I recently attended a lecture on work ethics. The first point the speaker brought up was that it is dishonest to spend time on personal matters at work. She told us that spending large amounts of time talking on the phone or taking care of other matters which have nothing to do with work, while you are being paid to do your job, is essentially “stealing”. To her, it was completely black-and-white. If you waste time at work doing things which are not part of your job description, she said, you need to either deduct the time or make it up.
Now, we young-folk (the speaker was around the age of 70) in the crowd, were somewhat taken aback by her words. In today’s day and age, it is common to be on your phone during work hours. Whether this means checking your text messages, updating social media or talking to a family member or friend – everyone spends time on their phones at work. Additionally, shopping online, taking a break to chat with a coworker (for more than three minutes) are pretty much accepted as the norm in most workplaces. This woman was clearly from a different generation and there was no way that what she was saying had anything to do with us! Obviously, we do our best to focus on work for the majority of the time we are there, but to tell me that if I take a personal phone call or check the Black Friday sales I am stealing from work? Definitely not.
Mulling it over afterwards, I had time to reframe it in my mind. It is clear that not everything is as black and white as she made it out to be and it is true that the workplace environment has somewhat shifted with the age of smartphones and internet. Yet, maybe she is not wrong.
When a person is hired to fill a certain position, it is clear they are being paid to do a job. Most jobs have certain hour requirements and it is understood that during those hours, you will be focused on the job you are being paid to do. Yes, it is true that sometimes personal matters come up that need to be dealt with during work hours and most employers are happy to accommodate when necessary. It is also true, that no one can work for eight hours straight and everyone needs a few minutes to chill during the workday.
Imagine you hired an assistant to help you at work. The first day on the job, she comes in five minutes late. Fifteen minutes later, you come to her desk and you see she’s not there. After a quick search around the office, you locate her in the kitchen, holding a cup of coffee and chatting with a coworker. Ten minutes after that, you can see from where you sit at your desk (having been working the entire time), that she finally returns to her desk and settles in to begin her day. One hour later, you notice she jumps up to take a quick phone call which seems to last fifteen minutes, at least.
The next few hours are quiet until at 1 pm, she knocks on your door to let you know she is taking a lunch break. She returns an hour later and again, spends fifteen minutes making a coffee in the kitchen. For the rest of the afternoon, things are quiet, yet every time you walk past her desk, she seems to be texting or checking her phone. At 4:55, you notice that she is beginning to gather her stuff and clear her desk and finally at 5:00 and not one minute later, she is out the door with a quick wave in your direction.
Now tell me, how would you feel about that?
The truth is, when many of us think (honestly) about our workdays, things do not look that much different. Obviously, this example is extremely exaggerated but I think the point is clear.
We all would benefit if we spend a few minutes honestly reviewing the amount of personal time that bleeds into work. Taking it one step further, what if we made a conscious decision to be more mindful of the clock when we are at work? This way, we can go home with a good feeling that we did our very best to focus on our job while we were at work and to keep out all other items that were non-work related during our workday.