Workplace Ethics

ethics at work

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a post on another message board from a person who admitted to spending forty percent of his time at work surfing the Internet for personal reasons. He was even going so far as to use Log Me In to access his home computer from work so he could work on personal projects. His reason for writing the post wasn’t to question why his job was so boring, or to seek ways to make it more interesting, or even to question the ethics of his behavior, but simply to ask people in the IT field what his chances of being caught might be. (Pretty good, as it turns out, because most employers these days have some sort of Internet use policy and some sort of tracking system in place. They may not look at it regularly, but if they need a reason to fire someone or have cause to look closer at someone’s performance, that’s when such abuses come into play.)

He insisted, though, that while his employer doesn’t know the full extent of his time wasting, that he gets good reviews and that his work is always completed on time. In other words, it shouldn’t matter what he does with the extra time because the job is getting done.

When I first saw his post, I thought, “Really? You’re spending forty percent of your employer’s time surfing the Internet and working on personal projects and your only consideration is, ‘What are my odds of being caught?'” I understand that some employers don’t mind some personal goings-on at work. They make allowances for the fact that sometimes people just have to take care of stuff during the work day. But forty percent of your time? I’m thinking that if his employer finds out, he’s going to be in trouble.

If this person worked for me and I found out that I’d been paying him 100% of his salary but getting just 60% of his time and effort, he’d be out on the street. I’m not paying you to spend that much time doing your own thing. At the very least, the job would be reduced to a part-time, hourly position since obviously there isn’t enough work to be done.

But the post brings up an interesting ethical question: If the work is getting done, do you owe it to your employer to go out of your way to do more? Maybe. It certainly makes you a more valuable employee if you say to your manager, “Hey, I finished my work is there something else I can help with?” instead of just retreating to Facebook and Farmville. The people who ask for more are often the ones who are retained when others are let go. Perhaps you could point out that you’re so efficient that you deserve a promotion, or more responsibility. It could be a good thing for you because it might mean a raise.

On the other hand, if you point out that you’re not being challenged enough, you could be let go or have your hours reduced accordingly. It might be better to keep your mouth shut and keep on surfing. At least until you get caught and then the conversation has to move into the open.

I think at the very least you owe it to yourself to do something about such a situation. If the work isn’t challenging for you, maybe it’s time to look for a better job if your current workplace can’t come up with work that keeps you busy and focused. Or maybe you stay at your current job while you try to launch a freelance business of your own. Either way, you’ll probably make more money and use more of your skills. From an ethical standpoint, it’s not great to take a full-time salary from your employer and put in a part-time effort. Neither is it great to let your talents and skills waste away while you post mindless “I’m bored,” Tweets and status updates on your Facebook page.

Either way, life is too short to be stuck in a job where forty percent of your day is spent mindlessly surfing the Internet because you don’t have anything else to do. Sure, it’s nice to get paid for doing nothing, but really you’re cheating your employer and yourself in the end. Getting caught or not isn’t the point; finding something meaningful to do with your working years is the point.

(Photo courtesy of ToddMorris)

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5 Responses to Workplace Ethics

  1. getforfree says:

    Mindless surfing is just a waste of time, but on the other hand, if the person saves time not doing it at home, it’s not a complete waste. I think, if you have extra time at work, and don’t want to get caught using it for personal reasons, don’t do it on a work computer. Read a book, make a plan for the day, or something that doesn’t leave a track of your activity that can be used against you. When I had a desk job, I would even clip grocery coupons at my desk, shape my eyebrows, make short personal calls from my cell phone, play games on my phone, organize my coupons and plan shopping lists by matching sale flyers with my coupons. I only used work computer to check the weather forecast (for when to do my laundry, because I hang it outside). I even brought some clothes that needed to be ironed and did that on my break time. I cleaned my car windows with spray and rug during my lunch time, and then used my desk time for snacking. As long as you have a good relationship with people around you and don’t care if you coworkers waste their time on personal things, it should be fine. Now I stay home and take care of my kids, my house and my small backyard farm, do I don’t have to worry about that stuff anymore.

  2. honour says:

    I agree that you owe your employer 100% but there are some circumstances that make it impossible. I worked as a translator – editor. My job was translate articles, speeches, letters etc. from it’s originating language to English. I thought this should be a part time job as there were hours without anything to translate. I cleaned the office, reviewed/archived files, cleaned furniture and even the windows to fill in time and look busy. Finally I asked if I could do this on-line from home but met with looks of horror. I lived close enough to walk the finished documents back.

    I ended up bringing magazines to read which looked ghastly to any visitors.

  3. I guess it depends on the persons job. We have a friend who works in television. She puts a show on and basically sits through it to make sure nothing happens. The rest of the time she reads, or chats. The employer is fine with this as long as nothing happens with the program. On the other hand if employees are sneaking off to log into social media during the day or to check other sites on company time that may be cause for concerns for an employer. I’d pay attention to all work policies so one doesn’t find themselves out of a job for doing what they are not getting paid to do.

  4. buddha says:

    i wanted to say something on the whole asking for more work may get you moving to raises and such bs. No it doesn’t, I’ve worked in more factory set employment and never found were asdking for more work got you anywere. I’ve seen the butt kissers move up but not! the worker
    So maybe the ethics quetions should be more on the employers , not employes. Maybe they should see the 40% wasters and value the one working.

  5. Rene says:

    I also feel that asking for morw work or to help is a tricky point. I remember when I did that. I’m still I’m the same position while watching less qualified ppl get promotions cuz they were “yes sir” men. Bosses where I work get promoted due to politics, not cuz your a harder worker.

    I also do agree that doing side work where it wouldn’t leave a trail is smarter, like doing, your web surfing on your smart phone or tablet is safer.

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