my father-in-law is pouting after I resigned, double toilet trouble, and more

It’s five answers to five questions — in which we break the year-long ban on toilet-related questions with a startling two in one post. Here we go…

1. My manager says I can’t talk to HR without notifying him

Recently I went to HR to ask a question. They, in turn, told our VP, who asked my manager why I had gone to HR with my question. With that, my general manager took the managers into his office and told us that if anyone on our staff wanted to go to HR with anything, he wanted to be notified first. Can he do that? Am I required to tell my boss if I’m going to HR for something? I think it’s my choice to NOT go to him if I feel I can’t speak to him about an issue. The only reason I asked HR my question that day was because he was out of the office, and it was a general question at that.

Legally? Sure. There’s no requirement that you have free and confidential access to HR. Whether your company would approve of him telling you that is a different issue. At a minimum, your company is going to want you to be able to approach HR about harassment and discrimination concerns without having to go through your manager, and they might (depending on the company and on you) also want you to be able to go to HR with more general concerns as well. That said, it’s entirely reasonable for your manager to tell you to talk to him first about some types of things (like a management issue or something else internal to your department). So the blanket ban is wrong-headed, but nuanced instruction on this might not be.

2. Employee is taking long bathroom breaks on top of his normal breaks

I have just a simple question about bathroom breaks. I have an employee who receives his two 10-minute breaks every day, plus an unpaid lunch. Lately he has been using the bathroom for 10-25 minutes AND going on a break. I have been documenting it, and it has been happening 3-4 times a week. His afternoon break is at 2:50 – 3. Recently he spent 2-2:20 that same day in the bathroom. I do not want to tell him he can’t use the bathroom, of course. Can I tell him he had his break and cannot take from 2:50-3, that he already took his break (plus)? There are other issues with this employee, to the point that I probably get 6 hours of work out of him a day and this situation is highly frustrating to me.

Do you really want to be monitoring how much time someone spends in the bathroom? And what if he just took his break but now needs to use the bathroom? He’s supposed to … go at his desk? Drop the bathroom stuff and address the performance issues. If you actively manage him on that stuff, the bathroom issues will be irrelevant.

3. My coworkers make a disgusting mess of the bathrooms

This is a paragraph of the email we just received from a coworker regarding the men’s toilets: “I’m pretty fed up of mentioning to the men in this office how DISGUSTING the gents’ toilets are left on a daily basis. Not only as a respectful member of staff with the decency to make sure I’ve cleaned up after myself who has to use these facilities, but as we have clients coming in and seeing this, it’s getting ridiculous. On numerous occasions (in this office and the last) I have always been the one to politely advise my male colleagues that it is not acceptable to empty the contents of your nose, bowels, bladder or otherwise over the walls/bowls/floor/sink, yet this continues with little regard for others. No-one else seems to take the initiative with this, and I feel I am always forced to clean this up for two reasons – 1) I don’t want the next person to go in thinking it was me, and 2) I would hate for any of our clients to see this mess. The only other person to have reinforced my concerns on this was the sales director – I’m sure he feels equally as put out about this. Most others seem to meet this with some kind of hilarity; but it’s far from a joke.”

Do you have any ideas on how to deal with the guys using the toilets how to stop this disgusting behavior? There is almost this jokey attitude that it’s only work and someone else will clean up. We have banded ideas about, we though about a rota system where the toilets are checked twice a day and if they’re dirty that cubicle will be closed, CCTV to monitor who is using the toilets, and making the disabled toilet a guest toilet instead of subjecting guests to this behavior.

Gross. Your coworkers are gross. How do this even happen? (Please don’t actually answer that; I don’t want to contemplate it longer I have to.)

In any case, I do not know how you teach people basic courtesy and cleanliness like this if they don’t already know it. Are you hiring feces-throwing gorillas? Or toddlers? I think you’re right to set aside one bathroom only for guests, so that at least they’re not subjected to this. Aside from that, I am at a total loss here.

4. Does travel and study abroad experience help on a resume?

I have both travel and study abroad experience. I know that it proves to the hiring manager that one is more sensitive to people of other cultures. I have asked a recruiter at a temp agency before and she did say that it’s a good thing to put on a resume. Do you agree and do you know of any instances where this could be hurtful?

It’ll help with some interviewers and be a neutral with others, but it certainly will never hurt, at least not with any sane person. (One note, because I’m an annoying stickler for precision: It doesn’t prove to a hiring manager that you’re more sensitive to other cultures. It’s a data point showing that you might have gained the benefits of exposure to other cultures, but it’s still up to you to demonstrate that in concrete ways. After all, plenty of horrid boors travel, so the travel alone isn’t evidence.)

5. My father-in-law is pouting after I gave notice at his company

I recently put in my 3-week notice. I have worked at my father-in-law’s company as his direct report and assistant buyer for about a year and a half now. We have always had a pretty good relationship, until about 4-5 months ago. My wife works here too.

I started to notice a very controlling streak in him, and it made me very uncomfortable. I have a business degree and have worked in engineering for several years before coming here, thinking that I could potentially gain more experience at this company utilizing my relationship. Now it seems more like he has hired me because of the control over my family that it grants him. I took a paycut to work here, and we work 60-70 hrs/week and I work at least 6 days a week, sometimes 7.

Basically, I told him that this job was not turning out to be the opportunity that I thought, and he was unwilling to explore how I could be of a different benefit for the company while improving my situation. So I found another job (more money, fewer hours, better benefits) and told him that I have accepted another job and will no longer be working here. I don’t want to wait three more weeks; he is becoming unbearable and pouting like a child. How can I gracefully tell him that I want to move our date up?

Can you really not stick it out for three weeks for the sake of family harmony? Three weeks is really not that long in the scheme of things. However, if he’s truly becoming unbearable, you could certainly say, “Frank, I’d like to stay and work out the notice period we agreed to. But I do need thing to be civil and professional between us during that time. If you feel they can’t be, let’s discuss moving up my last day.”

{ 467 comments… read them below }

  1. PEBCAK*

    4) I’m gonna need more context on this one. If the OP is overemphasizing random vacations, I would indeed look at that as naive, and it would possibly give me a negative opinion. Maybe there was more detail in the letter, but for not to appear weird to me, it would have to be a) a substantial work, volunteer, or study experience abroad and b) an entry-level or internship resume where we understand there isn’t a lot to fill it up.

    1. Stephanie*

      Yeah, if it’s like a Backroads excursion, that’d elicit a side eye from me. In that instance, you’re just talking about an extravagant vacation you took.

      I could see if being useful in a cover letter, especially if you’re in a field where international experience is appreciated. I had a few friends in international development and foreign exposure could be a plus. In that instance, I’d guess the key would be to make your foreign experience sound like it inspired something substantial (like “learning about textile farming during my trip to Nicaragua inspired an interest in microfinance”).

    2. Stephanie*

      This reminds me, I do alumni interviewing for college applicants sometimes. A few of them will list trips abroad on their resumes. The trips sound interesting, but they rarely sound like much more than a mission trip where a school wall was painted. Usually, the trips aren’t long enough for the students to have really immersed themselves in the culture or have accomplished anything substantial. I don’t hold it against the students; there’s usually always something else on their resume that’s way more interesting.

      I think it was This American Life that had an admissions officer from Georgia Tech on. The admissions officer was like “Please don’t write a Mission Trip Essay. They rarely work.” He also mentioned a letter from a parent that said “My second grader has decided on a career in electrical engineering. How should I prepare him for admission to your school?”

      1. PEBCAK*

        I remember that episode!

        Mission trips, or rather, any sort of “voluntourism” has very negative connotations for me. As I said above, a SUBSTANTIAL work, study, or volunteer experience abroad could open up some avenues of conversation, but giving a two-week volunteer trip a prominent place on your resume would make me think someone was tone-deaf.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Oh god yes. So much this. Especially if it’s anything to do with children or orphans. Orphanage voluntourism is the absolute worst and I will be judging you so hard if you tell me you spend a week volunteering at a Kenyan or Cambodian orphanage. That stuff is horribly harmful to children.

          (I was on a safari a couple years ago and between two of the safari camps they decided we should just drop in on a local school and bring the kids some school supplies. So they basically had the kids stop their lessons and perform a little dance for us. Right. Because stopping lessons to perform like circus animals for white foreigners who are happily snapping pictures is what we want to be teaching kids. I stayed with the vehicles the whole time and wrote a scathing letter to the company about how inappropriate it was.)

          But I digress.

          OP, here are things that might impress me:

          Study abroad in Africa or Asia
          A summer trip doing some kind of environmental or sanitation project in a third-world country
          Having fluency in a foreign language, especially a non-European one

          Things that wouldn’t impress me:

          Study abroad in Europe
          Voluntourism involving children
          1-2 week tourist type trips

          1. Bwmn*

            I think that the OP should read comments like this and just know how time abroad can look to others and to be a bit wary. As an American who’s worked and attended university abroad in a variety of countries – how employers evaluate those experiences can vary wildly. I see Katie the Fed’s list and I know that my list is entirely different.

            To put this into context, I received my graduate degree from a university in Dublin. During one interview , the interviewer (in the US) only had questions for me about how much Guinness I must have drank and whether I’d ever had to throw up on the street. On the other side of this, I worked in Jerusalem for 3 years and during many interviews (in the US, with international organizations) that was interpreted as essentially living without running water or electricity and that I must be fluent in Hebrew and Arabic (I’m not, and mention neither language on my resume).

            Basically no matter how serious your time abroad was, the chance of interviewers bringing baggage to that can vary wildly and can only be managed so much.

            1. Felicia*

              Wow, those particular people have wildly messed up inaccurate views of both Ireland and Israel. Such ignorance would certainly turn me off from working either of those places.

              1. Bwmn*

                My experiences interviewing in the US with some pretty varied international work and grad school experiences across Europe and the Middle East have been eye opening. I’ve found interviewers to have some pretty firm preconceived ideas about what it means.

                Even where I eventually took a job there were a lot of very strong (positive) assumptions about me based off of my international experiences. They weren’t grossly incorrect – but they were strongly impacted by the interviewers experiences and views of those places.

                That happens with most of our resume (because I say I worked as x doing y for z time, you assume abc about me), but I’ve found the international element can add some real wild card moments.

                1. class factotum*

                  I had a hard time finding a job after I got out of the Peace Corps. I had solid accomplishments in my job there, an MBA from a top-20 school, and five years at a Fortune 100 company before that, but I think recruiters thought I would come to work in Tevas and dreadlocks.

                2. A Cita*

                  Yep, this is true. Everyone’s list would be different and people judge through their own lens from their preconceived notions and own experiences.

                  As someone who has had extensive international experience, I’m actually really open to hearing about any international experience from people I interview (besides vacations), because it’s more important to me what they actually took out of the experience, than where they went, how long they were there, etc. I probe their thoughts and reflections because I think it can say something interesting about how the person things, handles challenges, etc (but not always).

                3. A Cita*

                  That is to say, I don’t have a blanket list for what I think should count or not count. It’s really contextual.

                  For instance, a European foreign experience may not impress some, but what if the person came from a lower SES background and was the first in their family and circle of friends to go abroad? What if they went by themselves and handle new challenges and unknown languages by themselves? These things are interesting to me.

                4. Bwmn*

                  @class factotum

                  Yeah – that’s kind of what I’m getting at. When I returned to the US last year, I had a number of interviews are organizations not connected to international issues (but still well within my area of experience/interest) – and they all thought that because I’d lived abroad that I’d want to leave again really soon. There was this clear perception of a ‘travel junkie’ (despite being based 5 years in one city) who’d leave the job quickly (despite having no professional track record of that).

                  I’m happy where I ended up – but yeah – definitely some really strong preconceived notions that no “at this point in my life, it is important to me to be closer to family” was going to fix.

            2. Katie the Fed*

              Well, there’s a big difference to me between getting a degree abroad and a semester abroad.

              I wouldn’t look askance at anyone doing a semester abroad. But western europe wouldn’t really catch my attention. Your Israel experience would have been very interesting to me and I would have loved to discuss (although I find discussion Israel can be like discussing abortion in terms of everyone having a very strong opinion about it and discussions can go downhill fast).

              1. Bwmn*

                My point was just that in my experience interviewers have brought some pretty apparent baggage to my international experience that was usually out of my ability to alter (such as if just way off base, i.e. presumed language skills) and often pretty strong.

                At this point I only list my major employment periods and degrees on my resume (a number of which are from abroad), and I embrace it and am comfortable talking about it in a professionally appropriate capacity. But unless a job posting mentioned “international experience” as a plus or the work involved a place that I had been to, I wouldn’t add anything extra.

                1. A Cita*

                  Yes, agree. Just even not being more interested in a semester abroad in Africa or Asia is sort of odd to me. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent extensive time in all these places and I all have their own challenges (just different ones) and all can also be done very easily with few challenges (depending how the time abroad was carried out–for example, first time traveling abroad and doing it on one’s own in Europe could potentially be more challenging than spending time in Africa with a whole group from your school, sponsored and monitored through an institution. Just best not to assume). I too don’t mention my own as a special item on my resume because of this. It will be apparent from my work experience on my resume, though.

                2. Bwmn*

                  @A Cita – completely. I have a degree from a university in Europe and a degree from a university in the Middle East. Both degrees were taught in English and ranked similarly internationally. On arriving in Europe, I was nearly entirely responsible for figuring out everything on my own regarding where I lived, getting registered, etc. This was pre-widespread wifi, and it was a huge growth experience in terms of navigating a foreign environment.

                  In the Middle East program, the school coordinated everything down to arranging private bus trips to places where we could buy bedding/cellphones/etc. Academics aside – assuming my experiences regarding problem solving/life experiences based on grad school in Europe vs. Middle East, I’d bet most of those assumptions would actually be flipped.

          2. Artemesia*

            I have worked with service-learning including programs abroad that provided valuable assistance to communities but there is always the possibility of harm especially in short programs. The only way these short programs can really be of local benefit is if the locals are genuine partners and are willing to be teachers of the visitors i.e. see themselves as giving not as just being recipients of often dubious service.

            The most uncomfortable experience I had with this was like the last example. The local student group preparing for service in outlying countries around Singapore was taken to visit a Singapore school for teens who had been offenders. These young people were positively humiliated and surly as they were instructed to rise and bow to the visiting group and then serve as guinea pigs for their observation. Awful.

          3. D*

            I understand everyone’s arguments about “mission trips” and “volunteer tourism,” and I agree completely with those.

            But why is study abroad in Europe so bad? I studied abroad for a year in Oxford and learned a great deal. I’m proud that I did that, and I do think it added a lot to who I am today. I guess it’s not as impressive as being plopped down in a land where I don’t know the language or food or culture, but I’m not sure why I should leave it off my resume?

            1. Katie the Fed*

              I don’t see it as bad. It would just be neutral on its own. Now Oxford or LSE you get the school’s reputation too so that adds something. But a semester at your college’s program in Spain – not a ding, but not going to impress me that much.

              You can totally put it on your resume. I wouldn’t look askance at it, but it wouldn’t stand out to me is all.

              I also live and work in a field and area where international experience is the norm – so it takes a lot to stand out in that regard. And I’m probably a travel snob :(

              I’m also not everyone. Some people might find it great to be on there. Probably can’t hurt, right?

              1. D*

                That makes sense. I thought you were counting it as a ding since you had it in the same category as 1-2 week mission trips. I’m fine with it being neutral (and I confine it to the education section).

              2. A Cita*

                I think it’s interesting that your international experience has made you a (self described) travel snob. Not judging, just find it kind of odd. I have quite a bit (it’s in the nature of the work I do), as does my social and work group, but all of us are very supportive of international experience, even if it’s in Europe (and really, as you probably know, a sponsored programs anywhere where you’re not doing it on your own are not terribly challenging). I see it more as we should encourage people to expose themselves, in whatever capacity (not harmful) to different countries, culture, experiences. Most Americans don’t even have a passport. It’s really the few and the elite (yep, we’re elite) who do. I enthusiastically encourage and applaud international exposure. I don’t judge other experiences, and my experiences are pretty extreme (except for people in the military, journalists in war zones, etc).

                1. CAS*

                  Yes to all of this! I live in DC, as I think a few people commenting here do – and let’s face it, we’re used to people one-upping each other with their tales of dodging kidnappers in Afghanistan or the time they got robbed in Dar or how they started a social enterprise that changed the lives of disabled indigenous girls in Ecuador. But for much of the rest of the country, a year in Paris or Sydney is an adventure and one that most people in the US will never do. Most of my rural, low-income family spread out throughout the Midwest and South think travel abroad, even to Europe, is dangerous and a waste of time because the USA is the greatest country on earth and everyone wants us dead because they hate our freedoms. So if someone’s got international experience on their resume, it’s a plus to me. Mild plus to major plus will depend on the details and context.

                2. Katie the Fed*

                  I feel like you’re reading a lot into what I said. I’m not judging them negatively, it’s just not something that would jump out at me as particularly unique or impressive. It certainly doesn’t hurt to include it.

                3. Katie the Fed*

                  You’re right though in that we are elite. I probably came across badly, and I apologize. I’m really not knocking people who travel in Europe – I absolutely love it myself. It’s just not something that I would consider particularly unique or noteworthy as a resume point.

                  I should probably stop talking because I think I’m digging myself deeper.

                4. Callie*

                  A lot of Americans don’t have a passport because a) they don’t have the vacation time necessary to travel outside the country, and b) the US is so large that it’s possible to drive for a week or more and still be in the country–go to Europe and drive for a week and you’ll pass through a different country every day. It irritates me a little that the statistic about Americans not having passports keeps coming up all over the place, as if we’re ignorant (I’m not saying you insinuated this, but a lot of people do) or uncultured or have no interest in leaving the country because “Murica” is enough for us. So many workers in this country don’t get vacation time, or only get a week, or they just can’t afford the airfare to take a family to Europe.

                  (I don’t have a passport, but I’m old enough that I remember multiple trips to Mexico and Canada as a kid, back when you didn’t need a passport and only needed a driver’s license for North American travel.)

                5. A Cita*

                  @ Callie:

                  Not dissing American travel at all. I traveled extensively in the U.S. (been to all 50 states! :) before I ever set foot in another country, including Canada and Mexico.

              3. Kate*

                Oh man, I just honestly love Europe. I’ve been all around it, with widely varying immersions/lengths of stay (one year in Spain largely hanging out with Americans, one weekend in Poland traveling solely with Polish friend, etc.) I’m kind of a Europhile and aspire to live/work there eventually. You probably wouldn’t hire me, and I respect that. :D I did a semester in Japan as well and it was amazing for what it was, but I wouldn’t want to stay there any longer, or outside of the highly-specific program I was in, because I just didn’t feel any connection to the culture.

                Point being – if a resume came my way with study experience in Italy or somewhere else I really care about, I’d probably perk up and ask the applicant about it. If they had meaningful things to say, big plus in my book. (If they didn’t, I’d probably sour on them, honestly.) I almost got a job once because of having spent time in Slovakia and the hiring manager being Slovak. IT ALL DEPENDS and I just want to back up what Katie’s saying about how you should put these experiences on your resume regardless.

            2. Kate*

              I think the type of program is much more important than the continent it’s on, and unless a hiring manager is familiar with specific programs or providers (might be the case in some fields), he/she’s not really in a position to know what an applicant’s experience abroad was like.

              A relatively independent program in Europe in which students truly integrate into their communities and/or universities (classes with locals in foreign language, local roommates or host families, etc.) and don’t have administrators babysitting them all the time can be much more challenging and valuable than an “American bubble” program in Asia or Africa, in which participants interact more with other foreigners than they do with locals. Of course there are tons of “American bubble” programs in Europe too and programs in more “exotic” areas with high levels of integration. No way to know which is which without discussing it with an applicant.

              1. Katie the Fed*

                ah this is very true too.

                So I guess the moral of this story is people bring in all kinds of assumptions about this stuff. So pretty much what Bwmm said about – so much baggage!

            3. CAS*

              I studied abroad for a year at Oxford also. Maybe my year at Oxford isn’t impressive to others, but I grew up in poverty and on public assistance, with my only travel experience a 5 day trip in the Bahamas thanks to an overly generous relative who wanted me for company for her daughter. So for me to come from poverty to spend a year at Oxford, which I worked two summer jobs to be able to afford – well, I talked about that more than once earlier in my career. Just as my short trip in the Bahamas as an eleven year old did introduce me to a different level of poverty than I thought I knew, and changed how I thought about myself and the world. It’s a cliche, yes, but to this day I am the only member of my family with a passport. Maybe the context is important?

              I’m much more advanced in my career now, so I can talk instead about what I have published or projects I have designed in Niger/Egypt/Kyrgyzstan/China or awards I have won, but in the early days, that stuff mattered to me and interviewers responded to it. It does also feel like the generation behind me has raised the bar in terms of what is expected. Both internships and study abroad were less common then and made you stand out. Today you stand out when you don’t have them!

              1. A Cita*

                Yes again! You all are making my points much better! Context of the travel and traveler matters more than drawing conclusions based on location of travel.

          4. Ingrid*

            My opinion is that it would be a bit hard to judge if someone’s volunteering experience abroad was just voluntourism or simply volunteering and really getting involved in a project. I agree if it is only one or two weeks or a few days, then it is clearly what you are talking about.

            In my case I volunteered two months in Kenya in a school. Yes, I have dealt with children and no, I do not consider it harmful for them at all. This kids have no awareness/knowledge of the outside world and bringing someone from abroad can help expanding their world view and to learn that there are other cultures/lifestyles other than their own.

            On the other hand I spent the months prior to my trip fundraising and organizing events in order to raise money, and at the end the money I raised was used to build an extra set of classrooms in that school and thanks to that an additional 30 children could be enrolled for the next year. How is that harmful for them?

            I do not consider that thanks to what I did I saved the world or that those kids owe me something, but thanks to that project some people was able to get to go to school, get an education and benefit from the cultural exchange that having all year round volunteers can offer.

            1. Naija*

              As an African with dual citizenship working in international development, I judge, I absolutely judge anyone who has on their resume anything about building schools or orphanges in Asia or Africa. Especially those who then say it was life changing. For about 2.5 years I volunteered in rural America and later worked with innercity youth, and the experience changed my thinking about poverty and wealth transfer. Most people who go on about life changing experiences orphanage experiences in Africa or Asia seem to walk way only thinking about how good it made them feel to help all those kids. I want to hear about the impact it had on your views on foreign policy, corruption, local government, the rule of law, democacry, policy making etc. Did the experience give you a big picture perspective on a particular subject or it just made you feel good. If all you can tell me is that it made you feel good and appreciate America more, then I judge and I also send the person links and articles about poverty in the Appalachias.

          5. Goofy Posture*

            I’m an American who used to live in Australia (a few years as a teenager), and while including that in my materials helped me get into a good undergrad, I’ve totally ignored my father’s advice to casually mention it in job interviews. The cultural transition from suburban America to moderate-climate urban Australia is one of the easiest I could have possibly had. Comparable to moving from the South to a place where it snows.

          6. anonymous*

            Do we know that the safari company didn’t have a deal with the school worked out for these ‘casual’ drop ins? They might been paid cash or other consideration, in addition to the school supplies.

            1. Katie the Fed*

              Oh, I’m sure they did. But that doesn’t make it right to trot out kids in the middle of their school day to perform for tourists with cameras. It’s just…ick. Not a zoo.

          7. Kat M*

            To be fair, a week with orphans is usually a bad idea. Someone who’s got even a modicum of experience in early childhood education can actually have a fairly profound impact if they show up on a regular basis for six months or more, and are partnered with an organization that knows how to use them appropriately.

        2. kelly*

          Add me to another who isn’t impressed by the mission trips/”voluntourism” things. My sister who’s finishing up a Master’s program in public health next week wanted to go to the Dominican Republic as part of a program her undergrad public health school set up for most of a summer. It involved working in hospitals, schools, and clinics in a small town and she thought it would benefit when applying for med or grad school. She also wanted to work on her Spanish skills as well. My dad told her that she wasn’t going because it cost too much money and he didn’t feel that it was safe for her to go. I think he didn’t want going and used both the safety and financial arguments. He didn’t see the learning experience and being able to do something with her summer other than staying home. Instead, he suggested a mission trip to Mexico through the church my parents attended at the time. She asked him why he’d pay for that instead of for the cheaper program through her institution and that Dominican Republic was actually safer than Mexico in rural areas because of the drug-related violence. He thought that the mission trip was more worthy because it was sponsored by a church.

          I got tired of hearing how much “good work” my cousin was doing when she went to Belize this past summer on a mission trip. Both my sister and I commented that there are poor and low income communities in the US that are worse off than in Belize, but going to the deep South or Pine Ridge, South Dakota isn’t as exciting as Central America.

          1. Stephanie*

            Both my sister and I commented that there are poor and low income communities in the US that are worse off than in Belize, but going to the deep South or Pine Ridge, South Dakota isn’t as exciting as Central America.

            My friend works for a nonprofit that does community lending in DC. She’d always joke “I do development, too! It’s just a lot less sexy when it’s in Southeast DC versus Southeast Asia.”

          2. LucyVP*

            I have a very good friend who during grad school spent 3 weeks doing service work in rural Appalachia. I think he was repairing roads?
            He is very well traveled included study abroad programs in Asia and Europe and service trips to South America and the middle east.
            He says he got more out of his 3 weeks in Appalachia than he did on his longer programs else ware.

        3. Elysian*

          Thank you – this is what I came here to say, I’m glad others feel the same way. I don’t want to hear about your expensive vacation, and I don’t want to hear about your voluntourism. There are definitely travel experiences that could make sense on a resume, but be thoughtful, don’t just dump it on there because you think it demonstrates “diversity” or “openness” or something.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            I don’t mind it quite as much if you’re honest about why you’re doing it and realistic about the benefit you provided (and never, ever, EVER do voluntourism involving children).

            Like, my fiance and I have looked into doing a short program in Africa where we can assist at a gorilla sanctuary. Do I think I’d be doing jack squat to save gorillas? Not at all. But yay gorillas! Our money helps the program, and worst case we shovel some gorilla shit, and nobody really loses. But let’s not pretend I’m Dian Fossey or something. I know what it is. :)

            1. Elysian*

              I think my negative perceptions of these types of things are heavily influenced by stuff that happened when I was younger. I could never afford to go on trips or vacations, but it was one thing when my friends went on family vacations and I didn’t, and a whole other when they were gallivanting around “doing good work” at a high cost while I was waitressing all summer. The way it was all marketed made a very real and distasteful association for me that you had to have money before you could do good things or be a good person.

            2. Dani*

              Can you explain more why all “voluntourism” with children is bad? I went on a trip to a developing country essentially as a tourist but with the intention of bringing back pictures and experiences to share with people and raise money to build a dormitory for a school located next to a slum. I realize I didn’t do anything all that worthwhile myself, but we were able to raise a lot of money. And a lot of that was because we came back with pictures/experiences/etc. I just don’t see how that’s any different from your gorilla trip, I guess. The girls got a dorm out of it and don’t have to go home every night to conditions that were preventing them from completing school.

              I don’t put this on my resume, however.

              1. Stephanie*

                You sound like you have the right perspective about it. I think Katie the Fed’s point was that too often people think the experience is more substantial than it actually was and that it can come across sounding really naive.

                Especially in African countries, you also have to keep in mind the historical context of colonialism. That history can make some voluntourism trips sound icky.

              2. Katie the Fed*

                Natalie and Stephanie addressed it really well – there’s a lot of good reading about these things. There are some good programs out there, and some really shady/exploitative ones.

                It’s VERY hard to be a responsible traveler because there really is a lot of baggage and exploitation, especially in impoverished parts of the world. It’s hard to know how to travel without harming the fascinating places and people you want to see and experience.

            3. Mints*

              I just wanted to chime in with agreeing with all of your comments today, Katie the fed! I don’t think you’re coming across badly at all

              I think the problem with voluntirism is privileged people using other people’s lives as a tools for self growth. How much does it even cost to fly to Africa? You could probably send the check over and be more efficient. So if you’re going for yourself, go ahead and admit it.

              Related, I’m from a tiny country in Latin America (which I don’t even name, because it would endanger my anonymity). And occasionally I’ll get people who say “I’ve been there! It’s wonderful!” And I ask where they went, and they only say the capital. I’m like, really? Is there anything even interesting there? To me, the capital is where the airport is, and the capital is mostly tourists. If you didn’t eat street food, haggle at a market, swim in the ocean, see a lizard, ride in a questionable bus, you weren’t really there.

              “Conviviencia” is a useful word here, and I want to feel like I’m living with locals, not tourists

        4. Sunflower*

          This whole thread has me totally curious. I was never interested in these sorts of trips but what are they actually like? What do the volunteers actually do?

          1. Bwmn*

            They can vary wildly which is why lots of people can be suspicious. For every case where someone actually contributes to a development/environmental/agricultural/etc project you hear countless stories of folks going to help build a school, and then the locals having to take apart all of the volunteers work to do again because the volunteers are not proper builders. Or something like that.

            Basically if I hear someone tell me “oh, I volunteered in Africa/South America/Asia for a month” – my general assumption is “you paid a few thousand dollars to go to a remote part of the world, maybe helped a bit, maybe didn’t, and that’s it”. But it’s almost – almost – the equivalent of telling me “I went traveling to Africa/South America/Asia for a month”.

            1. Katie the Fed*

              Exactly. Unless you have some actual skill like civil engineering or nursing/dentistry/medicine the chance of you actually making much of an impact in a month is pretty minimal.

              Wanting to help isn’t terrible, but you really need to do your research on the real impact because there are a lot of less-than-reputable programs. I don’t generally mind the environmental ones, but when you start messing with people and communities, I get the heebie jeebies.

              1. Sunflower*

                Interesting. At my university, global medical brigades and clean water programs were big for students to do during spring break. My sister was going to do one and had to raise funds. She was only using it as a resume booster so I told her to just go to cancun instead(which she did and was happy to do so lol)

              2. A Cita*

                However, the environmental ones *do* mess with people and communities and can have the same, and even worse, negative effect. The environmentalism of the “west” and “north” countries has been very detrimental to people in countries south of the equator.

                There is no such thing as environment without people. I’d be very very very careful in choosing any type of environmental cause/volunteer/eco tourist activities.

                1. A Cita*

                  It really is. I don’t think we can be a perfect traveler…I think we just do what we can.

              1. Bwmn*

                There’s also a Tumblr page that essentially is just photos like that.

                Basically – I personally would only mention international experience if it bolsters language skills (i.e. x Spanish level/semester spend in Madrid), has a solid tie to the organization (i.e. they have an office in that country, do work there, etc.), or involves significant education or work experience.

                1. Natalie*

                  The “volunteer trip to an African orphanage” picture is one of the squares on my own personal Internet Dating bingo card. Other squares include “look at this fish I caught” and “I did a color run once!”

              2. Elysian*

                That article could only be better if it used the phrase “find yourself.” I could go off on a whole other rude tangent about people who travel to “find themselves.”

                1. Katie the Fed*

                  I’d do my rant on Eat, Pray, Love but don’t want to threadjack even more. But seriously – if someone wants to pay me to fiddlefart around the globe for a year, I’ll come up with all kinds of amazing insights!

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Katie, I would like to hear that rant! I had that book in mind reading some of this thread and would love to hear your take. (I am as repulsed by that book as one can reasonably be by a book they’ve never read, and was really annoyed when my mom kept pushing it on me when it first came out.)

                3. Katie the Fed*

                  OK. I feel like I’m coming off as a total asshole today, but I’ll try:

                  I just found her to be completely self-absorbed and offputting, is the short of it. As a disclaimer, I couldn’t finish the book because I found her so narcissistic.

                  The whole thing just seemed to be an exercise in self indulgence and navel-gazing. She ended a marriage but never really explains just what was so bad about it, just that she seems unhappy an unfullfilled, and then gets an advance from a publisher to go travel and find herself for a year.

                  OK, so that’s cool and all, but let’s not pretend you have practical insights to offer women because someone financed your journey of self discovery after you ended a marriage. It’s a luxury almost nobody has, to solve a problem that seems to be largely self-inflicted. Which is totally cool if you can to do it, but don’t trot it out like it’s insightful for anyone else.

                  I think it’s also this self-fulfillment mantra that irks me too. There seems to be this thread in these kinds of books like self-fulfillment is the ultimate goal and if you’re not feeling fulfilled then you’d better go get yourself fulfilled and happy right now because that’s your god-given right. So if that means leaving your family behind to go find yourself, then that’s great! But for most people, we have family and community responsibilities and it’s just not terribly practical for us (or anyone around us) to just pick up and leave it all to go find ourselves. Sometimes relationships are work and sometimes you have to do the drudgery and the laundry and lots of boring things that don’t really fulfill you. Maybe give back to your community, or do something for anyone other than yourself and see how that works out.

                  I don’t know if that explains it. I honestly have a visceral reaction to this book and the rest of its ilk (did anyone see the book by the college student who found herself by training to be a Masai warrior?). And I really wish people would stop giving it to me just because I like to travel and eat :)

                4. Elysian*

                  Katie, I’ll add my 2 cents about “finding yourself,” since you did. I feel like this whole premise (the books, the idea, the ‘gap year to travel,’ etc) is harmful just by itself. People are constantly changing creatures – if I take time off at 19 to travel and “find myself” and pray, etc, what happens when my life and ideas and circumstances change in 10-20 years? Do I just take another long vacation and hope to “find myself again”? People – people without an infinite supply of money, anyway – have to engage in constant self-discovery, while also working and living and making important decisions. It’s not something you can do for a year and then you’ll never have to do it again.

                  I have friends who “found themselves” in college and then came out of college and had a meltdown because their lives changed and they couldn’t adapt to the idea that they were a different person now than they were then. One of them went back to grad school so she could have more time to rediscover what she wanted, or whatever. These are really self-destructive things, brought on by the idea that “finding yourself” is a thing you can do.

                  You have to learn how to be true to yourself while you do the every day drudgery, and you have to do it anew every single day. You can’t just “find yourself” on a trip to Peru and then be done forever.

                5. Elsa*

                  “You have to learn how to be true to yourself while you do the every day drudgery, and you have to do it anew every single day. You can’t just “find yourself” on a trip to Peru and then be done forever.”

                  I disagree, Elysian. Making yourself stay put in a situation you are unhappy in is the worst thing you can do to yourself. Just look at some of the stories of readers here who have shared being miserable in their jobs. Has anyone ever advised them to stay put? No. The advice is always either a)keep looking for a better job, and secure it before you quit, or b) if the situation is really bad, just leave and take any job you can.

                  The author of Eat, Pray, Love may have got a publishing deal before she left (didn’t read the book but saw the film), but the countries she moved to have a cost of living that is lower than the US. She probably was able to live there just on any savings she had from her job in the US.

                  Society isn’t always right. It will tell you what you should do but doing what is expected of you isn’t going to make you happy. Will it be able to cure your depression from staying in a bad relationship too long whether that be work, love, or otherwise?

                  Looked at from another perspective, if you ever work with someone who is not happy at all, you know that they are not very productive. It affects the people around them. What good would they be to society then? People who are happy with their life are more productive.

          2. Chinook*

            I know that there is a Catholic mission in one of th African countries that has youth groups from different parts of company rotate once every five years to go there for amonth. They have to fundraise to cover their travel costs and the costs for whatever short term project they are workign on. When our local group went last year, their goal was to install a water well in one of the surrounding comunities as well as do some renovations at the mission school (I think it was fence repair). The brothers who run the mission have a distinct idea of how to best use the youthful manpower to get large amounts of manual labour accomplished that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford (they didn’t have the funds to hire locally). I am not sure how other groups work.

            1. Artemesia*

              How much more useful it would be if the funds used for the expensive exotic vacation were instead provided to hire locals to do the work thus providing money to the local economy and jobs for locals.

                1. Elsa*

                  I disagree. Especially with a foreign organization, how would you know which organization is respectable and would use that money to do what you wanted them to do with it? Even the ones in the US, you can donate money to a nonprofit but where is that money going? How much is going to pay for operating costs and how much of the money is actually going to programs to help the cause directly?

            2. Stephanie*

              Also, problem with those water well projects a lot of times is that there’s not a lot of investment in continued upkeep and repair. So you get a nice, new shiny well until it inevitably breaks or malfunctions and the village goes back to lugging buckets.

      2. Kelly L.*

        I remember reading about one place where the same wall had been painted over and over, because the locals needed some make-work to keep the mission trip people busy and out of the way.

        1. Anonymous*

          I work in international development and wanted to second what a lot of posters have already said that listing travel doesn’t really mean that much to me. I’ve noticed in my office that it often seems like a competition of who has traveled the most places, particularly when new people come in and want to prove their credibility. I see a lot of CVs–particularly for intern positions–in which applicants have provided a list of countries “traveled to.” They usually separate this from countries where they have worked or volunteered (which is entirely relevant) since those experiences are usually listed elsewhere. I always wonder what point they are trying to make. Inevitably, the people who do this are not the strongest applicants. Since I see it most often with young applicants in their early 20s, I also wonder where they got the money to do so much travel!

          1. Chinook*

            When I see someone listing “travel,” I take that as very different from “lived.” I have travelled a lot but the only one that counts on a resume (and it has aged out) is the 1.5 years I spent teaching ESL in Japan. It counts not because of the travel aspect but because it was a legit job that I would have put on my resume even if I had done it in Canada. Ditto for the provinces I have travelled vs. lived/worked in – having gone to visit in-laws in outport Newfoundland is not the same as living there because I was a guest and not a resident. Why would i brag about being a guest?

            1. duschamp*

              This, exactly. Travel is excellent, broadens the mind and all that and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who can afford it. Awesome though it is, it is not an accomplishment. To my mind the distinction lies in what you do when you travel, not where you’ve gone. If you had a job and made a life for yourself in another country that is worth mentioning, though as Chinook said, it goes on your resume because it’s a legit job. The foreign locale is a plus point to the job, not the other way around.

              As an expat in Scotland myself, I run into non-Scots all day. There is a world of difference between those who have “traveled” to the UK, and those who “live” here, and you can spot it a mile away. I’ll admit that I am biased but even with study-abroad experience, I’m not going to be that interested unless you can show me that you are in the second group, not the first.

      3. Kate*

        Honestly, when I hear “mission trip” I hear “proselytizing” which immediately puts a bad taste in my mouth. Which probably isn’t fair, but just putting it out there as something for people to consider – if it was a church-sponsored volunteer trip that didn’t involve any kind of proselytizing, I’d encourage applicants to list it just as a volunteer trip. (And take into consideration all the discussion below about deciding whether it’s really worth listing, of course.)

        1. Callie*

          Agreed. Mission trips where the whole point is to spread one’s religion completely ignores that most places already have some form of religion and it’s a huge part of their culture. Swooping in to “Spread the _____” [insert phrase applicable to whatever religion] is colonialist and disrespectful. (I’m sure most of the kids doing this stuff mean well and it’s never occured to them that it might be harmful… but it is.)

    3. Sandrine (France)*

      Did a business internship in Oxford in 2003. The experience is still on my resume, and my other trips stay in the “Extra stuff” (can’t think of a proper name for that bit) section where you’d put your volunteering and stuff. And it reads something like

      Travel : US, UK, Spain, Japan

      (far from being spoilt, though you could say “reckless idiot” as this would apply perfectly :P )

      1. Judy*

        My volunteering is in a resume section on my full resume called “Community activities” and pretty much gets deleted every time I tailor it for a job application.

  2. CanadianWriter*

    Workplace bathrooms are clearly not working out and are now banned. All employees will be issued diapers.

    1. Purple Dragon*

      The bathroom problems aren’t confined to the gents. The ladies bathroom where I work is absolutely horrendous ! I’ve sometimes walked out and gone and used public facilities because they were cleaner. We’ve never figured out how to get people to act like civilised human beings so if anyone has suggestions I’d appreciate them too.

      1. Purple Dragon*

        Sorry – I should have put that was for #3 – Bathroom Cleanliness problems.

        1. Mephyle*

          I don’t think anyone was confused about which post the bathroom advice was for :)

      2. AdAgencyChick*

        Oh my god, seriously. Sometimes I want to scream, “Can’t you flush?!” Once in a while it really is that the toilet is clogged, but usually…someone was just too lazy to flush. And don’t even get me started on women who pee on the seat and don’t wipe it up.

        1. Kay*

          Really truly all you have to do after you go and flush is look back and make sure that if you entered the bathroom next, you’d be okay with using that toilet. If that means flushing a second time because it all didn’t go down, do so. If that means wiping the seat with some toilet paper, do that. If that means putting toilet paper that is all over the floor in the trash or down the toilet and flushing it, do that. So much in life could be solved if people would just leave things as clean or cleaner than they found them.

          1. FiveNine*

            They know. I assure you that in their own homes they don’t leave turd – filled toilets unflushed for the next time.

          2. Sydney Bristow*

            I read once that bosses always know which people are the ones who pick up trash off the floor that wasn’t theirs. The author’s point was aimed at people who bring up the fact that they did it like it was a huge deal and encouraging them to just continue doing it without mentioning it. That stuck with me for some reason. Just do it, it’s no big deal. I understand getting frustrated over it and how it can seem like you are the only one who ever does anything about the problem, but all you can control is your own reaction to things.

            1. Cath in Canada*

              My work friend threw her back out last month picking up a piece of trash that wasn’t hers, in our office area! All kinds of paperwork had to be filled in as a result. We all joked that she was just making sure we all noticed how awesome she is for picking up other people’s trash :)

        2. Cube Ninja*

          You’d be surprised at how often that latter bit is also issue for the guys.

      3. Fee*

        Yup, I have this problem in my workplace ladies’ bathroom too. From the sound of things it’s not on the same level as the OP, but it’s definitely been bad enough that I have walked in and straight out again of cubicles; sometimes two out of the three on our floor. One saving grace for me is that at least I know none of my immediate colleagues are ever responsible: I’m the only woman on a team of ten.

        I figured out recently that the bathrooms on the ground floor of our building are less frequently used (there are much fewer staff down there) and always scrupulously clean – possibly actually because members of the public may use them when coming in for ceremonial events. So now I often use those and consider the added exercise in walking two flights of stairs a bonus :)

        Seriously though OP, I really feel for you. I do consider cleaning up after my colleagues sometimes (and I’m a temporary contractor; ALL the other women in the department are permanent), but haven’t brought myself to do it. I sometimes feel pretty guilty about that when I see the cleaning staff in the evening. They shouldn’t have to deal with more mess than is absolutely necessary.

      4. Elizabeth West*

        I don’t understand this either. By the time you’re an adult, no matter how/where you were raised, you should be able to figure out how to use the freaking bathroom without getting your poo all over the damn wall.

      5. KC*

        My last workplace ladies room had 2 stalls that everyone had to avoid because SOMEONE(s) peed on the seats–every day. EVERY DAY. It was so infuriating for me. We’re all grown women, right? Are you afraid of your own pee? Just wipe it off or, y’know, don’t get it on there in the first place.

      6. L*

        Uuuuugh, at my current workplace we share a floor bathroom with another office, so it’s hard to tell, but whoever is doing gross stuff in the ladies’ room I have dubbed the Super Pooper and the Tampon Terrorist. Admittedly it is a 100+ year old building, but really just stand there and make sure it all goes down.

        The only thing that makes this situation worse is a “poop memo”.

    2. MH*

      Arrange for an external lock on the bathroom door, key only to be supplied when it is signed for. If the next person in finds the toilet in an unacceptable condition, the previous person who signed for the key has to clean up.

      If people can’t be trusted to keep the place clean, you have to treat them like children.

      1. Zillah*

        I agree, though I might go even further and say that someone responsible should pop their head in afterward to make sure it’s in acceptable condition – it seems like most of these people wouldn’t blink even if it wasn’t.

        Super immature? Yes. But that’s what happens when you’re revolting.

        1. VictoriaHR*

          Oh god no – can you imagine being the person who had to go check the bathroom after every time a person used it? I’m all for the key idea but not the someone responsible popping their head in.

          If people aren’t making the messes, a general note to everyone that the bathrooms would now be locked and people would have to check out the key will piss everyone off enough that they will start reporting messes in the hopes that the key thing will go away once the perpetrator is caught.

          1. Zillah*

            I mean, I’d generally agree, and they should definitely try the key thing first… but if these people are literally spreading feces and urine on the floor/walls, I feel like that’s a level of grossness that needs to actually be dealt with. Because omg ew.

            (I might be especially horrified because of my OCD tendencies.)

          2. Adam V*

            Yes, but imagine the CEO is the one sending out an email saying “Since you’re all acting like little kids who don’t know how to aim, *I’m* going to be the one to see how clean it is after you leave. If it’s nasty, I’m going to come back to your desk and send you back to the bathroom to clean it up.” That’d straighten things up pretty quick, I think.

            (Then again, that sounds an awful lot like a Tiger Mike email.)

            1. Chinook*

              “Yes, but imagine the CEO is the one sending out an email saying “Since you’re all acting like little kids who don’t know how to aim, *I’m* going to be the one to see how clean it is after you leave. If it’s nasty, I’m going to come back to your desk and send you back to the bathroom to clean it up.” That’d straighten things up pretty quick, I think.”

              This needs repeating because I would so work for this boss! I have the upmost respect for the partner in an accounting firm I worked for who sent around a polite but firm email about how he had to clean up the milk container that exploded in the fridge because it was that old and expired and how this was not acceptable behaviour from an office of adults. The kitchen and fridges were so much cleaner after that.

              1. Ethyl*

                Yeah me too! I mean, it sucks that the manager has to resort to treating people like little kids, but they are the ones who _behaved like little kids_ in the first freaking place.


    3. the_scientist*

      I would post the funniest email I have ever seen, but it would reveal my true identity so I’ll post some choice phrases. The short story was that at this (large, multinational company), someone was relieving themselves in the garbage can in the men’s bathroom. The company sent around a delightfully euphemistic email about “supporting waste elimination for those with physical challenges” and “proper disposal of waste material” and asking for “respectful and professional attention to the matter”. Basically, this email somehow managed to entirely step around the fact that a Unapooper was bombing the men’s bathroom.

      So, apparently, this is an appallingly common issue, because people are disgusting and have no shame.

    4. Mary*

      Not sure if this could be part of the problem but I work in California and it is a state law that there be seat covers in business and public bathrooms. Many years ago, I was in shock when I started traveling for business in other states. When I would go to the bathrooms, they did not have seat covers. I either had to line the toilet seat with toilet paper or squat as not to touch the seat. I think that is where the urine comes to be on the seat. Not sure if that is the issue in some of these cases; but I have never seen business bathrooms in the state that people have described here.

      1. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)*

        But then seat covers are a problem/irritation because you get people who are all “I can’t touch a seat cover my bare ass touched! Ew, icky!” and then leave them on the seat. Or don’t flush them.

        You are very, very unlikely to catch anything from a toilet seat.

        1. FiveNine*

          Yes, there’s something particularly distasteful to me about walking into a stall where someone who uses a paper seat cover because they are concerned about germs just leaves it there for the next person to deal with. Seriously. How is that different from leaving a used tampon sitting on the toilet or on top of the toilet paper roll for the next person to deal with? So gross.

      2. bearing*

        Am now amused imagining someone writing in “My workplace does not provide us with disposable seat covers in the bathroom, is this legal?” and Alison having to say, “Yes, unless you work in California.”

        1. holly*

          so i’ve been in CA for almost two years and did not know this! but i did notice the abundance of seat covers. i think they are silly.

      3. Lora*

        You guys know that paper is extremely porous and no protection whatsoever from butt-germs, right?


        I mean, that’s why medical professionals wear *rubber* gloves, not paper ones. Rhinoviruses (common cold) last about an hour on a cold, smooth surface; norovirus is one of the worst and lasts for weeks. MRSA is also known to last days to weeks on solid plastic. All can get through paper toilet seat covers. This is why you STAY HOME IF YOU’RE SICK and wash your hands like it’s going out of style. Every time. Regardless of whether or not you pee on your hands, you still touched a toilet roll and stall door that might have norovirus droplets on it and then you’re going to go eat a sandwich or something and get explosive diarrhea for days on end as a result. It’s not YOUR pee & poo you have to worry about, it’s other people’s.

      4. Artemesia*

        you don’t need seat covers, people men or women, who pee without sitting need to raise the seat — women who squat and spray should raise the seat or mop up after themselves. urine in itself is not much of an infection risk, but no one wants to sit in it.

        seat covers always make an enormous mess

        too bad they don’t all have those plastic automatic seat covers like they have at o’hard airport — best bathrooms ever — but I am sure it is expensive and wasteful — but best bathrooms ever — always a clean dry surface with no effort

        1. Kat*

          I was laid over in Chicago recently. Every part of the trip was terrible but oh the bathrooms in O’ hare are beautiful. They put NY airports to shame.
          I can say I enjoyed them too much, when I exited doing a happy dance.

          1. Anna*

            I just experienced the O’Hare bathrooms for the first time in years a few weeks ago and was amazed at them. Magic toilets! Magic mirrors! I seriously felt like I had walked in to the future.

          2. TrainerGirl*

            I saw those plastic seat covers for the first time in New Orleans during Mardi Gras in 2002. With a city full of drunk, non-aiming people, that was the best thing ever!

      5. ella*

        If you’re a woman and you don’t want to sit on the seat, you should lift the ring like we expect guys to do, and crouch directly over the bowl. Having crouched over toilets on the most grossest of occasions, I have to say, I admire the core strength of anyone who does that on the regular. Just clean up after yourself. I don’t care where it comes from, it needs to not be there.

        1. anonymous*

          OTOH, I’ve carefully wiped the seat to remove all the pee before sitting and still sat on a damp seat. I’ll take the covers if it will sop up the rest of the moistness. If I raised the seat and tried to hover, I’d fall in.

        2. Cath in Canada*

          Ha, I was once in a pub’s bathroom in Whistler, BC at the same time as some American tourists who were having a full-on “HOW CAN PEOPLE LIVE LIKE THIS???!!!” freak out about the lack of toilet seat covers (they actually used those words!) I just quietly laughed to myself… covers are definitely the placebo effect of the toilet world.

          This was on the same visit when we encountered a group of college-age Americans clustered around one of the bear-proof garbage cans in the village square, loudly expressing their complete astonishment that there might be bears around. In the mountains. In Canada. It was pretty funny

        3. Onymouse*

          Toilet seat covers are totally practical – I find they help with making the seat less cold to sit on.

  3. JCC*

    4) I know someone who spent several years abroad teaching English as a second language. It did not seem to help their resume, as people worried that their non-ESL skills had gone “stale” in the interim.

    1. Zillah*

      While I can understand that concern, especially if the person’s profession isn’t related to education, I think that that’s a completely different situation. If you’re abroad teaching English for several years, as opposed to a few weeks or months, how can you not include it? It’s a job you held for several years. Without it, there’s a huge gap, and I think it would be pretty stupid to fail to include it because people… might notice that you weren’t working in your field?

      Sure, people will have questions about whether they’re still up to date in the field – but that would also be true of anyone else who was working outside their field for several years (or not working at all, if they left the work force to care for their children). I’d certainly believe that it could make getting a job more difficult, but that’s a balancing act you have to decide on when you make those decisions in the first place, not something you can hide effectively after the fact.

    2. hayling*

      I agree. I feel like a lot of those “teach English” programs are “an excuse to have a job so I can go on an extended vacation.” Fluency in a language doesn’t mean you’re qualified to teach it.

  4. Thomas*

    Travel experience directly benefited my candidacy for an internship right after college. My supervisor shared why he chose me over a similarly qualified candidate — and the travel experience on my resume was part of it (he asked me about it during the interview as well). He said he appreciated that I was willing to be adventurous and go outside my comfort zone — both things that were beneficial in my line of work. It wasn’t hiring material on its own, but it was enough to break a tie.

    1. Sunflower*

      It sounds like you were able to say ‘My travel allowed me to go outside of my comfort zone to do x and y’ and that directly related to the internship. Not ragging on OP but OP said it proves to a manager she’s more open to other cultures. Well no actually doesn’t. Travel can be very fulfilling but when you’re talking about it for a job, you need to elaborate on what it brings to your professional life, not just that it enhanced your personal.

    2. pgh_adventurer*

      It’s what got me my first job out of college too–I had studied abroad in Mali (west Africa), and my manager told me she thought it showed a willingness to get out of my comfort zone.

    3. Bwmn*

      As someone with a resume that’s still a mix of solid work experience and grad school (twice! don’t do this!), international experience has 100% contributed to my current position in the US. I believe to paraphrase one comment, it showed “a flexibility working with a wide range of challenging personalities, work styles, and frustration”. Also, if you are interested in the international development/humanitarian aid field – it can help in displaying a grounded perspective on the world (versus I’m here to save the world).

      BUT – it has also had some interviewers bring some pretty intense preconceived notions about those experiences. AAM’s assertion that it’s either positive or neutral I do disagree with, and there is definitely a risk of it being negative in a way you may not have thought of.

      1. Anna*

        I’ve lived overseas for extended periods of time and there was only one instance where I felt it actually hindered me instead of helping me. That was when I applied to do a semester in England during my MA. I honestly think they looked at me compared to other candidates and thought, “She’s had extensive overseas experiences; it would be better to give this opportunity to someone who hasn’t”.

        If my experience is relevant, I’ll include it. I spent six weeks in Spain working in an economically depressed town with a Red Cross (La Cruz Roja) program for impoverished kids. I loved the experience, I am proud of the experience, but it happened 15 years ago and doesn’t really apply right now. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t in the future. *shrug*

  5. SD Cat*

    4) I have places I’ve studied abroad in listed in a line in my education section (I’m entry level-ish). I have occasionally been asked during interviews, and since they’re all Spanish-speaking countries, I’ve used it as an opportunity to talk about language skills.

  6. hellothere*

    4. Study abroad screams “spoiled rich kid” to me. I’d rather hire someone who worked during college.

    5. Alison is right. You don’t need the family drama.

    1. Stephanie*

      That’s unfair to assume that only rich kids study abroad. My alma mater offered scholarships to study abroad and you were still eligible for all your grants, loans, scholarships while studying abroad. Plus, given how expensive schooling is in the US nowadays, a semester or year at some programs might be cheaper than the equivalent at a home university.

      Plus, I think most universities only let you study abroad for a year tops. That still gives a student plenty of time to work.

      (I’m saying this as someone who regrets not studying abroad in college. I wish I had as that was probably one of the few times I would have been able to go somewhere abroad for several months.)

      1. abankyteller*

        I believe scholarships and etc were still valid for study abroad at my alma mater as well, but I kind of see the point. If you’re a reasonably self-sufficient young adult, you will still have bills at home while you’re abroad. You won’t have to put gas in your car but you still need to insure it and make payments on it. You might still have rent if you can’t find someone to sublet. My school’s dorms were booked for the year while study abroad was usually a semester, so you still need to pay to hold your spot in a dorm.

        I don’t know about the “spoiled rich kid” outlook, but I definitely think someone who had to stay in their home country and work while going to school is likely to be a better employee just based on life experience alone.

        1. PEBCAK*

          This is really just the halo effect, and there’s no way to know if it will work for or against you. Hiring managers who worked during college are likely to see work as more valuable, hiring managers who studied abroad are likely to see study abroad as more valuable. You can’t leave it on or off your resume for those reasons unless you know the HM’s life story.

          1. abankyteller*

            That’s a very good point. I know someone who does a lot of speaking engagements for a specific medical procedure but hesitates to mention it to employers because the procedure itself can be a polarizing topic. Sometimes it might help, sometimes it might hurt, but it never hurts to leave it off entirely.

          2. Elysian*

            Great point. I was super annoyed by all my friends who studied abroad and came back telling me about their ‘life altering experience’ when I was apparently too poor to have my life altered. That’s what I hear in my head whenever I think about study abroad – but there’s no way an applicant could possibly know that. I’m not a hiring manager, but I would rather have a coworker who worked than one who studied abroad. But like you said, that’s because I’m comfortable with people who have had experiences like me.

            1. Felicia*

              That was similar to my experience Elysian, and probably effects my view. I am in Canada, and at my particular university (or the other one my sister goes to now) there were no scholarships for study abroad, and it ended up being significantly more expensive than a semester at home. So at my university at least, the students who did study abroad were more financially well off than the students who didn’t, so I would view it as a “rich kid” thing too, even though that is not accurate to all schools or experiences, only to where I went. The kids I know who did study abroad were also very braggy about it and couldn’t seem to fathom that I’d love to study in like France or wherever like they did, but couldn’t afford it. “But won’t your parents help you out?” they’d say. Their parents paid for the whole thing, while I worked to be able to afford the much cheaper home tuition.

              1. KrisL*

                In the long run, I wonder if the kids who can expect their parents to “help out” with unnecessary costs like trips end up expecting their parents to help with other things later in life.

                My parents couldn’t afford to help much with college, but I had a place to live, and they brought me up to be used to learning and to know that college is important in life. For me, that was huge.

        2. Bystander*

          My study abroad year was actually my cheapest year of college, because living expenses were significantly less where I studied. Tuition was the same cost, and I didn’t have a car or any expenses at home while I was gone.

          I include it in the education section, underneath the university where I studied, with a note that it includes a year at /name of university. I’ve personally found it safe to include, and never met the spoiled rich kid stigma.

          1. Meredith*

            Same. I studied in Germany for a just over a full calendar year (university tuition there was free at the time). Way cheaper than a year at my undergrad. I’m a little dismayed that some don’t count study in Europe as a legit learning experience. There is no better way to learn a language, and I had to navigate myself through the year in a language that was not my own. (Although I did ask that my English-speaking foreign friends speak German with me- and not everyone spoke English.) I firmly believe that the time I spent there prepared me for adulthood and taught me humility, confidence, and hugely bolstered my sense if independence. I go there now regularly for work, which is a welcome, if unexpected outcome.

            1. Felicia*

              I do think it’s a legit learning experience, just not one accessible to most, at least where I’m from.

              1. Onymouse*

                I’m in Canada too, and study abroad to an Asian school (lower COL than Canada in general – even in expensive cities like Hong Kong, the school subsidizes dorms rather than make them more expensive like they do here) is more accessible than Europe or Australia. I’d encourage people who are interested to check out the possibilities before they rule it out altogether.

                1. Felicia*

                  I definitely probably could have done a study abroad in an Asian country (I did look into it, and am fairly sure I could have) but the only semester i could have done it I got a part time internship that I prioritized. Europe and Australia which a lot of people I know did, wouldn’t have been accessible to me and cost most people more. Most people I know who did it went to France, Spain or Australia , and it was very expensive – every single one of them had parents funding it.

          2. Ellie H.*

            I’ve seen people include it in their education section, exactly like that. The career center at the university I work at advises that. Just name the program, the country and the dates, it looks decent to me.

        3. Kerry*

          I don’t think it’s usual for a student to have bills at home while living abroad, is it? I studied abroad for a semester and I didn’t have to pay for housing I wasn’t using in my home country. I just started my rental contract for when I got back. I can believe some schools might do that to make money, but it seems like that would be the anomaly.

          I agree that studying abroad doesn’t automatically imply someone will be a better employee, but I don’t think it implies anything about a student’s socioeconomic status, either.

          1. KellyK*

            From the part about “self-sufficient,” it sounds like the implication is that you should be renting an apartment, rather than living in the dorms and spending breaks at your parents’ house. Which is sort of a silly assumption–there’s a lot of ground between “totally self-sufficient because your parents kicked you out on your 18th birthday” and “spoiled rich kid.”

            Other than a summer I rented a room from a friend’s mom, I didn’t rent my own place until about 6 months after my college graduation. (My mom is an RN, and my dad worked at an oil refinery, so describing me as a spoiled rich kid is kind of hilarious.)

          2. Elysian*

            I disagree, I think it does imply something – even if the study abroad costs themselves are cheaper (at my school they were not, plus all the added travel costs, it was more expensive for sure), there’s an opportunity cost to studying abroad. If you’re studying abroad you can’t be working at home. As someone who worked through college, that was a really important consideration for me. I would have to give up my 3 jobs to travel, and I just couldn’t financially justify that.

            So I do think it can say something about your socioeconomic status.

            1. Zillah*

              I agree that it can say something about your socioeconomic status, but I think that it’s not as strong a correlation as you seem to be suggesting… and I also think that if we’re making that argument, there are a lot of other situations that say the same something about your SES status, too.

              For example, if you go to a school that is not need-blind, that could indicate something about your SES status. So could not holding a job during the school year, or having unpaid internships during the summer.

              But IMO, speculating on that is pointless. For some people, studying abroad is worth taking out extra loans, or it’s cheaper than their school, or they get a scholarship to do so. Similarly, not holding a job during the school year or having an unpaid internship in the summer could be the result of a supportive family that makes real sacrifices to make that happen. Schools that are not need-blind still admit some students who have financial need.

              Speculation could just as easily lead you to the wrong conclusion, and you can’t hide the things that point to your SES status on your resume. IMO, study abroad is a relevant part of your education just like your school/major – it shouldn’t be treated like The Best Thing Ever, but leaving it off seems weird to me.

              (Disclaimer: I did not study abroad. I do, however, know people who did who had to pay a lot of attention to their finances.)

              1. Cat*

                Also, someone’s SES is not actually a valid reason not to hire them. We should be careful that we’re not excluding people who didn’t have the opportunity to do things like study abroad from consideration, but that doesn’t mean we should ding people who did.

                1. Zillah*

                  Yes – and, your SES status growing up is not necessarily your SES status when you are just starting out in your career. In my experience, most people early on in their careers are struggling to make ends meet.

              2. Elysian*

                Oh no, I don’t disagree. I think we’ve all gone off on kind of a tangent, and none of this is a reason not-to-hire (I think the ‘spoiled rich kid’ line took us down this track?). I wasn’t suggesting a strong connection between study abroad and SES – just that it isn’t non-existent , which I thought Kerry was saying. I just like to point out that opportunity cost is a very real cost, and lots of people forget about it.

                1. Felicia*

                  +1. There is some connection between SES and whether you can afford to study abroad. (I forgot that I couldn’t have been working at home at the same time, I needed my jobs in university for tuition money). So it should be looked at as a great educational and cultural experience, but it shouldn’t be used as the thing that differentiates two candidates I think – both because the candidate who didn’t do it might not have had the means to, and also, if it’s just education, I’m always hearing that employers place more value on relevant experience, so it shouldn’t matter if some of your education is out of the country in that context. It is a good way to gain language fluency too, but I gained my French fluency differently.

                2. Zillah*

                  Oh, okay – sorry for misunderstanding you! I can definitely agree with that – there’s certainly some connection between the two and people in some circumstances definitely can’t do it.

                3. Kerry*

                  Oh sure, I agree there (although in many places you’d be able to work in your host country too). I was responding specifically to “you will still have bills at home while you’re abroad”.

        4. Cat*

          I think this is kind of ridiculous. Sure, study abroad implies that you probably have some sort of financial benefits (e.g., you’re not supporting a family while in college), but it’s ridiculous to judge a college student for that. Personally, I studied abroad for a year – I didn’t have a car I was insuring or making payments on at home because I didn’t have a car; nobody was required to hold their spot in the dorms (that would have been ridiculous); and I studied abroad somewhere much cheaper than where I went to school (rent was about 20% of what I paid for a room where I went to college and, God, about 5% of what I pay now.).

          I’ve certainly had advantages in my life and I’m grateful for them, but those advantages don’t make me a worse worker now; any more than not having advantages makes someone a worse worker.

          1. Zillah*

            I wish I’d read a little lower – you said it much better than me, and in many fewer words. *headdesk*

        5. Xay*

          I definitely wasn’t a rich kid in undergrad, but my need based scholarships and an additional study abroad grant that I won covered my study abroad semester. I understand what you’re saying but I think that the study abroad experience should be made available to everyone – the semester that I didn’t work didn’t make my work for the other 3.5 years of college any less important or valuable.

        6. amaranth16*

          I don’t think this is a fair assessment. Plenty of college kids don’t have cars. And if a kid lived in dorms (as >90% of kids did at my college) he/she wouldn’t have rent. Hell, I didn’t even have a cell phone until halfway through college (long after most of my peers). And, as Stephanie said, a lot of times tuition/room and board are cheaper at the foreign university. You can be “reasonably self-sufficient” and still have studying abroad be the financially responsible, or even preferable, choice.

          1. amaranth16*

            (I didn’t study abroad and part of me regrets not doing so. It would have cost me nothing.)

            1. ThursdaysGeek*

              Not even a cost to get there and back? (Asks the person who was so busy earning enough money to pay for the next quarter that studying abroad never even entered my mind, it was so far-fetched.)

      2. College Career Counselor*

        +1 Students from a variety of means study abroad. The general rule I’ve encountered is that your financial aid generally goes with you for study abroad programs (at least the ones sponsored by your college or university). Many schools also have additional aid to assist students with the cost of airfare, in-country travel as well. The last two colleges where I have worked have had 80% and 55% of students study abroad during their four years, many of whom had significant financial aid awards from the college.

        1. TL*

          In my (limited) experience – most of the kids from well-off backgrounds at my fancy, expensive private school studied abroad.
          I don’t think a single college graduate from my fairly poor hometown studied abroad.
          It’s fair to say people from all walks of life study abroad, but my educated guess is that the trend heavily skews towards those from a wealthier background. Going abroad, in general, tends to indicate someone from a wealthier background.

          1. amaranth16*

            Perhaps that’s true, but I just think it shouldn’t be a filtering criterion. My parents raised four kids on a single lower-middle-class salary, and all of us got into great schools (where 2 out of 4 of us studied abroad). Our family was pretty poor, but we were smart and we were hard workers. So if someone looks at a resume and say “pfft, entitled rich kid,” they’ll be missing out on (and unfairly disadvantaging) some seriously gifted and hardworking candidates.

        2. Mel*

          I grew up in a trailer park in rural Texas. I was poor. I worked my way through college along with help from merit scholarships and not a penny from my mom, who was working for minimum wage.

          When the opportunity came for me to apply for a year-long study abroad grant, I took it. I also work there teaching English on the side.

          Later, as a grad student, I also work as an RA for my university’s study abroad program in the country I studied in previously. Yes, there were a lot of well-off kids there. But there were almost as many poor kids on financial aid who worked very, very hard to get there.

      3. Brett*

        “you were still eligible for all your grants, loans, scholarships while studying abroad. ”
        Federal law says you are not eligible for federal grants while studying abroad. While the NCAA does not technically ban NCAA scholarships while studying abroad, in practice you lose your scholarship if you study abroad (because the scholarships are year to year, and you are not with the team that year). Those are two very large programs that are examples, but there are probably many more grant and scholarship programs that do not allow study abroad even if the school as a general rule allows financial aid while abroad.

        1. Xay*

          It depends on the nature of the study abroad program. If the program is hosted and run by your school, you do remain financial aid eligible because all of the courses are treated the same as any course through your institution. It gets tricky with non-US institutions, but you can use federal loans to study abroad at some universities.

          1. fposte*

            Exactly. Similarly, you might technically be doing junior year at a different US school, but it’s the one that handles that study abroad approach.

            You’re not eligible to use federal funding for tuition to a foreign *university*–that’s not the same thing as being unable to use it for study abroad.

            1. fposte*

              Now that I’ve looked it up, I can see that there are even some foreign universities you can use federal aid at (though not Pell grants), so it’s even less restrictive than I thought. Those are loan programs rather than grants, but again, it’s about the institution rather than the country.

      4. holly*

        yes, i used three scholarships for abroad study. only one was specifically for study travel.

    2. ScaredyCat*

      Study abroad screams “spoiled rich kid” to me. I’d rather hire someone who worked during college.

      So what if they’re rich kids? Who says they didn’t learn valuable skills from their study abroad experience, or that they didn’t diligently study to make the most of their time?

      I’m taking about recent grads here, with little to no industry experience. It’s unfair to assume that someone is “spoiled” just because they could afford to dedicate themselves to their studies, without having to worry about surviving on top of it.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Well, we can argue about hellothere’s perspective all day, but the fact is that some hiring managers WILL have that perspective.

        I mean, you might also have gone to a party school and been someone who worked really hard and got a great education, but there is a stigma to it.

        People are going to make assumptions about all kinds of things on your resume – I’d rather know what to expect.

        1. Cat*

          Right, but we’re also talking to someone who is making that assumption here – there’s something to be said for trying to talk them out of it if it’s not accurate.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            that makes sense.

            I don’t really see the harm in mentioning it under the college section of the resume. My semester in China is usually under my college section as a bullet.

            1. Cat*

              Yeah, that’s what I’ve always done too. I might take it off were I looking for a job now since I’ve been out for a while; but on the other hand, sometimes it’s a decent conversation started so maybe not.

        2. ScaredyCat*

          I suppose it’s a bit of a sore point for me, because I didn’t work during college (though neither did I study abroad), because I didn’t have to (state subsidized university and I lived at home).

          some hiring managers WILL have that perspective.

          Oh definitely, and there’s probably not much I can do there, other than come up with a counter-argument.

          I’m not personally affected by this anymore, since I have enough work experience now. Still it bothers me to think that others in my position could “lose out” on a job as say, a bank-teller to someone who’d washed dishes.

          I also had to hold several interviews for a pre-employment position; during these interviews I’ve encountered plenty of recent grads who interviewed much better, compared to candidates with plenty of work experience (though in an unrelated field).

          I’m not saying there aren’t entitled “spoiled rich kids”, just that it’s not necessarily a relevant criteria.

    3. Chris*

      For graduate school, it costs pretty much the same as in the states. And the vast majority of (graduate) students that I know who studied over seas began applying for PT jobs as soon as they got their visas because they were POOR, and needed the extra money to live on anything more than rice and water.

      I’m about to enroll in a MA program in Europe, and I assure you, I am far, far, FAR below a “spoiled rich kid.” I live pretty much at the poverty line.

      Are you saying you would hire an MBA from a small 2-year college over an MBA from Oxford (all other things being equal)? Just because the former “doesn’t seem like a spoiled rich kid”?

      1. PEBCAK*

        Doing an entire degree overseas is generally not viewed as the same thing as “study abroad.”

        Study abroad programs vary quite a bit in both their academic rigor and cultural immersion. I did a “study abroad” program that was more or less a semester traveling around Asia for three credit hours in non-western civilization and three in comparative religion. Granted, I was able to do this because I’d come in with enough AP credit to spend a semester dicking around and still get out in four years, but it’s also a mark of privilege that I wouldn’t choose to instead graduate a semester earlier.

        If someone had something similar on their resume, it might be interesting, but, as AAM says, it’s not going to impress me on its own. I would want to know what they’ve learned, how they’ve used what they’ve learned, how it will apply to the position they are applying for, etc…in fact, pretty much the same questions I would ask if someone instead listed a part-time job they had while studying at their home school.

        I think the bottom line is that you can learn a lot studying abroad…about yourself, about the world, about your career, but the REAL reason people do it is that it’s fun. You do it for personal satisfaction. Over-pitching it as something more than that is going to rub some people the wrong way.

        1. Chocolate Teapot*

          EU nationals have the right to study at a university in another EU country (Erasmus or Socrates programmes). I think there may also be some possibilities for American students.

          I can see it being helpful on a CV to include long term travel if you wanted to emphasise language skills.

        2. Cat*

          Eh, not every study abroad program is traveling around. Some are at foreign universities where you’re taking a full course load, often in a foreign language. Sure, people do it because it’s fun but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be educational. Ultimately, I stay in my current job because it’s fun (usually); if it wasn’t I would look for another one. But that doesn’t mean I’m not building valuable career skills at the same time.

        3. Elsa*

          ~ Doing an entire degree overseas is generally not viewed as the same thing as “study abroad.”

          Wha?? I disagree. Study abroad is study abroad. Shouldn’t matter how much of your university experience was spent abroad.

      2. Intrepid Intern*

        I’m also doing a Masters abroad– at a top-10 program, for 35% of the tuition I’d pay for such a program in the US. Living costs are pretty high where I am, but it’s one year instead of two, and instant coffee’s about $0.75 for two week’s worth, so there’s that…

        I studied abroad as an undergraduate, and it was also a cost-effective thing: I did six credits in six weeks, and my job (in the US) from the previous summer liked me enough that they kept me on for the other ten weeks. Going in jet- AND finals-lagged was no fun, but it allowed me to graduate on time (that and taking 18 credits/semester for two years. Ah, transferring). That saved me half on tuition (as I would’ve had to take 12 credits/term during the fall to get any financial aid) and a semester’s worth of housing.

        Point being, there are a lot of reasons why someone who isn’t a “spoiled rich kid” would want to study abroad– like saving money.

    4. Purr purr purr*

      As someone who studied abroad, I actually find that a bit insulting. I’m not spoiled or rich. I moved out at 18 and paid my own way, supporting myself through university through work and student loans. I had the chance to study abroad so I took it. What part of that says I’m spoiled and rich? To me it just says some people take the opportunities they’re given and find ways to make it work whereas others belly ache for not doing the same thing…

      1. Elysian*

        Characterizing people who made different choices than you (for whatever reason) as “belly aching” is also kind of insulting.

      2. TL*

        Hey, now. I would’ve loved to study abroad but I couldn’t find a program that fit within my area of study (like most students in my major/specialization.) and to take the study abroad chance would’ve been detrimental to the education I wanted to get.

        This was before I even looked at the financial considerations, by the by; it would not really have been doable for me financially either. It’s not bellyaching to look at an opportunity and realize that for whatever reason (money, education, family) it’s not worth it but still wish you could’ve taken it.

    5. KayDay*

      Pretty sure that there are a lot of people who both worked and did a study abroad semester/year while in college.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I did.

        But I do understand the privilege concern. It’s kind of like unpaid internships. Not everyone has the means to do them, and if they’re going to be factored into employment decisions, then we risk giving the advantage to people who had families/money to support those kinds of things.

        1. Jamie*

          Should colleges stop looking at extra-curricular activities when deciding admissions? Maybe some people had to work in high school and couldn’t do that and the debate team, or sports, or whatever.

          I’m not being snarky, it’s just I don’t understand where you draw the line? If you can’t consider anything other than what every single person, regardless of socioeconomic status, could have accomplished then we’re taking college out of consideration, too. Some people can’t afford to go and need to work full time to support themselves or their families.

          If these unpaid internships or study abroad programs give the candidate something extra that applies to the job (which is key – if it’s irrelevant is should be just a neutral fact) then to not consider them is the same as not considering a college education because someone else wasn’t able to do.

          You want the best person for a job – independent of how they positioned themselves to be the best candidate. Maybe that was juggling work and school, maybe it was an unpaid internship or study program abroad – but it should be about who’s best for the job and not factoring in their economic circumstances.

          1. Elysian*

            I think its about being aware of what extra-curriculars bring, and not considering those experiences to be necessarily better than the alternatives; not so much trying to put everyone on an imaginary level playing field that doesn’t exist. If a kid isn’t doing extra curriculars because they need to work, working has its own set of experiences that are different (and not necessarily better or worse than) the other enrichment opportunities.

            Instead, lots of people assume that study abroad for instance gives you cultural awareness. But if you’re a poor kid in a rich-kid-school, you get an entirely different kind of cultural awareness that is not necessarily worse than the kind you get by studying abroad. Its more about not automatically ranking certain experiences as better than others without stopping to consider what someone was doing instead of (for example) studying abroad, and whether that experience brings anything important to the table.

            We all have a finite amount of time on this earth and one person can’t use that time to learn everything – we have to gain some experiences at the expense of others. That’s why diversity is actually important – its not have having experiences v. not having them.

          2. Elysian*

            I might have been too philosophical. I think its about getting away from the idea that unpaid internships or study abroad programs gives a candidate “something extra” and moving toward the idea that it just gives them “something different.” Whether that difference is important or not depends on the job.

          3. Katie the Fed*

            “Should colleges stop looking at extra-curricular activities when deciding admissions? Maybe some people had to work in high school and couldn’t do that and the debate team, or sports, or whatever.”

            No, of course not! But it’s something to be aware of (and would show up in work history probably) that some people took part time jobs instead of internships. There’s good and bad about that.

            It’s more widening the scope of the types of experiences that might be useful or give good experience to make a good candidate. Not everyone can do an unpaid internship or study abroad, but they might bring something else very valuable to the table that you never thought of.

            1. Jamie*

              I agree – I think I misinterpreted what I quote below as that they shouldn’t be factored in at all.

              if they’re going to be factored into employment decisions, then we risk giving the advantage to people who had families/money to support those kinds of things.

              But if you’re talking about just not dismissing other experiences that I agree with.

    6. Kate*

      I think study abroad has become a lot more common than it used to be. Foreign language skills and intercultural competence are now more important than they used to be in the job market, and universities are encouraging students to do whatever they can to build these skills.

      I know many people from working class backgrounds who have studied abroad, and making that happen required working extra hard to save money, applying for tons of scholarships, and calming parents who had concerns about their safety and didn’t see the value of the experience. They are some of the most competent, independent, well-organized people I know. It’s not easy to do all of that and keep your grades up (in a foreign language!!!). They sure as hell didn’t do all that so they could party in a different time zone, but rather made the most out of what can be an incredibly educating experience.

      As Allison said, it’s all about the context. Some study abroad programs are more rigorous than others. Hiring managers need to look for other indicators, see study abroad as just part of the picture, and be aware that some students get more out of it than others.

    7. Jamie*

      Itw as never on my resume of course, but I did a semester abroad in high school and don’t think it screams anything.

      I understand wanting work experience over not, but I’m reading this as you not wanting it for work skills but rather as a value judgement against people who didn’t have to put themselves through school.

      I didn’t work in college. I didn’t get my first real job until my mid-30s. If people passed me over because of lack of experience that would have been fair. If they passed me over because my dad paid for college…that’s as crappy as someone else holding it against someone for having to work in college.

      People should work to keep their demographic biases out of hiring decisions.

      1. LBK*

        I understand wanting work experience over not, but I’m reading this as you not wanting it for work skills but rather as a value judgement against people who didn’t have to put themselves through school.

        Agreed 100%. There are a million different reasons someone might not have to put themselves through school or work while they’re in school, and they don’t all imply someone is a spoiled rich kid who doesn’t know how to work. I didn’t have to work or take out student loans to pay for college because my father died when I was a teenager and his life insurance policy paid for it. I’d love to see a hiring manager justify holding that against me.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          To be fair, sometimes it’s not about seeing it as a negative ding on someone who didn’t work, but instead seeing it as a positive for someone who did.

          1. LBK*

            That makes sense – that not working would just be neutral. FWIW I did work during my senior year even though I didn’t have to, although it was just retail, so I doubt that really made any difference to the strength of my resume for an office job.

          2. fposte*

            Which is actually kind of how I feel about study abroad, or at least most instances of it–it’s an indication that somebody has put themselves out of their comfort zone for a sustained period of time. It’s not the only thing that can indicate that, but it’s definitely a part of the picture.

            1. Cat*

              Yes, when I hire recent grads I think what I’m looking for is, in addition to the interest in and skills for the job, that they have done something valuable with their time rather than just coasting through. Working while in school is valuable; unpaid internships are valuable; study abroad is valuable. If there’s no indication that they did anything other than show up to class, that’s a problem.

    8. Long time lurker!*

      When I did a summer abroad during my PhD, it was because I got a huge, prestigious research grant. I worked my ass off on the application and won a fellowship worth like $25,000 all told. It’s one of my proudest accomplishments. I wouldn’t want to work for anyone who dismissed it as a symptom of being a spoiled rich kid.

      1. Annie O*

        I had a very similar experience in grad school. On my CV, I actually have the study abroad listed under the grants section. I used to list it on my resume as well (years ago), and I definitely highlighted that it was the XYZ Research Grant.

    9. BCW*

      Wow, that statement for #4 makes you sound very pretentious. Thats quite an assumption to make. Also, you act like whether someone did or didn’t work during college makes them more or less qualified to do a job. It doesn’t, considering many college jobs (cafeteria, dorm desk clerk) don’t really prepare you for a professional career anyway

      1. KrisL*

        A lot of jobs, such as fast food worker, cafeteria, dorm desk clerk prepare you very well for professional work – you learn to work hard, you learn to be polite to people even when you really really don’t want to and have a killer headache, and the person is being a jerk. You learn how to deal with people who aren’t nice. You learn that people who work hard and have a good attitude are valued by management. You learn that you’re expected to pitch in and work, even if some of the jobs aren’t exactly what you thought you were signing up for.

    10. Mike C.*

      Yeah, that’s the last thing I would think of when my fellow math majors spent a semester in Budapest. You do understand that an important part of scientific/mathematical research is the cross pollination that occurs from extended travel, right?

    11. Brett*

      You expressly cannot get federal grant-in-aid while in study abroad programs (and generally any state grant-in-aid as well, but this probably varies). It is no coincidence that 36% of students receive Pell Grants, and ~60% of all students do study abroad.
      Quite a few institutional scholarship programs (like athletic scholarships) to expressly forbid using the scholarship towards study abroad.

      These rules definitely create economic divisions in who does and does not do study abroad. And you are probably more likely to be aware of these rules and the economic divisions if you were on the grant-in-aid side of the divide. So… I could see hiring managers who came from the economic low side of that divide having a perception that study abroad represents some level of economic privilege going through school.

      1. Judy*

        Do ~60% of students study abroad? That seems very, very high. My guess would be it’s closer to 10% if that.

        1. Brett*

          That’s the number I see schools put up regular. I could see where schools would inflate that number for recruitment though :) It is probably a stat that has been reused over and over by different schools and became canon even if there is no backing.

          That’s is supposed to be the percent who study abroad at any time in their academic career, not the percent currently studying abroad.

          1. Judy*

            I just did a google search and Inside Higher Ed says 9.4% of undergrads have study abroad experience before graduation although 60% of those are programs for 8 weeks or less, not even a semester.

        2. Zillah*

          Agreed. I can certainly see it being that high for specific schools, but certainly not across the board.

      2. Annie O*

        According to NAFSA (association for international education), it’s like 1% of U.S. students who study abroad. It may be higher in other countries.

        And while many scholarships forbid using the funds for study abroad, there are many scholarships specifically FOR study abroad. That was my experience at least. I couldn’t use my regular fellowship or scholarship for it, but I was able to get a separate grant.

      3. MJH*

        Many schools run their own study-abroad programs, so you are enrolled in your USian college while you spend a semester in England or whatever. In that case your aid is still valid.

        I went to college with a bunch of non-spoiled, non-rich kids, all of whom had loans and grants and many of whom studied abroad in our college’s programs.

        1. Anon*

          This is what happened in my school, too.

          The school also offered scholarships for study abroad, and the trips weren’t terribly expensive to begin with. It was easily possible for a lot of us to study abroad as long as we could fit it into our graduation requirements.

      4. Intrepid Intern*

        You can, however, get US federal loans to study a variety of non-US institutions. Not every school, for sure, but there’s a list somewhere around the FAFSA website (where, of course, is always the question du jour).

      5. CAS*

        Actually, if you attend a US university’s study abroad program (which most study abroad students do) then you are enrolled in that US university while you are abroad and therefore you can receive financial aid including Pell grants.

        As I wrote above – I grew up on welfare and worked two summer jobs to save money for my time abroad because it was true that I was not able to work for that time I was away. I then spent two years as a study abroad coordinator at the university to help pay for my master’s program. Most of the students who studied abroad with my help received financial aid and were not “rich kids.”

        1. Brett*

          Might be school policies too.
          My original undergrad school made it pretty clear that pell grants would not be used for any part of study abroad. But, I also think they had you enroll in the receiving school and transfer your credits. They were very picking about not allowing anyone to receive credits under their name while enrolled elsewhere.

          1. CAS*

            Yes, I think so. I worked with a lot of students from other schools who “transferred” to my university for a semester or a year to do their programs. And I processed their financial aid as well – which they got from us and not their home school. Now – enrolling directly into a foreign university you could not get much financial aid, but no one really did that because we had agreements with the foreign universities to enroll the students – so they took the same classes as locally enrolled kids but remained students of the US university.

    12. AB*

      I worked my way through college. I typically worked at least 40 hours, and sometimes had two jobs. On top of all that I took a full course load and kept my grades up, and kept my very competitive scholarships .

      I spent a year studying abroad. I (me… not my parents) paid for the trip through scholarships, money I saved and student loans. One of the scholarships I was granted allowed me to work at the foreign university in their study abroad office. My experience actually helped me land my first “real” job because I was able to demonstrate an understanding of working with other cultures and an understanding of the visa process (both US and foreign).

      And for those belittling foreign mission experience, clearly not all missions are created equal. My family and I have spent a good bit of time working with a mission parish, building a school (actually building, not just painting a wall), helping to create a clean water/ energy solution, sourcing school books and computers, getting help from doctors, optometrists and dentists to have clinic weeks, finding professionals who can teach skills and trades that can help these families and children create a better life for themselves. All of which has required not only knowledge of a foreign language (where my study abroad experience has also come in handy) but working with foreign governments for permits, fundraising and organizing donors, purchasing, budgeting, bookkeeping, research, and a great deal more. To immediately assume that working with a mission (even a mission that supports children) amounts to nothing more than poverty voyeurism is elitist and wrong.

      1. MJH*

        The problem comes when a bunch of Americans come to a country to work at building a school (and spending $50,000 to get there) when they could hire local carpenters and craftsmen to actually build the school for less, as well as provide much-needed jobs.

        If Americans are bringing skills like engineering and medical help that would otherwise be missing, then yeah, there’s some validity in that. And I don’t see the problem with Americans going to play with little kids for a week in another country, but people spend an awful lot of $$$ to do that, and you’re not really doing much for the kids.

        1. AB*

          Sure, if you’re spending thousands of dollars to “play with kids” for a week, you might see that as a waste of money. You’re also rather short sighted if that’s all you see. Money is only one part of the issue. You can throw all the money you want at a problem, but that rarely solves anything and can create more issues. Here’s an example: one school in a poor area was given a donation of solar panels so the school could have electricity. Great right? They sent some engineers down to install and make sure everything was working and then they left and that was that. A week later, the solar panels were gone, stolen to use as tables/doors/other structural uses in people’s huts. The people that put together that solar panel donation had no idea what the community wanted or needed. They threw money at a problem rather than spending the time to get to know the community and what their needs are and how they can help the community fulfill those needs rather than just “fix the problem”. Most trips we make have a purpose, we’re bringing doctors, dentists or other professionals to fill a need void, but we also bring a lot of other people. Those other people are a crucial part of the trips. It may look like they’re just doing something that could be more cheaply hired out than the cost of a plane ticket, but they are getting to know the people and getting to know what the community really wants and needs and how the community itself can take care of the problems with just a little outside assistance rather than throwing money around blindly. Those people who go on that trip are then some of our best advocates when it comes to fundraising, organization and the other bits and pieces that are put together back home. They may not be able to fix teeth or engineer water wells, but they are creating bonds and that is a very important piece of the puzzle.

    13. Sunflower*

      I wanted to study abroad but didn’t have the money and my parents told me not to take out loans and I highly regret it. Once you’re out of college and working, it’s very hard to stop that and just move to another country for 6 months so I can see why a lot of people see the value of doing it in college as opposed to afterwards

    14. Sunflower*

      Also want to add my friend who spent 5 years traveling after college-

      He is extremely into crunching data. He was able to finance his trip by using data and analytics to strategically gamble and buy/sell stocks. He started in high school and was able to turn a very small investment into enough to finance a 5 year travel trip by the time he graduated college. I hope you wouldn’t think to write off someone who is clearly ambitious and intelligent as just another spoiled rich kid.

    15. SK*

      I think that the perception of “spoiled rich kid” is unfair. As many other commenters have stated, studying abroad is often cheaper than a year in the US. Also, depending on the visa, it’s also possible to work while you are abroad. I studied at LSE for a year and worked in London throughout the entire time. My US university paid for my LSE tuition and housing. My job covered all living expenses.

    16. Professional Writer*

      Totally share your bias re:#4. I unloaded on this topic the other day related to internships…that I don’t think the experience (generally) comes close to matching real job experience. It also suggests, as you say, a spoiled kid who would have benefited from getting off his duff, which translates into potential work ethic issues.

      1. hellothere*

        Thank you for being the voice of dissent with me. And thank you to everyone for a spirited conversation with no insults or anything bad like that. What a wonderful community this is.

    17. ThursdaysGeek*

      There is a lot of good discussion on this above, often pointing out that many of those who study abroad are not rich, and worked hard to do so.

      One thing, however, is that many of us who came from a poorer class didn’t even think about something like that — WE saw travel as for rich people, and didn’t even explore the options, didn’t even know there are options.

      For some, I’m sure they still had their eyes open, and when the opportunity came along, they took it. For others, the first idea may have come from someone else, a teacher perhaps, and only then did they realize it was an option. But there is a third set, which may be fairly large, who don’t even know the option exists, doesn’t know to ask, and when they hear “study abroad”, simply dismiss it as something for someone else. It’s a mindset, self limiting, and pervasive.

  7. kas*

    3. I’m so confused by these questions, how does this happen? My work had to set up meetings AND send out emails because of the disgusting women’s washroom. You walk in and some stalls have toilet paper all over the ground, toilets unflushed, toilets clogged .. one was covered with shreds of toilet paper, as in someone stood there and ripped up pieces of toilet paper and scattered them everywhere! We’re all adults, why do people do this? I really wonder who the annoying nasties are that do this.

    My work had to add an extra cleaning shift for the cleaning crew, it’s terrible.

    1. Frances*

      We had a similar problem at my old job. We were able to figure out the offender who was trashing the bathroom as described in today’s post (he got an uncomfortable talking to from his manager), but right before I left, someone started using the paper hand towels as toilet paper – which clogged the toilet whenever flushed. (It wasn’t due to lack of toilet paper in the bathroom, either.) Multiple emails went out to the entire staff about not flushing the hand towels – every time one went out, the clogged would move to a bathroom on a different floor, like they thought a different toilet would work better. It was so bizarre (and as the person who had to notify the building staff when a bathroom needed work, I was really glad to get out of there).

      1. the_scientist*

        My dad recently fired two guys who were trashing the bathrooms at his workplace. It’s a factory setting, and there were limited bathrooms available for many many floor workers. The problem had been going on for a while, they were able to piece together evidence that it was these guys, and they had other performance issues- getting into fights, name calling etc. and were ultimately dismissed because of those performance issues. As soon as they were let go, the bathroom problems stopped. Which leads me to wonder if performance problems/dissatisfaction and a lack of respect for communal bathrooms/cleaning crews are linked more often than not.

        1. fposte*

          I think that’s really likely. That’s why the passive-aggressive notes and employees doing their own cleaning rotas don’t tend to help–if somebody’s doing it to express hostility, that just gives them more to kick against.

  8. abankyteller*

    1. I was under the impression that HR was supposed to answer questions and help if you felt you couldn’t go to your boss. How silly of me.

    3. I don’t understand how this happens with adults but it happens all the time. The same lunch dishes have been in our break room sink for a month now.

    1. Amy B.*

      I don’t know how to fix the bathroom problem; but I do know how to solve the kitchen sink problem: Pick up the dishes and deposit them in the trash. Eventually people will get the message…or run out of dishes.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Yep. That’s what they do with the refrigerators here and at Exjob–they clean them periodically and warn you beforehand via a sign on the fridge (and here, email also). If you leave your crap in there, it goes bye-bye, even lunch bags.

      2. KrisL*

        The idea of throwing out perfectly good dishes makes me cringe. Can’t you at least donate them somewhere? Maybe it’s just the way I grew up, but we did try not to waste things.

    2. Joey*

      Well unless the problem is the boss HRs first question is probably going to be “have you talked to your boss about this?”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah. HR isn’t really there (usually) to provide an alternative for people who don’t want to talk to their boss about something the boss should actually be the person you go to about.

  9. Stephanie*

    The bathroom questions:

    #2: No, don’t track bathroom time! If the employees are in there for 20 minutes, they’re probably already embarrassed and/or in discomfort. Tracking just makes it even worse.

    #3: OldJob had the “sprinkle if you tinkle” limerick posted on all the stalls: If you sprinkle when you tinkle, please be neat and wipe the seat.

    1. A Dispatcher*

      I totally agree on not tracking bathroom breaks, especially because in this case it seems like productivity in general is an issue for this employee and thus that would be a much better way to frame the problem, however…

      I have to wonder if the employee really is in the bathroom for such a long period of time, or if it’s a 20 minute “bathroom break” that involves walking around chatting, getting coffee, doing whatever else. Not that there shouldn’t be time allowed for such activities during the day, but we have one employee who takes such breaks multiple times a day, and it gets really annoying to those of us who don’t. Particularly because of my job, dispatching, where a breaks need to be covered by another employee.

      1. NW Cat Lady*

        I am also in dispatch, and my particular position comes with a hand-held radio. So if I need to grab a cup of coffee or something, I don’t have to find someone to cover for me. It’s really convenient.

        1. A Dispatcher*

          Ah, wouldn’t that be nice :) I do police dispatch for a fairly major metropolitan area and I can’t imagine trying to dispatch my guys (and gals) on a vehicle pursuit or hot call from the break room with a portable. I have heard some smaller centers don’t have the coverage and do end up taking radios with them on breaks though

      2. Elizabeth West*

        It occurs to me that he could be camping out in there with his phone or something just as an avoidance tactic–the OP said he already has other performance issues. Maybe he figures no one will bother him in there if they think he has a poo problem.

    2. Lily in NYC*

      There are so many people with IBS or other chronic gastrointestinal issues – I really hope OP keeps quiet about this and finds something more important to be frustrated about.

      1. OhNo*

        That was my thought. I mean, it sounds like it might be just another aspect of the employee’s already apparent performance issues, but it could just as easily be a medical problem that they are having.

        Best to focus the attention elsewhere, rather than run the risk of berating someone for having a chronic health condition.

    3. ella*

      I think the employee in #2 is checking his phone while in the bathroom (especially if he’s in a retail or other setting where he’s not allowed to check his phone on the floor–the somewhat stingy break allowance is what’s making me think retail). But regardless, manager should address the performance issues, not the disappearing time.

      1. Liane*

        No many people do not care about how they leave a bathroom that isn’t in their house–or their parents’/in-laws’ house. We have that problem with customers, and sometimes employees, where I work. ( No Employees Only restrooms, alas.)
        And it is a very old problem. My dad once told me about a friend of his who ran a bar/grill type place in the post-WWII years. He said the men’s room got real bad and she told him the women’s was a lot grosser.

        As for the other bathroom issue, with the employee taking long bathroom breaks: I do agree with another poster that he could be on his phone. We have a few like that where I work. But it could be a physical problem, so best to bring up the other performance issues.

  10. ScaredyCat*

    #2 I feel like I should insert one of those “unpopular opinion” memes here… but 6 hours of actual work (out of the 8 I spend at the office) seems to be the expected norm here.

    I’m not saying that your employee doesn’t have performance issues, but shortening their breaks is not necessarily going to solve them. At one point I’ve been working with people who were spending some 10 hours at the office with barely any breaks, but they were so exhausted that they ended up spending 2 hours just blankly staring at their computer screens (at their work documents).

    1. The IT Manager*

      I agree. I think that 6 hours of real work from knowledge workers is pretty high; although, I get the impression that the employee is not a knowledge worker since his time is tracked that closely by a supervisor.

      But also I do wonder if employee is escaping into the bathroom for an extra break? I know I might if I had a micromanager watching my every move like that.

      Also with the LW already tracking breaks and bathroom breaks this situation has crossed into micromanaging already. That said I love Alison’s response.

      1. Chinook*

        I have to come to the LW’s defense about trackign her employee’s bathroom breaks. There are office jobs that do require your physical presence and your absence does affect others, recpetionist beign the main one. When I worked reception, I would have messed up a lot of people if I had to take extra breaks during the day for many days in a row because I would have had to flag someone down to cover for me which meant that they weren’t doing their jobs. But, if it had become an issue, it would have been a performance issue and not a break issue because I was not performing my job the way that it is required.

        As for taking a phone with you – one time we had a temp covering the front desk while we had an all-hands on deck meeting. She ended up needing to use the bathroom after an hour with no phone calls or visitors, so she ran in and out. When she got back, there was a courier waiting to drop something off and she missed 2 phone calls in the 3 minutes she was gone. But, since there was no one to cover for her, what could she have done?

        1. Elizabeth West*

          God, that ALWAYS happened to me when I worked reception! I would sit there nearly dying and the one minute I ran to the bathroom, that’s when FedEx showed up, UPS showed up, someone called, etc. Lucky I had a coworker who would pick up the phone if my backup wasn’t there yet.

        2. ScaredyCat*

          Ah yes, that’s a fair point. I work in IT, where generally people don’t freak out over a 10-15 minute delay in answer. But I can see how it would be problematic for receptionists.

  11. Legal jobs*

    Question 2

    The other thing is that there maybe medical reasons, which is another reason not to monitor bathroom use.

    1. RubyJackson*


      When I was sick with what the doctors thought might be Crohn’s disease, I had to take some long bathroom breaks. It was anything but relaxing or enjoyable, and I certainly didn’t want to have to explain what was going on in there.

      1. Joey*

        I know its uncomfortable but if your boss is giving you pushback about medically necessary breaks I would recommend explaining. Its likely that they would be required by the ADA to provide/allow it. That might mean you work later/earlier, but it fixed the problem long term.

      2. Esra*

        Ah, Crohn’s. I usually let my bosses know I have it a few months into the job… because like you said, you really don’t want to have to explain the breaks beyond the bare minimum.

  12. BritCred*

    I do get why you are funny about the bathroom time. A friend has the same with a colleague – he disappears for near on half an hour each morning and afternoon to the bathroom and regularly has been overheard to be making a phone call in the stall to family at that time.

    It does annoy other people when they get told off for being 1 minute late back to a workstation from break for a decent reason and yet this persons excesses are ignored.

    However if its not obviously ‘shirk’ time? Leave it be….

    1. Nina*

      He could have a health issue that he’s not comfortable discussing, especially since bathroom stuff is so taboo. But I agree that it’s a problem if he’s using it for “shirk time,” which is what the OP doesn’t know. (Good phrase, btw.) If he’s doing this several times a day, even more so.

      In my experience, supervisors do notice when you’re gone from your desk a lot, even if it’s for a good reason like bathroom time. The OP said there were other issues at hand with this coworker, though. Six hours of productivity isn’t a bad thing; once you factor in lunch, that leaves an hour of the coworker doing what? Is he slacking off, chatting with coworkers, or easily distracted? Is the office run on a punch card type system where every minute is documented? No snark here, I’m genuinely asking.

      1. fposte*

        Except lunch hour generally isn’t a full hour out of the eight. It’s much more common for it to be on top of 40 hours or the hours to be 37.5 per week including lunch.

        And if his performance is in contrast to other employees there (OP doesn’t say, but it’s quite likely), then that’s a pretty decent basis for comparison.

        1. Jamie*

          This is my experience. Shift work is usually scheduled at 8.5 hours for full time to account for the unpaid 30 minute lunch and salaried the expectation is generally minimum of 8 plus whatever you take for lunch.

          That’s why the whole 9-5 thing always kind of confused me, because I’ve never worked anywhere when full time was scheduled as 8 hours straight.

          1. Malissa*

            I’m actually in a job where I only do 8 hours a day, including lunch. It is one of the few perks.

          2. Doreen*

            It must really vary, because I’ve never had a full-time job that didn’t schedule 9-5 or 8-4 etc. Even non-factory shift work .Depending on whether it was a full hour or half hour unpaid lunch , I’ve always worked either 37.5 or 35 hours

  13. Harper*

    #5, I would guess that you read the situation correctly with your father-in-law wanting to control thins and thus why he’s acting out now that you are “escaping”. I agree with AAM that if you can at all make it through these couple of weeks, it would be best. However, if you feel that his behavior is going to push the situation to the point of a major blow up or something, you could adjust the time frame.

    On a side note, there is a family business in my family and it has NEVER worked out for any family member to work there in the long term. Partly, it’s because the relative of mine who runs it is completely nuts, but also I do believe that even working for the sanest, most normal relative is very difficult. So, good for you for getting on — good luck in your new position!

    1. Zahra*

      It is difficult, but it is doable. It requires a clear delineation between work and family time, and a professional work atmosphere. My family had their own retail store and 4 people of my parent’s generation worked there (both my parents and two of my uncles), plus my grandfather and occasionally me or my brother. Work was work and family reunions (weekend lunches at my grandma, holiday parties) were strictly for family stuff. No talking about work at family functions and minimal talking about family at work. You need to get away from work talk after a while.

  14. nep*

    #4 – Excellent point, Alison, that travel in and of itself does not prove cultural sensitivity, ability to work in a multi-cultural environment, and the like.

  15. Nina*

    #3: That is so revolting. But I did laugh at Alison’s “feces throwing gorillas” comment. Gorillas might be cleaner than some of these people.

    I really feel for that coworker who’s forced to clean up those messes. And it is bad for business, because I would flee the premises if I went in the bathroom and saw waste all over the floor and walls. The separate bathroom for clients is a good idea and I would pursue that.

    Does management know? You said that a lot of the guys think this is funny, so if one of their supervisors knew, they could call a meeting with the men in the office and let them know that this is behavior is childish, unprofessional, and just plain disgusting. Legally, management may not be able to do much, but the culprit(s) may back down because their bosses know and will be watching.

    I don’t think security cameras are legal in public bathrooms, but I wonder if there’s a loophole because whoever is trashing the bathroom is deliberately leaving human waste around, which is a health hazard.

    1. ella*

      I don’t think security cameras are legal in public bathrooms, but I wonder if there’s a loophole because whoever is trashing the bathroom is deliberately leaving human waste around, which is a health hazard.

      It is definitely illegal. There definitely is not such a loophole. You can put cameras OUTSIDE the bathrooms, and try to figure out who is it based on when you know a mess happened and who you saw entering or leaving during that time frame, but cameras inside bathrooms (or dressing rooms in department stores) is not allowed.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, that loophole would become the size of an interstate highway if it existed, which is probably why it doesn’t.

      2. Student*

        You can, however, legally stand in the bathroom all day and glare at people.

      1. hotdogs*

        No need for cameras. Just install a lock with a keypad. To enter the bathroom, employees must enter their unique code. When the bathroom is trashed, review the logs to see who entered within the last hour. After a few dozen bathroom disasters, you should be able to narrow your suspect list down quite sharply.

  16. Sandrine (France)*

    About #2 : I actually disagree about not tracking bathroom time. See if the pattern continues over, say, a month. If it does, see if you can gently ask if there is a medical issue that causes it.

    Because quite frankly, 15 minutes of bathroom break seems like a LOT (4 minutes would tell me: oh, he/she gets her break and then “goes” … I wouldn’t be happy about it but would not say a thing).

    1. GigglyPuff*

      I’m not sure how I would deal with this besides what AAM suggested, but I will say the first thing that pops into my head when someone takes a long bathroom break, isn’t usually medical issues (which I know it could be), but playing games/something else on their phone.

      1. LBK*

        Yeah, that would be my first thought, too, given that this is an employee who already has questionable work ethic/other performance issues. If they were otherwise a good employee I’d lean more towards the health issue explanation.

        However, I think Alison’s point is that sitting there tracking what the employee is doing each minute is a waste of your time as a manager. In the end, is the problem just how much he’s in the bathroom, or is it that he’s not being productive/frequently unavailable to help customers?

        If there’s no impact on the business, I’d say just let it go – addressing it for the sake of addressing it is Draconian. If there is a business impact, bring it up as “You’re often not on the floor when I need you to assist customers” or “You aren’t getting the work done that I need you to complete every day” rather than “I noticed you spend an average of 48 minutes pooping every day”. Because that last one clearly makes you sound insane and creepy.

        1. neverjaunty*

          If the vanishing employee is taking breaks others don’t get, that’s a workplace problem.

          Asking if he has a medical issue and offering to work with him to accommodate it would probably be a good solution.

          1. LBK*

            If someone is getting all the work done that I need them to do, they can take as many breaks as they want, regardless of how many breaks anyone else is taking. If Bob can assemble chocolate teapots twice as fast as Jane, I’m not going to make him sit there and stare at an empty conveyor belt for half the day just because it’s “not fair” to Jane if Bob leaves early.

            1. Life O'Reilly*

              #2. The first thing that popped into my mind was not games on the phone, but “drug use.”
              But that could be just because I saw “Inside Llewyn Davis” a few weeks ago.

              #3. I work in a library, and I could have sworn that I saw a turd on the floor two years ago in one of the ladies’ rooms. In a public library, I can understand how this might happen. But an academic library?!

            2. neverjaunty*

              If you’re paying Bob by the hour, then presumably you’re sending Bob home when he’s assembled all his teapots for the day? Otherwise, you’re indeed paying Bob to twiddle his thumbs.

    2. Joey*

      Why are long bathroom breaks a problem if the work is getting done? I mean unless other people are complaining that they can’t ever use the bathroom because Jane is in it what’s the big deal?

      1. Mike C.*

        I’m with Joey here. These folks are adults, address issues of performance, not bathroom time.

      2. Jamie*

        If it’s call center or floor work (retail, manufacturing) I can see this happening because other people would have to pick up the slack.

        Tbh I don’t want to live in a world where bathroom time is monitored – I like to think adults can manage their elimination issues without taking advantage and using it as extra break time…but from what I know it can be a problem.

        If this is not a job where by virtue of you leaving your station it’s creating immediate extra work for others then certainly I’d think it was beyond ridiculous to care – worry about performance problems (if any) and let the bathroom stuff remain unmentionable.

        1. Joey*

          Absolutely,but even then its about her share of the work not being done, not bathroom breaks.

          1. LBK*

            Exactly. The fact that the employee isn’t present is the problem, it doesn’t matter what they’re doing at the time. They could be out volunteering at a homeless shelter – noble, but still not doing what I need them to do.

  17. Anon and on and on*

    #2 This is probably my own prejudice talking, but have you considered this employee may be doing drugs or smoking during these prolonged bathroom visits?

    #3 How disgusting! If there are two bathrooms available, can you lock one and hold the key only for civilized people and have the other be the troglo-potty?

    #5 I read “control freak” all over this situation. Find your happy place and stay there until New Job starts.

    1. Camellia*

      #3 I was thinking of a variation on this – put a lock on the door and have the supervisors hang on to the keys. Employee asks for the key and then, when the key is returned, supervisor checks the restroom for cleanliness.

      That seems to be the only way to really stop this issue.

      By the way, Alison, did you deliberately put this as #3 instead of #1 or #2? o_o

      1. GigglyPuff*

        When I started working at my job, I couldn’t get my keys for a few days, and turned out the bathrooms were locked because apparently students in the library would come up to our floor, which is only offices, and completely trash the bathrooms. I had to use the student key for a few days.

        What’s funny is watching the students come up through the stairwell, next the bathrooms, and then yank of the door handle several times before they realize it’s locked, then going running back to the stairs. Seriously I watched a guy almost break the handle off, thinking he could open it.

        Lock idea might suck, but it could work.

    2. Zillah*

      #2 – Huh. I wouldn’t jump to that conclusion at all. It’s certainly possible, but it seems to me like it’s more likely that he’s talking/playing games on his phone. I’d think that that’s much more common than drug use at work, right?

    3. Liane*

      Re: the smoking possibility, it is u likely. With smoking, the smell would give it away. Once or twice, we have had customers smoke in one of our restrooms. (No indoor smoking in businesses in our state.) The smell wafting out was noticed right away.

  18. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

    2. Employee is taking long bathroom breaks on top of his normal breaks

    Stop and think if what you really want to do for a living is time people’s bathroom breaks.

    I’ll assume that you’re writing from some environment where the impulse is little more natural – factory, call center, retail, production type environment, because in a standard office environment even the impulse to time the breaks would be just weird.

    In one of the more natural environments, there has to be an objective performance metric already in place that you can focus on, instead of the time of the bathroom breaks. If there isn’t one, that’s what you need to develop so you can do your job looking at bigger picture things because focusing on the small things is going to make you hate your job at some point.

  19. AnyoneButMe*

    We had a similar issue at work in the male bathrooms for the longest time. Someone was literally rubbing feces all over the walls/sink/toilet…finally management started watching the bathroom to narrow down who it might be. Then asked this person point blank and when he said no, it wasn’t him, they did a lab test of some sort to determine that yes it was and immediately after that, he was no longer on the floor.

      1. AnyoneButMe*

        No they were fired, but they had to have proof as this was a federal government job.

        1. azvlr*

          Picturing that dude answering this question in his next interview, “So tell us, why were you fired from your last job?”

    1. KayDay*

      So apparently people (specifically adults) smearing feces over walls is a “thing.” It’s more common than one would imagine but I’ve heard/read more reports than I would expect about this specific behavior (any more than 1 report of this among adults seems to be surprising to me). But then I read somewhere on the inter-webs that it’s a compulsive behavior from a medical/mental disorder, and therefore simply telling people to observe basic hygiene and keep that bathroom clean simply won’t work in those cases.

      1. Jamie*

        It’s been an issue in almost every place I’ve worked, but only in the stalled bathrooms – the individual bathrooms where one is in at a time don’t have the smearing issue.

        It disturbs me to a degree I cannot even express, because I do think to do this indicated someone completely unhinged and it does scare me to work with people capable of that.

        1. AnyoneButMe*

          It disturbs me to a degree I cannot even express, because I do think to do this indicated someone completely unhinged and it does scare me to work with people capable of that.


        2. Judy*

          You know, I’ve seen this in public restrooms, but never at work. Even when I’ve had to use the restrooms out in the production area, which is infrequently, I’ve not seen this.

          Maybe every so often a toilet not flushed, but frankly, there’s one of the three in the closest ladies room that seems to have an issue with water pressure or something, I avoid it because double flushing seems to be needed quite a bit.

          1. Jamie*

            Yeah, the unflushed toilet could be accidental and not the result of a phantom smearer.

            Usually it’s inside the stall itself, but we had one incident where it was the stall, outside the toilet bowl, faucet handles, and the mirrors. that was especially hard for the cleaning people because it was caked in between the mirror and frame.

            Had it been up to me I’d have called an immediate mandatory meeting and had everyone show their fingernails. I can’t believe someone who would do that would be meticulous about washing hands.

            As disgusting as it is it’s common place and I’d really like to read a study on what exactly this indicates.

          2. Celeste*

            Sometimes those motion-sensor flushing toilets just don’t respond so it’s necessary to use the manual control. When auto-flushers are in place, people get used to walking away and don’t even think to look back.

        3. Windchime*

          I’ve been fortunate to have not seen this particular issue in any work bathrooms. About the worst that I’ve seen is the careless flusher who doesn’t make sure that everything has gone down.

        4. Joey*

          That often sounds worrisome. I’ve only seen it when we didn’t really screen that hard-we were looking for warm bodies. So that’s what I attributed it to-the assumption that there were tradeoffs to having low standards.

        5. Tinker*

          “It’s been an issue in almost every place I’ve worked…”

          aaaaaAAAAAAAAaaaaaa. I think I will go send gift baskets to all of my former coworkers now.

          1. fposte*

            I know, right? That’s often my reaction to reading AAM. “Thank you, people, for being largely sane and evolved and only mildly irritating.”

        6. Lora*


          The only time I have EVER seen such a thing was in a public restroom where it had clearly been done by a child whose mother was frantically scrubbing his hands in the sink. And really, that is the only situation in which I would expect or excuse such a thing: small children who haven’t worked out the whole bathroom thing yet. Worst thing I ever had to deal with was a clogged toilet while the facilities guy was on vacation and someone spitting their gum into the sink, but these things occasionally happen. EVEN EFFIN’ NEANDERTHALS HAD HYGIENE!

          I am older than dirt, and notoriously calm at work in the face of disasters, but if I walked into a restroom with feces anywhere other than a carelessly-flushed toilet, my screams would be heard all the way across the building. Any man who said, “hur hur hur, boys will be boys, I ain’t cleaning it” would get read the riot act for being too much of a effin’ pig to be further employed by the company if I was in his line management, and if I wasn’t, you’d all be reading an AAM letter that said, “I messed up the bathroom once after a particularly bad late-night meal at Taco Bell, and my female co-worker has been giving me nasty looks and spraying Lysol on the conference room tables at meetings. She refuses to hand me office supplies like pens when I ask, and leaves boxes of diaper wipes on my desk. How can I make her stop?”

      2. Celeste*

        I’ve heard of “mad crappers” in the workplace, but I’ve only seen it in public restrooms at restaurants, luckily. They have doggie DNA kits to verify that your neighbor’s dog is the culprit, and I’m sure they can do the same with peoples’ waste.

        Somehow I feel that today is just going to start the clock on a new toilet-topic ban.

        1. fposte*

          I think the problem with testing people’s waste is that you also have to test the people in order to match it. If I were asked to submit to a DNA test from my employer I’d be pretty livid.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Believe me, it has. I now remember why I avoid this topic. (I must be much more sensitive to gross toilet talk than the rest of you.)

          1. KayDay*

            Maybe you should change your tagline to “and if you don’t, I’ll tell you anyway…unless it’s about poop.”

          2. Jamie*

            Sorry! Feel free to delete mine – I won’t feel my feelings of freedom of speech as it relates to disgusting topics is being infringed. :)

      3. KayDay*

        Update (because I am so weirded out that this keeps coming up that I had to do some research!): it is a thing, and it’s called “scatolia” and according to the literature found from a quick google/google scholar approach it sometime occurs in people with dementia, some disorders I’ve never heard of, and prisoners. In the case of the institutionalized it is often a form of protest. Didn’t find any mentions of it in a work setting though. And that’s the end of my comments regarding poo for the next few months at least.

        1. fposte*

          Hey, we probably did the same search. I dug through a bunch of references to see if I could find any discussion of this “in the wild,” as it were–everything was about clinical relevance for people with dementia or or mental illnesses and young kids. I didn’t really feel like trawling through those cites for pages to see if anything was more workplace-related. (And yes, I did use a “workplace” keyword, which led me to papers about the effects on clinical staff.)

        2. AAA*

          In the case of the institutionalized it is often a form of protest.

          This is a fascinating angle. Perhaps the employees feel trapped and the issue is something that could be addressed by generally raising workplace morale?
          My brother actually did this (at home!) when he was a teenager living in a borderline abusive household. I am convinced he really did feel trapped and it was a form of protest. It might be worth looking into the general workplace atmosphere…

          1. Jamie*

            Someone referenced the unpopular puffin meme recently and I’m stealing that for this comment but I absolutely reject the notion that acting out in this way, by adults, should result in management taking a look at themselves.

            People can and should voice their objections with words, that should absolutely be heard. But if this is how you express your dissatisfaction then you don’t deserve to have people treat that as if it’s an acceptable form of communication.

            If a situation is so emotionally untenable that you need to do this to make a statement…quit. Unlike a prison the doors aren’t locked. If you can’t quit because you need the job, understandable, but that’s a rational choice and you have the obligation to be as rational with your behavior as well.

            No way would I give this the validity of treating it as a legitimate complaint.

            1. fposte*

              Agreed. Somebody who expresses dissatisfaction this way has lost the right to have their opinion taken seriously.

          2. Joey*

            No way. Even mental problems aren’t a pass. Would you give a pass to someone who became violent because of mental problems?

            The solution is go get help, but we still are going to hold you accountable.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          This. Saw it a lot in a human services job I had. The way they explained it was “It’s the one thing a person feels they can control.” So it’s definitely tied to feelings of having no control over one’s life. And yeah, there are certain illnesses that include this behavior.

      4. ella*

        The only way I will buy it as a mental disordere/compulsion thing is if people chime in here and say “I was at my friend’s house once and the bathroom was….[trails off into redacted grossness].”

        If they only do it in public restrooms or in the workplace, it’s not a compulsion. It’s assholery.

      5. Elizabeth West*

        I cant’ imagine it being THAT common for people to have a mental disorder where they smear poo on the walls and can still hold down a job. I vote for it most likely being someone who isn’t happy where they are and/or has a very gross, uncouth way of expressing themselves.

        Like other people have said, I’ve seen messes in public bathrooms, but not on the job, except the one time it happened at the restaurant where I worked. That was a very clear case of someone who had an actual problem (not walls but floor; I think she had a physical thing and guess who had to clean it up).

        1. One of the Annes*

          This. It’s a passive-aggressive act of hostility against the employer. At my old job, we hired two temp workers for a week, and one of them smeared feces all over a stall. (We assumed it was one of the temps because this never happened before or after their time at the company.) And the temp workers were not treated poorly (not that their being treated poorly would have been an excuse for doing what one of them did).

  20. thenoiseinspace*

    For #3 – two geeky, academic solutions!

    1. A pokeyoke (sp?): A Japanese study found that most men were rather slovenly when they used the bathroom. However, when a small object was placed in the urinal (I think the study used a dead fly), most men took this as a sort of challenge and began using it as a target. The bathrooms were noticeably cleaner. So if you can put something small inside the urinals – a sticker, say – you might notice an improvement.

    2. Foucault’s panopticon theory: Foucault was a philosopher who worked with prison design. His theory was that people under constant surveillance behave better. This was put to the test with cameras, and as he predicted, people DID behave better. The next step was a sort of “fake-out” – experimenters put up the same black bubbles that usually contain cameras (the ones you see on the ceiling in stores), but without cameras in them. Since people didn’t know there wasn’t a camera, they continued to act as if there were a camera present. Now, while I don’t think you should actually set up a camera and spy on coworkers during what should be a private action, simply putting up one of those camera bubbles might be enough to dissuade the perpetrators.

    I’m not sure either of these would be completely effective, but you could always try!

    1. Piper*

      Not sure, but I think a camera in the bathroom could be a privacy violation. Even if it’s a fake camera, people will think it’s real and then that could cause problems, too. The first idea amuses me, though. Wonder if it would work.

      1. Nutcase*

        I agree that even a fake camera in the bathroom really wouldn’t be acceptable, although there are ways to keep track of people without using camera. Perhaps this would be complete overkill for a bathroom but a card or fob swipe system for the staff to get into the bathroom could be implemented. It could be made clear that there is a record of the swipes and that there are spot checks on cleanliness throughout the day. If the idea of traceability doesn’t stop these nasty people eventually it would become clear anyway who the perpetrators are with some detective work from the card swipes and the spot checks. This would work best in a place where everyone carries a swipe card or fob around anyway.

        1. Judy*

          If your location has card keys anyway, that would be “easy”, set access = all. You’d have a log of who and when, and probably a pattern would emerge.

    2. Pip*

      I’ve heard that even painting a pair of eyes on the wall will have a similar effect.

      I wonder what ol’ Freud would have said about these toilet terrorists …

    3. Elysian*

      In my high school they had these sorts of problems and they made us sign like 4 things to use the bathroom – sign out of the classroom, sign in to the bathroom once you reach it, sign out of the bathroom when you leave, sign back in to the classroom when you arrive back. A human being was stationed outside the “problem bathrooms” with the sign in/out sheet and if anything bad happened there was a record of who was in there when.

      Yup. Glad high school’s over…

    4. neverjaunty*

      Making your employees think that you are spying on them IN THE BATHROOM sounds like a stellar recipe for a firestorm of employee rebellion.

      1. ella*

        Yeah. It’s really interesting to me that people are reacting to my suggestion down below with “I would quit if anyone tried to do that,” (which is fine, I’m not trying to nominate it for “best suggestion in the world”), but nobody is saying that they would quit if their employer tried to put cameras in the bathrooms.

    5. Chinook*

      Re: Men aiming at stuff. Isn’t that what urinal pucks are for? I also heard that a great way to potty train little boys (who are known to get distracted while at the toilet and spray everywhere) was to put a few cherrios in the toilet for them to try and sink.

  21. BCW*

    #2 If he was already a good employee, you wouldn’t be monitoring his bathroom time. Stop worrying about that and focus on the other issues. Plus, lets say you have that conversation, then you have become the manager that everyone else knows is watching when they go to the bathroom. Thats just weird.

  22. AdAgencyChick*

    #5 — where is your wife in all this? Is he more apt to listen to her than to you? If so, can she talk to him about how she’s sorry to see you leave the family business, and also excited that she’ll be able to have more down time with you and that you’ll be able to improve your family’s finances? If you have kids, tug on his heartstrings that way — he’s being manipulative, so why shouldn’t you do it right back? (And even if you don’t, and he would like to see some grandkids, you can say, “We’re so excited to be able to provide well for a family some day.”)

    1. Ruffingit*

      I don’t think this is a good idea. Manipulation right back is not apt to be helpful and shouldn’t be employed (pardon the pun) in this situation. He’s given notice for good reasons (more pay, less hours, better benefits) and those things stand on their own as good reason. He doesn’t need to bring in his wife to do a version of “But DADDYYYYYY…be nice to my husband, we’ll have more time together and you know, grandkids…” That is unprofessional and not appropriate in my view.

      1. fposte*

        For work stuff, I’ll agree. However, if this brings coolness to her or to the OP outside of work then it’s the offspring’s role to tell parents to back off–at that point the OP is an in-law, not an employee.

        1. Ack, me too!*

          Exactly. No, it’s not anything I’d do in a professional situation — but the OP is transitioning from a professional-and-family relationship to a pure family relationship.

          I don’t for one second think this FIL is going to be above holding this over the OP’s head for YEARS to come — “You left us high and dry!” (Translation: “You left and I had to pay someone market value to take your place! Whaaaaaa!”) If making it about the grandkids gets him to STFU, I say do it.

        2. Ruffingit*

          Yes, I agree with you. I too believe it’s the offspring’s role to deal with the parents, but I don’t think it should be done in the “tug at his heart strings, mention grandchild” way. It should be done in the way of “We’re all adults, this is the decision best for our family, petulance and pouting is unacceptable.”

    2. Anna*

      “where is your wife in all this?”

      This is a good point because the FIL is not going to go away after OP leaves the company and as someone else mentioned, I can totally see the FIL continuing to make OP miserable about “leaving him high and dry” for years and years to come. The FIL totally sounds like that type of person. So it is important (not at work but after) that OP’s wife back him up when FIL starts to get nasty.

      I speak from experience – having a controlling and nasty MIL would be 5 million times worse if my husband didn’t stand up for me.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Agreed that the wife needs to stand up for her husband should the father-in-law try to make his life miserable/hold it over him. She should tell him in no uncertain terms that that behavior is unacceptable. Together, she and her husband also need to decide what the consequences will be if he tries to hold this over his/their head. Are they going to allow it or will they back off on visiting/cut him off altogether if need be? Holding something over someone’s head for years can only be done if the head is in attendance as it were. Wife should tell FIL to grow up and back off and if FIL doesn’t do that and/or makes things crappy in the family environment (holidays, etc.) then wife and OP need to decide how to handle that.

  23. Bend & Snap*

    Oh Lord, a bathroom monitor.

    Using bathroom breaks as a topic for discipline is no bueno. Address the real issue and stop tracking his evacuation habits.

    1. Joey*

      Fwiw I can totally see an employee complaining they were written up for using the bathroom when the boss says “I’m writing you up for being away from your work station too much.” I’m talking about jobs where leaving your workstation is a big deal.

  24. Piper*

    3. My coworkers make a disgusting mess of the bathrooms

    The last place I worked the problem was in the women’s bathrooms. I’ve never seen such a nasty bunch of women ever. There were always nastygrams hanging on the bathroom doors telling people to clean up after themselves, emails went out, etc. The company eventually had to up the cleaning crew’s schedule to several times per day and even then, it didn’t help. I have no idea why grown women act like such pigs in the bathroom.

    1. Boo*

      Yeah I had a similar thing at Exjob. It got so bad that we ended up having to swipe in out and using our electronic passes, and the door was set so that only those of us on that half of that floor could use it.

      Still didn’t solve the problem.

  25. OriginalYup*

    #3 – ” There is almost this jokey attitude that it’s only work and someone else will clean up.”

    It sounds like you’re not in a management role? So your ability to enforce things might be limited, but I think you and other coworkers can definitely help by showing ownership of the space and stating how not okay this is with everyone else. There’s no need for the majority to be silent on this. Don’t go all pitchforks-and-torches, but feel free to be direct with the offenders about how their gross behavior is impacting everyone else. Like if you see someone actively being gross, you can look shocked and say something like, “Whoa, that’s disgusting. Go clean that up. I use this bathroom too, and I don’t appreciate you slobbing it up.” Or if people are joking around about it out loud, you and a few others can just respond, “Do you seriously live like this as an adult?” or “My kid’s preschool classmates are more considerate of each other.”

    I’m fairly confrontational about stuff like this with coworkers because consideration in shared spaces is mandatory for a decent working environment. It’s one thing if people are accidentally slobs, but to be doing intentionally is bratty and you should feel fine about slapping their hand for it.

  26. Ruffingit*

    #5 – Quitting FIL’s company

    He’s clearly bitter because he was getting a ton of work out of you for less pay than he will likely have to pay the person who replaced you. Three weeks is nothing in the grand scheme of things, but it can be ridiculous if you have to deal with his childish behavior on a regular basis until you leave. Definitely talk to him and if that doesn’t work, then leave early and let him know you’re doing so. You have nothing to lose really by doing that. He’s already bitter and he may stay that way, but it’s not your problem. Protect your sanity and get out if you need to.

  27. ella*

    #3–So I’m getting very creative here, and I’m going to propose a solution that may cause Alison to get many “Is this legal?!” emails from OP’s coworkers: What about implementing a rota for CLEANING the bathroom? Maybe three coworkers per day (so, every two hours-ish), and make it so nobody has to do it more than once (maybe twice) a week. They have to wipe down mirrors, counters, toilet seats, flush anything that’s left behind, and report any biological hazards.

    Part of the issue here is lack of consequences–both for the perpetrator (who doesn’t have to clean it up) and the people who just think it’s funny (who also don’t have to deal with it). But if everyone in the office has to clean up someone else’s crap, hopefully group dynamics will take over and it will become less and less acceptable for the perpetrator to continue this behavior. More people monitoring the bathroom situation might also help you pin down who might be doing it, or when during the day it’s happening.

    Regardless, expecting the cleaning crew to be the only ones to deal with this isn’t fair or right. I guarantee that they don’t get paid enough to deal with this crap. Pun intended.

    1. Us, Too*

      This is, however, an excellent way to get your star employees to give notice if their job responsibilities do not typically involve cleaning the bathroom.

      Therefore, I’m not sure how practical this will be. I’m not about to risk my star web developers (notoriously difficult role to fill in my area given the competition) giving notice by requiring them to clean the bathrooms.

      1. Windchime*

        Exactly. I already deal with cleaning up people’s (metaphorical) crap all day long in the context of my regular work. There is no way I’m scrubbing toilets just because a few immature people think that it’s funny to smear feces around. I can barely type that, it’s so gross.

        I feel really bad for the housekeeping staff at this office. How terrible for them.

      2. ella*

        It’s probably because I’ve never worked in a field where I worked with people whose jobs were so specialized that they were irreplaceable, but my reaction to that is along the lines of, “If someone is such a prima donna that they can’t do what EVERYONE ELSE IN THE OFFICE is expected to do for six weeks or so until we get a handle on this situation, they can go ahead and go.” I hear what you’re saying about about good web developers being hard to find, but if I was the manager of the office I’d be cleaning the bathroom too. Not just making my subordinates do it.

        I’d also bring it up at a staff meeting first. “This has been happening, and it’s unacceptable. We can lock the bathroom, and [Person A] will hold the keys and you’ll have to ask him/her every time you want to use it. Or we can all take turns cleaning the bathroom. Or I’m open to other suggestions. But one way or another, this is STOPPING RIGHT NOW.”

        Hopefully someone who knows something but who doesn’t want to clean the bathroom will say something.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          No way. I guess I’m that prima donna then, but then so are many others. It’s not a good retention strategy if you want to keep top performers around.

        2. neverjaunty*

          It’s not about them being “irreplaceable”. It’s about the opportunity costs of losing good, valued workers and them having to replace them, for no better reason than a childish way of trying to punish a few bad apples.

        3. fposte*

          Right, the problem here is that you’re punishing the innocent in your quest to curb the guilty. And since it’s a pretty serious punishment, you’re just going to further erode morale.

          Plus I don’t think it’ll work to curb the guilty.

        4. Jamie*

          I don’t think it would be so much a prima donna attitude as, at least to me, this would indicate management has lost control of the office.

          I am not too good to clean a bathroom – I do them at home all the time. If it were part of my job I’d happily clean the bathroom. But it’s not.

          I am tidy and don’t leave signs on my occupancy when I leave the bathroom…there is no way I’m going this far outside the scope of my job to clean other people’s bodily waste because management can’t get a handle on this.

          No, I would not clean a bathroom at work.

          1. Ruffingit*

            THIS. I have no issue with cleaning and actually assisted my mother when I was living at home with her weekend job of cleaning offices so I’ve literally done this including scrubbing the toilets and such. For me, it’s about the fact that I already have enough to do with the actual job I was hired for. I am not going to add something else on to it because management can’t get their act together and deal with this problem. Also, cleaning up someone else’s bodily waste involves being prepared to do so with gloves and clothes that are made for that. When I helped my mother clean offices, we wore clothes appropriate to the task and had materials appropriate to the task – gloves, masks, etc. The typical office worker is not going to be wearing clothing appropriate to that task nor should they be. It’s not their job.

          2. samaD*


            I worked housekeeping through college summers so that my after-college job would not involve toilets. If life changed and housekeeping was my only option again I’d be there with bells on, but until then I don’t clean anything that’s not mine. (I don’t count ‘being neat in the facilities’ as cleaning, just as basic manners)

        5. Joey*

          It makes no sense to pay top earners to clean bathrooms. Besides it being an incredibly overpriced expense good luck hiring people at the higher end of the food chain when you tell them part of their regular duties will be cleaning urine and feces.

      3. S.A.*

        Are you kidding? I’d run out like my butt was on fire if I had to deal with bathrooms that gross anyway! There’s no way I’d work at a company with that problem. I’ll wager there may be other politics in play here but that kind of behavior is just beyond disgusting.

        I don’t know of many people being star employees or not who would stay in that kind of place. Ew…just ew.

    2. HM in Atlanta*

      This method punishes everyone, holding everyone accountable for the actions of less than everyone. It also is going to run off your most marketable staff – your best performers.

      1. ella*

        Well, so does locking the bathroom and making people get the key from somebody. I would be more insulted by that strategy–I outgrew hallpasses in fifth grade.

        1. Jamie*

          The choice between the key and donning rubber gloves?

          I’ll take the key while they figure out a solution any day.

          1. Jamie*

            I thinking about this (why? I don’t know) if they did the key thing it wouldn’t bother me because I would go to tptb and request my own key.

            If I didn’t get one, because I would under the umbrella of suspicion for being the culprit? A whole other issue.

            If they said no because it wouldn’t look right to do it for some people and not others…tbh (and maybe this should be in the confess the workplace sin thread) I’d have issues with that.

            Not everyone has an office key, but some people do based on trust. That would be the argument I’d present. If I’m trusted enough to lock up the entire location, I’m trusted enough to get a key to the Ladies Room.

            1. Jamie*

              Sorry – capitalized ladies room because it’s also a KISS song and forgot to tell my brain it has another non-proper meaning.

            2. Onymouse*

              To be fair, from your past postings you’re in the C-suite. Not quite the office worker bee anymore :)

      2. ella*

        I guess to me, it’s not a question of “one or two disgusting people and twenty innocents.” If there’s a joking atmosphere about it around the office, then the innocents are contributing to the culture that makes the disgusting people think it’s okay and/or that there won’t be any consequences. I’m not saying that the innocents are as bad as the perpetrator(s), but they’re not fully innocent either.

        One way or another, the problem isn’t just catching the perpetrators and getting them to stop it. It’s also convincing the rest of the office that this is a problem, not a joke. I’m sure there’s less draconian ways to get the point across; I just don’t know what they are.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Wait, what? People who have nothing to do with the bathroom problem are partially to blame because they joke about it? I can’t agree with that. Plus, joking about this kind of thing makes it a lot more bearable, frankly.

          1. ella*

            I guess we differ there. If it was my workplace, I’d be so squicked out that to hear my coworkers joking about it would not make it more bearable to me, but would heighten my aversive reaction instead.

            Poop is one of those things that I can talk about with no problems, but the minute you put me in that situation all I would be able to do was say, “Nope. Ew. Nope nope nope nope nope” and wash my hands a lot and not use that bathroom, whether it got cleaned or not. (I’m not saying it’s a reaction that makes sense. I’m just saying it’s my reaction.)

            1. fposte*

              And if that’s your reaction to hearing it talked about, what would your reaction be to being told you have to clean it up?

              1. ella*

                I would go on an immediate vendetta to find the culprit and then do things that would probably get me fired.

                1. fposte*

                  So you can see that even for you this isn’t likely to solve the workplace’s problem. It sounds neat, but the collateral consequences are going to wreck stuff.

    3. neverjaunty*

      The cleaning crew is, in fact, getting paid to deal with this. It is their job. It is really rotten that some employees are making their job worse, but that doesn’t make it not-their-job.

      Paying them MORE might well be an option. I would not blink at a company-wide announcement that certain perks (free donuts in the break room, a weekly lunch, whatever) were going to be cut back or eliminated to cover the cost of paying the cleaning crew to deal with this nonsense.

      1. ella*

        I agree they’re getting paid to deal with it (and never said they weren’t). But on the assumption that the cleaning crew is earning about what the housekeeping staff at the hotel I used to work at earned, and depending on the scale of the mess, it’s probably not enough.

      2. Joey*

        I really doubt that the expectation of your average cleaning crew is to REGULARLY clean shit stained walls.

        1. Ruffingit*

          It’s not. At all. Having cleaned offices before (posted about that upthread) I can speak with some authority on this. If the cleaning crew is regularly having to clean up such things, they need to negotiate for more money to do it. It’s disgusting and outside the norm of what you would expect in cleaning an office.

        2. neverjaunty*

          I absolutely doubt that the expectation of your average office worker is to EVER clean their co-workers’ shit off the walls. Cleaning the bathroom is the job of the cleaning crew, period. If they’re being forced to do unusually gross duty on a regular basis, they should charge extra.

      1. Jamie*

        Yeah, otherwise I’d say it was unfair I had to hear everyone bitch about their computer problems. Other people don’t have to listen to that…but it is my job, so there’s that.

        When I was an office manager early in my career I negotiated the contracts with the cleaning people. There was always a clause in there about extra cleaning. I.e. the fee we paid them was for basic cleaning: dusting, vacuuming, emptying trash cans, routine bathroom cleaning, etc. Anything beyond that like these type of issues, or someone spilling marinara on the carpet, etc. would be charged extra.

        Doesn’t make it any better for the people having to do it, but it’s not being done for the same fee as if the bathroom was being cleaned for normal use.

        1. Ruffingit*

          someone spilling marinara on the carpet

          I read that as someone spilling marijuana on the carpet. :)

    4. Malissa*

      Call me a prima donna then. I studied hard and got two degrees, for the express purpose of not having to do crap work. If I was told I HAD to clean a bathroom I would be looking for another job.
      Granted my tolerance for messiness seems to usually be lower than my coworkers and I right now I wipe the fricken toilet seat down just about every time before I use the bathroom because I work with two bathroom pigs. I also spent 7 years cleaning a kitchen that no one else seemed to notice was ever dirty.
      My point is by forcing the issue you may lose people who are actually making the situation better already.

      1. ella*

        My point is by forcing the issue you may lose people who are actually making the situation better already.

        That is a very good point I had not thought of.

    5. Lora*

      Only if I get to walk down the hallway in a Class B hazmat suit, carrying a power washer full of bleach, and drive the little hallway zamboni into the restrooms, followed by ducting the BL-3 decon system to the bathroom and posting a sign saying “DECON IN PROGRESS. DO NOT ENTER” on all the doors.

      Try explaining that one to clients and executives.

  28. Nutcase*

    3. This is one of the few times I feel very happy to be working somewhere with so few other women – I pretty much get a bathroom to myself at work! The only issue I encounter is the resident spider population. Because the bathroom doesn’t get at all messy, the cleaners usually take a while to notice a new web.

    We apparently have the same problem as the OP in our gents toilets though. I’ve heard that there are signs on every wall actually telling the staff not to pee and poop on the floor and to flush toilets after themselves which is quite embarrassing as our customers who pay a lot of money for our services use those bathrooms when they’re on site. I really don’t think there is a solution to all of this bathroom mess without treating everyone like very young children by monitoring the bathroom or giving access with a key.

    1. virago*

      Yes — I have a friend who’s an administrator at a community college whose technical programs (courses for aspiring electricians, plumbers, etc.) draw a lot of young guys. She happily lords it (ladies it?) over what is usually her own private bathroom in the wing of the school where she works.

    2. Tris Prior*

      ha! Speaking of signs in the men’s room: At Former Company, apparently we had an issue where men were picking their noses and leaving boogers all over the wall above the urinals. Disgusted by this, one of the (male) managers put up a sign reading “Please do not wipe your boogers on this wall.”

      The next day, apparently, the sign was completely COVERED in boogers.

  29. Mimmy*

    OP#3: Disgusting bathrooms

    Yikes, do you work where my husband does?? (No, he’s not the messy one, but whenever he goes in, he sees the ickiness that is the men’s bathroom).

  30. Anon Accountant*

    #2- My job had a secretary who took it upon herself to monitor how many restroom breaks I took in a day. They weren’t ever over 5 minutes but I was facing a health issue and spend more time than usual in the restroom.

    She repeatedly brought it up to me about my restroom breaks and would bring it up in front of clients. It escalated until I literally told her that was none of her business and if she was that concerned to discuss it with our boss/company owner. (I waited until there weren’t any clients around). Our mutual boss never did tell her to mind her own business about this and other issues she created/nosed in.

    If there’s performance issues, address those but please remember that the employee may have a health issue that causing him to spend a lot of time in the restroom.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        Yes. And she would repeatedly bring up issues she experienced with staff in front of clients. She’d complain about staff members DIRECTLY to clients while they stood there obviously uncomfortable and some tried desperately to steer her back on course as to the purpose of their visit.

        It was even worse that the company owner knew about it, saw it firsthand and wouldn’t address it with her to let her know it wasn’t appropriate.

        1. Ruffingit*

          That sucks so bad!! If I were a client, I’d take it up with the owner as in “Your secretary is so horrendously unprofessional that we are considering taking our business elsewhere.”

      2. Anon Accountant*

        And it wasn’t limited to how many restroom breaks you took.

        She scolded clients over how much in taxes they owed, why did they bring in tax documents so close to a deadline, she yelled at the boss for leaving town on a vacation.

        I can honestly say that I’ve never worked anywhere quite like that place.

    1. Jamie*

      There is another issue with the monitoring of bathroom habits is it can force someone to disclose a pregnancy before they planned. Or disclose feminine issues which don’t fall under the umbrella of medical problems, but require more frequent visits to the ladies room.

      I just think the one thing that should never be micromanaged anywhere are bathroom habits. I hated in school when a teacher would be able to say no to a request. Yes, some people will abuse it – address that – but don’t punish everyone.

  31. MLHD*

    I know exactly how to stop the gross bathroom mess-makers…tell all the employees they are now on a rotating schedule to clean the bathrooms themselves. And see how quickly they shape up their behavior.

    1. fposte*

      Or how much amusement they take in timing their messes to annoy tidy co-workers. That’s the unintended consequence I see as pretty likely.

      1. Elysian*

        That’s how it worked my husband and I shared dishes duty. We had to stop sharing that chore out of love for eachother and our strong marriage.

        1. Artemesia*

          you don’t need seat covers, people men or women, who pee without sitting need to raise the seat — women who squat and spray should raise the seat or mop up after themselves. urine in itself is not much of an infection risk, but no one wants to sit in it.

          seat covers always make an enormous mess

          too bad they don’t all have those plastic automatic seat covers like they have at o’hard airport — best bathrooms ever — but I am sure it is expensive and wasteful — but best bathrooms ever — always a clean dry surface with no effort

  32. Elysian*

    Sometimes I wonder if Alison knows what kind of stuff is going to get heated in the comments. I thought it would be the bathroom stuff, but clearly a lot of people have strongly held views about international travel.

    1. Artemesia*

      I’m not a fan of mission trips (especially when solicited for funds for other people’s fancy vacations) BUT I am sort of stunned by the level of jealousy of other people’s opportunities or choices to travel. You don’t have to put a lot of emphasis on travel in hiring, but where is all this animus coming from?

      I say that as an inveterate traveler who never bought fancy window treatments, doesn’t have a new car but drives them until they fall apart, never got fancy furniture and never spent much on clothing but did lots of international travel, because that is where our disposable income went. Don’t expect a job because of it, but also find the condemnation of young people who sought adventure odd.

        1. Artemesia*

          When I see people talking about spoiled rich kids and how they had to walk uphill both ways in the snow and these people got to go to Europe, that is what I see. Yes, someone working their way through with two young kids, isn’t going to Europe. But for the average student, a semester abroad will not be a lot more than a semester at home and lots of middle class kids can and do do it. And if their parents are not managing the trip, it can be a tremendous experience for learning to manage complex travel, problem solve in new cultures etc. The level of animus on this really does strike me as sour grapes. YMMV though.

      1. Chinook*

        I love to travel and there were times when I did it more than others but it was because, like Artemesia, that is where I chose to spend my disposable income and because I lived somewhere where travel was more readably available. When I was 4 or more hours away from an airport, and that airport only had fligths that meant atleast one or more connections before I was actually on my way, travelling was more difficult and it was more expensive to go (extra days for travel time, expense of parking the car, etc.) but, when the international airport is only 20 minutes away and I can take a cab, woohoo – let’s hit the plane and go places!

        The ones I am truly jealous of are those who live in Europe – in the time/distance it can take me to get to an airport in the same province, you can have travelled through a couple of different countries. Even when I was in northern Japan, the trips elsewhere were always shorter than anywhere I could go domestically back home and I loved it.

      2. Kelly L.*

        I don’t think it’s necessarily jealousy. There’s been a growing awareness in the last year or two of the fact that some mission-type trips (please note: not all) don’t really do anything useful, sometimes even do more harm than good, and let the trip-goers pat themselves on the back for a good deed that they didn’t actually do.

        1. Elysian*

          Yeah I’m a little jealous that some people have the means for lots of travel that I would like to do – sure, it would be nice! – but that’s separate from my dislike of smug people. I’ve had experiences with an awful lot of smug people who took mission trips or studied abroad or whatever, and that’s what has really colored my opinion on this one.

          I dislike the people who come back and are of the opinion that no one did anything worthwhile while they did this amazing thing in a third-world country. 1) It wasn’t that amazing a thing that you did. 2) The world didn’t stop turning for me while you were gone, I also developed as a person based on different experiences that I had right here at home. I think voluntourism just creates a culture of smug that I don’t tolerate well.

  33. Sunflower*

    #4- Agree with Allison completely. You can’t just rest on ‘I went to Europe’. That doesn’t impress anyone.

    How has that experience affected you and your career beyond just ‘it was so cool to see how other people live’? I just had a friend travel the world for 5 years. He did it strictly because he wanted to travel for the personal experience. During it, he became very interested in economies of other countries and was able to get a job dealing with configuring data and predicting growth in underdeveloped countries. He took his experience and related it to how it made him unique for this job. So you need to look at your experience there and think about how it made you a better candidate for the job at hand

      1. businesslady*

        really don’t wanna know how “cauldron bubble” would apply in this context.

      2. LucyVP*

        I thought the same thing but in my mind it should have read “double double toilet trouble”.

  34. Artemesia*

    That level of bathroom vandalism strikes me as the sort of thing management might want to bring under control. Make clear that bathrooms must be left clean for the next person and then monitor and fire people who abuse the premises. It would mean hiring or assigning someone who monitors and perhaps mean locking bathrooms and require key access. I would bet you could bring it under control in a month’s time if management were serious.

  35. Mena*

    #5: Based on FIL’s behavior, it sounds like it is a good idea that you are moving along. FIL being privvy to knowing exactly what you and your wife earn is TMI. Do your work and ignore him – he’s only making himself look foolish to others in the office.


  36. Rebecca*

    #3 – I will never complain about having to replace the toilet paper, repeatedly throughout the week, ever, ever again.

    How adults can do this is beyond me. Even my cats at least use the litter pan, although one of my fellows seems to back up too far and sometimes “oversprays”, but he’s a cat for pity’s sake.

    This is so gross I think the rest of the employees who aren’t feces tossing primates should approach management, en masse, and demand that something be done, whether it be DNA testing to see who is the culprit or some type of RFID chip that tracks people via their employee badge to track down the time and date of the infraction.

  37. Artemesia*

    Congratulations to OP #5 who has figured out his FIL and his obsession with controlling his life and got out. Great move. I’d probably tough it out but confronting might also be not a bad move if he fears this is going to lap into family life going forward. It is time for the young dog to start marking his territory and stop rolling over for the ‘leader of the pack.’ The new pack is step one in that, but I suspect it is going to have to happen at home to so he isn’t subjected to this dominance behavior at family Christmas and such. Hope his wife is well on board and will also consider a job move if it begins to affect her.

  38. Anonylicious*

    The restroom mess makes me wish it were okay to swat coworkers on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. Some of them just need it.

  39. anon-2*

    We had a new director some years back who was obsessed with toilet time.

    We just refused to cooperate with the system – we were supposed to press a specific button on the phone when we were at a meeting, at lunch, in the toilet, etc.

    We considered ourselves professionals and reminded management that most of us haven’t had to ask permission to go to the toilet since we were in the third grade. Shades of Red in “Shawshank Redemption”….

    1. Parfait*

      When I had a call center job many years ago, I used to use the “assisting peer” button on the phone when I went to the toilet, because it amused my inner 12-year-old.

      1. fposte*

        That is delightful. Perhaps there’s an “assisting the poor” button go go with it.

  40. Del*

    #2 – Address the productivity, not the bathroom. There are a lot of medical reasons why someone would need to be in the bathroom that much, and it’s also very possible that the medical issue is as of yet unidentified/unrecognized. Things like changes of medication, dietary changes, or changes in the way the body functions (metabolism, for instance) can result in changes to bathroom habits, and there’s often a time lag between “oh, there’s been a change” and “this is why.” People can develop new food sensitivities unpredictably, for example — a friend of mine found he had suddenly developed a mild lactose intolerance in his mid-twenties, and it took a lot of doctor visits and poking/prodding/testing before this was determined to be the issue.

    Or it might be something else. There may be psychological issues at play — in my last, really awful job, I would go lock myself in the bathroom when I felt a panic attack coming on, because getting dinged for time off the phone was infinitely preferable to having a panic attack openly at my desk or (god forbid!) in the middle of a call.

    Address the performance. If he can pull his performance up, then good. And if there is something going on either physically or psychologically, that gives him a neutral opening to bring up “yeah, I’m having a health issue, can we work around this?” without you going on the “I’ve been monitoring your poops” attack.

  41. mary*

    I am the manager that submitted question 2.
    Just to clarify, this is a 4 person busy warehouse, with one of the 4 on the road delivering product all day. We have customers come in, trucks pull up that need unloading, it is not a desk job. A lot of our products take 2 people to pull as they are large and heavy. When he disappears for 20 minutes, the rest of us suffer. Some days he does this when someone is at lunch, and that leaves 1 person with no back up. I do not like monitoring his bathroom use. I do not enjoy spending my time documenting it. I do beleive it is part of his performance issues. I know he taks his smart phone in with therefore takes more time to use it. All I am saying is, since he is taking such long breaks, he should forgo his scheduled break on those days. He may have a health issue – over consumption of junk food. I am also actively addressing his other performance issues.

    1. Joey*

      That’s where you focus- that he’s not around to do his job when needed and he needs to stick to the break expectations that you’ve laid out. I’d also ask if there’s anything preventing him from doing that. That gives him a door to bring up medical problems which lead to a different conversation that you should seek HRs help on.

    2. winona*

      So, you’re not just monitoring the time he spends in the bathroom, you’re… monitoring his eating habits, deciding that the quantity of “junk food” he consumes might lead to a health issue (that you can see, no less)? I think the health issue most commenters were talking about here would be something that confines a person to the bathroom for more time than they might take otherwise (IBS, Crohn’s, etc), not the quality of their diet — which, frankly, is neither relevant nor your business.

      That said, it’s good that you’re addressing his other performance issues.

  42. gotta go anon*

    I was an employee with performance issues. Essentially, I was spending too much time on quality and not getting enough quantity, but somehow my manager imagined I was simply not spending enough time at my desk. This eventually lead to her requiring a daily email from me with a minute-by-minute breakdown of my time each day. And yes, bathroom breaks had to be recorded. She graciously let me write “admin time” instead of anything graphic.

    That was the final straw for me… And I start my new job on Monday!!

    Moral of the story is, monitoring bathroom time for an employee is a great way to get them to leave your company!

    (Thanks to AAM blog for helping me create a great resume and cover letter!)

    1. Joey*

      Were it not for noting bathroom breaks would it still have been a problem? I say that because she may have been trying to find out where you are inefficient by looking at the breakdown of your day, not necessarily questioning whether you were at your desk.

  43. AR*

    3. For the bathroom issue. Rent a port-a-potty and require that all male employees use that for a month or two since no one can keep the bathroom clean. Then when everyone complains gradually phase back in the use of the men’s room. OR set up a cleaning rota for each male employee in the office to actually clean the bathroom on a nightly basis and enforce it by checking that it was completed every morning. Write them up if they fail to clean the bathroom.

    1. Artemesia*

      I don’t think you should make people clean the bathroom for all the reasons mentioned earlier.

      But the porta potty idea is kind of sweet.

    1. fposte*

      I think this was supposed to be threaded under another post, but I can guess where it was aimed.

  44. mary*

    Well, this was a colossal waste of time. All I was saying is if he has to use the bathroom for 20 minutes a day, at usually the same time, and 20 minutes later go to his break he should consider his break taken. He does not have any medical issues. He is not micromanaged. I have been documenting him because it is a 3 person warehouse during the day, and the rest of us cannot pick up his slack. I HAVE NOT TALKED TO HIM YET, I was looking for valuable insight from this website, obviously a mistake. Lots of assuming here. “address his performance issues” ? this is one of them. The fact is I completely resent that I have had to document any of it, I have work to do! Extra work thanks to him! It would figure he would get the sympathy of most of you, its a goldbricking society. How many of you are at work right now dicking around with this site not doing your jobs? Well, I have things to do…. thanks for nothing!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Mary. Did you read the advice in the original post? You said that he has other performance and productivity issues. The solution here is to address those. Leave the bathroom out of it. That will get you where you need to be.

      Strangers here have taken time to try to be helpful to you, including me. Responding with a mini tantrum is rude and doesn’t reflect well on you.

      1. HR “Gumption”*

        I can understand some of Mary’s frustration. The AAM advice was spot on as usual and many others provided good input as well.

        I’ve ran a warehouse and running a warehouse includes managing workers that don’t have the same career goals & aspirations as most in the professional office world. Also, task demands and metrics are very different than typical professional setting.

        I did see many responses that (almost) cruelly questioned documenting his time away from the floor. Also noting “if he’s getting his work done, what’s it matter”, and “6 hours of actual work is pretty good in an 8 hr day” type comments. As I read these It struck me as arrogance resulting from arrogance.

        Mary, there’s some good advice here. I want to also add if this is a non CBA (Union) setting then it’s by default employment “at-will” and you can terminate him for any reason or no reason at all as long as it’s not for an illegal discriminatory reason.

        1. HR “Gumption”*

          “arrogance resulting from ignorance” it should read.

          Damn those office distractions!

          1. Legal jobs*

            1. I started out working in a factory job and as a farm hand

            2. Many of the responses here still apply and in fact with issues like medical concerns are even more of a concern

            3. The rudeness by Mary, including questioning the work habits of people she doesn’t know , raises red flags rather sympathy

    2. LBK*

      Yikes. It seems like you completely missed the point. The point is, talk to him about how he’s not available to work when you need it. You don’t need to say where he is all the time. The problem is not “he goes to the bathroom too often,” the problem is “he’s unavailable to do work when I need him to do it” – what he’s doing during this time is 100% irrelevant.

      Going to the bathroom is NOT a performance issue. Being unavailable when you need to do work is a performance issue. Not a single person here has sympathized with him. We’re trying to provide you a better, more productive way to address the situation, because if you go to him and say “I noticed you’ve been spending a lot of time in the bathroom” it’s almost guaranteed to go poorly.

      1. LBK*

        Here’s something else to consider – if you tell him that when he’s in the bathroom for 20 minutes, that constitutes his break and he’s not allowed to take another break, is that going to solve the problem? He’ll still be using the bathroom frequently and at times that are inconvenient to you. Cancelling his other breaks does not fix your issue.

        What you actually want him to do is be available when you need him. The solution to that is to address it head on, it’s not to cut his breaks and hope he takes the hint.

    3. winona*


      I have no idea why you’re being so hostile or having such an aggressively negative reaction to other people’s input on the situation (which, remember, we can only provided BASED ON the information you’ve given). But I just want to remind you that you have no idea whether this guy has medical issues or not, just because he hasn’t come forward with them. People’s medical conditions can be sensitive topics, particularly if they’re newly developed (where the person might not have a lot of experience navigating treatment/coping/disclosure yet), and even more particularly when it involves something like bathroom functions. He might not feel comfortable bringing it up, especially if the whole situation’s compounded by feeling like his time in the bathroom’s being closely monitored by his manager to begin with.

      Basically, chill out?

    4. fposte*

      I didn’t see any posts that were explicitly unsympathetic to your POV, though–just pointing out some possibilities. But it sounds now like you’d already made up your mind about what you wanted to do but asked it as a question instead–all we can go by is what we see, so we responded to the question.

      As LBK notes, telling him it counts as a break isn’t going to fix your problem if he needs to go to the bathroom again. Tell him that you need him to be more reliably available during the day than he currently is. And find out your company’s protocols for ADA and interactive processes–what I think you may be missing is that it’s not hard to run afoul of federal law here, and you don’t want to be the person fired as a result of mishandling this.

    5. Joey*

      I wonder how many ops do this? come here to validate their decisions or judgments and aren’t really looking for advice.

      I don’t think you’re getting that going to the bathroom is not the real problem . Does it really matter where he’s at if the bottom line is that he’s not where he’s supposed to be?

      1. KerryOwl*

        I think the vast majority of advice-seekers are just looking to have their already-made decision justified. That’s why one of my favorite blogs gives them exactly what they want to hear:

        They’ve even addressed a few AAM questions.

      2. Laura*

        I suspect a decent number do, but maybe I’m biased by not wanting to think I’m almost alone. *wry*

        I submitted one once thinking I knew roughly the answer (and it was in my favor of course) and got an email reply basically saying it was life in an office with a personality conflict, nothing more; suck it up or move on. (MUCH more politely and Allison-ly than what I just said.)

        She was right; it really made me think, and I realized that while I don’t like it, I don’t dislike it enough to move on and I certainly don’t want to turn it into anything bigger/more aggravating, so wasting all those mental cycles feeling like it’s not fair was just that – wasting.

        So…just saying, sometimes, even if we come here wanting validation, we can gain from an answer that doesn’t provide it. Not always, obviously. But sometimes. :)

    6. Legal jobs*

      1. I worked in a factory so yes I’m familiar with blue collar work where you need to be on the line at a certain time

      2. Your response here raises a big red flag. I can tell you based on this response that I would have been afraid to discuss any medical issues or other wise with you because I would assume you would use it against me

  45. Windchime*

    I can’t read all the responses because it’s a busy day at work, but this thought occurred to me with regards to the messy bathrooms: The company could simply tell all employees that they will be hiring a full-time restroom attendant. In order to afford that, of course one full-time job would need to be cut from someplace else. That might bring people into line. If not, then I would be tempted to move ahead with that plan.

    What a disgusting issue. I can’t even begin to imagine having our work restroom be like this.

    1. Elysian*

      “I would be tempted to move ahead with that plan.”

      First rule of making ultimatums – never make one you don’t intend to follow all the way through.

      Interesting idea, though.

  46. JC*

    Some other commenters may have touched on this, but how international travel/living is viewed will depend largely on the experiences of the person reading your resume. I have never lived abroad and don’t work for an organization that deals in international issues. I personally travel abroad for vacation, and so I associate international experiences with vacation-related experiences. I wouldn’t grasp the lessons you learned living abroad, and if you emphasized them to me when applying for a job at my organization that does not deal in international issues, I might think you are out of touch. Not that I’d view it as negative if you listed study abroad on your resume, but I might if you insinuated that you thought it was important for what I was looking for in a hire. If I had lived abroad and identified with you, it could be a whole different story.

    It’s not necessarily a rural/urban thing either, as other commenters have mentioned; I live in Washington DC and know plenty of people who have lived and worked abroad, and don’t classify international travel as something that Other People do.

  47. Relosa*

    RE: #3

    If they are going to act like children about it, IMO…treat them like children! Keep the one reserved restroom for guests/clients, and lock up the other two. They must come get the key from whomever is in charge, and return it promptly.

    Bathroom grossness will stop altogether, very quickly. I’ve had to do similar things. Don’t warn them, just do it, and just act as if normal adults do this all the time. But if you’re not TPTB regarding this issue, I don’t think it’d work.

  48. Shallymar Cruz*

    i dont know what exactly to say here.. but that long bathroom break is i guess too much? im not saying it should not be but there are other people to consider too…besides its not a family bathroom, so we should think twice..

    it happened to me one time, in the morning were informed that we will be presenting our personal project to our co-workers, my blood pressure went high so i keep on going back to the bathroom to the point our manager was like very pissed off.. but about 4pm i finally close the door and stay there for like 10 minutes just to pour water at the back of my neck… well at least it only happened one time..

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