Posts tagged with "Productivity"

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

Walmart rolls out robotic ‘smart assistants’ at its locations nationwide

April 10, 2019

Every hero needs a sidekick: Think of the selfless contributions of R2D2 of Star Wars fame, Optimus Prime of the Transformers superhero franchise, and Robot from Lost in Space.

And now, Walmart believes, the stockroom, janitorial, sales, and front-end associates at its discount stores could use a little robotic help, too. So, as of April 9, the largest U.S. retailer has announced that it will be putting automated helpers at its locations nationwide.

“Smart assistants”—which is what the retailer has dubbed its automated staff—“have huge potential to make busy stores run more smoothly,” Walmart said in a press release this week.

Indeed, Walmart has been pioneering new technologies to minimize the time each associate spends on the more mundane and repetitive tasks—such as cleaning floors or checking shelf inventory. This gives associates more of an opportunity to serve customers face-to-face on the sales floor.

Throughout the year 2018, pilot tests of these technologies have been well-received. “But it’s not enough to have these cutting-edge systems in just a few locations,” the company says.” That’s why additional technologies are coming soon to stores across America.”

And, Walmart promises, “We’re going big.”

Among the new additions will be:

  • 300 additional shelf scanners, aka “Auto-S”: This technology scans items on store shelves to help ensure availability, correct shelf location, and price accuracy.
  • 1,200 FAST unloadersWorking with the shelf scanner, the FAST unloader automatically scans and sorts items unloaded from trucks, based on priority and department. This allows associates to move inventory from the back room to the sales floor more quickly.
  • 900 pickup towers: When a customer places an order online and selects for an in-store pickup, an associate loads the ordered item into a pickup tower. The customer then receives a notification via email that the item is available from the pickup tower; which works like a giant vending machine to retrieve and unload the purchase.

That’s a lot of extra help for associates—and the staff is enthusiastic. According to SVP of Central Operations for Walmart U.S. John Crecelius, “Our associates immediately understood the opportunity for the new technology to free them up from focusing on tasks that are repeatable, predictable, and manual.

“It allows them time to focus more on selling merchandise and serving customers, which they tell us have always been the most exciting parts of working in retail.”

Research contact: @Walmart

Losing their lunch: America’s workers can’t catch a break

September 4, 2018

More than half (51%) of America’s workers say that “it is rare or unrealistic” for them to take a proper lunch break away from their desks or job sites, based on findings of a survey conducted on behalf of Eggland’s Best by OnePoll and posted on August 30 by SWNS Digital.

The poll of 2,000 American workers asked them to reveal their lunch and snacking habits—and found that job stress and the pressure to deliver on high workloads is taking its toll.

That might explain why America’s modern office workers are now more likely to eat at their desks at than any other location, according to the data.

Fully 30% of respondents said that productivity is the biggest reason to stay close to the computer while supposedly taking a break. A lack of time and a perception that there is always too much work to be done also made the top five reasons to eat lunch at your desk each day.

The study found that a very focused 49% of workers—especially those 18 to 44 years of age— say they believe that lunch can be a distraction from getting work done; however those over the age of 45 disagreed.

With a lot of work and little time in the day for themselves, the results indicated that eating habits are changing to suit such hectic routines, with an emphasis on snacking prioritized over lengthy meals.

With few workers receiving a full lunch hour, the survey found that 68% of American workers snack twice a day, and three in ten workers enjoy snacking three times a day. They identified “health snacks” as the following: fruit, nuts and seeds, Vegetable sticks, yogurt, granola, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, humus or nut/seed butter, and pretzels.

In fact, 44% of Americans even have a “snack drawer” at work dedicated to little bites to keep them going throughout the day. Who is most likely to appreciate the office snack drawer? The majority are Millennials and those who hold a traditional 9 to 5 office job.

“As the workplace shifts, so does the traditional lunch hour. With the average lunch ‘hour’ now likely to be 30 minutes or less, American workers are now snacking at least twice a day, not surprisingly between breakfast and lunch, and then when hunger strikes again between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.,” stated a Kimberly Murphy, director of New Ventures and Innovation at Eggland’s Best.

Where do workers stock up on snacks? They are most likely to get snacks from the grocery store (60%); followed by bringing in homemade snacks (37%), or raiding the vending machine (25 %). And while most of America tends to grab sweet snacks, American workers in the Midwest crave salty instead!

Research contact: usnews@swns.com

Enthusiasm cools among employers for Summer Friday perks

May 29, 2018

Last Friday, many Americans hustled out of the office a little early to get their Memorial Day mojo going. However, while employers likely turned a blind eye to that particular holiday exodus, they won’t be so amenable on many weekends this summer. Based on several surveys, companies are cutting back on Summer Fridays this year, Mic reported on May 24.

New York City Staffing company OfficeTeam found that the number of employers offering the perk had declined precipitously— from 63% in 2012 to just 20% last year.  And that’s a shame, they said, because fully 30% of employees think leaving early for the weekend is the best of all office perks.

According to Gallup, the number of employees who are completely satisfied with their hours is actually trending down. In fact, a 2014 Gallup poll found that the 40-hour work week is no longer even close to operative; most office workers are at their desks for 47 hours a week, if not more.

But those longer hours don’t necessarily lead to greater productivity: A CNBC report in 2015 cited a Stanford University study that showed that “employee output falls after a 50-hour work week—and  sharply falls off a cliff after 55 hours.”

Worse yet, fully 40% of workers already are approaching that cliff, according to Gallup, and 20% of full-time workers log more than 60 hours per week.

Yet, based on a study conducted by the Harvard University School of Public Health, stress-related productivity loss amounts to about $30 billion for employers each year.

As Mic points out, employees are simply counting down the clock on Friday afternoons anyway, so why not let them go?

Of course, summer Fridays aren’t going to be an easy solution for every workforce, Mic writer James Dennin admits.

“But,” says Dennin,”the case is clear that Americans are overworked, office closures are the best way to get workers to take time off—and the best time to close an office is when it’s warm and sunny outside.”

Research contact: jdennin@mic.com