What? 6 Minute Bathroom Breaks? It Sounds All Wrong, But May Be Right

I believe in natural selection. When the Internet went crazy last week because some little known company was only allowing their employees six (6) minutes to use the bathroom each day, I didn’t have a strong reaction.

I didn’t care because I know, from experience, that companies only do this because they are forced into the position for some reason or another, or, because they have horrible leadership.

Or sometimes, both.

The debate over bathroom breaks

This might be the case for Water Saver Faucet Company out of Chicago, but quite honestly, I don’t know.

Here’s what we do know: The owner of this company makes his employees swipe in and out of the bathrooms to monitor usage.

Sounds horrific, the Internet screamed! How could anyone do this?! Well, the owner is doing it, and in a Teamsters union shop (this could be a post on how far the union has fallen!).

We could argue for days about why this is wrong, but no one wants to argue about why this might be right!

What smart HR Pros should be asking

Here’s what we don’t know, but what a savvy HR Pro would question before jumping to conclusions:

  1. Why did the owner feel the need to install such a system to begin with?
  2. How much money is the company losing for excessive bathroom use?
  3. Were other measures tried first before deciding on this measure?
  4. Were employees consulted about this change before the owner made it?
  5. Are we actually breaking any laws by doing this?
  6. Are we putting ourselves in an unfavorable recruiting stance by making this change?

We could go on and on, but the reality is that there might very well be great reasons to monitor the use of your bathroom facilities at your office.

Game playing in a union shop

The Water Saver Faucet Company claims they lost 120 hours of productivity in May alone to unscheduled bathroom breaks. This is in a shop where they already get one 10 minute mid-morning break, a lunch break, and a 15 minute afternoon break, and at which time they can use the restrooms as freely as they would like. The six (6) minutes of bathroom break monitoring is for unscheduled breaks.

This still sounds barbaric to so many of my HR friends, many of whom have never worked in a union shop.

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I have. I played the union game. I’ve spent time in the bathroom for long periods with nothing to do, but not wanting to go out and build another pallet or haul more material.

So, I hid out. By the way, I was shown how to do this during my union mandated three (3) weeks of supervised training for a job that took me about 30 minutes to learn.

I was shown when to go, where to go, and how much time I could stay without repercussions. I was also shown where I could go to play cards, smoke, sneak outside to my car, etc. It was a “great” training program!

The message: Someone is watching

Should someone who physically has to use the restroom ever feel like they can’t or they’ll use their job? Absolutely, not.

Should employees who take advantage of “using” the bathroom to get out of work feel they might? Yes — but that is hard to prove!

So, what do you do? In this case, leadership decided to limit access. Will it work? Who knows, but it got the point across to the workforce that someone is watching.

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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4 Comments on “What? 6 Minute Bathroom Breaks? It Sounds All Wrong, But May Be Right

  1. It occurs to me that the reporting on the subject might be the biggest failure since a quick scan of the news reports offered none of the questions or answers that you posed.
    As a follow up we should see if the bookies at the plant are willing to offer an over/under bet on whether productivity will go up in the next three months. I know where I would be placing my bet.

    1. Employers sure do love the morale-killing nonsense, don’t they? And then start screaming and threatening employees when productivity goes down.

  2. When people start relieving themselves in plants, unoccupied offices, and stairwells, this bathroom monitoring nonsense will stop. Let’s focus on the smokers who take 7-8 minutes several times a day to go outside and smoke. Add to that the 3-4 minutes it takes them to get up from their desks and get to their smoking spot. The rest of us do not get that break. Are smokers required to swipe in and out, too?

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