Water cooler etiquette, or the thirsty worker’s manifesto
May 8th, 2012
12:15 PM ET
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Melonyce McAfee is the brand new Senior Producer for CNN Living and she aims to make the break room a better place to be.

It’s time for some water cooler talk. No, not gossip about the Real Housewives or the latest office romance. We need to have a chat about the water cooler itself, and its fraught place in office life. It may seem like an innocuous source of refreshment, or a gathering spot to pass the time between tasks, but the water cooler can be a wellspring of workplace weirdness.

Confusing queues
We’ve all come upon the scene: There’s Dan, elbow cocked up on the butt of the water jug, chatting up Gina - a road block between you and the sweet nectar. So you wait, reluctant to intrude on their conversation but unsure when it will break up and you’ll be free to fill up your Nalgene. Awkward.

Lax jug replacement
Few things are more irritating to a parched person than hitting that blue lever with no results. Why, oh why, do our office mates feel justified in draining the last of the water into their Dixie cups but neglect to replace the empty jug?

Water spillage
This one’s always fun. Your brawniest colleague sets about his or her civic duty of swapping out the 5-gallon bottle. Good job, responsible coworker! But it all goes awry the minute he flips the bottle over and a quarter of its contents end up on the break room floor. It's a worker’s comp case waiting to happen.

Dirty spigot
It doesn’t take a germaphobe to be disgusted by the sight of a coworker’s personal water bottle getting too cozy with the spout as he fills up. Just guzzle directly from the nozzle, why don’t you? It’s equally unappetizing to see the sludgy remnants of a coffee mug in the tray beneath the water spout.

Some tips:

If you cause a spill, sop it up. If tea splatters from your mug when you go in for a hot-water refill, wipe it up. Nobody wants to see a Jackson Pollock installation on the water cooler.

Don’t touch your water bottle’s mouthpiece to the spigot. No wonder the black plague makes its way through the cubicle farm with alarming regularity.

Don’t crowd the cooler. If you’re done filling up, back away and continue the conversation with your office crush at a respectable distance from the water spout.

If the well has run dry, you must resupply. Even if there’s a thin trickle of water coming out of the spout, acknowledge that you’ve reached the bottom of the tap, and don’t leave it to the next thirsty soul to replace the bottle.

If you’re physically unable to replace the bottle, ask for help. Weak upper body strength is no excuse to be a lazy water cooler user.

Let’s all band together to keep the water cooler the friendliest spot in the office.

Previously - The politics of the office coffee pot and The spaghetti incident: when office lunches go AWOL

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Filed under: Culture • Office

soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. marygstar

    Really appriciate with your efforts which you have put in this blog.Thanks for the post...keep posting!!!

    August 8, 2013 at 8:02 am |
  2. Tim Connell

    These are so critical views.
    Water Coolers

    January 21, 2013 at 5:38 am |
  3. MilitaryAF

    Drink water from the tap... Problem solved!

    May 14, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  4. Creative

    Bottled water coolers are old fashioned and are a breeding ground for bacteria on the inside of the cooler AND bottled water is a major source of pollution. Filtered bottle-less water coolers are the way to go

    May 10, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • Knot

      Way to spout rhetoric. Nothing creative going on here.

      May 10, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  5. Solo

    Most of today's population has no idea what proper manners are. Etiquette cannot even be spelled by them, let alone adhered to.

    May 9, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  6. jen

    all the dudes posting and complaining about the ladies not changing the water bottle: It's not all of us, let's just be clear. I'm 8 months pregnant but if the water runs empty and there aren't any of the fellas around, I change the bottle myself. If there is a guy working, I ask for help. Common curtesy, y'all.

    May 9, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  7. Nike Zoom Victory

    I am really impressed with your writing skills as neatly as with the layout to your blog. Is this a paid topic or did you modify it yourself? Anyway keep up the nice high quality writing, it is uncommon to look a nice blog like this one nowadays..

    May 9, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  8. Mr JNOC

    My company supplies bottled water for us. No water cooler necessary.

    May 9, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
  9. John

    Water cooler?

    That's so '50s.

    Is this a retro movement in response to "Mad Men"?

    May 9, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  10. Colonel Cromwell

    Our office doesn't have one any longer as the bloddy crook that ran the money pool was skimming – more like scrapping- off the top with the monthly collections. He was summarily executed.

    May 9, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  11. UncleJohn

    Your life must be very small if this is something you think is worth thinking about.

    May 9, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  12. hamsta

    What a stupid question. according to manners that would be the person that emptied the bottle. maybe some people are so spoiled they dont know what its like to work like a hebrew slave in the summer sun consuming 5 gallons of water each.

    May 8, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  13. Loyal Northern Democrat

    Lard Assed Ladies! If you want the same money as men, then share the workload. If there are two of you who are not gossiping on the phone, playing video games, out pregnent, out PPD, out with female problems, etc. you can work together and the two of you can put a bottle back.

    I doubt it will happen as it is just easier to sit doing your nails while you complain.

    May 8, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  14. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    At least every other day I go up and get 1 oz of water from the cooler before it runs out. I know I am one of few males that work here, but C'MON! Replace the jug, ladies!

    May 8, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • RedinAustin

      Okay, invent a cooler that doesn't require us to lift a five gallon jug of water over our heads.

      May 8, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
      • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

        It's just above the waist. And no one wants to stoop to floor level to fill their cup/glass/bottle.

        May 8, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
      • Done

        Already done and in use, Red.

        May 9, 2012 at 6:31 am |
    • Raquel Welch


      May 8, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  15. Mildred

    My office/team doesn't have a water cooler. I have a big water bottle/jug/mug (holds 32 oz) that I fill up in the cafeteria with water and ice when I get my breakfast/morning coffee.

    May 8, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  16. AleeD®

    We have an uber filtration system at work. No replacements required. However, if I was to redesign water coolers, I would make that thing-that-looks-like-a-drain a real drain. All manner of people use it to dump out the last dregs of their beverage (regardless of the beverage, coffee, tea or soda) and figure someone else will dump it out when it's full. Nasty.

    Or better still, *rubbing hands together and smiling diabolically*, as good as graphics are today, I'll make it look like a drain, but it will really be a ramp. Just three or four degrees of tilt. Just enough so that the wingnuts who dump out their coffee get it running right back onto their shoes. Mwah-ha-ha-ha!

    May 8, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Mildred

      Oh... those are beautiful ideas!

      May 8, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • MicheleG™

      Ditto. Diabolical CAN be beautiful.

      May 8, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      Same scenario at my office, no bottles, it's filtered.

      But let us know when you have the drain/ramp worked out, and put me down for 3!

      May 10, 2012 at 10:16 am |
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