We’ve all been there. You’re having a particularly rough day at work, and you need a break. But a walk to get coffee would take too much time, and you don’t smoke because it’s bad for you. So you go take a bathroom break, sit on the toilet, and just take a beat to breathe and relax and collect yourself. The bathroom mental health break is an essential part of the day. After five or ten or fifteen minutes of peace and quiet, you’re generally ready to go back and tackle the rest of your day.
One company based in the UK wants to take that away from us. A recent Wired article warns of the advent of the StandardToilet, a toilet that’s tilted design is meant to reduce the number of minutes employees spend in the bathroom. Along with GoFundMe medical fundraisers and initiatives like SweetGreen’s “Family Fund,” this efficiency toilet is a late-capitalist nightmare come to life.
The StandardToilet has been “approved by the British Toilet Association (BTA), which is, apparently, a real thing. The toilet sits at a downward angle of 13 degrees, enough to strain your legs and feel like an extended squat after five minutes, but not enough to cause health problems. Yippee. “Anything higher than that would cause wider problems,” said StandardToilet founder Mahabir Gill. “Thirteen degrees is not too inconvenient, but you’d soon want to get off the seat quite quickly.”
If this sounds like the work of an inhumane, productivity-obsessed cartoon villain, that’s because it basically is. Over 40 years, Gill became increasingly annoyed by discovering workers asleep on the toilet and having to wait in line for public restrooms.
But toilet time is sacred for people who work in offices, and there’s no way forcing people off the pot after five minutes makes them get back to work any faster. If anything, that inability to recharge (not to mention the inability to take their time doin’ their business!) will make employees drag their feet even more. This truly seems like a torture device.
Wired points out that there is a health benefit to the position the toilet puts you in while you sit on it, but that’s not the main reason for the design, and it’s nothing a Squatty Potty couldn’t fix. The founder wants you to know that he didn’t really care about people’s health. For him, it was all about getting them back to work. “Its main benefit is to the employers, not the employees,” he said. “It saves the employer money.”
Here’s the thing, though. Employers don’t need any more benefits. Workers in all industries are already being abused. Being taken advantage of in the workplace has become the norm. People are expected to put work above all else and work insane hours for little pay and minimal benefits. Everything is so messed up. The least our employers could give us is the ability to poop in peace.
People may be spending more time on the toilet during the work day than they used to, but how much do you want to bet it’s because most people don’t get a real lunch break or other breaks during the day? How much do you want to bet it’s because there’s a ton of pressure to always appear like you’re working unless you’re heeding nature’s call? Maybe it’s partly because open office design was the worst idea and no one has any privacy anymore during their day, so they go to the bathroom to have a minute to themselves.
Jennifer Kaufmann-Buhler, assistant professor of design history at Purdue University, said, “In an office, the one space you have where you can find privacy is often the toilet. So, god forbid that we want to make the one place where workers should have at least some autonomy — the toilet — another place where people impose the very capitalist idea that people should always be working.”
“Viewing time spent in the toilet as a threat is the wrong way of looking at the issue entirely,” says Charlotte Jones, co-author of the Around the Toilet project. “I think the importance of the toilet as a refuge during the workday says more about inadequate workspaces, heavy workloads, and unsupportive management than it does about the workers themselves.”
Not to mention, there are a lot of health reasons a person might have to use the toilet for more than five minutes.
The StandardToilet is indicative of a larger trend of companies trying to “optimize” production in ways that hurt employees. Newsflash: Employees are people. Sometimes they need to take breaks. And sometimes they have to poop. They should be able to do so in peace.