The no-privacy era of cubicles and wide-open offices is prompting many American workers to find a retreat in an unlikely place: the bathroom.
The restroom also is replacing the traditional break room, experts said, and has become a place where ideas are developed and departmental lines are crossed. Corporate architects have taken notice too, borrowing the design ambience found in old-fashioned "fainting rooms" and applying it to office washrooms.
"The bathroom is a hangout," said Sheri Costa, a 29-year-old San Francisco resident who works at a public relations company. She estimates that a five-minute bathroom break can easily turn into a 30-minute gab fast. "If I'm having a bad day or I need to step away from a situation, I go there."
The workplace trend follows one in home bathrooms, which many people view as stress-free sanctuaries. Home bathrooms have gotten bigger, and there is an increased emphasis on making them comfortable.
People who use the home bathroom to relax associate those feelings with the bathroom at the office, said Joy Gaetano, a labor relations committee member for the Society for Human Resource Management.
And relaxation is hard to come by in open offices, where it is difficult to get away from co-workers' phone calls and conversations.
"There are days when I feel like I'm going to break down," said Costa.
"I just need to step away and vent or relax. The bathroom serves as a crisis-management center."
By relaxing on a regular basis, employees become more energetic and willing to work, said Rick Shinn, director of the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute in Richmond, Va.
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