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Guest Post: The Stink on Workplace Bathrooms

I’ve gotten to know Alicia Jones through good old fashioned Trench HR networking. She is an enthusiastic HR professional with over 10 years of HR generalist experience working for small to mid-sized companies. Currently, Alicia is working for a small biotech firm and pursuing her bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership. She’s active in our Trench HR LinkedIn group and is great at bringing the real life perspective to the party. I love that about her. She shares some of that today. Something so simple, but something oh so true. Something that I quite frankly have never really reflected on, but man does it make sense! Check it out and after you do, check Alicia out on (@AliciaJJones), LinkedIn, and Facebook.

Recently, I have been researching the concept of the psychological contract – what we expect from our employers as an employee.  My list of expectations contained the usual suspects: open communications, fair treatment, and opportunity to learn and grow.  But it also included something that surprised even me: reasonable bathrooms. Yep.

I have a theory.  There is something so basic and universal about an office bathroom that I believe it’s condition is a telling statement (if not one of the best) on how an organization (really) views its workforce.  Yes, in my experience there seems to be a connection between how well the bathroom is maintained and how well employees are treated. I’m not talking about fancy art, music, lotions, scented candles and bidets. But they need to be in working order, well-lit, heated, and – above all else – clean. Sufficient, not luxurious. They must demonstrate a reasonable standard of care.  And if they don’t. Well, just think about it: an untended bathroom is tantamount to an untended employee…management just doesn’t care.

A decrepit bathroom might not only be a reflection of management’s own decrepitude, but also of the employee’s satisfaction and sense of engagement with the company.  If the bathrooms are a disaster and consistently a topic for HR – I believe it demonstrates an employee’s disrespect for their colleagues, peers, certainly management, and generally the company at large. To me, this is a huge symptom of something far more systemic to the culture.  Employees making a mess in the bathroom is a passive aggressive way for them to voice their opinions.

So as you look for opportunities to gauge employee sentiment, start with the bathrooms. And if they’re a mess, take it as a sign something just isn’t right. Look for ways to listen more – to solicit and then actually respond to their input. This is an important part of that physiological contract. Give them a more productive (and healthier) way to express themselves and truly feel heard and all that porcelain just might actually sparkle.

Image Credit: ~dgies (via Compfight)

  • Chris Fields

    I’ve heard women say they judge a new boyfriend by how clean his bathroom, and I must admit, I have used that judge potential girlfriends, so it makes perfect sense to take a peek at the company restroom. Very good and different idea here…thanks

  • KellyOlsakovsky

    I actually had a conversation with someone fairly recently about a company that has a relatively new to them headquarters and spends a lot of time keeping the “show” areas immaculate and obsessively polished – however the restrooms have cracked and peeling paint, old tile floors, and in the ladies’ at least there are two toilets that never flush properly and only one trash can.

    The company tries putting off an air of being a big player in their market, and the employees are as a whole dissatisfied, with few benefits, and lots of shifting around of people, like they were interchangeable pegs.

    Our conclusion was the same as yours – if you want to know how much someone cares, ask to use the restroom.

  • hrfishbowl

    unbelievable. no wait…it’s sad, but believable. thanks for endorsing Alicia’s theory…it’s a good one. luv your last sentence too…that’s going into “Fishbowl Logic”

  • Alicia Jones

    Hi Kelly,

    I love your last line!

    It is amazing how much emphasis we put on areas we think are “visible”, however, think about how many vendors, clients, and candidates will use the facilities while on site. To me, these are just as “visible”.

  • Ray Saxe

    For years, whenever I visit one of our facilities, I always tour the restrooms (the mens anyway) – checking every stall both in the office and each of the restrooms out in the production areas. It’s always been a great predictor of how people are treated. Find a problem with a restroom and you’ll find other problems as well. Make it part of your check list for every plant you visit.

  • Martha

    When SHRM was still ASPA the tampon machines were always empty. Sick of losing my quarters I blew my stack at the guy whose job it is to maintain he bathrooms. He looked at me with this bemused expression as in, “yup, looks like she could use one right now.”

  • Alicia Jones

    Great idea Ray!

  • hrfishbowl