Raising Your Hand Just Won't Do

By Gary T. Marx

This article, intended as satire, appeared in the Los Angeles Times on April fool's day 1987. In an interesting commentary on our society, many readers thought it was real and some even wrote and asked where the system could be purchased.

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As part of a research project on productivity, I recently came across the following innovative policy just adopted by a major corporation. It might serve as a model for other companies wrestling with this problem.


An internal audit of employee restroom time (ERT) has found that this company significantly exceeds the national ERT standard recommended by the President's Commission on Productivity and Waste. At the same time, some employees complained about being unfairly singled out for ERT monitoring. Technical Division (TD) has developed an accounting and control system that will solve both problems.

Effective 1 April 1987, a Restroom Trip Policy (RTP) is established.

A Restroom Trip Bank (RTB) will be created for each employee. On the first day of each month employees will receive a Restroom Trip Credit (RTC) of 40. The previous policy of unlimited trips is abolished.

Restroom access will be controlled by a computer-linked voice-print recognition system. Within the next two weeks, each employee must provide two voice prints (one normal, one under stress) to Personnel. To facilitate familiarity with the system, voice-print recognition stations will be operational but not restrictive during the month of April.

Should an employee's RTB balance reach zero, restroom doors will not unlock for his/her voice until the first working day of the following month.

Restroom stalls have been equipped with timed tissue-roll retraction and automatic flushing and door-opening capability. To help employees maximize their time, a simulated voice will announce elapsed ERT up to 3 minutes. A 30-second warning buzzer will then sound. At the end of the 30 seconds the roll of tissue will retract, the toilet will flush and the stall door will open. Employees may choose whether they wish to hear a male or a female "voice". A bilingual capability is being developed, but is not yet on-line.

To prevent unauthorized access (e.g., sneaking in behind someone with an RTB surplus, or use of a tape-recorded voice), video cameras in the corridor will record those seeking access to the restroom. However, consistent with the company's policy of respecting the privacy of its employees, cameras will not be operative within the restroom itself.

An additional advantage of the system is its capability for automatic urine analysis (AUA). This permits drug-testing without the demeaning presence of an observer and without risk of human error in switching samples. The restrooms and associated plumbing are the property of the company. Legal Services has advised that there are no privacy rights over voluntarily discarded garbage and other like materials.

In keeping with our concern for employee privacy, participation in AUA is strictly voluntary. But employees who choose to participate will be eligible for attractive prizes in recognition of their support for the company's policy of a drug-free workplace.

Management recognizes that from time to time employees may have a legitimate need to use the restroom. But employees must also recognize that their jobs depend on this company's staying competitive in a global economy. These conflicting interests should be weighed, but certainly not balanced. The company remains strongly committed to finding technical solutions to management problems. We continue to believe that machines are fairer and more reliable than managers. We also believe that our trusted employees will do the right thing when given no other choice.

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