Industry’s newest productivity tool: An uncomfortable toilet seat (no joke!)

December 25, 2019

We are not alone-and it has nothing to do with UFOs. While businesses already are monitoring employee emails, Slack messages, and keystrokes in order to increase productivity at the office, the last bastion of worker privacy is about to disappear, according to a report by The Huffington Post.

Gone are the days when a single-occupancy toilet stall was, perhaps, the only place where an employee could find solace in solo in a high-pressure workplace.

No—there won’t be video cameras in the loo, but a British company named StandardToilettoilet has applied for a patent on a toilet that discourages long bathroom breaks. The company has filed a patent for a fixture designed to increase employee productivity by making it uncomfortable for anyone to dwell on the toilet seat.

In its own defense, on its website, StandardToilet explains, “It is estimated that in the United Kingdom alone, extended employee breaks costs industry and commerce an estimated £4 billion (US$5.2 billion) per annum. Moreover, medical studies have suggested that using the traditional WC can contribute to swollen hemorrhoids and the weakening of pelvic muscles.”

The company adds two more pressing reasons for introducing discomfort and  a quicker departure into the restroom experience: “In modern times , the workplace toilet has become private texting and social media usage space. [And] in commercial shopping malls and train stations, a requirement to reduce queuing has become a necessity.”

Indeed, StandardToilet rationalizes, it is offering a “unique opportunity to improve employee heath and well-being with business efficiency through reductions in social media usage.”

While current toilet seats provide a reasonably comfortable horizontal seating surface, the newly designed seat slopes forward at an angle of 13 degrees, HuffPost reports.

The new product is designed to make it uncomfortable to spend longer than about five minutes on it without experiencing leg strain, Mahabir Gill, founder of StandardToilet, told Wired UK in an article published Monday.

“Thirteen degrees is not too inconvenient, but you’d soon want to get off the seat quite quickly,” Gil told the magazine. The magazine reported that Gil is in talks with several local councils and service stations to use his product.

However, there are naysayers: Jennifer Kaufmann-Buhler, assistant professor of Design History at Purdue University in Indiana, told the HuffPost that the toilet makes assumptions about the kind of person who will be using it. “It kind of imagines that the process of urinating and defecating are these mechanical aspects of our bodies that always operate the way that they are supposed to. That we all have bowels that move efficiently, that we all pee at the same level, Kaufmann-Buhler said. “Bodies aren’t standard.”

In an email, StandardToilet explained to HuffPost that the product is not designed to replace toilets for people with disabilities.

Assuming that the product was in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act and other countries’ regulations for accessibility, there could still be issues if this toilet were to go mainstream, a workplace disability expert told the news outlet. Nadine Vogel is the CEO of Springboard Consulting, a business that works with companies on how to serve workers with disabilities. “Is it necessarily useable for all by a universal design point?” Vogel said is the question StandardToilet should be asking themselves to be more inclusive to employees with disabilities. “What is accessible is not always useable,” Vogel said.

Vogel outlined scenarios of workers who may or may not have a documented disability but need longer bathroom breaks. It could be a diabetic worker who needs to take a glucose test while sitting comfortably on a toilet seat, she said. Or it could be someone needing that break for their mental health. “The fact that the concern is extended employee breaks―well, what about people that have some kind of mental health situation that actually need that kind of longer break?” Vogel asked.

Harvey Molotch, a professor of Sociology at New York University and co-editor of “Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing,” told HuffPost that his immediate reaction to the patent was that it was a “spoof.”

In general, Molotch said this toilet monitoring is part of the history of “anxiety that people are ‘misusing’ toilet facilities for things not intended and, indeed, doing things that are sinful: drugs, sex, loafing.”

Kaufmann-Buhler said this product assumes how an employee’s time should be managed. “I do think it’s a very capitalist mentality that people’s physical bodies and its problems and limitations are inconveniences to modern capitalism that want you to be productive whatever the cost,” Kaufmann-Buhler said.

Employees already feel pressure to take shorter bathroom breaks. Seventy-four percent of Amazon warehouse workers avoid using the toilet out of fear of being warned about missing their target numbers, according to a survey of more than 100 employees by worker rights platform Organise.

Office design can add another physical layer to this pressure to be an efficient worker. Since direct surveillance would be “indecent invasion of the most private of our acts,” employers control workers’ toilet habits through equipment, Molotch said. “Instead of a real cop, the cop is built into the machinery itself,” he added.

Research contact: @HuffPost

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