The Sound Machine Fiasco

Companies spend a lot of money on research into how to retain employees and create a cohesive work environment that each member of the team wants to stay in. I recently learned that all a company really needs to spend their money on to achieve that … is a sound machine.

The leaders at my workplace recently traveled to the Midwest to visit a partner company and take a tour of their facility. One found a sound machine in the restroom, used to help mask any natural sounds that were coming from the stalls. Thinking this was a great idea for us, she had someone buy such a product and place it in the women’s bathroom here. Problem was, she was not back in the office yet and no one was told of the change.

I find that change is not a popular occurrence for anyone, no matter how small that change may be. The day the sound machine was added to the ladies’ facility proved to be a memorable one, and an event that brought all the women in the office together in a sorority of confusion.

That morning I went to the restroom to find a colleague standing in the corner near the door. I greeted her and she informed me that she was going to listen to me pee. Having never had that invitation before, I reluctantly nodded in agreement and carried on. Realizing I didn’t get the joke she told me about the new device on the counter and how it got there. I hadn’t had a chance to notice it yet, assuming the white noise it was projecting was the ventilation system. Curious too now, I did what I came there to do but could still hear what was happening.

As more women used the bathroom to find the strange new noise, reactions varied. Several could be seen throughout the day simply staring at this new machine. Some quickly turned it off, while others made sure to turn it back on. Sometimes it was loud, sometimes it was softly playing static, but regardless of the variation I found it to be one of my favorite days at the office.

A cluster of women came to grab me at one point, and we changed the sound from that of white noise to birds chirping in nature. That gave others permission to alter the sound to a lullaby or a running river stream. The odd heartbeat sound was a little too creepy for everyone affected. By the end of the day all you had to do was make eye contact with another woman and both of you would grin like little girls.

When the stress of your workload becomes stressful, or your private life is such that you use work to escape from it, something as insignificant as a speaker on the bathroom sink can ease your troubles and give you a good laugh. What our manager didn’t realize with the new purchase was the forced camaraderie it produced in the building. She may end up disappointed with the result of masking bodily sounds but she can be satisfied in knowing the women I work with and I are now closer because of the experience.