A Workplace Lesson From Chicago: When HR Has to Be a Bathroom Monitor

I love HR. I’m always on the lookout for the next latest and greatest HR title, so this is an exciting day!

The WaterSaver Faucet Company in Chicago, a great union town, decided to add “Bathroom Monitor” to the duties HR is now responsible for. Check it out, from CNBC:

If you work at WaterSaver Faucet Company, when you gotta go, you might not want to go.

The Chicago company installed a new system that monitors bathroom breaks and penalizes employees who spend more than six minutes a day in the washroom outside their normal breaks.

“The HR woman literally goes through every person’s bathroom use and either hands out a reward or discipline,” said Nick Kreitman, an attorney for Teamsters Local 743, which represents 80 workers at the plant, which coincidentally manufactures taps and other sink fixtures.

Employees who don’t use extra breaks get a dollar a day while others who exceed more than one hour in a 10-day period will get a warning, which can lead to termination, he said.”

Dealing with childish issues on the job

Now, you probably think this is where I’ll rant about how being a Bathroom Monitor isn’t strategic and demeaning to HR Pros.

But, I’m not. In this case, workers are getting what they have asked for.

If you act like a child, employers are forced to treat you like a child. Adults use the bathroom for reasons the Lord intended. Children use the bathroom for that reason and about a hundred others.

Have you ever spent time in an elementary school!?! I have. I taught elementary aged children.The bathroom is a place to go when you’re bored in class to waste time. The bathroom is where mischief happens.

Watersaver HR is doing what is has to do to solve an employee problem it is having. Employees were taking an advantage of unlimited bathroom breaks that the employer had given to them. It wasn’t everyone doing it, but it was enough that Watersaver felt the need to make changes.

Employees can still take a bathroom break any time they need, but once a certain amount of time is taken up over a 10-day period, it starts to become a disciplinary issue.

Most employees want to work with adults

Do I agree with this type of strategy? No.

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Here’s how I would have handled it: I would have had the managers who were having issues with a few employees taking too many bathroom breaks get rid of those employees who were abusing the privilege of unlimited breaks. I would have sent the message that we don’t put up with childish behavior. We want adults to work here.

You know what? The other employees, the majority, also want to work with other adults. They would have applauded this, because adults hate when they are working their butts off and others doing the same job are goofing off.

We aren’t talking about medical need here. We are talking about adults who don’t want to work for the money they are being paid. Those people have to go bye-bye.

That’s the type of strategy I would have rather seen Watersaver take.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.

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2 Comments on “A Workplace Lesson From Chicago: When HR Has to Be a Bathroom Monitor

  1. I feel that both the company involved and the author of this post aren’t digging deep enough into what is causing employees to seek excessive breaks. The real solution involves much more critical thinking. In my MBA classes, we learned about Toyota’s “Five Whys” exercise, which helped managers get to the bottom of problems on the production line. The plan of action the company is taking here, and the author’s own suggestions, barely scratch the surface of what the real problem is. I assume that this is a typical manufacturing job in which the assignments are fairly rote exercises. Maybe if the content of the work itself were more engaging, employees would be less likely to hide from it. Perhaps that would involve cross-training workers or empowering them to make suggestions that would improve productivity and engagement. But too often, managers, who have little experience doing the work they supervise, come up with band-aid solutions like monitoring bathroom stalls, criticizing the workers they should be motivating and empowering, and firing their workers when it’s the managers themselves who are missing the bigger picture.

  2. I had an employer try something like this garbage. Convergys, a call center company. I had other options. I quit on the spot and walked out. They spent a lot of money training me, too.

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