2009-04-01 / Other News

Slacking at work: Just how much is OK?

CANDICE CHOI AP Personal Finance Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — The excitement of March Madness inevitably provokes the debate: Just how much slacking is OK on the job?

The answer is absolutely none, if you're talking to your manager. But if you're reading this while at work, it might be a matter you feel requires some clarification.

In most cases, you probably know better than to get tangled in a 20-minute fight over your cell phone bill at work. The tenuous job market and pervading fear of layoffs might even mean you've eliminated personal tasks altogether.

On the other hand, your manager's delirious rooting for Pittsburgh in the NCAA tournament this week might be sending you mixed signals. It seems like an invitation to slack, but how far can you tread without drawing a foul?

We talk to some career and workplace experts about slacking etiquette.


A: The rule of thumb is that your phone conversations shouldn't be a distraction to co-workers. So save the loud, heated arguments for another time. Otherwise, most managers will look past brief calls about afterwork dinner plans or parental duties.

"They all have lives and commitments outside work, too," said Rachelle Canter, president of RJC Associates, a career counseling firm based in San Francisco.

Beyond that, the line between personal and work time has blurred considerably in recent years, making it harder to nail down just when slacking is afoot.

As long you're productive, occasionally checking your Facebook account shouldn't be an issue. But don't forget that impressions matter even if you're delivering top-notch work.

If you think your boss is unfairly frowning on how you spend your time, it's up to you to set the record straight. Next time you have a meeting, ask for feedback on your performance. Acknowledge that you sometimes take care of private matters at the office, but that it doesn't affect your work.

In some corporate cultures, it might simply be wiser to refrain from personal chores in the office as much as possible.


A: Even if there's nothing wrong with occasionally tending to personal tasks, it can be embarrassing if your boss walks by while you're at it. The key is not to overreact.

"It's going to be clear as a bell what you were doing. Don't try to pretend you weren't doing it," said Debra S. Magnuson, a consultant with PDI Ninth House, a leadership development firm based in Minneapolis.

After finishing a call about your new lease, for instance, calmly note how exasperating your landlord is and that you wish there was another time you could've taken care of the matter.

If your boss still seems bothered by it, casually note that you're using your lunch break to make the call or that you plan to stay late to make up for any lost time.

Ultimately, one incident shouldn't destroy your reputation if your overall performance is solid.


A: As frustrating as it might be, it's often best to look the other way. Alerting your superiors could make you look like a tattle tale. Your boss might even wonder why you're so worried about others, Magnuson said.

Besides, the alleged slacker could be working at home until 2 a.m. for all you know. If the person really is slacking, it will show in his or her performance sooner or later.

Don't be afraid to pipe up if the slacking becomes disruptive, however, said Emily Post, an etiquette expert at The Emily Post Institute Inc., based in Burlington, Vt.

"If we share a cubicle and I keep hearing Tetris in the background, I might ask them to turn the volume off," she said. "But I wouldn't try to correct their behavior."

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