“Please lift the seat before taking a leak” does not guarantee Quality Assurance

Every man knows what the message means, but signage can never get the quality results that its writer wanted.

You probably have seen countless messages on walls and communication boards that were intended to achieve a desired change of behaviour. How many of them were successful? Very very few, most likely none, would be close to the truth.


Wetness on the floor and toilet seat from spillage, over-shoot, under-shoot and drips is a common problem in shared male toilets. Every man dribbles when he takes a leak. It is a result of how the penis is designed (no rifling, muscle weakness). The picture below is an example of the type of solution commonly applied, but it is not a certain method of success. Instructing people to not create a problem is not the answer to the problem.


work quality control is not achieved by providing warnings of problems; work quality control is only delivered when the right behaviours are used


Putting up a sign asking people to clean up after themselves usually fails to achieve its intention. The pile of dirty dishes, mugs, spoons and forks in the kitchen sink under a sign that says, “Please keep our kitchen clean” is so common that no one comments about it anymore.

Though the writer of the above sign had the good intention of creating a clean workplace, asking people to lift the seat before taking a leak does not stop the problem which they wanted to prevent. Lifting the seat will reduce the number of times there are wet seats. But it does not stop wet floors, nor does it stop the bowl rim getting splashed and causing a foul sight and stench.

Dripping urine from a penis always happens. It is a natural occurrence due to the inherent design of the organ. You cannot change the instrument but you also do not want a wet seat and floor.

If the intention was to stop toilet wetness and smells, then the sign is ineffective in getting the desired quality result of a dry work area.

It would be necessary to also ask people to wipe clean all drips that they made. “Please lift the seat before you take a leak and wipe your drips off the rim and floor before you leave” is the full instruction.

Few men will wipe their drips off the toilet rim and floor. They should of course, but no one watches them and no one will know if they cleaned up or walked away leaving a mess.

If signs do not work in getting the desired outcome, what can you do that will produce the desired result?

The question of how do you get people to do the right thing when they are alone is a difficult challenge. When we are both the worker and the inspector we can justify and accept poor quality work.

Part of the answer involves realising that the human mind is a goal seeking organism. Setting a standard to achieve gives the mind a goal which releases feelings of personal satisfaction once bettered. The higher the achievement above the standard, the greater is the satisfaction.

A sign containing a goal such as, “Please leave a 100% clean floor, seat and toilet bowl for your workmates to use” is a measurable and satisfying standard to set. But will this sign improve the success rate?. Success requires that men always clean up thoroughly after they use the toilet. There is no sign that can be written to consistently ensure that outcome.

Studies in cognitive behaviour can help us. In Daniel Kahneman’s the book ‘Thinking, fast and slow’ he tells of research into honesty. He gives an example of encouraging people to be honest when no one watches. In a shared kitchen is a coffee maker. Users are required to pay for the coffee by putting money into an ‘honesty jar’. A photo of a pair of eyes staring at the watcher was placed over the jar. The money collected in the ‘honesty jar’ from Users doubled. A man’s eyes were far more effective than using a woman’s eyes. This suggests that when you put up a sign in a man’s toilet requesting people to be honest, you also need to add a picture of a man’s eyes to watch them.


putting a photo of eyes staring at you makes you act more honest


Human factors engineering can be useful when trying to get people to be accurate. Our brain loves pictures far more than it likes words. If you want to get a clear instruction into someone’s mind it is best done with pictures. If you want get the message across to a man to urinate into a bowl, then put up a picture to show how it is done right.

In addition to asking that people meet a standard, you need to provide the right tools to do the work rightly. If men are to dry-up after using the toilet then you need to provide drying wipes that are hygienic and in easy reach (toilet paper is not made for wiping floors and seats). If you want them to leave a clean bowl you must provide a clean and hygienic method to dislodge build-up on bowl walls (in the Gulf States they provide a short hose with a squeeze handle to hose off material). You must also place a wash basin within the water closet cubical so that people can clean their hands.

Lastly there is an education and training component in getting people to do the right thing. People need to be shown what is the right practise and how it is correctly done. It must be a visual presentation and not a descriptive explanation. The human mind is designed to get most information through the eyes. Instructions must be visual (the best instructions also include practise of the correct method to use). We must watch the correct actions and see how they produce the right result several times before the brain can accurately interpret the message. The training will also need to be repeated regularly because humans forget specific details.

Will men’s toilets be totally dry and clean forevermore by using signs asking them to lift the seat before they take a leak? Every man will answer no to that question.

If signs alone do not produce the right outcomes then it is pointless to use them in your efforts to get quality assurance. For quality assurance you need a clear and measurable quality standard, the right tools to do the job rightly, and application of the right skills and behaviours needed to better the quality standard that is set.

Alternately, if you want men to take a leak and not wet toilet seats and floors you can introduce a new behaviour and change how men urinate into the bowl. Ask them to sit for a leak. Put up a drawing of a man sitting down on the toilet peeing into the bowl. We men all do that when we empty our bowels. We can also sit to pee. Once a man sits and pees into the bowl, the floor, seat and rim are unlikely to get wet from drips. The work area will be cleaner and dryer from the use of a better practise.

Using words alone to instruct people does not cause consistently correct outcomes. The right results occur only if the right methods and behaviours are correctly used. Getting people the necessary information and developing those skills that ensure the required standard is achieved is the vital requirement.

When the right behaviour is a personal habit the right results can consistently be expected. Questions on the creation of good personal habits become intrusive. When should correct toilet practices be inculcated into people? How should proper toileting habits be taught? How do people find out about the true and correct content of proper, hygienic toilet training?

Though these questions are concerned with getting clean and dry toilets, they can be changed to query the learning of the right practices in every situation. From leadership to personal hygiene, correct outcomes need correct training until the right actions become habits. Expecting people to read a sign and thereby change their personal habits is as unrealistic as it sounds.


My best regards to you,

Mike Sondalini
Managing Director
Lifetime Reliability Solutions