Can Less Be More? Working Towards Better Work/Life Balance

Tanya Hunter
February 19, 2020
Tanya Hunter

In the crazy busy pre-Christmas rush, we Worklogicians clutched our pearls when we read that British start-up StandardToilet had patented a sloping toilet designed to increase productivity by decreasing the amount of time employees spend lingering in the loo. Standard Toilet’s website lamented that the toilet has become a “private texting and social media usage space”. According to the company, this looming threat to the bottom line makes the sloping toilet an asset designed to flush out toilet texters.

When Good Intentions Go Bad

Does the sloping toilet represent the greatest innovation since Sir John Harington[1] built the flush toilet in 1596 for his godmother, Queen Elizabeth I and Victorian plumber and sanitary engineer Sir Thomas Crapper[2] patented the ballcock to prevent overflowing toilet tanks? Or is it a pernicious attempt to invade the last bastion of workplace privacy?

Lest we scoff at the notion that employers really would consider the sloping toilet as a productivity innovation, five years ago an employer in Chicago installed a system to monitor toilet time and attempted to penalise employees who took time outside of official breaks. Last year, workers at a call centre in Scotland objected to a contract that restricted their “personal time” to 1% of their working hours. And Amazon warehouse employees have reported resorting to bottles rather than the bathroom because of unrealistic productivity targets.

How much more productive can we really be? And is the emphasis on productivity actually having the opposite effect?

Creating Balanced Workplaces

Charles Duhigg, the author of Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business notes that forcing workers out of the water closet could be counterproductive, as being in a comfortable physical environment away from distractions promotes deep thinking. As many people now work in open-plan offices, places away from distraction can be hard to come by.

The sloping toilet’s productivity claims also run counter to research and trends that indicate shorter work weeks and flexible working arrangements increase employee wellbeing and productivity.

The 4-Day Week at Work & Other Innovations

Finland’s new prime minister, Sanna Marin, has previously suggested exploring the idea of a 4-day, 6-hour day working week to improve happiness and focus on families, hobbies and couture outside of work. Sweden’s 6-hour work day has been in place since 2015 and has resulted in happier, more productive employees and more satisfied customers.

A Japanese company trialled giving an additional 6 days of leave to employees who did not smoke to recognise the additional time non-smokers put in and to encourage smokers to quit or reduce the amount they smoked in order to increase productivity.

A number of companies have experimented with the 4-day work week to counter employee burnout, which was officially recognised as an occupational hazard by the World Health Organisation in 2019. A Microsoft subsidiary in Japan found that productivity improved 40% when employees were given Fridays off in August. In 2018 New Zealand-based estate planning service provider Perpetual Guardian began experimenting with a 30-hour work week, during which employees were required to produce the same amount of work and were paid the same. The company found that employee engagement and work-life balance improved and stress decreased.

Last April, Melbourne-based company Versa began a one-month trial that it called no-work Wednesday in which all employees took Wednesday off. CEO Kath Blackham noted that staff had become more efficient, the company had better staff retention and the quality of work improved as well. In addition, she commented that the company also attracted more and better-quality applicants. Melbourne Recruiter Beaumont People is trialling the four-day work week from 1 February through 30 April. Founder and CEO of Beaumont People Nikki Beaumont noted that staff expressed both excitement and concern, but were eager to make it work. The business intends to post about the trial on social media and host an event for others who would like to trial the concept after their 3-month trial is completed.

Best Practice Makes for Greater Happiness

Business initiatives that build a positive workplace culture and embrace worker autonomy are proven to increase productivity – and make for happier people all round. And happier people make for a happier workplace.

As Worklogic Director Jodie Fox recently commented on Channel 7, the workplace is changing rapidly and employers need to be open to change and reflect upon how they harness people’s productivity.[12] In Jodie’s words, “Good employers are really recognising that it’s not about bums on seats.” Toilet seats included.

About Tanya Hunter

Tanya Hunter applies a sensitive approach to working with vulnerable clients and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and astute understanding of legislative and compliance frameworks and enterprise agreements. 

She brings a balanced, impartial approach to the entire process from preliminary analysis of complaints to conducting investigations, creating productive policy guidance and solutions and implementing change projects.

[1] Sir John Harrington was a distant relative of actor Kit Harrington, lately featured on Game of Thrones.
[2] Sir Thomas Crapper (1836-1910) died on January 27, which is officially Sir Thomas Crapper Day. 2020 marks the 110th anniversary of his passing. Jokes about British plumbing aside, the British have a proud history of toilet innovation.

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