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Relatively new to working in a professional/office environment. I've been worried about making sure that I try my hardest to stay on task. However, when I look behind me one of my co workers is constantly on facebook, reading articles, etc. He does, however, get his work done well and I can't tell for sure exactly how much time he spends working vs. other things.

I know that few managers expect their employees to work 40 hours per week where 100% of the time is actually spent on working, however I'm sure that there's some percentage of that time they expect you to be working... Is there a general 'range' for what managers expect (75-90% vs 50-70%) or is it all 100% dependent on the manager in question? FWIW I work in a software engineering position.

closed as primarily opinion-based by MrFox, Simon O'Doherty, Joe Strazzere, jcmeloni, IDrinkandIKnowThings Jun 13 '14 at 13:33

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    ^That, and that's why this is primarily an opinion-based question. – MrFox Jun 12 '14 at 17:30
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    I wouldn't say that it's opinion based. You can do research to find some curve that represents the expectations of managers. Granted, that's going to vary greatly depending on where you live, what you do, etc. – Telastyn Jun 12 '14 at 18:30
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    As others have said, it varies a lot. But one thing does not: You are being paid to do work, not browse Facebook. If you are browsing Facebook, don't let it interfere with deadlines. To me, browsing any social media for more than 3 minutes suggests that I am not very busy. I think most managers will agree with that. What varies from manager to manager then, is if you aren't very busy, should you be working on other tasks or is a little slacking off acceptable? Observe others to learn the cultural norms and perhaps even ask your manager. Though as a new employee, I bet I know his answer. – Brandon Jun 12 '14 at 19:18
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It will vary between jobs, managers, employees and companies.

There isn't an exact percentage / range (unless it's 0%, and it can be) which is the line between okay and not okay.

  • Is it "ok" (content-wise)?

    • It should be "safe for work" - nothing illegal or explicit.
    • Don't look for another job / look like you're looking for another job (stay away from even those interview / job hunting blog posts).
    • It shouldn't be distracting to others - if your screen is in anyone's direct line of sight, you should probably stay away from things that flash or move a lot ... and it shouldn't make noise.
    • Don't use excessive amounts of bandwidth.
  • Do you have a limited amount of work?

    If so, it's often acceptable to spend the rest of the time (which could be a lot, percentage-wise) doing ... whatever (but it isn't necessarily acceptable).

    From my experience, support-based roles, for example, may have a limited amount of work, as the work is typically generated by clients. If all clients are happy, there may be absolutely nothing to do.

  • Is there something in the employee handbook / your contract regarding this?

    If it's explicitly forbidden in the employee handbook, it would obviously not be advisable to do (at all).

  • Is it a laid-back "as long as you get your work done"-type of environment?

    If so, it's probably okay ... assuming you get your work done.

  • Is everyone else doing it?

    If everyone else is doing it, there probably isn't too much risk involved (but it could still be forbidden, and you can still land in hot water if you do it).

  • Are you getting your work done?

    If you're a star employee, you can probably happily spend large parts of the day not working, as long as you do enough to keep being a star employee.

    If you're an average / below average employee, you really don't want to give them a reason to fire you - you should probably be somewhere between not at all and very little.

  • A rule of thumb

    Since you mentioned 50%, I thought I'd just point out that that's hopelessly too low, in general (but there may be exceptions) - think more along the lines of 85-100% (this being the sum of all breaks, minus lunch). For software engineers, in particular, I believe a well-known company (perhaps Microsoft) forces employees to take a 15-minute break every hour, but this is away from your computer as far as I know (but keep in mind that this is just one company, and others may see 15 minutes every hour as hopelessly too much).

  • Tread carefully

    Even if everything said here points to it being okay to do, it could still get you in trouble if you do.

    If you don't want to risk it, don't do it, or ask your boss if you wish (but make sure to try to bring the point across that you have no intention to spend large parts of the day not working, only a few minutes here or there ... and don't mention your co-worker - it could sound like a veiled attempt at getting them in trouble, which could get you in trouble, or, whether or not it does, it could get your co-worker in trouble, and most people don't want to be a snitch).

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Welcome to the professional world.

First, in the real world there are no true Rules of thumb. What is and is not acceptable in the workplace can vary to profound extremes.

The best approach to deciding what is / is not okay in the work place.

Is it illegal? Even if your boss says its okay, illegal is never okay and you can wind up taking the blame.

Is it Ethical/Moral There is valid arguments to doing things that could be considered unethical/immoral (as these are fuzzy lines) generally though try to avoid being on the wrong side of the line.

Do you think the behavior is okay? If you personally are uncomfortable or concerned your behavior might tread close to the unacceptable line, then is usually safe to assume you shouldn't do it.

If you were in your bosses shoes would you be okay with the behavior? If the answer is anything but yes it's safe to assume you shouldn't be doing whatever the behavior is. (if you answered "maybe", "if...", "probably" that is not a yes)

Ask your boss There is no better way to know where the acceptable line is than to ask. Your boss should be able to a least give you a general acceptable / unacceptable line.

Just because it's "okay" doesn't mean it's a good idea If you're being paid you're expected to produce. Sure once your work is done you can just do whatever you feel, but that time put to pursuing training or improving things at the work place are opportunities to advance or improve yourself to the benefit of your long term career. Money goes a lot further in advancing your situation than the sort of nonsense that dominates facebook.

So short version ask your boss

  • In the specific situation cited, I probably wouldn't counsel the OP to ask the boss. Something like "Hey boss, Bob plays on FB all day, is that Ok?" will likely have Bob a little mad.. Being new to the office and making a coworker mad probably isn't the best thing. However asking in a way that doesn't call into question the behavior of others is a good way to go. – NotMe Jun 12 '14 at 21:44
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TL;DR:: The answer depends a lot on circumstances. A wide variety of them. But if in doubt, default to "almost zero, under 1%" - until you (a) Establish credibility with your management and/or (2) Establish discussed ground rules with said management once you have that credibility.


Details: Things depend on a lot of factors as far as explaining the situation you obeserve. It is important that you don't assume any/all of those apply to you personally, though some might. So... DON'T ape bad behavior if you know it's bad!

  1. As others said, your boss.

    • Some are smarter than others and know that there's research indicating that productivity slacks off when a software developer works 10 hrs straight. Or that their brain keeps working on a problem even when he's on Facebook

    • Some simply only care about deliverables, and may be are smart enough tor recognize that some developers can deliver 10x what other developers do in same amount of time

    • Some simply don't care

    • Some care greatly, and WILL come down on you if you do it, but may ignore it for specific person (see next bullet).

    Ways to address: Once you establish yourself as a hard worker for at least 6-12 months, ask your boss about this ("I noticed that some people do Facebook. Is that something that within limits will be tolerated, given your {{hopefully}} stellar review you just gave me for the year end")?

  2. Individual employee and their relationship with the boss/company.

    • Some, as noted above, may be superstars who deliver more good code in 4 hrs than others in 2 days. There were studies showing that productivity disparity can easily go as far as 10x.

    • Some are indispensable to the company even if not super productive. They may have deep institutional knowledge. They may have specific sterling quality (random example: I'm not a superstar developer on average by productivity... but I AM the only person in our large team who is able to take a slow query and improve IOs by 90+% without waiting for 1/2 year for DBA help... or to write a DB IO regression test framework).

    • Some actually work long but irregular hours. 4 hrs in the office on Facebook... then 4 hours (tangible visible to the boss) at home coding.

    • Some are un-firable for company politics or politics politics reasons. They are CEO's son in law... They are a "protected minority"... They are in the union (unlikely for software developer).

    • Some are simply good buddies with the boss and can do no wrong from boss's view. We had one of those.

    Ways to address: Prove to your boss that you're a superstar developer willing to work hard and able to deliver above their expectations. Or marry CEO's daughter.

  3. Individual employee attitude.

    • He may not really care about reprimands/etc...

    • He may hope to be fired (as in, tired of the job, doesn't need the money, but psychologically unable to quit on his own.... I've seen that happen actually, so not a theoretical idea).

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Don't worry about 'rules of thumb', and especially don't worry about what other people are doing or not doing.

If my boss expects me to have my nose to the grindstone for only 75% of the time I'm on site at my workplace and I tell you that as a "rule of thumb" then this is no help to you if your boss has a different rule.

It's no use to assume that what your boss allows another person to do is an acceptable 'rule of thumb'. Your boss might be a jerk who treats people unequally, or they might have perfectly good reasons that they have not discussed with you because they're none of your business for treating the other employee differently.

And 'being on facebook' and 'reading articles'. Depends on what that means. If I'm on facebook messaging a friend who works in a similar job to say "have you seen this weird bug in $foo because it's kicking our ass here. Got any ideas what to do?" then isn't that working?

If he's "reading an article" about a java vulnerability and some of his code happens to be in Java then again, isn't that working?

If he works best by taking frequent mental breaks away from a problem when he's stuck rather than trying to grit his teeth and charge through it, and he's therefore more productive that way then... well maybe during those breaks he isn't working, but he might be more productive overall, and if the manager is happy with them then that's what really matters.

I'm one of the people who needs to take quick 'breaks' from a problem I'm stuck on to re-adjust my sights... or churn it over in the back of my mind while the front does something less engaging. I sometimes do this by visiting stack exchange where I talk to people and learn things that are useful to my job, or help others and build up goodwill for when I/my employer needs help with something.

If you walked past my desk while I was doing this it might not look like I was working. But I'm out the door bang on time most days and still well ahead of what's expected of me by the end of the day.

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I'm not sure why you think

few managers expect their employees to work 40 hours per week where 100% of the time is actually spent on working

I employee a number of developers and I absolutely expect that they put a minimum of 40 hours of time in each week doing what I'm paying them to. Most of my people work far more than 40 (and, yes, I compensate them accordingly), so I'm good with the occasional FB, twitter or even reading a news site.

If for some odd reason they literally have nothing to do, then that is a management failure on my part. There should always be something for a developer to be working on. It could be testing, researching a new technology or methodology, refactoring code or any number of other beneficial items, but there is something to be done.

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