Employees at Chinese short video app company Kuaishou were shocked recently to see that timers had been installed above their toilet stalls at work, in an apparent bid to monitor the duration of defecation.
Photos were on Weibo, and soon the topic began to trend, with many outraged users slamming the company for violating its employees’ privacy, and for putting productivity and profit over people’s personal needs.
“Toilets are not enemies of efficiency,” reads one of the top-ranked comments. “When endless overtime work becomes the norm, and when the absence of overtime pay becomes standard for the industry, in such an environment, you have to come up with other ways to reduce the intensity of work. People end up spending time in the toilet to make up for the lost time in their personal lives.”
Some defended the company, saying “People can be on the toilet for up to 30 minutes, just playing on their phones.” But overall, public response to the measures was decidedly negative.
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Kuaishou responded to the backlash by saying that there was a misunderstanding with the timers. According to the company, they were intended to help with long lines and overcrowding in bathrooms.
They released a statement on Weibo saying, “the toilets in the building are currently limited, and the queue for employees to go to the toilet is very long, but the structure of the building makes it hard to install new bathrooms.” They explained, “timer was put in the bathroom to test how often the toilets are used per day and to help us determine how many portable toilets we need to install for the staff.”
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Not everyone is convinced though. China’s tech industry is known for its brutal 996 workweek — 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week. In an industry that’s notorious for squeezing employees to the limits of their productivity, the toilet timers are almost unsurprising — one company in Shanghai already limited their employees to ten minutes of allotted bathroom time each day.
Indeed, the Kuaishou incident became the spark for an investigative feature by People magazine, who earlier this year exposed the exploitative working conditions of China’s delivery drivers. The publication found that the policing of employees’ time in the bathroom was not limited merely to Kuaishou.
The problem of excessive work culture extends beyond the tech industry in China, and has sparked numerous viral discussions and memes in recent years. Things have gotten so extreme, that the city of Shenzhen just passed a new policy requiring employees at local businesses to “take time off and recharge.”
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