Loo before you leap

If you are visiting corporate headquarters for a job interview, take a comfort break

There is a corner of every office that is much frequented but seldom explored. No management experts write about the washroom or facilities as they are euphemistically called. The boss probably has a loo of his own. So he is not too concerned where the rank and file perform their ablutions and more.

Yet if you are visiting corporate headquarters for a job interview, it’s an absolute must that you take a comfort break. (Not during the interview, of course.) Check out the conveniences. Are they clean? Are they adequate? There is a formula for the number of stalls required which depends on the number of employees (see box). Is it enough or will you be left hopping on one foot during lunchtime?

There are other aspects. In office complexes today, there is often just one set of WCs per floor. This is maintained by the building administration and each individual office on the floor gets a key. It can be a real pain in the neck. To prevent keys from getting lost, they are attached to massive keychains, rather like five-star hotels did before the smartcard. It’s too big to put in your pocket or handbag. When you step out into the corridor, you are making a statement for all to see.

There are newer questions arising around the issue. In the West, particularly in crowded cities, “loo emporiums” are making headway. Reports the BBC: “Unisex toilets are apparently the latest in ‘office cool’, and are currently being tried out by city workers in London. There are no urinals in these loo emporiums, so men have to queue alongside their female colleagues. A new etiquette will be needed to combat rows about men leaving the seat up and women hogging the mirrors. Some say spending a penny in a mixed environment will inject an air of camaraderie into the office.”

In India, it seems they can do without such camaraderie. Unisex loos have not taken off anywhere but in dotcom companies, where the employees rather than the managements have forced a merger.

But there is other loos’ talk that concerns Indian CEOs too. With cellphones proliferating, people have started using stalls to make personal calls. In a cubicle farm, you have no privacy. So what if you are calling your significant other sitting on the potty. If she has an office culture similar to yours, she may be sitting on one at the other end too. But the bottom line is that the restrooms get clogged up.

It is happening for another reason too. In some offices, employees are not allowed to send personal emails or surf the Internet. They do so in the loo on their mobiles. In the UK, a nationwide survey by T-Mobile found that nearly half the respondent base of 2,000 employees used their mobile phone to access the Internet at work; 15 per cent resorted to hiding in the toilet just to get online. Smoking in the loo is, of course, old hat.

Loos are big business, by the way. Last year, a World Toilet Summit was held in New Delhi with more than 40 countries participating. It was promoted by the Singapore-based World Toilet Organisation (WTO). Incidentally, the WTO also has a Toilet College in Singapore.

The WTO is taking the big view of bathrooms. At a micro level — that of the individual corporation — hear out Gerry Crispin, principal of MMC Group, an international staffing consultant: “A good leader doesn’t have to spend his or her time cleaning the restroom. But clearly, if the restroom is dirty, that would be an indication to get the hell out. It says something about the management, as well as the employees who choose to be there.”

There are more ways than one to find out if a job stinks.

Recommended number of office loos
People at work No of toilets No of washbasins
Women or unisex
1-5 1 1
6-25 2 2
26-50 3 3
51-75 4 4
76-100 5 5

1-15 1 1
16-30 2 1
31-45 2 2
46-60 3 2
61-75 3 3
76-90 4 3
91-100 4 4
(Source: Health and Safety Executive)

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