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Few topics are as awkward – or as universally avoided – as workplace restroom etiquette and cleanliness. Given the number of people who have horror stories about bathroom behavior at work, though, it’s clearly an issue. Although it might seem reasonable to expect that adults could manage to keep the company toilets and bathrooms clean, there may be times when you feel that certain problems must be addressed. Sending a memo can help avoid the embarrassment of discussing the issue in person, and help improve the bathroom cleanliness, but it must be written sensitively and in a solution-focused manner.
Is a Memo Even Necessary?
Before you start composing a missive railing about keeping the toilets in the office clean, take a deep breath. If the problem is a one-time thing – perhaps an employee was ill, or the janitorial staff was shorthanded for a day or two – it’s better to just let it go and avoid creating an issue. If the problem is ongoing, a memo might be in order. Remember that you are addressing adults who most likely do not need specific instructions about how to use the bathroom. Instead, focus the memo on specific cleanliness issues and reminding employees to do their part to keep the shared space clean and sanitary.
When writing your memo, be sensitive, and avoid calling out specific employees for their bathroom habits. Chances are that everyone already knows Bill from accounting takes the newspaper into a stall every morning, but there’s no need to mention it. Keep in mind that you could have employees with chronic illnesses or other conditions that affect their bathroom habits, and naming names in a memo could not only cause embarrassment, but potentially lead to discrimination charges. Describe the problem in the most general terms only; for example, you might say, “The cleaning staff has mentioned that the third-floor restrooms have required more cleaning than usual recently. Please remember to properly dispose of all waste, and notify the custodial staff if there are any immediate issues.”
Address Overall Office Cleanliness
Another way to address the issue of toilet cleanliness is a memo reiterating the need for everyone to do their part in keeping the entire office clean. Office refrigerators, for example, are notorious for being a breeding ground for "science projects." Draft a memo that addresses overall issues in the office related to cleanliness, including the restrooms, and ask employees to pitch in and help keep everything clean. Reiterate that you aren’t expecting your team to be janitors, but to make sure they properly dispose of their own trash, clean up spills and avoid creating unpleasant odors.
Instead of sending a memo, consider using signage in the bathroom to remind employees to keep the space clean. Use positive language that encourages employees to consider their colleagues and maintain a spirit of teamwork when it comes to keeping the space clean. Also, provide tools that employees can use to keep the space clean, including adequate paper towels and air freshener spray.
- Myles O'Donnell & Co.: How to Write a Memo to Staff About Kitchen Cleanliness
- CNN.com: Restroom Etiquette for the Office
- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: How to Comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act: A Guide for Restaurants and Other Food Service Employers
- Human Resource Blog: Bathroom Hygiene
An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer and editor, specializing in careers, business, education, and lifestyle topics. The author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), which covers everything from career and financial advice to furnishing your first apartment, her work has also appeared in Young Money, Lewiston Auburn Magazine, USA Today, and a variety of online outlets. She's also been quoted as a career expert in many newspapers and magazines, including Cosmopolitan and Parade. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.