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Personal Business at Work: Keep It Low-Key

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Dan Bobinski has an article today in Management Issues, worrying about the amount of time employees spend on personal matters at the office. Bobinski’s conclusion seems to be that with dialogue and a clear policy, managers should be able to ensure their employees keep their personal activities to a minimum. Oh really?

Let’s be quite frank: if you’re working office hours Monday to Friday, it’s almost impossible not to deal with personal matters at the office at least once a month. I’m not talking about organising the weekend’s barbecue or arranging a date. Those are definitely for your time only. But unless you are using a service like Rush Nairobi, it’s almost impossible to keep your business and personal lives completely separate. Most of the companies we deal with shut down the same time as we leave work.

The last time I was an employee, for a mobile technology company, there was a policy that we shouldn’t slack off work or conduct any personal business while we were at work. So I spent most of my working day IM-ing  my boyfriend, checking my personal email and shopping for shoes online. Yet I didn’t get into trouble. My manager didn’t care what I did as long as I got my work done. And that’s how managers ought to judge whether their employees are spending too much time on personal affairs.

For employees, it’s relatively simple: if you have enough time to clear your intray and still have time to check your Facebook profile and pay the electricity bill, you’re on the side of the angels. On the other hand, you’re doing your grocery shopping, investigating new schools for your offspring, planning your cousin’s wedding and then you need an extension for that report you were writing? Expect to be the favourite in the office sweepstakes when sackings are announced.

Managers need to realise that expecting employees to be work-focused automatons for the whole working day is unfeasible. Employees only need not to take advantage of their employers. That means no non-emergency calls on the office telephone. But allowing flexibility in the operation of an office is a good thing: employees won’t feel resentful, they won’t take as many days off, and managers will be able to get on with their own tasks rather than having to police their staff’s activities. So ignore Mr. Bobinski; he’s been in the big office for too long.

[Image by Max XX]

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