Latrine Leadership in Business and at Work


Before I was a Girl Scout camp counselor, I was a Girl Scout camper, starting at about age 8. Given that I continue to volunteer as a camp counselor, I clearly love the summer camp experience.

There was one thing I did not love about my childhood summer camp experience – latrines. They stink on so many levels. I hate using them, and I hate cleaning them. One of our chores at Girl Scout camp was to wash down the latrines with Pine-Sol every day (scrubbing them vigorously: walls, floor and other reachable surfaces, with floor-scrubbing brushes), and then dumping the contents of our wash buckets down the latrine hole. Which just added a pine scent to the overall stink for about an hour.  The coup de grace is that I was a little girl who was lactose-intolerant and who enjoyed ice cream immensely anyway – you do the math. Suffice to say, despite hating latrines, I used them much more than I preferred.

One day at camp, I was en route to the latrines when I noticed one of my counselors exiting a door marked “Staff Only” from an unmarked cement building that I had not noticed before. After she walked away, I pushed the door open. Pay dirt! It was a small bathroom with a modern flush toilet and sink. I proceeded to use that bathroom on the down-low until almost the end of the summer, when I was summarily caught and sternly redirected back to the camper latrines.

What bothers me about that experience to this day was the unfairness of it all, and the consequential / meaningless demonstration of authority and control. Either have everyone use the bathrooms, or the latrines. Why create morale issues (e.g. demonstrating a lack of respect for one group in an organization, effectively marginalizing / diminishing them)  about a basic human necessity such as bathroom usage? Instead of that tired old adage, “whoever dies with the most toys wins;” is it “whoever controls the bathrooms wins??”

Apparently, bathroom access continues to equal power even today, given the story this week about the company in Chicago who in concert with their Teamsters’ union leadership, has created a policy penalizing employees who spend more than 6 minutes at a time using company bathrooms.  A few choice quotes from the above-referenced CNBC story:

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.

In December, the union-represented employees had to start swiping their badges to gain access to the washrooms. By March, 19 were disciplined for excessive use, Kreitman said.A 12-page rule list given to employees is also pretty strict about how to take care of your personal business at the company.

“Place all toilet paper in the toilet and make sure that the toilet is completely flushed,” it states. Employees are also told to place paper towels in the trash, refrain from “malicious gossip” and not to “make derogatory or inflammatory comments about the company.”

and:

“It should be noted that union leadership previously had agreed to a policy regarding washroom use, and even suggested language for it,” he (the company spokesman) said.

I can’t begin to tell you how much this concerns me from a compliance standpoint (ADA and NRLB, for starters); from a company and union culture standpoint (e.g., if they weren’t already unionized, this company would be ripe for union organizing – however, the union appeared to be working with the company on the bathroom policy until something went south in the company-union power struggle, so the union predictably decided to take their grievances to the media.); and from a basic human respect standpoint.  Will they all be digging latrines next?

Clearly, Stephen Covey’s insight is lost but needed in this employee and media relations nightmare: “Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.” Can you imagine telling your best customers that they only have 6 minutes to use your company bathroom??

What latrine leadership do you (and/or will you) display with your employees and your best customers, in business and at work?

2014-07-20 19.01.53

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