Just How Much Personal Stuff at Work is Really Tolerable?

(Originally published on June 5,  2011; reprints previous original material published in this section)

By Nikki Constantino


In work scenarios where Skype and Outlook are switched on side by side Facebook and Multiply, the line drawn between official and personal business is growing finer and finer.

Just exactly where does the buck stop—and where can certain activities be allowed?

“Anything that does not have to do with your work is personal,” says Czarina Teves, independent organizational development consultant and online career advice columnist for Jobsdb.com. “The problem is when time is spent in favor of the personal, at company expense.” That explains why the landline is sometimes a personal effect.

It wasn’t so long ago when it was easy to define what “personal business” is: that quick trip to the bank, or to the nearby preschool to pick up your kid, but these days, the definition takes on a whole new meaning.

“Most companies make  reasonable allowances for personal business: calling your kid, texting your husband, calling your sick mother—as long as it does not affect the flow of real business,” says Teves.

According to the “Xylo Report: Shif ts in Work and Home Life Boundaries” (November 2000), “Seventy-five percent of employees who work outside the home take care of personal responsibilities while they are on the job at least once a month. Just over one-third of employees, 36 percent take care of personal responsibilities on a daily basis at work, spending an average of 1.35 hours per day on those personal tasks.”

What’s Okay and What’s Too Much?

“Go back to objectives,” suggests Teves, when asked how to tell what’s just right and what’s overboard when it comes to doing personal business at work. “Why are you at work? Why do you need to take that call now? Why do you need to answer that Facebook comment now? Anything that negatively impacts your productivity and on the company’s profitability is too much. Check your company’s rulebook. A lot of companies have strict rulesabout Web and Internet access. If it’s not in the rulebook, take a look around and see what the culture allows. But just because the culture allows it, however, does not mean it’s okay. It turns off customers to see people conducting their personal business on company time.

“If you’re the boss or the employer, you should model the behavior you expect from your staff or employees. You can’t expect them to be working seriously when you’re busy with your Blogspot or with Solitaire. It sends the message that the work does not deserve serious attention.”

‘But I’m Just Taking a Quick Break!’

Good for you if you really just want to rest your eyes from the strain caused by having to stare at tiny Excel grids for hours. Better if you have the discipline to actually give yourself a time limit: “I’ll just chat with my US-based friend for 10 minutes and go back to work.” Sadly, it is not for the weak of will.

“You can’t do two things at the same time with the same effectiveness,” says Teves. “The time you spend on your Yahoo account can’t be spent on preparing your call report—unless you live in two parallel universes, or have two minds and two sets of limbs.”

‘I can prove it. Facebook widens my network!’

“If it promotes productivity then it isn’t a distraction,” Teves supports. “For example, people who work in advertising agencies need to have as much exposure to multimedia resources as possible because you need to keep feeding the mind so you always have a fresh store of ideas. But there is a thin line between research and dawdling.

“Sure, Facebook is good for networking, but your network is only as good as what those people in the network could deliver.”


Top sites that eat up an employee’s time in the office

1. Facebook Though vital for networking in media-related companies (and sometimes an important tool, too, for keeping up to date with breaking news, like Twitter is), Facebook can be distracting. E-mail a friend, check. Send an instant message, check. Play Scrabble, check. Answer stupid quizzes, check. Feed a pet, check. Snoop into your boss’s personal life, check. Facebook all day and your company will have to fire you. Here’s your check.

2. Multiply The office is the perfect place to upload your 65 photos from last week’s beach trip because you’re on LAN and the Internet is doing 90 on the freeway, right? Wrong.

3. Yahoo Messenger Not really a site, but this feature allows you to connect with friends while looking like you’re actually working! No wonder they call it Yahoo! But look, unless you work for Yahoo, you don’t really need to spend so much time using that tool in the workplace.

4. NBA.com Games are usually aired locally while our husbands are on their way to work, so the moment they turn on their office PCs, they log on to NBA where they can see/read about/watch the game they missed.


This article appeared on Business Agenda’s June 14, 2010 issue and abridged from HIPP Magazine July/Aug 2009 issue.

(All rights reserved. Copyright Manila Bulletin. May not be reproduced or copied without express written permission of the copyright holders.)



Posted on August 22, 2011, in Career Stories and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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