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I work in a manufacturing company where I am required to basically monitor machinery and process paperwork (not giving too much detail to keep anonymous).

It is generally expected people be on the floor around their machinery in case anything goes wrong and the machines require manual input here and there.

I work 8 hour shifts a day with 4 hours total travel to and from, making me out of home for 12 hours. Usually I will take a bathroom break (bowel movement) as I'm there for majority of the day, I find the walking around a lot I do on the floor will also stimulate this. I basically cannot help when I have to go. I try not to take more than 10 minutes when I do go, but it can depend.

I've had two supervisors sit me down and ask about being absent from the floor, saying they were running around everywhere trying to find me (melodramatic and unnecessary about something that was not at all urgent and could wait). I usually tell whoever is around I'm going to the bathroom but if there isn't I'm not going to wait around. I've also had them say this about taking my lunch break, that I couldn't be found anywhere despite taking my lunch break same time everyday. I find it amazing they are unable to deduce this.

I find it ridiculous they will pull me up on this, there are many people in the lab that will disappear for long periods of time and get away with it. I've known one colleague go to the shopping mall on their lunch break for over an hour and get away with it. The supervisors themselves often disappear, sometimes for an hour without telling anyone where they are.

What is the best way to handle this because so far it's coming across as petty micromanagement and a double standard. I find the management very hard to take seriously.

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    1. Forget about what other people do or don't do. It has nothing to do with them. 2. Does your company give you any official breaks during the day? Is your lunch break an official, company sanctioned and approved break? – joeqwerty Dec 30 '19 at 22:46
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    I know this is not relevant, but a 4-hour commute? Are you freaking kidding me? Can't you move or find another job? – Stephan Branczyk Dec 31 '19 at 3:51
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    Yeah the company gives about an hour everyday split how you want it. It's at our discretion when to take it but almost everyone has a coffee break late morning and then lunch later. That being said it has to be taken so that someone remains on the floor while the other is on break. – Deregen752 Dec 31 '19 at 5:55
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    Also regarding commute, yeah I don't enjoy it. I commute from a large nearby town to work at my company in the city however it's very expensive to live in the city. Many people who live in my town commute to the city everyday. I am looking at other career lines in the future. – Deregen752 Dec 31 '19 at 5:58
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    1. How far between the floor and the bathroom? I mean how many minutes would it take to go and come back? 2. How long did you take for the bathroom break? 3 minutes or 10 minutes? How long in total number of minutes each bathroom break take on average? If your answer of 3 is 5 to 7 minutes, I think you have a case. – scaaahu Dec 31 '19 at 8:53
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The fact that your absence creates the problems (or at least, they claim it to be a "problem") indicates two things:

  1. There is no proper communication of the break-time schedule.
  2. There is no proper escalation matrix

both of which are required (and usually mandatory) in a scenario where a continuous monitoring and management is required and expected.

As you mentioned:

It is generally expected people be on the floor around their machinery in case anything goes wrong and the machines require manual input here and there.

and

[...] That being said it (the approved break time) has to be taken so that someone remains on the floor while the other is on break.

you need to ensure that a proper time-chart / rooster is maintained and followed for this.

  • Sit down / have a chat with your colleagues and peers on the same floor and come up with a time-schedule that everyone will follow to ensure there's always someone on the floor, while everyone get to utilize the break time. Once finalized, circulate this to the supervisors and have it approved.
  • Prepare an escalation matrix (or backup responsibility rooster), if possible / feasible. For example: In case, at any point of time anyone has to leave the post for any reason for a relatively short amount of time, check if someone from the nearby post can handle the responsibility of overseeing the post/duties and can be contacted for any emergency.
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  • Do you mean "backup responsibility roster"? A backup responsibility rooster would be really cool though... – Tashus Jan 2 at 22:12
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People in this thread have given some very good answers so far. If this is a case of micromanagement I would keep a record of when you go on breaks. Keep a small notepad in your pocket and write down the date, the time you left, and the time you returned from any break. Distinguish between a break and when you had to use the restroom so they can't accuse you of taking too many breaks.

If management accuses you of being absent ask the specifics: what are the dates and times you were absent. After they give their answer pull out your book and say where you were at.

If they don't have an exact date or time and just make a general statement like "you're just gone all the time" you can tell them you keep very good records of your breaks and you know that you only take one one-hour lunch, two fifteen minute breaks, and one ten minute restroom break per day or whatever your routine is. This notebook method can both protect you from false accusations and make management aware that any accusation needs an exact record and cannot be the product of hearsay.

If you choose to share your entire book with them I would not surrender the book. You don't want it to be lost. Suggest they make photo copies and immediately return it. If you are fearful they may loose the book intentionally or alter it in any way tell them the photo copies must be made in your presence or say you will make photo copies at home and bring them in tomorrow.

Good luck.

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I've had two supervisors sit me down and ask about being absent from the floor

A good place to start would be with either your line manager, or these supervisors (I'd talk to my line manager, but you'll have to judge who is the most relevant in your workplace).

Tell them that you'd like to fix the issue that's been raised, and ask how you should handle your bathroom breaks in the future.

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Based on:

running around everywhere trying to find me (melodramatic and unnecessary about something that was not at all urgent and could wait).

and

that I couldn't be found anywhere

It seems like the problem is getting in contact right away rather than the breaks themselves. The complaints centre around getting in contact with you and finding you when needed. Were the breaks the problem, they would focus more on you slacking or taking too much time off.

Could you give them your cell phone number so that you can always be reached at a moment's notice? Seems like that would allow them to get in touch with you within seconds while still allowing you to leave the floor.

Or perhaps request a walkie-talkie/radio/pager if those things are used at your facility.

there are many people in the lab that will disappear for long periods of time and get away with it.

Ba careful with comparisons. Are these people also responsible for monitoring machinery? I am a software developer and virtually everyone except the dev team is out of office. We are here because things break and not just on scheduled days. I can't reasonably complain about HR getting the time because they have no critical work to do over the holidays.

What is the best way to handle this because so far it's coming across as petty micromanagement and a double standard. I find the management very hard to take seriously.

I don't think this is the problem. Assume malice only after incompetence has been ruled out. Assume incompetence only after exhausting the other potentially reasonable but poorly communicated reasons have been ruled out.

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    A cell phone could be used against him, especially if texts are involved. Also, who wants to answer a walkie-talkie while taking a crap for a stupid non-emergency request. I personally wouldn't. I would be wary of suggesting one of those options. Once you accept that, it will be difficult to go back on (if you find you hate it). Maybe he could just purchase a small chalkboard and write "Out for Lunch from 12 to 1 PM - Deregen", or "Will be back at 10:20 AM - D". This is by no means a perfect solution, but it could help a little and it would show that he's trying to improve communications. – Stephan Branczyk Dec 31 '19 at 4:09
  • @StephanBranczyk that is a fair point, especially depending on the personalities involved. – Matthew Gaiser Dec 31 '19 at 5:01
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    It's a good idea, the supervisors have their cell phones on our communications board. However, our building is constructed from thick concrete so there is no cell reception inside the work area, we can only use landlines unless your outside of the work area. Like I could understand if it was an actual emergency and I wasn't found anywhere, but it wasn't the case, it was some trivial question that could've waited in the end. – Deregen752 Dec 31 '19 at 6:07
  • @Deregen752 can signal work within buildings? The radios may still be an option. – Matthew Gaiser Dec 31 '19 at 6:10
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    I should've mentioned the work involved is hazardous, we can't take anything out of the floor without decontamination etc it might not make radios viable. Pagers or something like that surely would work though. If they raise the issue again I might suggest these. – Deregen752 Dec 31 '19 at 8:07

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