Q: It seems like my colleagues spend more time instant messaging or texting friends than they do doing work. I will do so occasionally but only once my work is squared away or as part of my lunch break. I’d rather not have my bosses be alerted to this activity for fear of them instilling a ban in an office that has few perks. But how can I get my co-workers to chat less and work more?
A: You are right to be concerned. I recently had a client approach me about this very same issue.
Our client recently hired a college graduate. The client thought the new hire would be grateful especially as she was hired in a very difficult economic environment. The client expected a very productive and focused work ethic. Unfortunately, within a very short time frame, the supervisor noticed that the new employee’s computer screen was often on social websites and that the new employee was spending a lot of time texting and not focusing on her work. It is not a positive situation. This client had several candidates in the final round of interviews and the hiring manager is second guessing her decision. As a new hire, employers may NOT spell this out but they are evaluating you and your work habits. Knowing that, do your best new hires! Focus on your work. Limit your time on social websites and on personal business. Save that for your lunch break or after work.
In your situation, it sounds a bit different. You and your colleagues may not be new employees. However, my advice remains the same. Limit the personal texting and personal business to when you really need to take some time for personal business. We all need to take personal calls during the day but these contacts should be limited, brief and only when necessary. These calls, texts or other external contacts should be the exception, not the norm. You are completely correct in assuming that once this concern is on a supervisor’s radar screen, it will probably be an ongoing topic that will be scrutinized. Perhaps your supervisor may not notice these behaviors but it may even be more distressing if another supervisor or (worse) your supervisor’s boss points it out as an area of concern.
I think you should be direct with your colleagues. Something like: “Hey, we are lucky that we have a little freedom now and then to text or IM. But let’s not take advantage of the situation. If Jane, our supervisor, begins to view it as a problem, we ALL may face a ban.”