Going to the bathroom at work, the anxiety of many employees

Seules 38% des salariées vont à la selle dès qu'elles en ont envie, contre 57% des hommes.

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An open space, eight people. As soon as Agathe* gets up, she is sure that her colleagues understand. Out of the question ! So this listener thinks about it all day. His primary goal: never want to do the big errand at work. A time of absence of several minutes which would sound obvious in the eyes of his colleagues. Objective number two: limit even peeing, they could count the number of times she goes to the bathroom. How to achieve it? Force yourself to wait as long as possible between two desires.

But that was before. Some time ago, Agathe changed company and now has her own office. Everyday life should have been cooler, but going to the bathroom at work remained a chore. “I even tried to arrive earlier but I was still blocked. » Then she had a bright idea: “I remembered that there were toilets next to the company gym. » To access this room away from the offices, no light in the hallway, she uses that of her telephone. “There, I am super quiet. Above all, I was freed from the burden of knowing that there was this option. »

If you believe Agathe neurotic, her case is far from isolated. After a brief call for testimonials, we contact Laure*, consultant. She changes building to eliminate the risk of bumping into a colleague, or opts for the reception toilets. “The good plan, there is never anyone. » We also discuss with Matthieu* for whom the idea of ​​going to the toilet after his colleagues disgusts him. “I hate the feeling of the hot bowl and I stress about someone walking right past me. » Telecommuting is a godsend for him.

Already that I don't often go to the toilet, I also have to not miss the boat and go at the right time…

How many of these employees are anxious about the idea of ​​simply meeting their primary needs? According to a study by Ifop for Diogène London, a cleaning company, published in May 2022, 44% of employees refrain from having a bowel movement at their workplace. Like Agathe or Laure, 36% say they have already gone to toilets other than those on their floor to avoid meeting their colleagues. 21% have already gone home earlier or between noon and two to relieve themselves. This shame of having a bowel movement has a name: “poop shaming” (yes in English, it always goes better).

The study questions the 1,003 employees (representative of the English population) about the reasons for this discomfort. First comes the dirtiness of the company toilets, followed by the lack of isolation from the rest of the premises. This is the case of Alice*, schoolmistress. “It's horrible to hold back but in the establishment, there is no privacy, the toilets are stuck to the director's office, in the passage and poorly insulated! Already I don't go to the toilet often, I also have to not miss the boat and go at the right time…”

Ok, the “poop shaming” does exist but why talk about it on the HR Consultant UK? You see us coming. Who says shame at work, says hampered behavior. Who says hindrance, says malaise and altered productivity.

The law and toilets at work

Employers are required to provide separate, clean, disinfected and cleaned spaces at least once a day (articles R. 4228-10 and following of the Labor Code)

“Overwhelmed by these thoughts, employees may find it difficult to concentrate on their work. We can well imagine that they are less efficient and productive if they hold back to go to the toilet, if they develop diseases related to this disorder”, analyzes Lucie Offering, occupational psychologist, founder of the firm Sens et Travail. Without concluding that “poop shaming” is the sole cause, remember that according to the English National Society of Gastroenterology, 10 to 20% of the adult population is affected by chronic constipation.

Stool retention also goes hand in hand with painful defecation processes and sometimes more serious problems such as colon irritation problems or inflammatory bowel diseases.

Women, the first victims of “poop shaming”

Loss of concentration, anxiety, constipation, illness. How did we come to this when it is simply a question of defecating? Our society has relegated this obligatory passage of our daily life to the confines of the intimate. Even in the family sphere, the subject is (more or less) taboo. “The body reminds us of our humanity, a facet of ourselves that we may not feel like expressing, what is more in our workplace”, deciphers the psychologist. And to add: “Work is a social space, of representation, through which everyone gives an image, a representation of oneself. »

The friction between these two worlds is more or less painful for employees. According to the figures, it is in any case particularly for the fairer sex. If we quoted above the figure of 44% of employees who refrained from having a bowel movement at work, this actually concerns 36% of men but 50% of women.

A pressure to perfection

A long article from the New York Times published in 2021 and titled “Yes women poop, and sometimes at work. You have to get over it” details how the problem of “poop shaming” affects female employees in particular, and explains how “the patriarchy has infiltrated into the depths of the intestinal tract of women”.

Lucie Offering shares this opinion. “At a very young age, women are taught to hide this biological necessity, which consequently leads to greater health problems in this population. The power of men over women's bodies is also manifested in this very particular relationship to the use of toilets in the workplace., she believes. Badly seen in the intimacy for a woman to have a biological body, badly seen also in the professional sphere. “The women then feel the sneaky obligation to hide in the workplace. »

“This survey shows that it is a gender issue, all in all very symptomatic of the way in which the pressure for perfection that weighs on women can affect them to the depths of their intimacy”adds in the study François Kraus, director of the gender, sexuality and sexual health center at Ifop.

These analyzes will no doubt make those who refuse to see the patriarchy put in all the sauces rear up, nevertheless it turns out that this dimension emerged in the testimony of Agathe, the listener. Asked why it would be a problem if her colleagues understood that she went to the bathroom several times, the 30-year-old replied: “It's probably in my head, but I feel like I have to preserve the image of the princess who doesn't go to the toilet. »

Thinking of a social space without judgment of the other, it does not exist

Once this situation has been analysed, what can be done to improve it? Letting Agathe sneak into the toilets without a light or Laure, changing buildings whenever she wants, wouldn't be reasonable. “Far from being a subject to be taken lightly, ‘poop-shaming' at work constitutes an HR issue which must, at the time of the return to the face-to-face, have its place in the post-covid reflections around the transformations spaces and ways of working”believes François Kraus of Ifop.

For Henry Cléty, head of the DU Psychological health at work at the Catholic University of Lille, the subject of “poop shaming” could be understood beyond the professional scope. “Is the work environment so different from all the places that are not conducive to private behavior? I'm wondering. In any case, if it causes an individual to suffer from it, the problem must be treated. »

For this psychologist, if the problem is cultural, it would be necessary for example to envisage a national communication campaign to deconstruct stereotypes, in the same way as the posters against LGBT discrimination currently posted in the streets of the country. If, on the other hand, a particular individual has a painful experience, a distorted vision of the way others look at him, then we are on a clinical level and we must consider follow-up with a professional in order to overcome the image that others send him back. Because this professional to recall: “To think of a social space without judgment of the other, that does not exist. »

* The first names have been changed at the request of the interviewees.


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