Guest Post: Goofing Off Makes You A Better Employee?

This is a guest post by one of our long-time readers, Michael Plis. It’s pretty awesome to see readers getting inspired to write their own articles! Learn more about Michael in his author bio below.

I recently read this article on how companies are losing money because their employees access social media during work hours. It seemed like a pretty innocuous article at first, but then I thought about it a bit more and it started to bug me…a lot.

I have a big issue with the idea that anything done on company time that’s not work costs the company money. We need to move away from this mindset that people must be “working” at all times in order for them to reach their peak productivity. It’s this mindset that’s led to too much fake work where “working” has just become “doing something”. This is the reason why so many people spend too much time checking email – people feel like they’re being productive (and therefore not wasting time), but they’re not actually getting anything done.

Some people will respond to this by saying, “But Mike, companies are paying their employees to work, not to goof off!” and my response is that you’re missing the point. Companies pay their employees to get things done, not to work. When have you ever heard that the best way to accomplish a task is to spend every second you have working on it until it’s done (protip: the answer should be “never”)? Hasn’t anyone heard of this little thing called “burnout”? There are even people out there saying that we need to take more breaks.

There’s this productivity technique out there called the Pomodoro Technique. The idea is that you spend 25 minutes doing productive, distraction-free work and then take a 5 minute break. That means spending over 16% of your time not working, and yet it’s one of the most popular and effective productivity techniques out there.

I’m not advocating that companies allow their employees unlimited access to Twitter, Google+, and Facebook (although it looks like around half of the companies out there already do that). I’m slowly becoming a social media nut, but this is much bigger than social media. I read a lot of personal development and lifehacking articles and I’m constantly hearing the “work smarter, not harder” mantra being repeated time and time again. The problem is that this idea hasn’t permeated through to enough companies yet. Sure, there are some companies out there with great corporate cultures, but not everyone will be fortunate enough to work for them. As more companies turn to Facebook to fill job positions, and thus the lines between our personal and professional lives become more indistinguishable, I hope that companies focus more on making work an enjoyable place to be and stop trying to squeeze every last ounce of effort out of their employees.

Mike is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania studying computer science. He's a coding, blog-reading, socializing lifehacker that loves the internet, technology, sports, music, and keeping things simple. Connect with him on Twitter.

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  1. It’s hard not to feel insulted when you’re a hard-working employee that gets lumped in with slackers. But sadly, the corporate environment is not really geared towards treating employees as individuals. They implement blanket policies meant to keep everyone in line and if you’re going to take it personally you’re not going to get very far. As you said, some people are willing to accept the restrictions of corporate life, knowing that their intellect and creativity are going to be undervalued, so that they can get the fat paycheck. Unfortunately, corporate culture often seems designed to crush the entrepreneurial spirit. Anyone who actually has something to offer is eventually going to get fed up and look for a job that provides a whole different kind of fulfillment.

  2. @xerxesthegreat wow, what a comment! I think you have a lot of great points here, and I agree with most if not all of them. I suppose I’m just looking at it from a personal standpoint – I know that I’m going to get things done and get results, so when my internet access is restricted and I’m forced to use only certain tools, I feel insulted. Perhaps this is one of the big reasons that I’m really turned off to corporate work and would like nothing more than to strike out on my own.On the other hand, some people are content to just get that mediocre job with the $50k/year paycheck, and those are the ones who will slack off and misuse their internet access. Companies have to walk a fine line between keeping the slackers in check and not pissing off the stars, and oftentimes they just can’t walk it.

  3. While I agree that corporations tend to have a backwards attitude concerning the time vs. productivity issue, and that they are unrealistic to expect employees to spend every moment on the clock engaged in work, I also feel that there is an equally large problem with employees that abuse the system in any way possible. And to say that nothing should be “timed” is ludicrous. Projects have due dates, for one thing, and it is not unreasonable for companies to expect that workers complete tasks in a set amount of time. Employees who are not allowed access to distractions like social networking sites will be far less likely to use them.

    Productivity is definitely at the heart of the issue. If companies are to the point that they’re banning the use of Facebook and Twitter because they feel it is causing them to lose money, then clearly there is a problem with productivity. And if employees are going to act like children, then there is no reason that a company should not treat them as such and take away their toys. Every adult is responsible for his or her own conduct, and when it comes to employment, anyone who is unhappy with a job is free to leave if they feel they’re being treated unfairly. Companies have only one obligation to employees and that is to pay them for their work.

    The truth is, many people in the corporate culture end up feeling cheated somehow and they use this as an excuse to take advantage of the company. While this sentiment is generally the result of companies that treat their employees as little more than numbers, it doesn’t necessarily give employees the right to slack off on the company dime. I agree that companies that treat employees well can expect greater productivity and Google is clearly a prime example. However, allowing employees unfettered access to social networking is a bit like dangling a carrot. You’re practically begging them to misbehave. And as for the appearance of not trusting employees, most companies are simply more concerned about the bottom line – and they should be since their main objective is to make money.

    The issue is a complex one that goes beyond the right or wrong of banning certain sites. The amount of time, effort, and money required to allow “limited” access to social networking, as opposed to simply blocking these sites, makes the idea counterintuitive. And the employer/employee dynamic displayed in the corporate world is one that turns individuals into little more than cogs in the machine. The bottom line is that corporations are not likely to change. If employees are upset about having a short leash, they should look for alternative employment opportunities, like start-ups, for example, which often expect more, but offer commensurate freedoms to manage one’s own time.

  4. @xerxesthegreat Thanks for the comment, you make some great points. I think that I sacrificed some clarity for the sake of brevity in this article, so I’ll try and clear some things up.

    Like I said, I’m not saying that companies should allow unlimited access to social media. Not everyone has enough self-discipline to spend only an appropriate amount of time on it (every college student can agree with this). Social media can be a problem from both a productivity and a company image standpoint, so I understand when companies have policies in place to limit it’s use. However, I would stress that companies need to make sure their employees understand why these policies are place instead of just blocking certain sites, so that employees don’t simply feel like their employer doesn’t trust them.

    I think @thomasfrank09 said it best. Results are the name of the game and it shouldn’t matter how employees get them. I agree that attitude is the issue, but I disagree on which attitude is the problem. It’s the employers’ attitude that needs to be reevaluated. @RyanNguyen makes a great analogy to the elementary school teacher and students. He’s right in that you can’t force an employee to be productive. If they’re not passionate about their job and their company’s mission, they’re not going to produce results no matter what the management does. It’s this reason why I ended my post by urging companies to make the quality of their work environment a high priority. If people enjoy where they work, they’ll be much more likely to produce the right results.

  5. @xerxesthegreat Pomodoro’s are an individual productivity strategy. It is impossible to enforce a productivity system on such a large scale, especially when the participants aren’t willing. I think at the core of Michael’s argument is that every minute spent “at work” shouldn’t have to be “working.”

    Thomas hits the point on the head, results are the only thing that should matter and be mentioned. Google has an excellent culture where employees can come in and finish projects at anytime of the day. The sheer success of the company on so many fronts suggests that they have employees who are dedicated to cause and want to get work done, especially if they can get work done on their terms.

    From a management standpoint, it should be realized that work culture is NOT elementary school where a teacher (boss) assigns tasks to students (employees) who must complete said task diligently without taking breaks. If employees cannot produce results when left to their own devices, those simply are not the employees you want at your company. Forcing people who aren’t dedicated to the company/cause to produce results will yield the lowest possible productivity.

  6. @xerxesthegreat unfortunately, I think you’re partly right. I don’t think a grand majority would use social networking to basically goof off, but I know from experience that a lot would. Still, I think the point is that work should be tracked on how much you actually get done. There should never be “timed” ANYTHING. Results should be the only thing measured whenever possible.

  7. You have neglected to address the issue of inception. Suppose a corporation of 2,000 employees decided to try this Pomodoro Technique, offering multiple break times throughout the day. First of all, how should this time be tracked? Do they simply trust employees to manage their own five minute breaks (and watch as 5 minutes becomes 10 or 15)? Should managers watch them or should they be forced to clock in and out for these many breaks, potentially necessitating the use of additional resources? And what if they continue to engage in social media consumptions during their “work” time, despite these considerations?

    The real problem here is not necessarily that employees need more breaks; it is that they have decided that it is okay to pursue a personal agenda on the company dime. The attitude is the issue. Most supervisors have no problem with employees that take a few minutes here and there to get up and stretch, take a restroom or smoke break, or get a cup of coffee or a snack (for example). All of these activities are pretty short-lived. But when people start in with social networking or other personal interests during work time, it can not only go far beyond a “short” break, it can also have a decided impact on their mental state, distracting them far beyond their break time so that their subsequent work suffers.

    While companies should almost certainly look into ways of helping their employees to be more productive, allowing them free access to social networking throughout the day is probably not the best method of reaching their goals. While a handful of staffers could probably be trusted not to abuse such a system, the majority would become lax over time, to say the very least.

  8. @RyanNguyen Thanks Ryan. I’m working on another post right now that I’m hoping to finish within a couple weeks.

  9. Great points. Traditional corporate cultures won’t like to admit it, but staying chained to your desk and being forced to do “work” for hours on end doesn’t amount to high productivity. There is an innate fear that at least some work is better than letting workers “slouch off,” when methods like the Pomodoro technique show the distinct productivity advantage of taking mental breaks. Looking forward to some more guest posts!

  10. @mplis Most just say they have it because they don’t see any revenue from it or they have no way of tracking it. But, if they take the time to involve social media branding into their marketing campaigns they would see a huge change.

  11. @Justicewordlaw Well said. There’s incredible potential in social media that I think a lot of non-startup companies are missing out on. I also agree that any kind of blanket restrictions on online, social media, or mobile usage at can ultimately do more harm than good. Companies that have policies like this need to make sure they articulate why they are in place.

  12. Really good guest post that you wrote Michael. I do agree with you that more companies need to realize that letting their employees be on social media is more of an asset in their company growth rather than a liability. I feel that if they could teach their employees to pretty much be their community managers for their company they would see an increase in revenue and customers and be building a more effective online brand. Rather then monitoring their computer usage and stating any social media or mobile usage is prohibited. Some companies will understand this right away but most won’t get the picture until the turn over ratio of their employees start to sky rocket out of the window. Great post.

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