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I'm a smoker, and I drink coffee. Due to the nature of the two substances, I end up being "regular" everyday at around 9:30AM. To be specific, I go to the bathroom around 9:30AM. As I usually take my first smoke break at this time too (lasts around 1-2 minutes) this break in total can vary anywhere from 5-20 minutes. I will spare you the details on why the time can vary.

My VP has asked me before where I go for 20 minutes every morning, and I replied to her "I have a smoke and go to the bathroom". She is now asking me again and dragging my CEO/President into the mix via email(it's a small company ~8 people). She is asking me why I take such a "long break" in the morning.

I'm not really sure how to approach this situation. Do I tell her I need time to poop everymorning? That I've been doing it this way for the past 10 years? Do I avoid responding to her and go straight to my CEO/Prez and explain (he's a guy so maybe he will understand)?

This whole situation is really stupid to me. I can understand why a 20 minute break isn't the best thing, but if I didn't take that "break" I wouldn't be able to concentrate all day, not to mention the effects it would have on my body. Do I really have to keep reminding everyone that I take a poo in the morning..

Edit: I've been asked a lot of questions in comments here so I will give some more details.

  • Yesterday my VP emailed me about leaving 15 minutes early two weeks ago.
  • The first conversation was in person where I explained that I take a short (1-2 minute) smoke break and then use the restroom. The second conversation was a "random" email sent this morning relatively out of the blue, about taking a 20 minute break two days ago.
  • I haven't been lacking in performance. I get everything done on time, in fact I work more efficiently and get more done than most people in the office.
  • This VP has always been really nice to me, and this seems relatively out of the blue, I can't think of anything that I could have done to upset her over the past while.
  • I also should have mentioned that the VP and CEO are married.
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    Basically duplicate, sadly that one was closed. Welcome to the Workplace.SE. Question: How many companies have you been following this routine at for the past 10 years? – rath Oct 16 '15 at 14:52
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    Are you clocking your smoke break as break time? There's a lot of people who don't like the idea that smokers take breaks while counting it as work-time. – Erik Oct 16 '15 at 15:02
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    So basically your question is, "my bathroom break lasts 5-20 minutes at the same time every day, my boss/CEO are wanting to know why?" I don't see how the 1-2 minute smoke break matters in this question (?). – enderland Oct 16 '15 at 15:02
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    The other question was closed because it asked if this was fair/right, which isn't a type of question we accept. This question, on the other hand, asks what to do about the situation, which is different. – Monica Cellio Oct 16 '15 at 15:02
  • @enderland The smoking was included because I'm pretty sure she originally thought that I was taking a 20 minute smoke break.. The first time we discussed this in person. Second time she emailed me (a few months later) and CC'd the CEO – ballBreaker Oct 16 '15 at 15:05
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I think the easiest way to solve this is to not have a smoke at 9:30. Separate the puffing from the pooping.

Management sees you go on a smoke break and come back 20 mins later every morning. They don't know if it is 19 mins smoking or 2 mins smoking. They just know you went on a smoke break.

I would make sure that at whatever time you dispose of your hazardous materials it is no where near a smoke break - and don't just smoke because it is convenient.

As a manager I might have the same thoughts (although I would never say something to an employee about 20 mins) but I would think that you could be abusing your breaks and it is not fair to non-smokers. You first need to eliminate this thought in your management. I seriously doubt they would have ever said anything to you if you were simply walking to the restroom everyday at 9:30 and took 20 mins.

Now once you stop double dipping on the stink you can come back to us with just the question of why management is asking about my bathroom breaks.

Addendum: Based on OP mentioning being asked about leaving 15 mins early two weeks earlier.

You are being micromanaged. Whether you are or aren't doing your job, I don't know. The funny thing is, your management doesn't know either. That is why they are more concerned about you being at your desk than working. I have worked for people like this in the past and I never got along with their attitude (because I work when I want to). Note that this could also be coming from your peers mentioning your breaks to management.

You have three options to deal with this (after you quit smoking during your potty break):

  1. Make sure that management knows what you are working on and is good with your load (bad pun haha). I doubt this will work since your management seems like they are disconnected from the employees.

  2. Take less breaks. Sit in your seat more. If your peers are making comments to management they will be happy. I know this is stupid but it is your situation. Most of the time these complaints start within the group. You just need to sit at your desk and do nothing and they will be happy.

  3. Prove that you produce way more than your peers. If you are obviously doing more things than your peers any conversation they have about productivity will not hold water. I have gone this route a few times, as I don't like to keep normal hours.

Handling the conversation: I would just simply email everyone something along the lines... "I know I take a while to go to the bathroom every day, this is something I am personally working on but have little control over. I will now do that independently of any smoke break that I take to not confuse people where I am."

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On the matter of timekeeping, I tell my people

If I start noticing what time you arrive and leave, and how long your lunch is, you already have a problem.

I'm a busy person. I have a company to run, my own billables to deliver, other people's work to monitor, work to sell, and late payments to chase. Keeping track of comings and goings and breaks takes time I don't really have. About the only reason I would start doing it is if I see someone is not producing as I expect them to. There have been times where the reason someone is only getting about 3/4 what I expect completed is because they work about 2 hours less a day than they should. I like my people and telling them to actually work a full day is an easy way to fix a performance problem, so it's one of the first things I check.

You say:

I haven't been lacking in performance. I get everything done on time, in fact I work more efficiently and get more done than most people in the office.

But I wouldn't be so sure. Go and ask, is this the optics of how long you're in the bathroom for, or something deeper? If it's the former, then your other answers about separating the smoke break from the bio break, or working out a way to have the bio break happen before work, are good. But I would not be surprised at all to find out you're not actually doing as well as you think.

  • Thanks Kate. This is what I was worried about. It is possible that because the VP is almost entirely separated from the work that is done, that she doesn't know how long it takes to get tasks done. She might see something like "Oh he only finished 3 document sections today" and then jump the gun. When realistically those sections were 5 thousand words – ballBreaker Oct 16 '15 at 16:06
  • +1. This is basically what I was trying to say but you've put it a lot better. – Lilienthal Oct 16 '15 at 16:11
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    I'm doing as well as I thought. I had the conversation. Basically, she thought I was having a 20 minute smoke break after only being at work for 30 minutes. – ballBreaker Oct 16 '15 at 19:35
  • That's good news! – Kate Gregory Oct 16 '15 at 19:38
  • +1 for "If I start noticing what time you arrive and leave, and how long your lunch is, you already have a problem." Absolutely spot on. – Mike Oct 19 '15 at 15:25
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You can reply to the mail(cc'ed one) directly, that you have to smoke and attend nature's call in the break. As simple as that.

If she pushes you more, then you can explain to your team in person that it is a personal problem, and you need to attend to that in order to work properly for the day.

As their rule(is it even a rule there?) is affecting the productivity of an employee, they would either scrape it/relax it for you. Or they might also tell you that it is a rule, and you need to follow it. In the final case, I'm afraid, you have to follow the rule.

However, don't exaggerate and write off a simple reply explaining your situation.

1

I have a different perspective, which people probably won't like. I don't think its appropriate for people to schedule their bowl movements during working hours. Healthy adults with normal, regular bowl movements can determine when and where they release. Children and adults who are either sick or unhealthy have no control over when and where they release. If this is not the case here, I would simply change your routine.

Regularity is a matter of routine. You could adjust your routine by drinking a cup of coffee when you first wake up in the morning, do about 5 minutes of exercise before work to get things moving, invest in something like the Squatty Potty to use at home, change eating habits for a few days so there is not so much waste in the morning, or sit uncomfortably at your desk until you can release in the afternoon.

When I realized that I was developing a routine at work, I did the latter so that I wouldn't have to use the office stalls. It really was not that big of deal.

I don't think its wrong to go at work, and I have when I needed to in the past. I don't really notice when people do at my office either, but I still think its kind of not-so-good to schedule your release during work hours when its typically preventable.

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    I poop when I gotta poop. That's all there is to it. Trying to force my body to be "regular" at a certain time is in no way a "regular" thing to do. You're also suggesting that I schedule my bowel specifically to do it at this time. I don't believe I do, and perhaps if that is in fact the case I wouldn't just have to change my morning routine I would have to change my entire life routine.I could list out the 20 reasons why it happens at the time it happens, but that's not the point. – ballBreaker Oct 16 '15 at 17:03
  • Comments are not for discussions evocative of Sheldon Cooper. – Monica Cellio Oct 16 '15 at 21:55
  • This is ridiculous, poop whenever you want to poop. I guarantee that if you did an experiment with mandated no pooping at work at one company vs a normal company the normal company would win in terms of productivity and worker's happiness every time. – reggaeguitar Mar 12 '18 at 19:12
  • The answer suggests voluntarily regulating your elimination schedule for parts of the day when you are not at work. Not a company wide prohibition on pooping. – Dunlop Mar 14 '18 at 13:06
  • If you believe that your bowls spontaneously occur, then perhaps you could reassess the validity of that belief. Its possible you choose to eliminate at work each day, whether consciously or unconsciously. You could be more productive if you did not eliminate at work. Pooping for 15 minutes a day is equivalent to pooping for 8 entire work days each year: ((255 work days x .25 hours) / 8 hour workday). – Dunlop Mar 14 '18 at 13:14
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What you do in the privacy of a bathroom stall and how long you're in there for is no one's business but your own. The correct response to a question like this is to mention again that you're taking a break but also to ask if she has any concerns with your performance, workload or work ethic. Unless your VP is a true loon or your workplace dysfunctional, she's asking about your breaks because she noticed that you're not getting as much done as your colleagues or she has other reasons to question your performance. Talking to you about your breaks is generally the sign of a bad manager since she should be addressing your performance, not a 20 minute break.

You can just say something along the lines:

It's a habit of mine to take a short break in the morning. I find that it keeps me focused for longer during the day. I make sure that it doesn't otherwise affect my productivity and I haven't had any problems with managing my workload so can you tell me why you think that these short breaks are a problem?

Alison Green covered a similar question that is also worth reading: can my employer stop me from using the bathroom?


That said, please refrain from making comments like "he's a guy so maybe he will understand?". It's disrespectful and a good way to tarnish your reputation.


Note that in the USA bathroom breaks have been discussed by OSHA, requiring reasonable access to bathrooms, and there is a provision for sub-20 minute breaks in the FLSA. See also Q&A 3 at this link. Many other Western countries have codified the right to breaks and their minimum duration into law.

  • Right. Women poop too. – thursdaysgeek Oct 16 '15 at 15:26
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    I don't see how this sort of approach is a good idea. Realistically, management is concerned that their employee is gone for 20 minutes every morning. Telling them, effectively, "mind your own business I'm getting work done why do you care how long I'm away from my desk?" really strikes me as a bad way to approach this. Especially if they are a bad manager as you say - a bad manager is going to take that really poorly. This might be the "feel good, stick it to your manager!" answer that is nice to hear, but I doubt it'd go over well given the situation the asker is in... – enderland Oct 16 '15 at 15:29
  • Yeah fair enough. It isn't exactly a social norm to talk about poop around women however, but I see what you are getting at. – ballBreaker Oct 16 '15 at 15:29
  • @enderland Her point is correct though in saying that there could be a deeper routed issue here. I know she has been keeping track of when I leave and enter the office as of late. An email was sent to me yesterday about a time I left the office 15 minutes early two weeks ago – ballBreaker Oct 16 '15 at 15:31
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    @Dustiny - you need to add the details to your question - as they are important. – blankip Oct 16 '15 at 15:40
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It seems doubtful that a manager is taking you to task over toilet/smoke breaks, unless you are not performing well or they have other reasons for looking at your time management. I would focus on any performance issues that could be improved and put this down to experience. Normally no one cares what your doing in the toilet and could care less about you smoking if your work is up to their standards.

Getting confrontational about a poop break or even trying to explain it away would not be my strategy. If it's part of a problem that now has the top people interested in analysing my time management, I'd make a change in my routine to accommodate their perception of efficient use of time.

You were given a warning and you ignored it, now it's been escalated. That's what happens when you ignore warnings. You can either change your routine at whatever inconvenience to you. Or alternatively be prepared to discuss your bowel movements with all concerned.

Quite frankly and without wanting to offend, a two minute smoke break seems way too small (I'm a smoker) and an 18 minute poop seems way too long (I'm also a pooper). So if your bosses are like me, the whole excuse although legitimate would be a bit smelly.

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    I've deduced that the VP doesn't really have that many better things to do, and also co-owns the company so feels personally responsible for time management. Also no offence taken, the 18 minutes is an outlier, the whole shebang usually is only around 10 minutes. – ballBreaker Oct 19 '15 at 14:41
  • that makes more sense – Kilisi Oct 19 '15 at 16:50

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