Washroom decorum counts too

Do you let other people clean up the messes you leave in your wake?


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I was shaving at the club one morning after swimming my mile. A guy I had never seen before started cleaning the sink next to me. Someone had left it in a real mess.

I commented, “Don’t you wish your predecessor had done that?”

“Oh people are such pigs! You have to wonder what their homes look like.”

He went on: “I run an executive search practice. I have a small office with a private washroom. When people come for interviews, they often use the washroom. I can’t believe the condition some of them leave it in, and I can tell you, it definitely costs them points in the hiring process.

“I had one job for a VP of operations that was difficult to fill as the client wanted highly specialized knowledge and experience. After a few months, I finally had someone that looked pretty solid. He came up, used the washroom, and then I interviewed him. I thought I had a perfect match.

“He left, and then I had to use the wash room. What a mess! Urine all over the rim of the bowl and the floor. The counter had soap and water all over it. He couldn’t even put his soiled paper towels in the barrel.

“Who the %$%^% did he think would have to clean that mess? I was furious, but I didn’t throw his paperwork away immediately, as this job was tough to fill. I called the client and told him what had happened. ‘If he creates messes for other people to clean up, we don’t want him. We’d just as soon wait a while longer and get someone without that problem.’

“It took another month or so, but we found someone not quite as qualified but without that problem, and he’s working out well.”

Rash judgment? I don’t think so. Most of us don’t have enough energy to support multiple personalities. Our habits, including thoughtlessness, are usually pretty consistent throughout.

There are volumes of advice for jobseekers: how to dress, what questions to ask, etc. I wonder if anyone has ever thought of suggesting leaving the washroom in at least as good a condition as you found it?

Back in the early ‘80s, Mark McCormack wrote a book called, “What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School.” It became an immediate best seller. It was full of all kinds of savvy advice about things we should already know if we wanted to be a “street-smart executive.”

It’s over 30 years since I read it, and I don’t remember if it contained this particular advice, but it should. I never would have thought of this before, but now that someone pointed it out, I can’t deny it.

Shaving with others five mornings a week, I see a lot of fairly disgusting things. What amazes me is many of these guys put on shirts and ties and head to what must be professional jobs of some sort. 

Do they suddenly acquire proper washroom decorum once they get to work? 

Do these slobs leave a string of messes for others to clean up throughout their days? For instance, do they walk into a meeting, drop a bomb or two, then leave? Do they routinely require someone to clean up the projects they work on?

As we go through life, each of us leaves a trail. Do our trails leave the world better than we found it, or worse?

I haven’t seen my headhunter friend since that morning. I think he was describing quite candidly a part of the search criteria many search practitioners have, whether consciously or sub-consciously. He may be one of the few who would actually admit it.

What’s distressing is this candidate, who did almost everything right, probably has no idea why he didn’t get that job. I wonder how many others he could have lost the same way. This is the kind of feedback very few people will give you.

Even if you’re not looking for a job, does this story touch a nerve? If so, you could be causing resentment you don’t need. Why take a chance? Leave the best trail you can. 

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or RonBourque3@gmail.com.

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