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This is a bit of a silly problem, but there are no paper towels in the restrooms and kitchens at my new workplace (which is a quite large software company). There is only a hand dryer in the restroom and napkins in the kitchen. However, it is very inconvenient and impractical to use napkins to dry ones hands and kitchenware because wet napkins get torn apart and you have to pick little bits of wet napkin from your fingers, cups, etc... And you definetely can't dry your face with a hand dryer in the restroom (there are no napkins there), and I personally don't really like to use a hand dryer at all.

With all these arguments gathered, I've created a request for maintenance department to provide paper towels in the office (the company has a helpdesk system for such things). Before doing this I actually knew that they've already turned down one employee with such request, but it didn't really make sense to me so I thought that somehow I would push this through.

Not surprisingly they gave me the same "we're sorry for your inconvenience, but our office policy doesn't include paper towels", in which by "office policy" they refer to the list of supplies, furniture and such which is "standard" for our office. Obviously my question is how do I persuade them to revise this policy and provide those damn paper towels? :)

What I've tried

  • Suggested to conduct a survey among employees to make sure this is actually needed (and not just for me)
  • Stated that in my opinion such a policy that doesn't take into account employees' wishes just doesn't make sense
  • Noted that the list of "standard" office supplies doesn't include napkins either, so this aspect of the office environment is probably haven't been developed well
  • Asked them to provide me with a process or a contact point for changing this policy

What did I get in response

  • A statement that says that the process of altering the policy doesn't involve "conducting surveys or signing documents"
  • They CC'ed the whole thing to my PM which in turn CC'ed my TL
  • As a result, my TL tried to convince me to give up and close the issue. I replied to TL that the issue makes sense to me so I won't just close it and that them (maintenance department) involving him and the PM is in my opinion unprofessional since it has nothing to do with project activities.
  • They've tried to close this issue (twice already) with "Can't Reproduce" (!) reason. The whole "Can't Reproduce" thing might be a helpdesk workflow issue :)

What I didn't try

  • Communicating with the maintenance department in person
  • Gathering supporters on my own. This seems like causing to much trouble which the company definetely won't appreciate.

I am fully aware that this is a very minor issue, but on the other hand, this is what's bothering me that such a small matter is so hard to resolve. I'm also getting stressed over this fruitless "negotiation" process and feel like I am being a difficult and annoying person, but I also don't want to just give up (probably on principle) because the whole situation really doesn't seem right to me.

  • @JoeStrazzere, thank you for your response, but my primary concern was about convenience and I can't really imagine it being convenient to carry around my own paper towels and somehow pulling them out of ... (what?) with wet hands as opposed to having a dispenser on the wall of the restroom. – Jake Hale Feb 20 at 20:34
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    You can also collect money for odds and ends, that everyone uses, you can purchase generic paper towel for around $1 in most locations. Of course, collecting money, and the work involved in trying to keep track of the money, might not be worth the hassle. So I agree with the suggestion, spend the $1 on the generic paper towels, and horde them – Ramhound Feb 20 at 20:35
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    @JakeHale - Shove a couple in your pocket. – Ramhound Feb 20 at 20:35
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You can't. Give up.

You're treating it as a silly issue and a mere oversight in supplies. It's not. The maintenance department has chosen to use air dryers over paper towels.

Not providing paper towels is well justified by supply cost and environmental impacts, and the labor and landfill costs of the trash generated. There may be external regulations, such as LEED, ISO 14001, and corporate policy which mandates this.

Unless you're in an industry that requires paper towels by regulation (e.g. food and healthcare), they have a clear justification behind the use air dryers and no obligation to provide otherwise.

  • Thank you for the answer. I've considered the possible environmental reasons but I don't really see how a whole bunch of napkins, which they do provide, is better. Also they didn't refer me to any such policy and from my point of view the current reasoning is "we won't provide paper towels because we never have". – Jake Hale Feb 20 at 21:13
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    @JakeHale They can't replace napkins with an air dryer, so the situation isn't comparable. And, for example, LEED gives points for air dryers, not for napkins. – user71659 Feb 20 at 21:14
  • But they could replace napkins with paper towels but they won't :) – Jake Hale Feb 20 at 21:15
  • @JakeHale They could do lots of things... The only things of consequence are what they will and will not do. – Tashus Feb 20 at 21:24
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    and then you have The bacterial horror of hot-air hand dryers – Peter M Feb 21 at 17:01
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Put yourself in their shoes. Why do you think the maintenance department would change the policy at your specific request, and no-one else's?

A relatively junior employee trying to create a campaign to demand paper towels will probably do little more than amuse the maintenance department at best, and annoy them (gathering you a reputation in the process) at worst. Your team lead is correct - it sounds like it's in everyone's best interests for you to drop it.

Answering the question directly, if you really want to get them to change the policy then you don't have much choice but to stop pestering them, and start pestering the CEO / head of operations instead. If you convince them, and they tell the maintenance department to change, they're much more likely to listen.

However, to be clear here - pestering higher ups like the CEO or head of operations is much, much more likely to get you a reputation as an annoying / troublesome employee than it is getting you the title of "almighty saviour of hand and dish drying." Only you can decide if it's still then worth it, but in my opinion it's a definite "no".

  • Thank you for the answer. This is why I suggested to survey other employees so it's not just me (and I know it's not). Maybe I just want too much, but at my previous job we had several people among employees (non-maintenance staff) who would gather suggestions about improving office conditions from others and they would discuss and implement some of them. – Jake Hale Feb 20 at 21:21
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A possibility is that office politics is at work here.

If the maintenance manager is somewhat 'not going well' with your manager then each and every request from you will be turned down or slooooowed to death (e.g.: months for a power outlet added in a free receptacle) with random reasons.

That's highly unprofessional but can happen (personal experience).

  • Thank you for the perspective, however I don't think it's the case because I've reported several other issues (e.g. broken door knob, broken toilet) and they were fixed really fast. – Jake Hale Feb 26 at 20:15
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You can't convince them. Why fight over some paper towels? They have rejected your suggestion. Your company has better things to do and paper towels obviously are not a priority.

As an alternative, just go get a roll of paper towels and store them in a drawer. Your company doesn't have to provide paper towels. Do you want some? Go get some from the store. Your company is not keeping you from bringing your own.

  • The only reason I've even attempted this is because there is a system in place for such requests, which led me to believe that the company is at least open for such suggestions. I'm not sure what do you mean by "company has better things to do". You might as well say that the company doesn't have to provide me with a chair because they have better things to do (which is developing software). Actually the company provides a lot of stuff such as a full drawer of plastic utensils and 15 kinds of tea that's why I wouldn't expect that asking for some paper towels is too much. – Jake Hale Feb 26 at 20:30
  • Yes, they might be open to suggestions, and you suggested. It seems like you have already done enough so if the company liked the suggestion, they would have already accepted it. You tried and it didn't get a 'Yes'. Also, comparing paper towels with a desk chair is not right. A desk chair is a necessity, paper towels is a luxury and a matter of personal preference. Even more of a luxury when you already have drying items (napkins and dryers). Also, the fact that they are already giving you 'luxury' items such as utensils doesn't mean they want to give you any other disposable items. – A.T. Feb 27 at 12:44
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If there are any official feedback channels in your company, use those to ask for paper towels, but do not assume any change will happen soon. Ask once and then leave the topic be via that channel for at least half a year.

If you can convince others and more of these requests come in separately, that might convince people to change the policy. You can play this also via HR and sell it to them as a quality of the work environment issue IF you have some support among your colleagues.

However, you should drop the "this is wrong and they need to change because to me it is totally reasonable to do it another way" mindset. To them, the way they are doing things is totally reasonable and you are just a single person with special wishes, they won't just alter their company-wide policy for, just because you asks for it - and especially not because you demand it. Play it soft and slow, see if you can casually bring it up with colleagues and see if they agree. If you find some people who agree, try to spread and together approach a valid feedback channel. If there is no official one, ask your managers or HR contact person. But never imply that things need to go your way, because you are right, but that you have a change suggestion you and a lot of colleagues would find lovely to have.

If you cannot convince your colleagues nor someone higher up through official feedback channels, drop it and if necessary bring your own paper towels for yourself.

  • There are official channels which is exactly what I used and got rejected with a no meaningful explanation. I know for a fact that there are at least several people using the same restroom as me (which is only one of many) who would prefer to use paper towels (I saw some of them by accident using toilet paper to dry their hands for the lack of paper towels). I suggested to the maintenance department to survey others so "it's not just me" because I think this should be a part of the official process and not something that I should organize myself, but they rejected this suggestion as well. – Jake Hale Feb 26 at 20:43
  • @JakeHale Well, just because you think it should be part of the official process doesn't mean it is or will ever be. And frankly, you want something to change, they are happy with their solution, so it's on you to show the benefits / support for your suggestion. They said no and as long as it is only you they get feedback from, they won't move a bit for that single person with special wishes. The only way you have is increase the pressure by making it clear it isn't just you, and yes, for that others will have to come forward, either directly to them or via giving their bosses feedback. – Frank Hopkins Feb 27 at 10:51

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