottle. (Give some thought to one of those new, wide-topped bottles. You might be able to pick one up when you get your next bonus.)
Janitorial Etiquette (Bonus!)
You didn’t see this one coming, did you? Well, the truth of the matter is that not all violations of important office etiquette are self-centered A personality types. The folks doing the scrubbing and vacuuming need to also follow a few rules to keep the business running smoothly. There are a few essential rules of janitorial service that are so important that failure to follow them should lead to immediate dismissal. And deportation to country of citizenship. ( I just couldn’t pass that up… You know you were thinking it.)
- The soap dispensers are the most important piece of machinery you service. They should be tested every time, and under no circumstances should they ever be allowed to be empty. If left empty for more than 24 hours, any janitorial staff found on the floor of the offending soap dispenser should be fair game for a swirly.
- Paper supplies are important too, leave extra. There should never be a scenario where paper products run short. Paper towels, toilet paper, and hand towels. There should extra of all of these be located wherever these products are used. The swirly rule applies here too, except that this time, the swirly recipient gets a quick toilet paper pre-wrap before the punishment is performed. (The point here is to stress the paper issue.)
- You have no say on office or break room layout. Just because you empty the trash or rinse out the coffee pots doesn’t mean you have a say in where they should live. While your attempts to optimize the layout might be appreciated, generally speaking its less productive for us to have to walk across the office to throw away the sheet of paper with our doodles of the boss swinging from a yardarm and being eaten by sharks. Optimal clean time does not equal optimal office productivity. The punishment? Oh, I think you know by now.
While I have made every attempt to be comprehensive here, I may have left off an item or two. Be creative and apply whatever sense is common in your location. I know you can handle it.