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Employees Doing Personal Chores at Work? Let Them!

Research shows business owners are increasingly relaxed about employees doing personal tasks during the workday. Here's why that's the right approach.

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You pay your workers, obviously, to work. Sure, you understand that they also have busy lives outside of the office and, just like you, struggle to fit in all the errands, emails, trips to the bank, and kids' activities that clutter their calendars.

But if you catch members of your team doing personal chores during the workday, you're still going to be annoyed, right?

Wrong, argues a recent post on Knowledge@Wharton Today, which recommends business owners and managers make a conscious decision to chill out about their employees doing personal chores during company time. Why? First off, you'll be in increasingly good company, according to recent research. The post explains:

The study of 1,000 employees and employers from the United States, Great Britain, Germany, France, and Ireland… found that many managers are taking an increasingly relaxed attitude toward how workers structure their days, in part because the bosses assume--correctly, according to the study results--that many are putting in time outside the office to finish work tasks.

Smart bosses, in other words, are starting to grasp that work is something you do, not a place or a set of hours. "In the pre-Internet world and in the manufacturing-based economy, your physical presence was really the thing that mattered," explains Wharton management professor Stewart Friedman in the post. "Performance management systems were created around the idea of time as the essential metric," he says. But time plays a different role these days in many businesses.  

If you run a retail business, say, where physical presence is key, employees actually being available the entire workday is obviously essential. But if your business is about information, and productivity is measured in the output of the mind not the quantity of effort or amount of personal touch, then it's less of an issue if your employees are slipping off to the bank in the middle of the afternoon.

As The Chief Happiness Officer blog has explained, the idea of productivity being a direct function of time is a relic of an industrial age when the longer you stood on the production line, the more widgets you'd produce. In the information economy, where inspiration is more valuable, new rules of productivity apply, according to the post. These dictate that longer hours don't always equal greater results, output varies wildly over time (and that's OK), and happiness is good for productivity

Which leads neatly into the final point made by the Wharton post. Giving your team the flexibility to manage their schedules as they see fit will actually probably be a happiness booster, and therefore a productivity booster too. "It’s harder to be psychologically present when you’re distracted by the demands of other parts of your life," says Friedman, who adds that, "if [time for personal tasks on the job] helps you take care of things that matter to you--and that you are responsible for in other parts of your life--an employer is going to want you to do that so long as you meet performance standards and deliver results in ways that create value for the company.”

What's your policy towards employees doing personal chores on the job? 
 

Last updated: Jul 27, 2012

JESSICA STILLMAN is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.
@EntryLevelRebel




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