Stop Stealing Your Employer’s Time

We’ve all been there. You have downtime at work because of IT/technical issues. Or you are waiting for a response or assignment. Or perhaps you’re in a holding pattern because you need someone else to do something on their end. Either way, these breather periods are important in the modern, stress-filled professional environment.

But like anything else, you can have too much of a good thing.

Employers get it. Work-life balance is a serious consideration among employees. Many companies have onsite fitness and recreational outlets. Most have relaxed their restrictions on employee internet use and have a new tolerance for personal cell phones and tablets in the office. With greater visibility into companies’ work cultures, in terms of talent retention, companies realize that they can no longer make draconian demands on their employees’ time and still expect loyalty in the long run. But let’s not get it twisted. An employee collects a paycheck from their employer in exchange for service rendered for the employer’s benefit. They do not pay you to simply exist and live a comfortable life.

While this may seem like a no-brainer, I’ve personally witnessed some jaw-dropping behavior from well paid professionals in regards to what they do on their downtime. I’ve seen employees sitting at their desks playing solitaire (multiple times, at multiple companies); I’ve known people to go out for extended lunches, imbibing alcohol or even partaking in more illicit drugs (then coming back into the office); then there are those who stay on personal phone calls…every day; people who spend extended amounts of time in the workspace of others; and the list goes on. If you need some inspiration on productive things to do on your downtime at work, check out this article or this one. However allow me to offer some additional tips that I doubt you’ll find anywhere else…

  1. Use downtime for training and additional mastery of office tools and technology. If you don’t know how to send a fax from the printer, or you still haven’t corrected your profile information in the company directory, you have no business surfing the internet for birthday presents on company time. Besides, it’s way less stressful figuring these types of things out during slow times then when you are trying to meet deadlines and your unfamiliarity with systems is just slowing you down.
  2. If you want to socialize, fine, but include your manager/supervisor in your rotation. Yes, it’s a borderline shady/brown-nosing/teacher’s pet kinda of move. But it can have real benefits later. Especially come review and recommendation time.
  3. Get on (work) social media. In most cases, your employer has a company page on LinkedIn or Facebook. Maybe even a Twitter and Google+ account. If so, then interact with those accounts in addition to (or instead of) your usual social media activity.
  4. Discretion and common sense are key. Even if you do feel the need to play Candy Crush, or engage in an extended game of ping-pong or slotzo with your buddy from accounting….be smart about it. Don’t make your playtime at work a regular habit. If it is becoming regular, then that is a sign that you need to touch base with your manager to see if your skills are needed to help out others. Keep “play” internet windows minimized. That way you aren’t sending the wrong message to co-workers and managers that may walk past and see your computer screen. And finally minimize conversation about your office recreation. Even if your co-worker(s) and manager are ok with it, the news about your on-the-job chill periods may reach the ears of someone who doesn’t like it and who has the power to do something about it.

So in this case, the old adage, “Privileges are earned, not given.” holds true. If you have an employer gracious enough to allow their employees some sanctioned recreation at work, feel free to enjoy it, but don’t over indulge. Be respectful and understand your role as a company’s employee (or client’s contractor…or whatever scenario applies to you). Give them your best work at all times and give them their due share of your efforts in building up your shared reputations and success.