"Evil HR Lady" on How Much Downtime Employees Should Get on the Job

by Kevin Casey on July 10, 2012
iStock_000018586868XSmall-300x199.jpg

Time management is critical to small-business success: When you have fewer people to get things done, efficiency is key. Yet we all find ways to while away work time with activities other than actual work, such as using social media.

But Twitter, Facebook, and other sites offer plenty legitimate business uses, too. As the line between business and personal becomes increasingly blurred, how do you make sure your employees aren’t goofing off without micro-managing or destroying morale?

The Intuit Small Business Blog recently checked in with Suzanne Lucas (pictured) — also known as the Evil HR Lady — to get her take on the topic.

ISBB: What’s the current wisdom on managing how my employees spend their time? How much is too much when it comes to non-work-related internet use, phone calls, errands, side projects, and so on?

Lucas: In the old days, you could tell instantly if an employee was goofing off, because the difference between work and not work was obvious. In today’s wired world, unless you are actually looking over their shoulders, it’s impossible to tell if that tapping on a BlackBerry is a work email or a Facebook status update.

My suggestion is to look at overall results, and don’t worry about what your employee is doing right now. Some people’s brains work better with a bunch of little breaks; some people’s don’t. If someone isn’t performing at the proper level, speak to that person about performance. If they are spending too much time on the internet, address that as a performance issue.

It’s possible that you can have two employees who spend identical amounts of time goofing off, but one is a high performer and the other is a low performer. The latter needs to spend less time on the phone, internet, or whatever, and the former should be rewarded for good work. It’s not about butt-in-seat time anymore. It’s about performance.

I’m OK with non-work-related conversations and having some fun in the office. But what do I do about political, religious, or other hot-button topics at the water cooler?

You can’t avoid all of those things, nor do you really want to. The only restriction I would place on it is to keep everything legal — nothing that can be construed as sexual harassment, racial discrimination, etc.

Most of my employees manage their time just fine, so I take a hands-off approach. But one employee takes advantage of that. What’s the best way to deal with her without disrupting everyone else?

Handle that employee. You don’t have to treat everyone the same, you just have to treat everyone fairly. If she’s taking advantage of it, you need to correct it. You may need to be extremely clear, as some people just do not get it.

What non-work activities should be strictly prohibited?

Porn is obvious. Gambling. Drinking. Drugs. Otherwise, it’s totally dependent on the environment and needs. I was going to say online gaming, but then I realized I have two friends who are World of Warcraft addicts. [They’re] also Ivy League master’s degree holders, genius programmers, and have a tremendous workload which they successfully accomplish. So, you may run into Eric’s cube and see him playing WoW and declare that he is wasting time and should be fired — except that he’s already out-produced everyone else in the office. Again, it’s all about performance.

Kevin Casey is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

Advertisement