Personal Work on the Company Clock
Did you hear about the girl who was fired for writing a novel at work? Everyone was impressed at how she toiled away in front of the computer, coming in early and staying past 5 p.m. Turns out she was burning the midnight oil working on projects that had nothing to do with her actual job. The company confronted her, she protested, they fired her. End of story.
I heard this sad tale on my way to work one morning and spent the rest of my lengthy commute examining my workplace behavior. I have a feeling almost everyone has engaged in at least one of the following while on the company clock: booking plane tickets, making restaurant reservations, cruising Etsy, checking blogs, instant-messaging, etc. Just the other day I noticed a colleague sending a box back to Amazon on the company dime and I spent part of my afternoon checking out kids’ furniture online with my work friend. I thought nothing of either incident. But how much is too much? Here are some guidelines.
Turn off the Smartphone. With iPhones, tablets, and laptops (not to mention text messages and IMs), the lines between work and personal are increasingly blurred. But this doesn’t mean you can’t act like a professional: If it isn’t required for your job, turn your cell phone off, or set it to vibrate while you’re at the office. Try not to answer it during the workday, and return calls after hours, on your lunch break, or at carefully selected downtimes. E-mail is tougher. Try keeping separate accounts for work and personal to keep you focused. And resist the urge to check the personal e-mail every five minutes. Everyone you’d want to hear from should be working too.
Think before you surf. Your computer is likely owned by your company, which means they can access your hard drive, files, bookmarked Internet pages, music, and photos. And although they are unlikely to rat you out, your co-workers have eyes too. You can almost guarantee that they’ll at least notice if you’re constantly surfing piperlime.com. Eventually your integrity will be questioned.
Don’t be a crook. It’s happened to everyone—a pen or a Post-it pad has somehow made it from your desk at work to the counter at home. These things are expected. Snagging supplies like paper, calculators, scissors, or file boxes gets a little shady. In general, you shouldn’t use the office supply closet for personal use. Use this rule of thumb: If you feel guilty doing it, it’s probably wrong. And yes, this includes using the office postage machine to mail out your wedding invitations. Not only is it completely egregious, it can get you fired. Definitely not a fun memory.
If you must cheat, be covert. Lots of people have side projects—freelance jobs, a burgeoning small business, or a hobby. There are bound to be times when you can (or must) multitask at work. When those arise, be as inconspicuous as possible. No matter how cool your workplace is, no boss likes to know he’s paying you to do work for somebody else. If you’re on deadline at your “other” job, show up early, stay late, or work through your lunch break. If someone asks, you had a few things to finish up before the day got rolling. Another sneaky tip: Carry a notebook dedicated to personal projects. We’ve all watched employees quickly close down documents or Internet pages when they’re nabbed surfing. Studiously handwriting your freelance proposals might take a bit longer, but you’re less likely to get caught in the act. And that’s time definitely well spent.