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Just now my boss asked me "Why are you working overtime today?"
I replied "I wasted 2 hours in the morning and I am working overtime to compensate for time wasted."

He gave me a perplexed look. He didn't smile. Other colleagues joked and took it lightly.

Then I wondered - should I have been honest!

Clarification:

  • This boss has a quite friendly and supportive nature.
  • We do NOT get paid for working overtime.
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Your question title was way too broad, so I have narrowed it to your specific case. –  Jan Doggen Jul 24 at 13:46
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I would rather you'd have said "I had to spend 2 hours to take care of personal business today, and I am making up for that time" - That's assuming that you were late. If you were onsite all along, maybe "I spent two hours this morning on stuff that had nothing to do with work and now, I am making up for that time" Maybe your use of time on your employer's worksite was less than optimal, but at no time should you convey anything less than you were busy. –  Vietnhi Phuvan Jul 24 at 14:38
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When you say "wasted time" do you mean you did unproductive stuff like Facebook or StackExchange? Or do you mean you did work that later turned out to be unnecessaary? –  DJClayworth Jul 24 at 18:00
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I'm wasting time at work on stackexchange reading a question about wasting time at work on stackexchnage. Well maybe it's not a waste since I'm learning not to tell my boss that I'm wasting time. –  Dean MacGregor Jul 24 at 18:42
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Depends on how you consider the time was wasted, I'm a software developer/application support analyst and regularly look up items on stackoverflow when I'm not hugely busy at work. Is this "wasting time" or "personal development"? –  user18296 Jul 25 at 9:41

3 Answers 3

up vote 47 down vote accepted

I think the first thought is - when making a joke, make sure it's funny. As a boss, I really don't want everyone in the office to think "it's fine to waste the first few hours I'm here, so long as a make it up" because that inevitably leads to differences of opinion in what's a "waste" and also people are pretty bad at being conscious of how much time they spend on anything (good or bad). So... when someone jokes about wasting time, a boss may find himself in the awkward position of "treat this as a joke and show I'm easy going?" --or-- "make sure that I don't crack a smile, because I don't want to be seen as supporting time wasting". Even thinking about a lighthearted remark this long will make it not-funny.

The next caveat I have is that "waste" is a judgement call. I've had folks that work for me call "waste of time" everything from:

  • I spent 2 hours trying something that didn't work. I learned not to do it, and now I'm trying something else. What a waste! My opinion - Not a waste! You just spent 2 hours becoming an expert in why something won't work. Great! Now we know!

  • I spent 2 hours talking to another individual contributor about how we do our jobs. It was work focused but quite tangential to the task at hand. It feels so unproductive! My opinion - not a waste, when it happens infrequently. People sharing bigger picture thoughts and having tangential ideas is part of team creativity, as long as it doesn't slow us down much.

  • I spent 2 hours talking to the dumb guy. He didn't get any smarter. I feel like I wasted my time. I would like that 2 hours of my life back. My opinion - Thank you for trying. Teaching others isn't a waste of time, but I'm worried about this guy and why he isn't getting it. Could be the sender or the receiver, I'll keep watching.

  • I spent 2 hours making coffee, talking about cats on the Internet, and the latest episode of my favorite reality show. I wasted time. My opinion - yep. You did. That wasn't work. Please make up the time, but also - did everyone else realize that this was a waste (I'm assuming you didn't talk about cats and reality shows by yourself... that would have me MORE worried)? Will they all make up the time too? Everyone has a high-distraction day here or there, but if this is a regular pattern for you, we should talk about finding a way to keep productivity high. I don't like the idea of people working a 10 hour day because of 2 hours of lost productivity - it both interrupts the work day of others, and means a poor work/life balance.

  • I spent 2 hours on coffee, cats and reality shows, and there was a major crisis that I didn't hear about/react to because of it. My opinion - oh no! We have a big problem and I must do something about it NOW.

If your boss looked less than thrilled, he could pondering this sort of stuff in his head and computing the answer. I don't think it's wrong to be honest, but I think when you speaking glibly, you need to be aware that your judgement call and your manager's could be different. And leaving the boss with ambiguity makes his response fairly random, as he will pick his way of interpreting your words.

Over coffee or when otherwise joking around, it's much more OK than in a formal meeting, or with remote, important, stakeholders. The place that I've seen judgement calls and excessive honesty cause problems is when the team is talking with a stakeholder who can make or break a project, and someone on the team pipes up with something both negative and judgmental.

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I spent 2 hours making coffee, talking about cats on the Internet Also keep in mind some of this conversation can be beneficial from a team building perspective. Probably not 2 hours worth of it though... –  enderland Jul 24 at 14:03
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I was actually reading questions on programmers.stackexchange for two hours instead of doing office work. –  TheIndependentAquarius Jul 24 at 15:31
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@TheIndependentAquarius I know how that goes. It feels like every time I go look something up on an SE website for work, I get distracted by the question sidebar and end up on unrelated sister sites for the next 30-60 minutes. –  Nate Kerkhofs Jul 25 at 6:53

I'm not certain from your question whether you said it jokingly -- the fact you expected him to smile, and that others joked about it, suggests maybe you did. As a rule, don't deliver serious information in a joke. In this case, everything you said was true. Sometimes when people are joking, and doing their joke face, what they are saying is not true. Hence the expression, "only joking". Maybe your boss looked perplexed because he isn't entirely sure you really answered his question.

Possibly also your boss looked perplexed because you said something vague ("I wasted two hours"). The detail might not really matter, but as bethlakshmi points out, you've conjured a lot of possibilities. Part of his job is to keep your workday manageable. Perhaps he was briefly indecisive/perplexed as to whether he needed to pry further into what happened that's apparently keeping you in work for two hours later than usual, but decided not to.

Possibly he looked perplexed because he thinks wasting time isn't something you should do in the first place. Of course often one only realises in hindsight that it's a waste, and that's fine, so it shouldn't be inherently perplexing to discover someone has wasted two hours. But if it was "fine" time-wasting then you shouldn't feel the need to make it up, and if it wasn't "fine" then he's wondering why you did it at all. Maybe he doesn't want people hanging around the office late for no good business-driven reason.

I doubt that he's perplexed over your honesty. It's not like you admitted to a crime or anything, so what you're is doing has way more potential to perplex. The fact you're telling the truth about it to your boss should be entirely normal and comprehensible to him.

You should tell the truth, but you should also give him enough information to understand the situation. If he was perplexed, he didn't understand the situation, so you probably should have said more. Then again, it likely didn't matter all that much to him or he'd have asked more questions.

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You'll have to determine what kind of relationship you have with your boss to see what is appropriate. You "shot from the hip" and were honest. Your response threw him a little, so I'm not sure he knew how to respond. You may get some feedback to not let it happen too often or he may respect the fact you take pride in doing a days work for a days pay.

The boss may feel too many will take advantage of this and start practicing their own versions of flex-time. Doesn't sound like your boss will care one way or the other, but you may want to hold off making a habit out of it.

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