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What’s normal? Americans’ personal habits at home and at work

What’s normal? Americans’ personal habits at home and at work

Do you remember the first time you went over to a friend’s house as a kid, and were shocked to discover that their family took their shoes off inside, or kept soy sauce in the fridge, or showered at night instead of in the morning?

When your experience is limited to your home, or your workplace, or your own personal habits, you don’t have a benchmark to see if what you’re doing is common. How long do most households leave dishes in the sink? Do most companies have dress codes? Do they share salary information? Does everyone lie to their doctors about certain things?

We used SurveyMonkey Audience to ask over 500 Americans to weigh in on their habits and etiquette at home, at work, and in life. Here’s what they had to say.

We started by asking survey participants questions about their habits at home (some more specific than others).

  • Dishes in the sink: We asked how long it’s acceptable to leave dishes in the sink, and the majority of people (44%) said “a few hours”, although 30% thought it should be done instantly, and 21% were willing to let it go for a day or two.
  • Forks in the dishwasher: points up or points down? 60% of people said points up. Maybe to ensure that they get cleaned properly? Seems like that’s worth the higher risk of poking.
  • Pants at home: The vast majority of people (59%) wear either sweatpants or yoga pants while hanging out at home. Sixteen percent of our more formal respondents wear jeans, and 5% prefer no pants at all (in the privacy of their own house, of course.)

For each section, we wanted to see whether answers changed depending on who we asked, so we used filters to check for differences between age groups, genders, or income levels.

For home habits, there wasn’t much difference between respondents of different groups, except that people with a household income of over 100K per year had a lower tolerance for dirty dishes—40% thought that they ought to be done instantly.

We were also curious about people’s sense of etiquette at work. We asked about people’s expectations of themselves, others, and their employer.

  • Taking personal phone calls: A majority (77%) of people consider it appropriate to take the occasional personal call at work.
  • Texting at work: Interestingly, fewer people were pro-texting than pro-phone call. Only 60% of people in our survey thought that texting was okay to do at work. It’s possible phone calls are considered more acceptable because they involve stepping outside, or are usually more logistics-based (e.g. scheduling a doctor’s appointment) while texting can be more conversational.
  • What to wear to work: The most popular option (40%) was slacks and a button down, but 37% thought that jeans were probably fine (as long as they were paired with a blouse or button down). Only 12% were okay with wearing a tee shirt to work.
  • Sharing salary information: We were also curious about some of the more entrenched (and less silly) aspects of work etiquette, so we decided to ask about salary transparency. 72% of respondents thought that employees should not share salary information, and 59% thought that companies should not make salary information public. But those beliefs change a bit when we looked at different demographics.

In spite of the documented wage gap between male and female employees, women were not more likely than men to think that companies should publicize salary information. But young people felt differently. Fifty-three percent of respondents under 30 thought transparent salary information was a good idea. Among people over 45, only 33% agreed.

The clear age gap makes sense. Young people have less context for “normal” salaries from past job experience, and rely heavily on services like Glassdoor to understand what they should be asking for. It’s also possible that older respondents have higher-level management positions or own small businesses, and stand to lose more from open discussion of employee salaries.

Regardless, there’s an entrenched belief in the American workplace that talking about payment is gauche, unprofessional, and potentially even dangerous for one’s employment—and that seems to have come through in this survey.

Note: We also did a full separate study on the use of emojis in business. Maybe unsurprisingly, it turns out that 53% of young people think they’re okay to use.

Finally, we got our most personal, and asked about health, hygiene—and honesty.

  • Washing hair: 42% wash daily, 33% aim to shampoo every other day, and the other 25% wash even less frequently.
  • Q tips: Do people use them? 79% of people say that they swab their ears regularly. (Though—hint—doctors consistently recommend against it! Use soap and water instead.)
  • Lying to the doctor (or dentist): You might be able to guess the most common lie people tell without reading any further—39% of people admit to misrepresenting their flossing habits on their trips to the dentist. But people lie to their health care professionals about much more than that. Eating habits (25%) and exercise (27%) are the next biggest culprits, and 17% also lie about their sleeping. Lies about alcohol consumption (12%), sexual activity (10%), and drug abuse (9%) were lower, but still noteworthy.

Seven out of ten women wash their hair every other day or less (which is good, because daily washing strips long hair of its healthy oils.) Men are much more regular, with 57% washing daily.

People under 30 were more likely to lie to their doctors than people over 30 in every metric we asked about except exercise (24% of people under 30 lied about exercise, compared against 34% of people over 45).

According to the Washington Post, millennials “don’t care about having a primary care physician.” The article cites multiple studies in that show younger people choose to use walk-in clinics instead of having a single consistent doctor. (In one study, 33% of millennials had no primary care physician, in the other it was 45%.) If young people aren’t seeing the same person every time, it’s easy to see why they’d be prone to lying—it’s harder to be vulnerable with someone you’re not comfortable with. That said, SurveyMonkey doesn’t recommend this, and strongly recommends being honest with your health care professionals!

Personal standards and habits vary person to person, household to household, company to company. Surveys offer a rare glimpse into those other perspectives.

SurveyMonkey Audience lets you target the exact demographics that you're most curious about, with answers in minutes.