11 Ways To Make The Workplace Bathroom A Happier Place

Picture it: New York City, 2005. I was sitting in a bathroom stall in the ladies’ room of a women’s fashion magazine. My stomach was cramping and I was bathed in sweat. In the stall next to me was another woman. We were locked in a stand-off. Would the other one flush and finish? Five minutes went by, then 10. I cursed this woman — this worthy bathroom foe.

Why, oh why, is the workplace bathroom such a difficult place to, well, use the bathroom?

For women, it’s a complex space. We cry, we freshen up for meetings, we psych ourselves up at the sink, we stare at the mirror and contemplate our life’s purpose. While all this is going on, there are women trapped in their stalls, desperate to move their bowels and get on with their days. How can we do this when we treat the bathroom like an extension of the office break room?

Frankly, I blame the open-plan office for driving us into the bathroom for respite. It can feel like we're so vulnerable in our cubicles, and the bathroom is the only place to hide. That said, let's not forget that the bathroom has an essential purpose: for people to use the freaking bathroom.

How can we even hope to crack the glass ceiling if we’re undermining each other’s basic functions? In my 10+ years of professional life, I’ve seen colleagues with college degrees become social savages when they enter the restroom. It’s one thing to use the bathroom for a quick cosmetic touch-up and moment of solitude, and quite another to use it for full-face makeovers, phone calls with your therapist, and, in one true case, to shave your legs in the sink.

Here are a few ways to turn your workplace restroom into the sanitary, private haven it should be — because we all need to do our business and then get back to business.

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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Ban Bathroom Buddies
“Are you going to the bathroom? I’ll come with you!” Why?!

I’m a woman who treasures her alone time, so I’ve never understood why women like to go to the bathroom in groups. If you’ve got an office mate who looks at trip to the lavatory as a chance to chat, discourage her from the habit. Tell her you’d rather grab some coffee with her in the break room or offer to take a walk with her later. If she’s still not getting the hint, tell her that you ate too much Taco Bell at lunch. Your directness may shock her, but she’ll get the point that the buddy system doesn’t work for bathroom breaks.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Manage Those No-Boundary Bosses
On “The Bottle Deposit” episode of Seinfeld, George Costanza misses the details of an important assignment because his boss expects him to join him in the bathroom while he relieves himself. George, in a rare moment of social correctness, assumes that he should wait outside. When it comes to the bathroom, why do supervisors think that conversation should just continue apace?

It can be tricky to tell your boss to (literally) piss off while you’re using the restroom. If she’s hot on your trail while you’re beating a retreat to the ladies', consider turning to her and saying politely but firmly, “I really want to focus on what you’re saying. Let me meet you back in your office in literally two minutes. I just really need to pee.” A polite and professional rebuff will establish you as a person not to be pushed around.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
This Isn't The Makeup Counter
A lipstick touch-up? Sure. A rogue contact lens? Hey, that’s what the bathroom sink is for. But if you’re shlepping your entire Caboodles into the restroom, complete with makeup sponges, tweezers, and tiny brushes, then you need to simplify your midday beauty routine.

Save your contouring-and-highlighting regimen for the end of the day, when you’re heading out for the night. And even then, consider your colleagues who are trying to “get moving” before their commute home.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Be Communal
Your office may have a janitorial staff, but that’s no excuse to be enable a shitty restroom environment. Replace the damn roll of toilet paper; it’s just common courtesy. If there’s none to be had in the entire bathroom, alert the proper authorities. Same goes for when the soap, seat covers, and paper towels run out — or when you find a clogged toilet. Don’t just leave it to the next person to discover. If you see something, say something.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Redirect Your Rage
I’m about to get really real: Some women use the ladies’ room as a place to vent their disgust with their workplace and themselves. They refuse to flush, they leave seat covers and toilet paper everywhere, they do not dispose of feminine hygiene products in the way that one should. Their life is a misery; therefore, you must deal with it.

Is this you? If so, STOP. It’s passive-aggressive and frankly, a total coward’s way of expressing anger toward your coworkers. If you have a desire to leave your tampon floating in the toilet or to stick a dirty pantiliner on a bathroom wall (I’ve seen it, people), don’t. Sign up for a kickboxing class. Talk to a therapist. Consider yoga.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Careful With The Crying
When I worked at a newspaper, the handicapped stall became our de facto sobbing hidey-hole. Don't get me wrong; I’ve had long, Scarlett O’Hara weeping sessions in stalls all over New York City. But I’ve changed my ways.

First of all, if you’re sad, your ladies’ room is not the nicest place to comfort yourself. It’s cold, it’s lonely, and it reeks of Lysol (if you’re lucky). Your prolonged sniffling also creates a social dilemma for the person on the other side of the stall. Do you just ignore her and do your business? Or do you gird yourself and ask, “Are you okay in there?”

If the floodgates are about to burst, it’s okay to run into the bathroom. Then, dry your eyes and go for a walk outside, where there’s actual fresh air and perspective.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Dial It Back
Let’s stop pretending that we don’t bring our phones into the bathroom. We do. We’ve all been guilty of using the quiet time to catch up on personal email, Facebook, Twitter, and texts. We know phones are germy, and hauling them into the bathroom doesn’t improve the sanitary situation. But we do it anyway.

But a quick check is one thing; a lengthy conversation on the toilet is another. No one wants to hear you gossiping with your friend about your last Tinder date or arguing with your husband about your nanny. It’s super disrespectful to your colleagues who are trying to poop in peace. Take your personal calls outside.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Keep Gossiping To A Minimum
It happened to me. I was once in the bathroom stall, and three women walked in, bursting with gossip. Did they hear about the fact-checker who totally lost it and yelled in the middle of the office? Yes, they heard it, and it was CRAZY. I felt my heart sink and the blood rush to my face. I was mortified. Not only had I not known that the entire office knew I had had not-so nice words with my manager, I was imprisoned in my stall and could not leave until the ladies had finished tearing me apart. It taught me a valuable lesson.

First, never let your workplace frustrations pile up until you snap and yell. Second, never, ever talk smack about a colleague in the bathroom. You never know who is quivering in shame in the far stall.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
How To Vomit Politely
You partied too hard the night before and you’ve accomplished the Herculean task of getting to work on time. Now, you’re sitting at your desk with the cold sweats. Hey, when you have to puke, you have to puke.

There’s no ladylike way to throw up. All you can do is keep the moans, prayers, and sobs to a minimum — and flush often. No one needs to be held captive to the smell of your undigested egg-and-cheese on a bagel and last night’s martinis.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Avoid Eye Contact
Nobody poops roses and Chanel perfume. No one’s poop sounds like Beethoven's "Eroica." We’re humans, and we make sounds. Grow up. If the woman next to you needs to let loose, do her a solid and don’t make eye contact with her when she’s at the sink washing her hands. We’d all rather be alone in our own bathroom when nature calls with stinky urgency, so let’s all allow each other space to pretend that we have privacy.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
What Happens In the Bathroom Stays In The Bathroom
It’s like Vegas. Did a coworker have explosive diarrhea? Did she sneeze and fart really loudly? Has she been barfing in the morning, a possible sign of morning sickness? These are the secrets of the bathroom, and all must sign a covenant of silence and understanding. People’s delicate and personal moments should never leave the sanctity of the tiled space. They call it a porcelain altar for a reason. Confession is confidential, and so shall be anything that happens in the workplace bathroom.

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