Employee Takes Too Many Bathroom Breaks – Ask HR Bartender

by Sharlyn Lauby on January 24, 2013

I’m not sure how or when it happened but somehow monitoring the restroom has fallen into the scope of responsibilities for human resources. I guess it comes along with being the fashion police. Other HR bloggers have bravely addressed aspects of the bathroom issue. You can check out their musings here and here.

Facebook, social media, leadership, management, accountability, employee, business, bathroom

But today’s reader question has a bit of a different twist. It deals with an emerging bathroom issue – Facebook:

We have an employee who visits the restroom at least 4-6 times per day and spends 6-10 minutes each time. We felt we couldn’t say anything to her, but she mentioned to another employee that she checks Facebook while in the bathroom!!

Are we allowed to do anything about this? How do you possibly tell someone they are not allowed to spend so much time in the bathroom? Thanks for your help!

According to Advertising Age, over 25% of Americans check their Facebook page while using the bathroom. And no surprise, the number of women who check their Facebook page is higher than men.

Let’s make the assumption there is no medical reason for this employee to visit the restroom frequently. If I were faced with this situation, there are a couple things I would want to know.

Does the employee get their work done? Yes, it might look weird that an employee takes a lot of bathroom breaks. No different than the employee who takes a lot of smoke breaks. But if the employee is getting their work done in a satisfactory manner…does it matter? I once worked with an employee whose kids called her all the time. It was a wonder they could put their socks on in the morning without her. But she got all her work done. And it was quality work.

Can employees check Facebook at their desk? I wonder if part of the reason this employee checks Facebook from the bathroom is because the company has put the lock down on social media. Realistically, employees are checking their Facebook from the bathroom, parking lot, cafeteria, etc. Maybe the company needs to examine how disruptive it would (or wouldn’t) be to have employees check their Facebook from their work areas. Of course, this is predicated on the first question about getting the work done.

Companies need to focus on getting the work done. Not controlling every little bodily function of an employee. If the employee isn’t getting their work done – then deal with the lack in performance. But if spending five minutes checking a Facebook page is the worst thing this otherwise good performer is doing…is it possible that putting controls on the situation will do more harm than good?

Image courtesy of HR Bartender

{ 10 comments }

Jan Davis January 24, 2013 at 9:46 am

I agree with you, it is about meeting expectations. If you can make a call to check on a family member you should be able to send them a text, FB or twitter message – as long as you deliver quality work. I have worked with plenty of smokers that take many long smoking breaks but it was not a problem because the boss was a smoker.

Sharon January 24, 2013 at 11:07 am

I agree with your point about getting work done. If she is doing all of her work, and excels in all other areas of her job, there’s no need to restrict her bathroom access – even if she is checking her Facebook.
Sharon recently posted..What does 2013 have in store for contractors?

Corey Feldman January 24, 2013 at 11:36 am

I would also wouldn’t be quick to dismiss the medical issue, having a wife with Crones and knowing a lot of people with crones/colitis/IBS…
Corey Feldman recently posted..The Sexton and the Reaper

Sharlyn Lauby January 24, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Thanks everyone for the comments.

I think sometimes it’s easy to focus on symptoms (i.e. checking FB in the rest room) instead of dealing with the real situation (employee performance).

Corey brings up a good point about the possibility of a medical issue. In this limited reader note, there’s no mention of it. But employers do need to be able to deal with accommodations as required.

Joe Carbone January 24, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Supervisors need to be aware of personal needs for bathroom breaks. I agree with Corey on the medical situations. As many as 700,000 Americans may be affected by Crohn’s disease alone. Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America http://www.ccfa.org/
provides resources and insights as to why many people need bathroom access. We miss out on great talent and make life tougher than necessary if we ignore these needs. I agree -concentrate on performance.

Russel Stuart January 25, 2013 at 2:06 am

It is funny that people have to use the rest room to access FB! If only they were given a little space at work, this need wouldn’t have arisen. This goes on to show that employees will invent ways to access their personal email accounts or FB if they want to, even if they have micro-managers breathing down their necks. My view is that so long as they are delivering high quality work, why make them go all the way to the rest room? Why not let them access FB at their desk?
Russel Stuart recently posted..Hiring for Retention and Productivity – Know the Facts

Sharlyn Lauby January 25, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Thanks for the comments.

Hopefully if an employee needs an accommodation, they are having those conversations with their manager so appropriate arrangements can be made. It can turn into an embarrassing situation when companies make the assumption that employees have medical issues (an employee may or may not have).

Without any knowledge of a medical condition, the company should focus on the work.

Brad Farris (@blfarris) February 12, 2013 at 9:52 pm

Sharlyn;

I love this advice, and truly couldn’t it be used in almost every situation where employers are trying to monitor and control employee behavior? Is it a performance issue? If so deal with it as such, if not, let it go.

I see so many employers trying to monitor what websites people are one, or how often they are out of their desks, or what hours they are working, or who they are talking to…. Is the work getting done adequately? Are you offering people enough challenging and important work to engage their creative minds and desire for self-actualization? Make that the focus, not the behaviors people are using to make up for that lack!
Brad Farris (@blfarris) recently posted..Giving honest, immediate feedback is a leader’s first job

Sharlyn Lauby February 14, 2013 at 9:46 am

So true Brad…so true. Thanks for the comment!

Ken July 22, 2013 at 6:20 pm

I am at work reading this thread
…in the bathroom. ;-D

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