As a leader, I’m always on the lookout for ways to boost my productivity. But, bonus points if I can do that for my team as well. And, if there’s one practical way to achieve that goal, it’s minimizing the amount of time wasted.

Obviously, that’s not a revolutionary concept. Throughout the history of time management, you’ll see that there’s been a focus on eliminating the unnecessary things in your life. Although getting rid of excessive time-wasters seems apparent, it bears repeating. When you reduce the irrelevant, you’ll accomplish more with less effort, reduce stress, and have a more fulfilled life.

Unfortunately, in the quest to improve the bottom line while increasing productivity, some leaders have taken this to the extreme. Case in point, targetting toilet breaks.

The War on Breaks

As detailed in The Conversation, there’s been a long and unfortunate history of such policies. Back in the 1950s, Italy, factory workers met in bathrooms to express anti-company feelings share and union literature. But, things took a turn for the worst after it was discovered that someone called the boss an “idiot and a buffoon” on a toilet door. The culprit lost their job, and the doot was removed.

In 2014, a company in Chicago installed a system that monitored employee bathroom breaks. A call center staff in Norway were asked to sign a new contract in 2019 that limited toilet breaks to 1% of their shift. The comes out to just two minutes for those working a four-hour part-time day. Facebook’s European headquarters in Dublin was accused of timing bathroom breaks in 2020. And, there was much backlash against the titled toilet that would put a strain on users’ legs after five minutes.

Here’s the thing, though. Targetting toilet breaks isn’t just unethical, and possibly illegal; it also won’t increase productivity. In reality, the opposite is exact.

I’m not saying that you or your team members should spend the majority of your time at work in the loo. Research has found that instead of restricting breaks, you should encourage them.

That may sound counterproductive. But, as Alan Kohll explains in Forbes, breaks increase productivity since it helps them “gain focus and energy after stepping away from their desks.” Breaks can also boost creativity, improve mental well-being, and allows for more time for healthy habits.

So, if limiting bathroom breaks is off-the-table, then how can you increase your team’s productivity? Well, easing up your policies regarding breaks is a start. But, you may also want to try the following techniques.

Track individual performance.

“How well a business performs comes down to how well employees perform. With that in mind, tracking individual performance is essential,” suggests Matt Straz in a previous Entrepreneur piece. “Consider meeting with employees in a casual, one-on-one setting to get a better idea of how they are performing and the progress they’ve made toward their work goals.”

“Don’t track time,” adds Straz. “Tracking individual performance is one thing; tracking hours and days is another.” Tools like time-tracking apps can be helpful — especially when blocking out your calendar. But, they only “measure the amount of time employees spend on particular tasks and projects — not the quality of their work or the results of time spent,” says Straz. “Performance should be measured in work done well, and deadlines met, not how long it took to get the job done.”

Improve workplace conditions.

If you want to keep your team healthier, happy, and productive, then they need to work in an optimal environment.

For starters, make sure that you create a positive and healthier work environment. That means not tolerating bullying or harassment. If there’s a conflict, resolve it ASAP. You may also want to create an employee wellness program and minimize distractions like useless meetings. And, if you’re a known micromanager, work on putting this out to pasture.

You should also make sure that the design is favorable as well. For example, let in as much natural light as possible and have plenty of plants placed around the workplace. You may also want to paint the walls a more inspiring color, like blue for creativity. And, make sure that your team is comfortable by setting the temperature at around 70 degrees and providing them with ergonomic furniture.

Increase employee engagement.

Having a healthier and happier workplace is one way to increase employee engagement. But, you should also give people freedom and autonomy. In a nutshell, that’s giving them the ball and running with it. For example, clearly explain your expectations for an upcoming project. After that, let them work, however, and whenever they see fit.

That may be uncomfortable at first. But, we all have our own productivity prime times. So, instead of forcing them to work when they’re not productive, this allows them to work when they have the most energy. Even better, flexible schedules also help them maintain a work-life balance. In turn, your team will be more productive and loyal.

Other ways to improve employee engagement would be to:

  • Ask for their feedback or opinions.
  • Get them involved more with decisions, such as planning a meeting or product launch.
  • Provide learning or growth opportunities like on-site training, mentor programs, or online courses.
  • Show your appreciation. A simple and genuine “thank you” always works. But, don’t be afraid to think outside the box and offer a reward.

Be empathetic.

Here’s one thing that bothers me about targetting bathroom breaks. What if an employee has a medical condition that requires frequent bathroom visits? Or, how about that company in Norway that made menstruating women wear red bracelets.

Both are already embarrassing and sensitive subjects. But, it also shows a lack of empathy and humanity on your end.

As Denna Ritchie points out in a Calendar article, “Empathy creates a more loyal, engaged, and productive team.” The reason? “Empathy creates bonds. It also shows that you care, value, and understand others.”

For example, let’s say that an employee’s performance is suffering from a medical condition. Do you think that limiting their bathroom usage is going to turn this around? Or, do you think talking to them to find out the root cause would be more effective?

You don’t want to pry. But, if you show legitimate concern for their well-being and be supportive of them, they’ll be more productive and engaged.