A Toilet Story
We had a considerable challenge in selecting a toilet for a manufacturing organisation employing two hundred persons. We had to choose between three seats: an Indian squat seat, a western seat and a hybrid seat.
In the first case, we squat. Squatting is considered healthier for bowel movements, and many Indians prefer to squat since they’re typically used to the squat style toilet. The idea is that the way I sit in an Indian commode increases my blood circulation and is an excellent exercise for my hands and legs. Squatting squeezes my stomach, which aids digestion by pressing, pressurising and churning the food in my stomach. Sitting in a western-style toilet does not pressure my stomach and sometimes doesn’t even lead to excellent and satisfactory stool clearance. Sitting in Indian toilets makes me sweat and move my hands. Indians don’t use toilet paper because we consider toilet paper an inferior way of cleaning after easing oneself. In addition, this process adds to the wastage of paper. Western toilets are comfortable, but they have many disadvantages too. These require even more water as compared to Indian toilets. In my view, these are suitable for physically challenged and elderly and older adults. A hybrid seat does not give any additional benefits.
After a long debate, the team decided on-wall-mounted western toilets with a water faucet instead of a paper dispenser. The design was state of the art, followed by a western model, with a simple latch grey door open twelve inches below and opened at the top. The layout was elegant with an earthen colour scheme, with drains covered with stainless covers and the ceramic tiles on the wall and the floor giving a swanky outlook. Exhaust fans removed the odour from the space. The toilets were crown jewels for the factory located amid a jungle between a cluster of villages. For any visitor to the factory, the bathroom became a critical showpiece — a Visual Control System with a 5S checklist indicating the various criteria for cleanliness was in every toilet for everyone to see. A janitor would update the colourful list three times a day. The plan for female toilets was different, and these were on a separate block.
As the factory manager, the upkeep of the toilets was one of my critical deliverables in my Daily Management System. On a specific morning, I went on a routine check around the shop floor, and I wanted to verify the cleanliness of the toilet. The janitor and the floor supervisor were with me during the inspection. I opened one toilet door casually. I quickly closed the door and looked at my colleagues. We find that someone was using the bathroom, forgetting to latch to our utter dismay. While I do not want to describe the scene, we saw the individual sitting on top of the commode in a squat mode as in an Indian toilet. I thought something had gone wrong. Most of the staff come from nearby villages with no bathrooms in their homes. They had not seen or used western toilets as open defecation was the only way to relieve themselves, and they used a humble pot of water.
The hell broke loose. The operations team interviewed several workers and found out they did not know how to use these toilets. The news reached my manager, and he was troubled that the staff did not do a simple operation of using a toilet. He considered this a major failure on my part. He commissioned a special team to create visuals and a video explaining the usage steps clearly. The visuals appeared in each toilet in a couple of days, and the staff listened to short speeches and watched the video in the assembly daily for ten days. In addition, thoroughly ‘clothed’ human models gave demonstrations twice a day. Animation technology was ten years away. In due course, some of the workers volunteered to manage the toilets regularly. They were very proud that their names appeared on the toilets.
The impact was huge, and I learned a new lesson in management.