ask the readers: who should replace the office water cooler jug?

This one is interesting, and I’m throwing it out to readers to help with. Here’s the letter:

I’m not exactly sure how relevant this is to management, but I’m guessing this is a common source of office drama and was wondering what you and your readers think/do about it.

The office water cooler: Who should replace the empty jugs?

My previous office had about 40 employees in it that shared one very heavily used water cooler. It was also a very female-heavy office–just one or two of the staff were male. I was the Unofficial Water Jug Replacer there for 2 years, as no one else would chip in and do it. Sometimes one of the women would ask one of the men to replace it, which they did, but I was the main Replacer. And it certainly was not easy for me; I’m a small five-foot-tall woman. I spilled water everywhere and smashed and bruised my fingers many, many times trying to haul that jug to chest level to get it on the cooler. One time I dropped the jug and very nearly broke my foot. But I did it anyway, mostly because there was no other option besides getting drinking water from the bathroom sink (blech).

Fast forward to a few years later, and now I’m in a different job in a different office. I told myself when I got my new job that I wouldn’t let myself become the Unofficial Water Jug Replacer again and that I had more than fulfilled my quota of water-jug-replacement for one lifetime. I took the tact that everyone else did; if I saw the jug was empty, I just went back to my desk and waited for someone else to replace it, and eventually, someone would. I didn’t know who actually did it–I never saw my coworkers around me replacing the jug.

Recently, my manager emailed my team and said that replacing the water jug was “our responsibility” and that someone from another area of our department had been doing it up until now out of the kindness of their hearts. Since that email was sent out a week ago, the jug has been sitting empty on the cooler, unreplaced. There is a silent standoff going on, and I’m certainly participating in it. I do NOT want to replace that water jug; I have been physically injured too many times by now to do it again. I would rather drink water out of the tap than have to deal with the cooler (which is actually possible in this new office–it has a kitchen area in it). I also have possibly sexist opinions on it it, because unlike my previous office, this one is quite full of tall big men who would have a much easier time replacing the jug than someone like me.

How do other offices deal with the water jug? Does every office have an Unofficial Water Jug Replacer? Am I doomed to become this person again?

Readers, what do you say?

{ 208 comments… read them below }

  1. Cat

    Wait, why on Earth has this team not just had a conversation about this? If the manager has specifically said it’s their responsibility (it would be interesting to know why – were they picked at random or are they the Office Services-type department?), it’s a job function. Talk about it and figure it out. And yeah, the OP should say “To be honest, I’m too small and short to be able to do that task; I’ve hurt myself in the past trying. I’ll have to leave it to someone else.” It’s not that big a deal – someone just needs to know they’re responsible and it’s part of their job.

    1. Cat

      And in this case, it wouldn’t be an Unofficial Water Jug Replacer. It’d be an official one (which is what our office has, and it is easy for everyone concerned).

    2. OP

      OP here. It’s “our responsibility” because we sit closest to the jug and use it the most due to its proximity.

      1. 05girl

        Maybe instead of asking a male coworker to do it, you ask “hey jim, can you please HELP ME move the water cooler?” Then hopefully he is gentlemanly enough to step in and provide help. Or just ask around loudly, hey guys, can someone help move this WITH me? That automatically makes it a shared responsibility.

        1. Lindsay J

          This is the tactic I use. I do not do water cooler jugs by myself because I am clumsy and will wind up with an empty jug and gallons of water on the floor. However, if it needs to be replaced I will ask a guy to help me with it. Usually they will just do it, however, if they don’t then at least their help I can avoid making a mess.

          1. Penny

            LOL, oh yeah, this happened at the old job. Usually the men did it because I’m a short and admittedly weak woman. A couple of us women tried to do it once and totally spilled half of it on the floor. Men, stop being so lame and just step up and do it because it’s easier for you! Sheesh. There were only a few guys in my last office and the one guy who was always happiest to help out was the short skinny guy, lol. Still, if water was out, I just asked a guy if they’d mind changing it and even if he didn’t like it, he’d look like a d*ck if he said no.

        2. Melissa

          I hate that passive-aggressiveness, though. If you want someone to help you, ask directly: “Hey, Jim, can you help me with the water-cooler?” rather than casting about expecting someone to volunteer.

      2. 05girl

        I really hope you provide an update.

        You could also try a respond all to the email, offering a solution or again, asking for help to replace the jug. At least then your mgr sees you tried, and are a team player. The fact everyone is in a standoff just screams “we are not team players.”

      3. Rebecca

        When I worked at a small office (all females), there was literally only one person strong enough to lift the jug. I was the only person who drank much water out of it and when it was out, I’d ask her to do it if she was there and she never acted put out about it. I would also ask the water delivery guy to change it out if it was getting low while he was there. I’m 5’2″ and at the time was about 100lbs soaking wet and nobody ever acted like I should do it myself.

        If it is your department’s responsibility, just set up a rotation so it’s equally distributed. If there are smaller people, pair up.

        1. Jessa

          Honestly, unless a person is physically unable to do it, the person who empties it does it.

          If there are only a few people physically able, make a rota of who to ask on a little white board next to the thing where you tick off the name you’ve asked, and the next person does it next time. When everyone’s name on the list is ticked off, erase the marks and start from the top again. This will at least make sure that the person sitting nearest isn’t always the one stuck doing it.

          If nearly EVERYONE in the place is unable to do it, talk to your supplier about the smaller sized bottles. They do make them.

      4. fposte

        Additionally: is this enough of an annoyance that you’d rather do without the water cooler? That’s what it looks like.

    3. Anonymous

      Totally agree. This just screams a dysfunctional team. Why not just have a conversation about it and see if you, AS A TEAM, can set up some system. Perhaps the person who empties the jug should replace it. Perhaps you can rotate and take ownership for a week/month. And it doesn’t have to be just one person doing the replacement; you can have a couple or a group of people doing the replacement so that you don’t have one person trying to lift the jug and hurt herself.

      I also don’t think the OP’s previous experience in her past company should have any relevance here.

  2. Acidartha

    I really don’t know if a silent stand off is necessary. We have water coolers at my work place as well and like you I’m small built and can’t handle the jugs – ever! If and when I do see the water cooler jug empty, I just ask a male co-worker. This is not a sexist thing – I realize that I’m incapable of doing this task without hurting myself. I’ve never had a male co-worker ever refuse and say do it yourself nor have I ever received any feedback saying that I’m being sexist or flirting or whatever. I make sure that I rotate whom I ask – I’ve even asked my manager to do it. So, I’d say end the stalemate – ask someone nicely and say thank you.

  3. Kat M

    Can you ask a co-worker to help you do it one time? I’m rather small myself, and prefer to think of jug replacement as a two-person job. Once people see it can be done fairly easily, maybe more folks will volunteer.

  4. Spiny

    My job requires safety training for this task- you’re supposed to alert a manager if the jug is empty and they will find someone from to switch it out. Some dispensers have signs listing the names for those whose offices are nearby and have approval.

    That said, I would have no problem doing it myself and the replacement jugs are beside the dispenser, so it’s not an inconvenience.

    If one is physically able and comfortable with the task, it seems akin to picking up something that’s fallen on the floor or something- you’re an adult, you see what needs to be done, and you take the 30 seconds do it.

    1. OP

      It’s not that simple in my office. The replacement jugs are down the hallway and in a closet, so it requires a good amount of carrying to just get it to the cooler in the first place.

      1. Becky

        Could the office invest in one of those folding hand-trucks to at least get the jug down the hall? That might make the task more manageable…

        I’m in favor of a rota sheet. People can go in pairs if they wish, and cross off as you go. Yes it sounds like the SuperNanny but nobody’s stepping up and this will make it clear whose turn it is!

      2. Spiny

        We have them in stacked egg crates. It’s not pretty, but it’s stable and makes it much less of a hassle to switch out bottle.

      3. crookedfinger

        It may not be possible due to how your office is situated, but has anyone brought up the idea of installing a water cooler that is hooked up to a water line? The place I’m at now (as well as the last job I had) has this water cooler without a bottle… it filters it, does it hot, does it cold, does it lukewarm. Super convenient. Then no one has to struggle with a huge bottle at all.

  5. Ariancita

    Like Cat above, I don’t understand why there hasn’t been a conversation about this. Like any shared office task, this needs to be discussed.

    In any case, if no one wants to do it, why not look into having a filtered water dispenser rather than water bottles? Cost effective and you only have to figure out who replaces the filter.

  6. Blinx

    That’s just ridiculous! Whoever drinks the water and is ABLE, should replace it! At my old office, everyone usually just did it. I used to do it often, until I realized the cause of all my shoulder pain! Then I stopped, and did not feel guilty about it at all.

    P.S. Why can’t they design water jugs that are smaller and easier to replace? I know they’d have to be replaced more often, but it wouldn’t be such a big deal if they were smaller.

    1. OP

      I agree, Blinx. The question of exactly WHO “is able” is the root of my problem. I mean, I am “able,” obviously, because I did it for years at my old office. I smashed many fingers, but I was able. It’s more of a relative thing, I think. Some are more able than others.

      And yes, why hasn’t someone invented a better jug yet?!

      1. Kara

        While I don’t think you should be the only person to have to replace the water jug, I kind of take issue with the fact that you’re using an old situation and a previous office as an excuse not to want to contribute to the situation at this office. Actually, you could step up and say, “This is how it was done at a previous office, and it is unfair – so let’s work out a system that allows us to share the responsibility equally.” Regardless, you can’t just say, “Sorry guys, I changed it all the time when I was at company X, so I’m going to let you all handle this.” If you’re able, you should be part of the solution, not contributing to the problem.

        Have you thought about assigning two people to change it? I’m a 5’2″ 130 pound female, and I can still manage to change the water jug, though I find it easier to get assistance with lifting it. I’ve read some of the other responses about having a list and assigning certain people, taking turns, etc. If this system were implemented and there are other similarly sized persons, or staff members who may have an injury that would prevent them lifting it alone, you could assign two people to work together carrying the jug down the hall and replacing it, so that the work is distributed more equally. Granted, of course, these two people’s schedule would provide for that, but that could be said of anyone who’s ‘next’ on the list. If that person/those people aren’t available, move on to the next person. Just don’t continue the standoff. That’s silly.

      2. ExceptionToTheRule

        They have. The ones in our office have a handle molded into the side. Maybe someone could ask your supplier about them.

    2. Melissa

      I don’t know whether OP has much bigger jugs at her workplace than mine does – I work in a pretty small office – but I’ve never heard of water jugs that are completely unmanageable. I’ve replaced the ones at the office several times and it takes a bit of work but it’s not impossible.

  7. Employment lawyer

    If you are worried about spilling water, you’re probably doing it wrong. I was.

    It took me a while to figure this out (and boy oh boy did I feel stupid later) but it turns out that most modern bottles are designed to be placed in WITHOUT taking the cap entirely off. The weight of the bottle pierces the thin plastic cover as you insert it…. but it won’t spill before then. If you’re unsure about your precise bottles and machine, ask your bottle delivery guy.

    That’s a somewhat recent invention, which was specifically designed to make life easier for folks like you. If you’re trying to rapidly flip over an open bottle without spilling, it’s much harder on your back. If you’re comfortably holding a bottle which is sealed, then it’s not that bad at all and there’s nothing to prevent you from having a friend help.

    Also: Doesn’t anyone own a step stool anymore? Spend ten bucks for an indestructible Rubbermaid plastic version and the extra eight inches will make it much easier.

    Finally: If you’re too small, you should say so. But don’t assume that people can do it just because they’re male, or larger. In other words: it’s OK to protect yourself, but don’t impose on others, and don’t be sexist in your assumptions. I’m 6′ and over 200 pounds, and I look like I could do it easily, but due to an injury I cannot.

    1. Heather

      This. The jugs aren’t that hard to replace. yes they are heavy and awkward but it’s not as bad as it used to be. Once you get the lift going it’s pretty easy. And yes I know not everyone can still do it but it’s been made much easier.

      In our office who ever empties the jug replaces it. It’s never been an issue which is kind of amazing since no one ever cleans up after themselves in the kitchen.

      1. Kathy

        That’s how we do it at my office, too–whoever drinks the last of the old bottle replaces it.

        1. Nicole.

          Ditto. If the person who uses the last of it isn’t comfortable replacing it, they just ask someone taller/stronger/whatever for help.

          1. Chinook

            Can I also add that the person who is replacing the water jug should not be wearing a certain type of heel that, when you are off balance, causes you fall. Or, if you are wearing a skirt that makes it hard to bend at the knees while still looking decent.

            1. Erica B

              This line of comments right here.

              It’s like the last roll of toilet paper issue. If you use it up replace it. problem solved.

              Water is different in that it’s heavy and awkward, and then just ask for help.

              The whole stand-off thing seems childish & high schooly to me.

    2. Elizabeth

      Sadly, my office has not converted to this type of water cooler. We have the kind that has to be quickly flipped over. I hate doing it, but we have a rule of replacing it immediately when it’s empty.

  8. Kimberly

    I think the manager should either change it his/herself or make this the specific job responsibility of someone physically capable of changing it. But that should not be the letter writer, because history shows she is not physically capable of doing it and has hurt herself in the past.

    Saying one of the men should do it is out of line. I am a woman and am tall enough to change the jugs just a little help. I can lift the jug, but need someone else to remove the cap.

    1. The Other Dawn

      Agreed. The only issue with this is that sometimes people will try very hard not to be the one that empties the last of the water. As a result people stop using it for fear of being “the one” and it never gets changed unless someone gets pissed off enough to just suck it up and do it. Yes, this has happened at my office. And, yes, I was the one who ended up changing the bottle.

      1. EngineerGirl

        The same people leave 1 mm of coffee on the bottom of the pot too. But yes, if you use it up you should replace it. I’m 5’4 and am quite able to replace it. It’s not squirming and moving like a child! The secrecy is to use your forearm as a fulcrum to top the jug in.

        1. Girasol

          Making more coffee is not an issue of weight lifting. I’ll be the water bottle business isn’t really about the weight either. It’s about one person being the one to take the last (or find it empty) and refill, while others pretend they don’t notice it’s empty. I’ll bet LW would be willing to lift the water tank now and again if she could be assured of not having to do her share of the task and everyone else’s as well.

        2. Kimberlee, Esq.

          This. I’m 5’4 as well, and while I’ll say changing it isn’t EASY, it’s certainly not very hard (of course, I don’t have an injury or something precluding my doing my part).

          And in my office, yep, whoever empties it is responsible for changing it. It’s usually not me, but when it is, I haul that sucker from the kitchen and pop it on.

    2. ExceptionToTheRule

      Exactly. You emptied it, you replace it. If you are physically unable to replace it because you can’t lift that much or have a bad back (both of which are gender neutral problems) then find someone who is physically capable and ask them to help you.

      1. Cate

        I was looking for a response like this! Gender had nothing to do with it, physical capability does. I happen to be a woman who is very strong, so I have no problem replacing the water jug. No spilling, no bruises, no hassle. I’m happy to do it. Meanwhile one of the “big, strong-looking men” in our office has serious back issues – I would never expect him to replace the water jug, and I have replaced the jug for others more times than I can count!

    3. FiveNine

      Oh this is crap. It seems the one and only time I need a paper towel, I’m the one who has to replace the roll because apparently no one else in the office will. It seems like I get to replace all the paper too for copies because it’s — surprise! — empty when I need to make a copy.

      1. FiveNine

        (Man these responses are ticking me off. What a bunch of passive aggressive coworkers. It really wouldn’t kill some of you to just once replace the paper or the roll or yes, the water bottle if you ever use any of these things.)

          1. A Bug!

            Not comments, coworkers. That is to say, all the examples of passive-aggressive coworkers given here in comments.

            All the coworkers who stop drinking coffee or water when they see it’s low enough that they might be the one take the last drop, or the coworkers who’ll leave an empty TP or paper towel roll when they know where to get replacements (or more insulting, leave the TP roll with that one final half-square of paper stuck on it as if anybody’s needs would be met by that), or the coworkers who’ll let the paper run out on the printer without replacing it, or who replace only just enough paper to cover their own print job.

            1. Nelly

              Or the staff member who puts into the copier only EXACTLY the number of sheets they need to complete their job and no more…

    4. Zahra

      This should be the rule taught at a very early age and reinforced as soon as you get to the workforce. It makes me fume when people don’t change the water bottle (or get help for it). Same goes for printer paper, toilet paper, etc. At worst, set up a rotation that says “Every Monday, person A does the changing, every Tuesday, etc.”.

      In the offices I worked in, the bottle needed to be replaced multiple times a day. And man or woman doesn’t make a difference. I get it, it’s about 40 lbs. So is a full reusable grocery bag around here. Get help, learn how to lift stuff properly (with your legs, not your back) and get it done. The only exceptions I’ll give are: can’t do it because you have an injury/condition or are advanced enough in pregnancy that the bump really is a hindrance.

      1. PEBCAK

        The official name is “you kill it, you fill it”, and it should be learned at summer camp the first tim you drink the last of the pitcher of bug juice.

        1. Zahra

          I wasn’t sure about that one, so I didn’t put in a blanket exemption for pregnant ladies. For one, those that already do strength training at that weight can continue on during the pregnancy.

          1. tcookson

            That’s true — I was able to keep up my end of the water-bottle-changing bargain all the way through my pregnancy; I just kept doing everything I had always done in general, and always lifted the water bottle with my legs, not the back or abs. I worked in an office/natural foods warehouse where there were plenty of strong warehouse guys around, but all the women in customer service, where I worked, took our fair turns replacing the bottle regardless of gender. It was either whoever emptied it had to replace it. And people did offer to do it for me because I was pregnant, but I still felt physically up to it, and let them know that I wanted to do it.

      2. Andrea

        I actually learned how to do this very task at my first job. When I was 17, I got a job in a book store (locally owned). And one of the owners, Susie, was a small woman who had struggled in her former office career with carpal tunnel issues, and she showed me where the bottles were in back and taught me how to change the bottle. She said that we all had equal responsibility to notice if it was empty and change it as soon as it was. Same rule for coffee, paper towels, toilet paper, printer paper/toner, etc., etc. (And honestly, that rule wasn’t anything new to me because it was the same rule at home, too—it is just inconsiderate not to replace the empty toilet paper roll for the next person.) Of course, the water and coffee were for us and for customers, so I guess it was a little different. In any case, she could do it, and so it never occurred to me to assume that I couldn’t. (She used a step-stool, though; I’m 5’8″ so I didn’t.) I worked there for four years (through college), and I loved it, and I am sure I changed dozens of those bottles in that time. I never minded.

        On another note, I try very hard to be considerate of others. I am sure I don’t succeed all of the time, but I work at it and try to be mindful of other people’s needs, and I am absolutely incensed when I see others not even try at all and act completely oblivious to other people. This workplace would drive me crazy and this standoff is ridiculous.

  9. Amber

    Being female and former military, I can assure you there are almost NO tasks that females can’t do. Women, especially small ones, just have a bad habit of using it as an excuse. If you’re too short to do it, get a stool…If its too heavy for you, ask another woman to help. Asking men to do something for you is what gives women the bad rap of being weak.

    Though at my work, my employers just have a water color that takes water from the tap and filters it (just like the water tap on the front of a fridge). See about requesting something that doesn’t require refilling, you might even end up saving the company money.

    1. Kelly

      Yeah, I am a little surprised by all of the women saying they physically can’t do it…I’m 5’1″ and pretty petite – do not work out often or lift weights, and I can heft a water jug on the cooler without injuring myself. I’m sure there are people with physical problems that make it unwise, and they shouldn’t have to do it! But the “I’m a petite woman I can’t!” chorus really surprised me.

      I grew up with a mother who although the same height as me now, but somewhat smaller in size, was vehement that she could do anything. When my dad took too long replacing the patio, she went out with a sledgehammer and broke up all the concrete and hauled it away.

      My boyfriend asked me the other day when I was going to the home depot if I could lift a 40lb bag of soil myself and I just gave him the death glare – because really.

      1. Mary Sue

        Oh, sure, I’m able to lift 40lbs– shoot, I used to bench 250lbs. My doctor has just suggested if I want to maintain mobility in my shoulders and not be subjected to intensive surgery and 12-18 months of physical therapy that I restrict myself to lifting less than 15 lbs.

        So you’re physically able to lift. That’s great. You don’t have to be ableist about it.

        1. Kelly

          It wasn’t my intention to be ableist – and I’m genuinely sorry if it came off that way. I know some people probably can’t for many reasons, and really, if it would hurt your health you shouldn’t and that is no big deal!

          I just think most small women are physically capable of lifting and doing other strength work far beyond what many people think. The people I know who are petite and female and might injure themselves lifting a water jug – it usually isn’t because of their size or sex – but rather some other factor. Describing it as “I can’t lift the water jug BECAUSE I am short and a woman” bothers me, because I think we have enough inaccurate and gendered notions of strength already.

          1. OP

            I tend to agree with you, Kelly, and it’s why I didn’t ask the few men in my previous office to replace the bottle for me when I worked there. I am definitely not saying that I am unable to replace the bottle–obviously, I AM able, because I did it for years, despite smashed fingers and and near injuries.

            My current office has the culture where claiming that “I’m small, I can’t do it!” will absolutely NOT fly. It’s not like they’ll refuse if I ask a more capable person to do it, but they will give me an eye roll and be annoyed. My previous office had the complete opposite culture–the expectation was that we (the women) “can’t” (more like “don’t”) carry heavy objects so whenever it came up, we’d pull in men from outside departments to help.

            1. fposte

              It’s not just you the manager identified, though; it’s your whole team. You don’t have to do it alone–why not set up pairs, as suggested upthread?

              I think underlying this is the fact that you’re incredibly sick of the water cooler issue and really are looking for a “not my problem” loophole. Unfortunately, the loophole here is being somebody who doesn’t ever use the water cooler. If you want to use the water cooler, you need to be part of the solution here. You don’t have to be the *whole* solution, but you can’t opt out when your manager has identified it as your bailiwick and still expect to enjoy the benefits.

          2. Elizabeth West

            I used to be able to do stuff like that too. Until six years of heavy boxes at OldJob tore my shoulders up so bad that even a year after leaving that job, I still have trouble using a seat belt, getting dressed, mowing the lawn, and I don’t even sleep very well anymore because every time I turn over, the pain wakes me up. The last thing on earth I’m going to do is lift a huge water jug.

            If I could do it (and had to–I actually don’t at NewJob because we don’t have a cooler), I would just say “I’m sorry; I have shoulder impingement issues and I can’t lift heavy things anymore.” It’s the truth. I even bought a rolling briefcase to take to work so I wouldn’t have to carry a heavy tote or purse over my shoulder.

            1. Elizabeth West

              **if I couldn’t do it, not could do it. If I could do it I would be happy to! But I don’t want to be the only one doing it all the time, so I get where the OP is coming from.

        2. Kelly

          I really am struggling to say what I think, and I’m not trying to say everyone should be able to lift or that it is a moral virtue. But the fact that people often try to stop or take heavy items well within my ability to manage myself is annoying and problematic in it’s own way. I think conversations around somewhat heavy items often tread off into “oh well do we have a big strong man around?” territory, which reinforces this idea that women need help with things they don’t. And although I’m not in the military or any very physical job, I agree with Amber that this can hurt women’s equality.

      2. Jess

        Right? I’m 5’2″, and tend towards roly-poly. I can change the water-bottle. Now, my mother has a seriously bad back and SHOULDN’T change it- so does a close male friend who’s built like a football player.

        1. Jamie

          This. I am embarrassed when I have to ask for help lifting anything at work, but for me it’s an angle thing. I was recently diagnosed with arthritis in my lower lumbar, from a previous injury, and I can pick up a lot more weight straight up than if there is an angle involved. I’ve thrown my back out more than once because I shooed away guys trying to help me, and I’ve come to the place where I do what I can…but if it will take them 10 seconds but will have me limping for a week then I accept the help gratefully.

          And you can’t tell by looking at someone whether they can or not. People should tend to the tasks they can and say thank you to others for doing what they can’t.

          1. KellyK

            People should tend to the tasks they can and say thank you to others for doing what they can’t.

            This!

      3. tcookson

        I’m surprised, too. I’ve know lots of small women who were pretty strong and wiry and pretty capable of lifting 40 awkward pounds. The only ones I’ve seen who use that as an excuse are people whom I’ve also seen have all kinds of excuses about how they’re not the appropriate person to do all kinds of other, non-strength-related work.

        We have two very petite women on our staff right now, both at the same (director) level of job title, and one of them is willing to pitch in and do anything (physical, heavy, or whatever) that’s needed to help, and the other one always has an excuse why she can’t (if it’s a strength thing, she will cite her tiny, puny, delicate size; if it’s a work-the-registration-table thing, she’ll just disappear or hide).

        I agree that some people who have physical reasons that they really can’t lift shouldn’t have to change the bottle, but being of small stature and female shouldn’t make people feel like they’re entitled to an automatic pass.

    2. Soni

      OTOH, lifting and maneuvering a heavy, awkwardly-shaped and inertially dynamic object like a large water bottle is just asking for trouble if you’re not fit, and the company is on the hook if someone who isn’t strong enough (or simply doesn’t understand how to do it safely) hurts themselves. Lower back injuries of the type that this activity can create often morph into hard-to-treat chronic conditions that can cost a lot of money to deal with, and that can impair quality of life for the injured party long-term. I speak from experience, having suffered a similar injury as a teen – it developed into a chronic source of pain and weakness that would take me out for weeks at a time several times a year even when I was at a decent but non-athletic fitness level, and still puts me down on the couch at least once or twice a year even though I now lift weights and am very strong. It’s just amazing how tenacious such injuries can be. I’m surprised the company hasn’t considered this and instituted a policy to protect against the possibility.

    3. ABC

      I think the point is less about being able and more about being stuck with the task because others couldnt be bothered to take their turn to do it…

    4. PEBCAK

      You started out on the right track: yes, tasks should not be considered male/female, as there are males and females who can and can’t do virtually every physical task.

      But that doesn’t mean every woman can do this, any more than every man can do this. People have varying levels of physical ability, and we can respect that without making it a gender thing.

    5. Anne

      This! I know it’s not really helpful to the OP, but I’m a female powerlifter, and my immediate thought when reading this was “Oh man, I wish my office had a water bottle I could replace.” I’m a 5’3″ lady with pastel hair in an almost entirely male office. I love any opportunity to show off my strength.

    6. Julie

      Hear hear!

      Gender is never an excuse. I would be so offended if anyone implied that I couldn’t or shouldn’t do something like this because I am a woman.

      Unless someone has a physical disability, they should all be pitching in. I am female and have no trouble changing a large water bottle–it takes me about 30 seconds to do.

      Sounds like some people are woefully out of shape and playing passive-aggressive games.

  10. The Other Dawn

    Unfortunately, the changing of the water bottle is like all the other things in the office that need to be refilled/replaced regularly (toilet paper, paper towels): no one wants to do it for fear of being stuck with refilling these items forever more, therefore people try not to use the last of the water, paper towels, etc. Several years ago we moved to a water filtration system. It’s so much easier, no one ever has to change a bottle, and it’s cheaper. Doesn’t take up a lot of space either and the filter is changed by the company who provides it.

    We still have the issue of the paper towels, though…

  11. Shawna

    Wow… I worked in a place that had a water dispenser like this… whoever drank the last of the water replaced the jug. Of course on a couple occasions I saw that there was about 1 serving left and I really really didn’t want to deal with it, so skipped water. But usually I’d change it, and on occasion I would if somebody hadn’t. Things like this make you want to put up the “Your mother doesn’t work here, if you empty it (dirty it, etc): take care of it yourself.” Which may include asking somebody for assistance. (One of my coworkers put up the “Your mother doesn’t work here” in the kitchen re: employee dishes).

    1. MrsKDD

      Same in my office; whoever empties it replaces it. Now the jugs are downstairs in a closet as we have several water coolers, and some people can’t get them up the stairs, but they’ll at least put it against the wall at the bottom of the stairs (out of the way, of course) for someone to grab on the way up. I think it’s oddly hilarious and sad that not one person in a whole office will change the water cooler. I can see OPs point of being physically hurt in the past, but for not one person to do what they obviously see as a menial task below them is ridiculous.

  12. Kay

    I guess you could always set up a schedule with each employee taking a different week. I don’t especially like this idea because it smacks a bit too much of treating the workplace like a kindergarten, but if that’s whats necessary : /

    1. OP

      Some of my coworkers do this, actually. I can’t help but think that this is their way of avoiding replacing the jug! It’s that bad. Maybe I should just do that, too, though!

    2. Coco

      Yeah, I agree. This is too much drama for such a “minor” problem. By them not taking the initiative to change the bottle on their own is a not so subtle hint that they don’t think it’s an important enough problem to confront. If they don’t care, why should you? Bring in your own water and let the others fend for themselves.

    3. Another Emily

      Getting rid of the cooler altogether is a viable option. If something fair can’t be worked out, I’d go that route.

  13. Angelina Retta

    Get rid of it and tell employees to bring their own bottled water. Problem solved.

    1. tcookson

      Really. If nobody is willing to do their part to have company-provided filtered water, just let them be responsible for their own water — their own choice whether they bring filtered water from home, buy water bottles, or refill from the kitchen tap at work. Or just get up and go to the water fountain by the bathroom, if there is one.

  14. Zahra

    One thing: How is water from the bathroom tap more “ewww-worthy” than water from the kitchen tap? It’s the same water, treated the same way, going through the same pipes 99% of the way from the water treatment plant.

    1. Gemma

      Maybe the OP meant more of a pain? Our bathroom sinks have the motion-detecting facets that you can’t control the temperature on (and also are a huge pain to keep going long enough to try to fill a cup or a water bottle.) The kitchen sink is bigger to accommodate a cup and the taps are better for that sort of thing.

    2. PEBCAK

      Not only that, but if the bathroom sinks are used more often, the last 1% of the pipe is probably cleaner.

    3. Kimberlee, Esq.

      I agree! People have an aversion to using the sink in the bathroom because it’s IN the bathroom, as if everything in a bathroom is forever tainted, including water that wasn’t even in the room until the faucet was turned on.

      In our office, the kitchen sink doesn’t do hot water. The bathroom sink, across the hall, does. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone grab hot water from there to, say, wash their dishes.

      1. Blinx

        Uh, uh, no way. The bathroom IS tainted! Stuff just floats through the air and lands who knows where! I wouldn’t want to bring anything in there, like a coffee cup or water bottle. Ick! (And the sinks are usually too shallow to fill up a water bottle anyway).

            1. Natalie

              I hate to be the one to tell you this, but your in contact with bodily waste all the time, particularly in kitchens. Bathrooms actually tend to be cleaner because we use more disinfectants.

              Michael Pollan had a very interesting essay on this subject in the NY Times Magazine sometimes in the last few weeks.

              1. Jamie

                There’s definitely something psychological at play here, though.

                By all logic if it’s safe to bring a water bottle into the bathroom and drink from that later then it should be okay to bring a sandwich in as well. But I think a lot of people would be pretty disgusted to see a baggie with a sandwich in it sitting on the bathroom vanity.

                Or a cookie. If you saw Jane left a box of sealed cookies in the bathroom and then offered you one later would there be no hesitation or squeamishness?

                I’m willing to concede that the water is the same – that’s logical – but I do think there is a valid and perhaps instinctive defense mechanism at play which makes people want to keep the area where they eliminate waste completely and totally separate from the food/water they consume.

                My husband will get a drink of water from the master bathroom tap when he doesn’t feel like getting dressed to walk to the kitchen. I chose not to leave him over it, but I still don’t understand it. :)

                1. Zahra

                  I probably would have a moment of hesitation for the cookies, but I recognize that it is totally irrational as I would have no problems accepting a cookie sitting on a desk, which carries more germs.

                2. Jamie

                  Right. It may be irrational because it’s not logical – there are more vile germs on a communal keyboard than an average toilet seat. But the impulse behind the hesitance or (in my case) revulsion is rational – the instinct to keep eating as far removed from elimination as possible.

                  Although it would depend on the cookie. I would be more forgiving for chocolate chip or shortbread than for something like oatmeal. My instincts are bendable depending on the deliciousness factor.

      2. Jamie

        It is tainted. There was a study done ages ago about the flush from a toilet spraying yuck molecules in a 6′ area. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep your toothbrushes enclosed in a cabinet.

        And regarding the comment about the clothes people wear in there, there are a lot of things I get on my clothes that I wouldn’t put in my mouth if it were on my water bottle.

        1. fposte

          Sure. But those same studies note that the kitchen is more riddled than the bathroom.

          Additionally, we’re talking using the bathroom tap, not leaving the water cooler in the bathroom. If it’s not hanging out there when you’re flushing (or if you put the lid down when you do), there’s no plume to hit it. The bottle doesn’t actually need to touch anything but the water stream, which isn’t going to be any dirtier than any other water stream in the building (as noted upthread, it’ll probably be a little cleaner because of the frequent use).

    4. Liz T

      In some places, tap water tastes bad. That’s just a fact.

      I’m from New York, where we (rightfully or no) crow about the quality of our tap water. When I moved to Texas, I laughed upon learning that people there often buy water just to make their coffee. But yeah, a few months in I was doing the same, cuz that stuff was gross.

      1. Jamie

        Yep, some places it’s just disgusting. Even if its safe if it tastes foul you can’t get it down.

      2. AP

        New Yorker here, but last month I was visiting the courthouse in Odessa, TX (long story) and one of my co-workers drank from the water fountain and jumped back about 10 feet yelling “There’s something wrong with the water!” (This person is a native Austinite, btw!) The local government workers we were visiting cracked up and said they couldn’t believe anyone would drink out of a water tap in Odessa…

      3. Jennifer

        The water in my town is frightful. The water at my work is from a separate water source and thus drinkable from water fountains, but it STILL killed my plants when I watered them from the tap (air fern and bamboo got white killer crud on them). So yeah, some places you are forced to use someone else’s water.

        As for the water at my office: yup, everyone is female and almost everyone is 5’4 and under, and we have maybe 1-2 women strong enough to manhandle the water without incident. And one of them is high muckety-muck enough that I doubt she does it, so it’s our ex-military chick that does it to my knowledge. I’m sure she’s grumbly about it.

        I lift weights and don’t wear heels to work, but to be honest, I am leery of manhandling the water myself. If I fuck it up and accidentally cause a flood, I’ll never hear the end of it. So I pull the same shit everyone else does. Yes, I’m ashamed, but dear god, I don’t want to be the one that ruined the copier (in the same room) because I dropped and spilled it. That’s worse.

    5. Elizabeth West

      Some tap water is bleah. Ours is fine; that’s all I drink. The only time I ever buy bottled water is if I forget my refillable bottle when I go to the ice rink. It’s such a waste of money when there is potable water available that I really hate myself when I leave the bottle at home.

      1. Jessa

        On the other hand if the tap water is uck, you can always put a water filter on the sink in the break room for this. It’s easier to change a filter than a water bottle, and usually cheaper.

    6. Anonymous

      Depends on what your workplace is like, but at mine there are some people who are just downright disgusting when using the bathroom (someone saw a man eating an apple in the bathroom and not wash his hands afterward. and the toilets are not the auto-flush kind). Several people touch as little as possible in any of my workplace’s bathroom, and find someone else to wash their hands (since I work in research nearly every room has a sink in it). And at least a couple of times a month either the paper towels or the soap run out and it takes at least a couple of days for those to get replaced. There would be no way I would drink water from that kind of bathroom’s sinks.

        1. Parfait

          Employees must wash hands. If no employee is available, you may wash your own hands.

      1. Anonymous

        :) yes of course I mean somewhere else. There are a few people who could benefit from someone else washing their hands too.

    7. Natalie

      I have no germ-related aversion to bathrooms, but I have noticed that in my apartment the bathroom tap water tastes worse than the kitchen tap water. I wonder if the pipes are worse or something, and no one thought to fix it because they assume people don’t drink water from the bathroom tap.

      1. fposte

        I suspect it’s more that that’s not “broken” by usual standards of plumbing, so it hasn’t been seen as needing fixing (or the repair is really pricey). I think it’s pretty common–I have a faucet like that myself, and I own my house, so there’s nobody to blame but me for the fact that it’s still like that. I figure I’ll ask a plumber for advice next time I have one out for something else.

  15. ABC

    I think
    a) there must be a team discussion on it and see what method works best.
    b) if you decide you want to do it, then make sure that you go to someone at random and say, “the water needs to be replaced, I am going to do it and would appreciate some help as I cant do it on my own. Can you please help?”. Rinse, repeat.

  16. Anonymous

    It might sound silly, but if it’s really an issue could you make some sort of rota? If not everyone is in every day it could be a week-by-week one. It’s [x]s responsibility for all of this week. [y]’s for all of the next week and so on. Depending on how many people there are, it could mean each person only has to do it for 1 or 2 weeks a year. (people could opt out of being made responsible with a good reason I guess. Eg an injury that stops them lifting the water jugs?).

    We had a bin-changing issue in a shared accommodation I lived in a few years ago where I shared a communal kitchen with 20 people. We dealt with it by pinning up a sheet by the bin where, whenever someone changed the bin, they added their name to a list the sheet.

    It wasn’t exactly a rota, but it did allow it to be clearly seen who was taking responsibility, and who clearly wasn’t, cause their name was never on there. It made people more likely to take the responsibility and change it, as it could be seen whether you were or not.

  17. CoffeeLover

    Set up a schedule. It’s ridiculous that you have to, but I think its come to that point. Have each person on the team be on water jug duty for a month. Have a quick lesson on how to properly replace the water jug and post the list beside the cooler. If the cooler is empty for a long period of time, then go to the person who’s turn it is and ask if they would mind replacing the cooler as it’s been empty for 2 weeks. :)

  18. S

    At my last workplace we had a water cooler, and like you I didn’t feel comfortable replacing it for fear of spilling water everywhere or injuring myself. But it was a mostly male workplace (For 2 yrs I was the only woman, then for 2 yrs 1 of 2, then for my last year and a half there were 3 of us out of 12-16 people). Whoever emptied it was responsible for replacing it.

    I never actually replaced it, but I would prep it to be replaced (take the old one off, wipe down the surfaces, life the new one up to the counter next to the cooler (upright and sealed), pull the top off the new one, so that all that was left was to flip it over), then go find one of the guys and ask them to replace it as a favor (sometimes with a “Hey, can you do me a HUGE favor?” when of course it was a 30 second job). Never had any issues with any drama or anything.

    The people who are physically capable of replacing it without causing injury or mess should do the lifting, everyone else should be kind and make that job easier and ask nicely.

    (And yes, I should do more strength training, and no I wasn’t asking my male coworkers because they were men, but because they were stronger than I and for those first 2 yrs the only other people around anyway. Woman #2 to join the workplace also didn’t feel comfortable replacing it and did the same thing I did. Woman #3 may have replaced it when she found it empty on her own, but as she was the farthest away from the water cooler, if I was looking for help I would always have found someone else before I got down to her work station)

    1. Cindy

      This is exactly what I do too. I prep the bottle and my boss puts it on the cooler. It’s sort of an unspoken agreement that we have.

      I have replaced the bottle myself sometimes, but I always managed to bust a finger. I will definitely try it again, this time not taking the cap off as recommended in the comments.

  19. Seal

    The whole scenario is ridiculous. Based on my admittedly limited experience with water coolers, it doesn’t take more than a minute to replace the water bottle. And as was pointed out above, you don’t take the entire cap off so there’s no spilling. Granted, the bottles themselves are a bit heavy and can be awkward to work with, which means some people legitimately can’t pick them up. But most people should be able to change the bottle in a water cooler with little or no trouble.

    As a manager, I would either assign responsibility for the water cooler to a couple of people and leave it at that. Or I would tell my staff that if the group can’t take it upon themselves to change the water bottles when necessary, the water cooler goes – we have more important issues to address.

    1. fposte

      The manager did assign the responsibility to a few people–the OP’s team. I can’t tell if the OP is simply saying she doesn’t want to ever do it even though the manager assigned her team responsibility (it sounds like she might not use it much though the rest of her team does, but I still think ducking it once it’s been directly assigned is a dubious plan), or if the two-person solution would work for her.

  20. Rebecca

    At my office, people drink all the bottled water, drain the reservoir, and leave it for the next person to change. I get it that some people can’t lift the bottle, but there’s no excuse for just leaving it completely drained and not even telling someone. I’m sick and tired of wanting a cold drink, and having to put on a new bottle just to drink warm water.

    I’m pretty sure the same people who drink all the water are the same ones who leave 2 tablespoons of coffee to cook on the burner instead of making more.

    It’s all about respect and treating your coworkers the same as you wish to be treated. Apparently there are a lot of special snowflakes that think their time is too important to be bothered with such trivial tasks.

  21. Richard

    We made this a lot easier in our office by getting a filtered water cooler that was plumbed into the mains. No need to change tanks at all and it avoids this ‘someone else will do it’ attitude that everybody in the office seems to have.

    So first of all, this should be on a rota – which everybody should be included on – including the manager – unless they’re physically incapable. No single person should be given the ‘unofficial’ task of replacing the water, and it shouldn’t be left to the last person who emptied it; that doesn’t dictate the responsibility in any official capacity, and so people are more likely to shrug it off, either by just not getting water when the tank’s getting empty, or by simply ignoring it and hoping nobody notices. Likewise, it shouldn’t be the department’s responsibility as a whole without any dictation as to how it’s organised, because that’s the situation you’re in now, and you can see how well that works out.

    Second of all, this is a job that should be done by two people – It’s lifting a heavy (for some), and often difficult to handle jug of water. Basic principles of safety should say that this shouldn’t be done alone.

  22. Gilbey

    I am also a small woman. 4’8″. There are tasks I can’t do. Period. Trying to lift a bottle of water for a cooler is one of them. I have tried it. Leverage wise it doesn’t work. I have had to lift the bottle much higher to get it over the hole to dump it so it doesn’t spill. That type of activity usually results in a backache. Most people male and female would see my trying and tell me not to. Standing on a step stool is frankly pretty dangerous when the dang bottle tips you over.

    I can’t drive most cars because I can’t reach the pedals well or at all without the steering wheel in my gut. I need a cushion to see better. I can’t reach anything in the grocery stores on the 2 higher shelves because I am too short. It is not an excuse. It is reality.

    Sooooo, do I not get the item on the top shelf or do I step on the bottom shelf… (which some are not made for that) or do I ask someone for help……….?

    I could give a flying fig what people think of me for not being able to do something because of me being short. If I need to ask someone to help me with something male or female, I ask and not one time has anyone had a problem with it.

    And if someone needs help because they are having trouble with something and I can help them. So the trade is, lifting something for me and then me helping them with an Excel spread sheet.

    At work, stores, home, etc we should all just be helping each other and not judging each other about whether or not someone ” really can or can’t”, do something. I am not going to hurt myself physically just to show ” I am woman hear me ROAR….. ”

    Really, this concept of help each other stuff is not that hard.

    1. Zahra

      As someone mentioned previously, you don’t have to remove the cap anymore. You can just up-end the bottle (cap and all) over the cooler and the gravity will help it pierce the hole in the cap. You may get a splash, but it’s much less than it used to be.

      Part of the reaction here is because the OP basically implied “The strong men aren’t doing it, and me weak female doesn’t want to do it.” Changing the bottle is not a man or woman thing. It’s a strength and height (to a certain point) thing. If you can lift the bottle up to the hole, leverage it so it falls the right way in, you have the right height. Now, some people mentioned that they can’t do it because of other physical limitations. I’m all for that. Some people don’t want to do it. Fine. But don’t use the “I’m a weak female” gambit as an excuse. Own up to your own disinterest in the task and say “I don’t want to do it.”

      1. Richard

        I don’t think it’s a case of ‘the strong men aren’t doing it’. She just doesn’t want to be the only one doing it, which I can entirely understand.

        Also, being five foot does make things like this more difficult – you have to lift things higher, relative to your height. This means that if it’s tall enough, you can’t just rely on lifting with your knees, and are far more likely to injure yourself.

        1. Gilbey

          Richard,
          I agree. She doesn’t want to be the only one doing it and the fact that it is more difficult for her to do makes the situation worse.

          Nothing like this stuff has to be a male or female thing. Changing the water should go on a rotation. But bottom line if 10 people of better physically able to do it and 1 person is not for crying out loud people really should deal with it.

          As it relates to to the using “the weak female” routine as some are pointing out.. I also get tired of the ” I am woman hear me roar…..” stuff. It doesn’t serve any better purpose.

          We are who we are. I don’t need any one of those phrases to prove anything to anyone.

      2. glennis

        you don’t have to remove the cap anymore. You can just up-end the bottle (cap and all) over the cooler and the gravity will help it pierce the hole in the cap.

        Depends on the type of cooler. Most office ones, yeah, but my home cooler is a ceramic reservoir. You have to open the bottle. This, of course, changes the dynamic to family members – does the large hulking teenage son change the bottle, or passive-aggressively ignore it until Mom does it?

    2. Elizabeth West

      I am tall and have helped many short people (or people in scooters or wheelchairs) get stuff off the shelf at discount and grocery stores. If it’s not a heavy thing, I don’t mind in the least. If it is, I’ll go find someone for you. If you are short, you can get something off the bottom shelf for me while my stupid knee is messed up, because bending down hurts! :)

      1. Gilbey

        Yes Elizabeth, that is my point. All this stuff simply has to do with who is best suited to do what. This is not a weak or strong female thing.
        I would have gladly get something from the bottom shelf for you. I sure needed you today trying to get this pizza thing I like that was on the top shelf for me. Ended up saying screw it and got ice cream instead !

  23. The gold digger

    Bigger question: Are there really places in the US where the tap water is not drinkable? I remember I didn’t like the way the water tasted at my grandparents’ farm – it was well water – but it wasn’t unsafe. There is nothing but a water fountain where I work. (AKA as a “bubbler.”) I refill my glass there. And I wouldn’t mind getting water from the bathroom tap, either. (That said, I have a very high tolerance level for gross out.)

      1. Jess

        But not as many as places where people just don’t like to drink the water. Most tap water in the US is perfectly safe to drink.

      2. fposte

        I don’t know of any place in the U.S. where the public tap water is actually deemed unsafe, though, aside from the odd boil warning. It’s federally required to meet certain standards. There may be personal opinions about safety levels beyond that, of course, but that’s another matter.

        1. badger_doc

          There was a bar in my old town that had a sign in the bathroom saying “Do not drink the tap water. Unsafe levels of nitrates for children and pregnant women.” That’s enough to make me drink bottled water. :-)

          1. ThursdaysGeek

            I can see that as a way to get the pregnant women to buy a (non-alcoholic) drink, but why were children in the bar at all?

      3. Lora

        Seconded. Town where I lived while I went to college (college was next town over and apartments were cheaper across the bridge) did not have properly treated water or functioning sewers running to all the buildings in the town limits, and the local government had been bickering for decades over whether this was the responsibility of the “city” or the “township”.

        Worst water I have ever tasted was in Lea County NM. They do natural gas fracking there. Water tasted like sulfur flavored chalk that had been collected from a freshly-paved parking lot.

    1. Elizabeth West

      A town near where I grew up had the worst-tasting, sulphurous water I ever tasted. It was GROSS. I had a weekly doctor appointment there as a kid and hated when I had to get a drink from the fountain. YUCK.

    2. Jenny

      Most urban water supplies are safe. But it’s not the water itself but the pipes in the building that make the water unsafe or very unpleasant tasting.

  24. Susan

    This is one of the many questions here that reminds me how lucky I am to work where I do. We have one water cooler for everyone in this tiny law firm and the only person I’ve ever seen replace the reservoir is the senior partner.

    Some low-skill tasks, like answering the phone and washing the coffee cups, are obviously a waste of time for the higher-ups — but it’s really lovely to see someone important concerning himself with a quick but annoying menial task. (I say ‘himself’ because I know women in high-up positions are still expected to do more trivial things sometimes, including answering the phone and washing the coffee cups.)

  25. Wilton Businessman

    Fast forward two weeks:

    The management took our water cooler out and now we have to walk all the way to the bathroom on our breaks to get water. Is it legal?

  26. Tekoa

    If you use up the water jug, replace it. If you can’t lift it alone, ask for help. There’s no need for this to be an office Cold War.

  27. IT girl

    In my office, I go out of my way to replace the water – because I am female, I train, and it gives me a chance to show off my guns. Pow pow!

  28. Ellie H.

    Boy, I’m glad that I enjoy being the water jug replacer. (I’m 25, tall enough to do it at 5’7″, and work out. Also we have smaller jugs at work, which still not everyone can do, and at my parents’ house growing up we had the giant, genuinely kind of difficult jug.)

    There are a couple people in my office who can’t do it easily and so they ask me to do it. Anyone who is able to do it more easily and refuses upon being asked is a jerk. This shouldn’t be a “workplace issue,” it’s a basic human thing, as would be holding a door for someone who does not have a free hand to open it (regardless of their sex!).

  29. Janelle

    I’m 5′. While I don’t live changing the water bottle, I am able to do so – even at the end of my pregnancy – and since I drink it, I replace it if it needs replacing. Oddly, boss, also a woman of small statue replaces our bottle fairly often. But it’s the same: if you use it, then you do it.

  30. glennis

    This is an interesting question. Over the decades of my working life, I’ve evolved from someone who did physical labor and was perfectly capable of replacing water jugs, to someone who is not strong enough to do so.

    All of my jobs have been in situations where there’s a front office of desk jockeys and a shop floor with people who do physical labor. Having been first on the floor, then office-based to supervise the floor, I’ve been called upon to replace water jugs, or chose to replace them myself – sometimes to expressions of awe and admiration/amazement, since I’m a rather small woman.

    My current job shares the front/back of house dichotomy, but here when the water jug in the office needs replacing, we get on the radio and call one of the floor staff to do it. This is a workplace where, customarily, the office staff asks the floor staff to do darn near anything physical, so much so that it feels almost like calling for a servant.

    It bothers me a little bit, but it doesn’t seem to bother anyone else, including the floor staff. I sometimes think I should just go ahead and replace the jug myself, but, honestly I would probably drop it, since it’s been a long time since I’ve had practice.

    1. Chinook

      “This is a workplace where, customarily, the office staff asks the floor staff to do darn near anything physical, so much so that it feels almost like calling for a servant.”

      I have worked in places like that too and I had it explained to me (after I did it anyway because I am capable) that it a Health & Safety issue and the floor staff are trained to lift properly, have access to proper ladders, etc. I agree that it feels like calling a servant but I made sure that I didn’t treat them like that and let them know it was a low priority.

  31. TrishtheDish

    In one of my former jobs, people would avoid draining the jug so they wouldn’t have to replace it. Sometimes a drained jug would sit for a days.

    I decided that if I was going to become an “Unofficial Water Jug Replacer”, I wasn’t going to do it alone. I would routinely walk into the office, smile, and say “is there anyone available to help me switch out an empty water jug?” There would be a few seconds of silence before someone volunteered. I did this each time the water jug needed to be replaced until people caught on. Soon, others would make the same announcement and no one had to tackle the task on their own.

    1. Not so NewReader

      This. “Be the change you want to see in the world.”… er, in this case work place.

      I think that part of the problem is carrying it down the hall way. I can see with two people on it, could make the task much easier.

      What is great about this solution, OP, is that it makes you part of the solution instead of part of the problem. NOT, that you are causing a problem- no, no, no. But for skeptics on the sidelines this would be abundantly clear that you are a solution seeking person. Which is true because you would have not written AAM if you weren’t!

  32. Carrie in Scotland

    I would replace it when it’s empty, the same way I empty the fridge at work of old food (ick) and replace the.milk if there is only a bit.left.in it. I get that you dont want to start doing.it.and have.it become.”your” job though. But yes, perhaps you should see.if it is possible for your work to get the filters from the tap option? & have a discussion with your work mates about it.

  33. Anonymous

    One of the guys in office next door comes to change it when we call. My office is comprised of 6 women. 5 are over 50. I’m in my 20s but I’m also 100lbs. Seems fair to me since the cooler is used by the other office as well.

  34. Cassie

    I’ve replaced the water jug a few times – the first time I ever tried, I spilled quite a bit of water onto the carpet. I realized the trick is to move the water jug from the ground to an intermediate position (like a chair or desk), before picking it up and shoving it onto the cooler. Trying to go directly from the ground to the cooler was too much of a clean-and-jerk for me (at 5’2″).

    We have 3 staff guys in the office who can and will replace the water – it is basically part of their job (maintaining facilities). However, there are some times when those guys aren’t available and many people (including male professors and female profs/staff) will just leave the empty water on the cooler and wait for one of the above guys to do it.

    A quick poll of my family members – my sister, who is also not tall, frequently replaces the water in her office. There are few males. Some female coworkers do team up and replace the water, or they ask her to do it! For my dad, again there are few male coworkers and the younger guys beg off because of back issues. So he, even as the oldest guy (over 65), has to do it because the women won’t.

    I think it should be a shared responsibility – if you’re going to drink the water, replace the jug from time to time. Ask for help if necessary. I don’t mind doing it, although I prefer no spectators :) It’s not pretty, and even nowadays I sometimes spill some water.

  35. Jimmy

    What kind of men do you work with. At place I work, not even once in the history of time, has any woman had to replace that jug. Most men should do that without much effort, it’s ridiculous to expect woman to do that instead.

    I feel sorry for you OP, considering you mentioned presence of tall, big men this should be no-issue.

  36. Elizabeth

    I just do it. It’s a trivial thing, but I feel like it gives me some small added value to my office and that makes me happy. I’m fairly junior and no one has ever asked me to do it, but I don’t mind. (And we have the kind where you have to take the whole cap off the reservoir before you put it in.)

    Although, maybe this falls under the category of “Nice girls don’t get the corner office”…..

  37. Blinx

    What in the world did people do in the “olden days” when the jugs were made of glass?? Did they just drink less water, and the water guy changed it once a week?

    1. Elizabeth West

      In the olden days, there is no way the woman would have changed it even if she could. Although if I were wearing a corset, I doubt I would have had breath enough to do anything. X_X

    2. Rana

      People drank less water, and the water guy changed it, yep. (Even so, it was possible to lift those jugs – just incredibly messy if you weren’t deft at it.)

      The “people need to drink water constantly throughout the day” thing was just getting started when I was entering grad school, and I’m only in my 40s.

      1. fposte

        Right, the water guy’s changing it was part of the service. And, as you say, it wasn’t quite the chain-drinking thing then; I suspect people who grew up with bottled water don’t realize how much the availability created the habit and not the other way around.

        Terminologically “water cooler” overlaps with drinking fountains, so it’s hard to pin down a start date for the bottled versions in offices; however, there’s one in the Dick Van Dyke Show office circa 1961 as standard equipment, so they’ve definitely been around for a while.

        1. Anonymous

          I think it also has to do with salt and whatnot in processed foods today – I know I can’t down a bag of chips without a bottle of water.

          1. fposte

            Oh, we definitely had chips–there just wasn’t the desk-eating then that there is today.

  38. Kos

    I’m female, and because of my height (5’9″), I can replace our jug pretty easily. My office is mostly women, but due to injuries and shortness, most of my coworkers struggle to lift the jugs high enough. I’ve told everyone that they can ask me to put in a refill if I haven’t noticed it getting low.

    Hilariously, we do have one employee who is trying to make herself look better by making everyone look worse. At a recent staff meeting, she accused me of lying about replacing the jug. She claimed that since she cannot lift the jug, it is impossible for anyone to lift it on their own. This lead to a little parade of people, (including my manager and my director) crowding into the break room to watch me fill up the water cooler. It was possibly the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever been asked to prove.

    1. Anne

      That is hilarious and yet depressingly common.

      Similar: A male friend, working in an almost entirely female office, told me that his female co-worker asked him to pick up and move a small laserjet printer for her. One of the new small, desktop ones that only weight about 10 pounds. She was very thin and felt that she couldn’t lift it safely, but more importantly, also though that this meant NONE of the women in the office would be able to lift it.

  39. Anonymous

    Get a different water cooler that anyone can load.

    Or, use smaller jugs, if this one will accept them. Many coolers can use either 5 gallon or 3 gallon jugs. That’s 40 lbs vs 25 lbs.

  40. Jason

    At my office (3 companies with a total of 20 or so employees in all on 1 floor), it’s recently become whoever is closer to the water cooler or whoever empties the last jug.

  41. HR Pufnstuf

    I’m thankful I don’t work in the OP’s office. I’ve changed ours out many times and volunteered to assist when others are attempting, it baffles me anyone capable would have issues doing the same.

    Now the coffee… Don’t get me started.

  42. MiaRose

    I wonder…could two or three people cooperate to replace the water jug? If the jug has to be lifted and turned, would it be easier if you have more people working together to do this, thus lessening the weight each person has to carry?

  43. The Engineer

    If you are in a “first world” country ten the water from any tap is safe to drink. There is no need for bottled water from a sanitation standpoint. Most bottled water is “tap” water. If you taste issues with your tap water then have a filter installed. It is cheaper, more convenient, and easier.

    I am a big man (6’7″, 240 lb) and I find standard water bottles challenging to handle safely. At least ask if there is a option for a smaller bottle.

    1. Amy

      I live in Washington, DC. Our tap water is routinely contaminated with lead, to the point where the CDC as recently as 3 years ago advised some residents not to allow their children to drink it. I’ll bathe in the tap water, but I won’t drink it or use it for cooking.

    2. Anonymous

      I hope you don’t mind if I nitpick, but in some semirural US communities where my relatives live, the county advises residents not to drink the water. As I hear, they can’t afford to chlorinate within reliable parameters. The water is safe for washing clothes. In most cities, the tap water is fine, but water *must* be purchased for at least some companies.

      And as a 5’8″ (fit but only 115 lbs) woman, I also have the needed height/leverage to change water bottles, but it isn’t easy.

    3. Jimbo28

      All the bottles I’ve seen in the last 2+ years have a sort of cork in them that pops out when you get the bottle onto the contraption. In other words, there is no spill risk at all and thus you can lift the bottle however is most comfortable for you. I thought these were everywhere now, but maybe not yet.

  44. Anonymous

    Can you ask you management instead of the water cooler arrangement if it’s all possible to put in a filtered water source like a fountain? Where I work just installed a bottle-filling type of fountain, which is great when you bring a bottle of water into work and want to refill it. Less messy than a sink or regular fountain. We also have water connected directly to the coffee maker, so all that is needed to start a new pot is to empty the old grounds, insert filter and new grounds, and push a button to start a new batch of coffee. However there are still people who won’t start a new pot when the old pot is empty.

  45. Darcie

    How about the person who finishes the water replaces it? I don’t see why as a group, people don’t understand this. Just say so casually to your team and there’s no way anyone could reasonably refuse as long as they are physically able to do it.

  46. LCL

    If space allows, set up a table next to the cooler, and stage the full bottles on the table. That way, the bottle only has to be lifted a few inches, instead of 3 feet.

    I stopped drinking from that type of cooler when I realized that the people who slop and slurp and pop their water bottles with lots of mouth action all through a meeting are the same people who touch their bottle to the spout of the dispenser when they refill it. Disgusting.

  47. Jimbo28

    For what it’s worth, in my office, everyone pretty much replaces the jug when they are the ones who see it empty. However, people accomplish this in different ways.

    We have several strapping men (including me) as well as a rather strapping woman, and whenever we see an empty jug, we replace it.

    There are also a handful of petite women who have decided they would rather not go through the ordeal the letter writer describes. Because my office happens to be nearest the kitchen, these women always come to me and ask if I would replace the jug. And I always do, because I am 6’3 and it’s effortless. If I’m not there, they just ask one of the other guys.

    Perhaps the letter writer could spark this in her workplace. Next time you see it empty, go to a nearby tall guy and explain to him your aversion, and ask him if he wouldn’t mind replacing it. Maybe if it happens again to you, do that same thing again to a different guy. Maybe even mention this strategy to one of the other petite women and ask them to try it out too, with a third guy.

    I do NOT recommend having a whole team meeting about this and making it An Official Thing in the office.

  48. Anonymous

    This is totally dysfunctional and weird. In the last office where I worked (also a business that I owned), there were no problems ever with replacing the water cooler. When the water was out, whomever wanted water would replace it. Be it the company lawyer, the CFO, or anyone else there, including me.

    Since no one has taken responsibility after a week, perhaps a calendar should be set up with rotating responsibilities. Though I think the deeper issue at hand should also be discussed.

  49. Tai

    Replacing the water jug is not like filling the copier with more paper. It is a much more physical task that requires strength.

    Based on the injuries you have sustained with the jug, I would say that you are not qualified to replace the water bottle. I think you feel obligated to because you’re the kind of person who follows the rules and wants to contribute to the workplace. However, in this case, I do not think that you are physically able to do so.

    1. Tai

      Just did some quick math. The water jugs are probably about 37 pounds based on the common size. For someone who weighs 100 pounds, that is more than 1/3 of a person’s body weight.

      1. TychaBrahe

        “A pint’s a pound the world around.” I learned that reading Have Spacesuit — Will Travel. More people should read Heinlein. It’s actually a bit over, and the bottle’s good for another pound, which puts those water bottles at about 42 pounds.

        But the boxes of cat litter I buy at Target are 40 pounds also. Barring a pre-existing injury, an adult should be able to lift that.

  50. TychaBrahe

    Funny. When I worked in an office that had one of those, I prided myself on being the person who changed it.

    A 5-gallon jug of water weighs 40 lbs.

    A 2.5-gallon jug of water weighs only 20 lbs. Surely everyone with the exception of the person with the bad shoulder can lift 20 lbs. Most water delivery services offer the smaller bottles as an option.

  51. Kaiel

    Due to Occupational Health & Safety concerns (I live in Australia) , *nobody* is allowed to lift the water cooler bottles in our training room. Lots of thirsty people during our day-long workshops…

  52. J.R.

    A few better options… Assuming you have a fridge in the communal kitchen and the tap water does not have poison in it.

    Buy yourself a Brita refillable water-filter pitcher and stick it in the fridge. Lightweight and easy to refill as needed… and the water is pretty good too.

    Buy a filtering water bottle and either cool it down with ice from the freezer. http://www.amazon.com/Brita-Squeeze-Water-Filter-Bottle/dp/B004GN6QV4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1369750495&sr=8-1&keywords=filter+water+bottle

    Get yourself a little mini fridge to go in your office. Put your own bottled water or filtering water bottles in there. This is the best option… it may seem steep to spend $50 on a little fridge, but it will definitely pay off!

  53. Angela B

    I have been in the same situation before. It was a very long time ago when I was in my first job out of college. Only I was the sole female in a whole sea of males. It was my job as the assistant to fill the water bottle. The problem was that I am also a petite woman and I had the hardest time with that darn jug. I would get water all over the place, hurt my fingers, hurt my back, get my clothes all wet etc… I was so happy to move on to another company and not deal with another water jug ever again! I dont blame you for not wanting to do it either. I would suggest moving to one of those water filtration systems that hooks directly up to your water and has no jug. Or see if you can get the smaller jugs. Not that you should have to be the water jug person, but maybe if it was smaller more people would be likely to pitch in.

  54. Bonnie

    Where I work it is supposed to be the one who empties it replaces it but it is more like the one who finds it empty when they go get water replaces it. But everyone replaces it except one person who can’t due to shoulder issues.

    In fact I have changed it in 3 inch heels and had men come in and say why didn’t you come get me to do that for you?

    I also believe that like leaving dishes in the sink and making more coffee, the people in your office either do it or not. But I know that in every office I have worked in everyone knew who would avoid it and who would do it. I have never worked in a place where no one would do it.

  55. Ursula

    Honestly, I view this as the same as toilet paper at home: the one who empties it replaces it. If you physically unable to, be the one who asks someone to do it.

    I’m not even 5 feet tall and I manage just fine with the water jug. I’m pretty good at changing a toilet paper roll, too.

    1. Jessa

      This. If you’re unable to do it, the idea is to get it done, not to leave it sitting there for when your work mate is coughing their head off and needs a drink NOW. And those who cannot do it (not don’t want to, but can’t,) should be pretty well known in an office of any size – I have a lifting restriction due to back injury, everyone knows it. And we trade. I used to do the coffee pot (even though I don’t drink coffee,) and they did the water bottle.

      The person that becomes objectionable is one who, with no legitimate medical reason not to, does none of it. Never changes copy paper, never refills the staples in the copy machine OR the stapler, never does their share of the shredding, never puts toilet paper, washes dishes, refills the coffee pot for the next person, etc.

      And with my limits, I used to drag a chair over to the shredder and did my share (can’t stand for a long time.) Even people with limits can adapt stuff.

      1. Jamie

        Agree that people should adapt within limitations and people should do what they can but I don’t agree that coworkers would or should know limitations.

        No one should have to disclose medical info to coworkers because of something as silly as who changes the water jug. Women who are pregnant with a history of miscarriage are strongly advised not to lift something like that, lifting is medically prohibited in cases of DUB. I would never share that with a male coworker. Just two things off the top of my head …not everything is as amp,e as a bad back and even that shouldn’t be common knowledge unless they want to.

  56. Anony

    It sounds like the OP is the only one using it. I think whoever uses it most often should pitch in to replace it. Otherwise, get your own giant water bottle so you can bring the water from home and not have to use the office’s. I never go for those in mine anyway since the foundation never gets cleaned.

  57. Melissa

    This is ridiculous. My office (small, with two full-time and 5 part-time workers) had a weird situation like this in which neither of the full-time supervisors wanted to change the water cooler, even though they used it the most, and would passively-aggressively try to get us part-time workers (including me, who never used it) to take full responsibility for it when were were only on the office ~6 hours a week.

    I’m one of those people who believes that if something minor like this needs to get done, it needs to get done and it shouldn’t matter who does it. Like I said, I never used the water cooler but if I saw it was empty I would replace it. It’s not that difficult to change the jug; they’re heavy but not impossible and definitely not the struggle OP is describing. And I’m 5’2″. There weren’t any men working out of our office, and anyway, it’s kind of ridiculous to expect this to be a gender-divided task.

    Why don’t the employees in the office just have a short conversation about who replaces it? Like whoever takes the last bit out of the jug replaces it (which is the way that we eventually did it in my office). Or heck, make a schedule if that’s what’s necessary for the office. But the standoff is silly.

    1. Melissa

      ^Seems like there may be a different kind of water jug that may be more difficult to replace – the ones at our office have handles and plastic lids that mean they don’t leak while you get then aligned. So OP may be struggling more with them because they are harder. I still submit that it’s not a big deal to be the one to replace it or be the one to ask someone to help you if you notice it’s empty and can’t do it alone.

  58. Editor

    At one office where I worked, the custodial staff changed the water cooler bottle when the cooler was empty. It was part of the daily cleaning routine, which was a once-over-lightly cleaning.

    At my last job in a small office, I drank the most water and changed the bottles almost all the time until a position came open and a very athletic man was hired. It was a point of pride for him to change the water, but he did also use the cooler a lot.

    We had water coolers because the local water was pretty hard, and the softened water had a high salt content that was legal, but tasted awful and wasn’t good for people with blood pressure issues.

    I grew up with great-tasting water and never saw any problem with drinking water from the kitchen or bathroom tap, and I raised my kids to drink tapwater by providing paper cup dispensers in the bathroom. If I’m brushing my teeth with bathroom tapwater, why shouldn’t I drink it?

  59. Tara T.

    I have a wonderful solution for the heavy water jug lifting problem – get rid of the water jugs. There is no need for them. I went back for a visit to one of my old workplaces, a small company, and noticed that the head of the company had gotten rid of the water jugs and now had cartons of bottled water instead, and all employees were welcome to have bottled water during their workday if they wanted. In meetings, visitors were also offered bottled water. No spills, no lifting – all I could think was how smart my former boss is!

  60. Justine

    I say DO NOT lift it save it for the men. Like you everyone in our office changed the water bottle, but I on the other hand got terrible hurt while doing so and when I see any woman lifting one of those I just cringe!!! I herniated my bladder, uterus, part of my colon and 2 discs in my back while trying to replace one of those…. My physical therapist said it was like a pressure’cooker that just finally let go and exploded. Its going on 4 years now and still dealing with workers compensation and I’m in pain management, etc. I hope and pray that there is a rainbow at the end of this tunnel……

    1. A capable woman

      Just because you got injured doesn’t mean all women are incapable of changing a water bottle.

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