Asking for a friend: should you poop at work?
The truth stinks
The boss does it, the colleague sitting next to you does it, Pope Francis sitting in the holy papal office does it. No matter how well you plan or control what you eat through the day, at some point a rumble in the jungle starts brewing below, and you have to poop at work. It’s in those moments that our school mental maths kicks in. If X goes to the loo at noon and Z routinely pees at 3 PM after a big glass of water post-lunch, what is the window in which Y can use the restroom to privately let out wind enough for a cyclone warning?
Everyone has their policy when it comes to bodily functions we deem embarrassing. For some, it’s a Mission Impossible level tactical decision. Speaking to individuals across the country in different industries and age groups, anecdotal evidence regarding workplace bathroom etiquette makes one thing clear – when you’ve got to go, you’ve just got to go.
There are certain tactics everyone indulges in and the ‘cough/sneeze cover-up’ is the go-to move for many burps and farts. “I had to give a brief presentation as an update on a case we were working on and I burped halfway through a sentence. It just happened. I just started fake coughing A LOT to cover it up. That distracted people enough to worry more about me possibly chocking than a possible burp” said Natasha who had a prison break in the middle of a meeting with two senior partners at a law firm. It was the one that got away before she could even attempt to pull back. In the off-chance that she lets herself poop at work, she smuggles in the body mist she carries around in her purse to bombard the bathroom with afterwards.
“I make the most of office commotion. When you’ve got 20-30 hyped-up advertising people on a floor and an open office plan, those moments of loud chit-chatting and office discussions over chai are perfect to let one out.” Aamer’s system is to coincide with the happenings of your surroundings. Use the boss raging at someone as an opportunity for some olfactory payback.
The safe spaces
Bathrooms would be the obvious choice to drop these fears and inhibitions. But office bathrooms are a little more complex.
Sonia and a few of her female colleagues at an MNC had a safe space to let their bodies truly relax – a bathroom on a completely different floor from theirs. “There was some construction work happening on the floor below us so that office was shut. Their bathroom was still functional but because nobody went there during the day (construction workers would start after we left work) it was completely abandoned. Some of us started sneaking off and using that bathroom instead. It was so clean and quiet, I think that was the first time I could poop at work in peace.”
There is a particular kind of shiver that runs down your spine when you’re mid-deed and that door handle rattles. One any working individual is familiar with and it happens regardless of the bathroom style. In shared loos with stalls, you always know who else is in there and the fear of judgement sinks in (unless you’re prepared to hold your knees up to your chest while you sit on the pot). “We did the same thing in college, we’d leave the university building and use the bathroom at a restaurant in the opposite market that no one used to visit regularly instead of the shared college loo,” Neha added.
Her troubles lie in a small office space with very few colleagues. “We’re a small team in an even smaller office. You’d think it would make our relations even more friendly and casual, but it’s still ‘work’ at the end of the day. My escape is always the stairwell. Being on the 7th floor means people rarely walk up this high.” She does advise, however, you do a quick peek up and down the stairs to make sure there’s no Health-conscious Harman clocking in their 10,000 steps before you let one rip.
The truth about bathroom etiquette
It’s time to clear the air. Questions about whether or not it’s right to let your body flow through its natural course can be uncomfortable to address in formal settings. But the truth is that whether you’re 1 of 10 people working in a start-up or another cog in the corporate wheel, nobody really cares.
It may feel like everyone knows that you had to poop at work when you exit the single-occupancy loo after 10 minutes (and they probably do). It doesn’t bother them as much as we think it does. They’re probably waiting for the smell to subside before getting up to do the same thing.
As long as we follow the basic rules of hygiene and clean up after ourselves (if you don’t, then you should probably be someone that works from home). The alternative risks haemorrhoids, constipation and can result in distended bowels. In the long run, when you get back home and actually want to relieve yourself, you won’t be able to. Will holding it kill you? Probably not, but it won’t be fun either.
As professional grown-ups, there are very few instances – like medical conditions – where being gassy in public spaces is excused. Just don’t be THAT person who crop-dusts, doesn’t flush and especially, the one who farts as they’re getting out of the elevator. You know who you are. We know who you are. And karma is a lactose-intolerant dog’s gas bomb waiting to explode.