The millennial washroom

We’re constantly being told how ‘millennials’ and ‘Generation Z’ are shaping today’s attitudes and lifestyles, but what influence are they having on the public washroom? Stuart Hands from Tork manufacturer Essity investigates.

Attitudes and lifestyles are changing all the time. And the cultural gap between millennials, Generation Z and the rest of the population appears to be particularly significant according to trend reports.

The term ‘millennials’ usually refers to people born between 1980 and the late 1990s, while people from Generation Z are their successors, spanning everyone from children to teens and those in their early 20s.

Many of these younger people have clear ideas of how they would like to shape the world, with a number of significant trends emerging. Concern for the environment is a strong motivator for many millennials and Generation Z members, with a recent Ipsos-MORI poll revealing climate change to be the most pressing worry among 18 to 25 year-olds.

Today’s prominent environmental activists tend to be very young: the membership of Extinction Rebellion is largely made up of people in their teens and twenties, for example, while world-renowned climate-change protestor Greta Thunberg is just 17.

However, there’s little doubt that the most marked gulf between up-and-coming generations and the over-40s lies in the use of technology.

Millennials grew up with the internet and reached adulthood at around the time when smartphones exploded on to our world. As for members of Generation Z, most are unable to remember a time when we were not all constantly connected. So, the young are much more technologically savvy than the rest of the population – and again, this has had an impact on the washroom.

A YouGov Realtime survey carried out in February 2019 revealed that 61% of 18 to 29 year-olds always took their mobile phones to the toilet with them. This compared with just 8% of people overall who admitted taking their phones to the loo on every toilet break.

A second survey carried out for the Formica Group revealed that 64% of 18 to 25 year-olds have taken a selfie when visiting the toilet in a restaurant, pub or nightclub compared with only 28% of people in general. And they claimed their reasons for taking toilet snapshots were either because they were in a party mood – or because they were impressed with the décor.

Today’s habit of photographing everything around us and posting the results on Instagram and similar sites is shaping washroom provision, forcing venues to up their game and provide photogenic facilities that help to publicise their premises. We see this everywhere: the toilets at London’s Sketch restaurant, for example, are frequently being photographed because they are shaped


like giant pods that change colour every few seconds with the aid of LED lighting.

The women’s washrooms at London’s exclusive Annabel’s club are also considered to be ‘Instagrammable’ on account of their gold swan taps and pink onyx basins in the shape of oyster shells. And the life-sized safari animal models at Camden’s South African-themed Shaka Zulu restaurant are similarly the subject of many toilet selfies.

Besides their technological skills and heightened concern for the environment, younger generations also appear to be more fastidious about hygiene than their older counterparts. A recent study carried out by Essity into food stall practices revealed that more than half of respondents under 40 were concerned about becoming ill from eating food stall fare. This figure contrasted with 39% of 40 to 49 year-olds and just 19% of those aged 66 and over.

In a second Essity survey, it emerged that 50% of people in their twenties often worry about becoming ill due to poor hygiene, a figure that dropped to only 21% among those aged 61 and over.

Other characteristics of millennials and members of Generation Z include a greater tolerance of alternative lifestyles, lower levels of sexual discrimination, and an enhanced concern for the needs of the less abled. So, how are these new attitudes and viewpoints impacting on washroom provision?

Firstly, there has been a global move towards the introduction of gender-neutral washrooms in schools and higher educational establishments in order to meet the needs of the transgender community, and to reduce incidences of discrimination or bullying.

There has also been an increase in the number of ‘parent and child’ facilities, replacing the ‘mother and baby’ washrooms of the past. These toilets make it easier for single fathers to take young children out for the day, secure in the knowledge that they will be able to find nappy- changing or toileting facilities when these are required.

Accessible washrooms – and changing places facilities in particular – are being installed in increasing numbers to cater for the needs of the less abled. Washroom providers are focusing strongly on hygiene in order to cater for a growing concern about preventing cross-contamination, particularly in the workplace.

A global survey carried out by Essity in 2018 revealed that 30% of people aged 16-25 often refrained from using the toilets at work because they considered the facilities to be unhygienic or messy. Systems such as touch-free dispensers, automatic lights and sensor-operated flush

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