Managers always put emphasis on R&D and technical competence. Normally, employees are expected to do R&D and personal projects for skill enhancement purposes outside office hours and preferably, in home. What if some employee got unexpected free time during his/her office hours, and instead of wasting time browsing social networking or other sites , h/she does R&D and to bolster skills, do some personal project. Unless warned or formally reprimanded, will this be considered as a violation of workplace ethic, given their engagement in activities which are more personal in nature than official? Or is it prudent or appreciable, in a sense that instead of wasting time browsing sites, employee is investing time in a productive manner to stay sharp to be able to contribute to the company in future?

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    Why do you seem to be limiting the consideration of what you're going to do between browsing the web and doing R&D? If you have nothing to do, why not inform your manager that you are available for other projects or assignments?
    – Brandin
    May 6, 2015 at 10:52
  • What is this "free time" of which you speak? I have never had a full-time job that did not have more than enough work to keep me and me peers busy all of the time.
    – cdkMoose
    May 6, 2015 at 12:32
  • what does R&D mean? May 6, 2015 at 12:33
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    Related question.
    – enderland
    May 6, 2015 at 13:04
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    Did anyone point out that in some juristictions, writing personal project using company machines and company time, might entitle the company to ownership of such projects?
    – o0'.
    May 6, 2015 at 13:15

3 Answers 3


Short answer, ask your boss. If you aren't comfortable asking then you probably shouldn't be doing it!

Longer answer, see below:

I don't think that "Workplace Ethic" is the correct term, you need to consider the company policy regards such matters.

This will vary from company to company and it should be documented if not you need to ask your manager.

If the "bolstering skills" is going to benefit the company by making you better at your job, then it's quite likely they will support you and be happy for you to do this activity at work as long as your work does not suffer. If you are researching to set up a company to compete with your current employer, they may not be so happy to put it mildly!

Is you boss aware of this unexpected free time? If they're not then maybe you need to let them know so they can assign you extra work or get you to help your colleagues who may be struggling with their work loads.

Whilst doing your own thing in your own time may seem to be reasonable and even ethical, you are using company equipment so they have every right to prevent you from doings things they don't like!

Regards your edit, do they need to warn you:

No they don't - if what you are doing is considered "Gross Misconduct" then they can sack you on the spot for it, but most reasonable companies would give some kind of warning if what you are doing isn't excessive or unreasonable! Make sure you are familiar with all company policies and check with your boss. The problem is that your definition of what is reasonable/excessive may differ from the company's definition so you should ask to get clarification.

  • If an employee keeps doing this unless being warned or noticed formally by management, is it ok? May 6, 2015 at 9:01
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    @Capt.JackSparrow: No. In this case he has the order not to do it, so he should stop. Althought this makes me wonder what the employee should do instead if he has so much free time during business hours. If the employee in question is you, you really have to talk to your boss. EDIT: That the employee has been warned is important. could you please add it to the Question?
    – jwsc
    May 6, 2015 at 9:05
  • @jwsc I've edited my question accordingly. Thanks for pointing this out. May 6, 2015 at 9:09
  • The company I work for and the company before had a policy saying that excessive use of the internet was prohibited. Of course what amounts to "excessive" is open to debate, but the policy is enough to allow them to fire anyone who is using the net and not getting their work done to an acceptable (to the company) standard.
    – davidjwest
    May 6, 2015 at 9:12
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    @Capt. Jack Sparrow - I would term "excessive" as meaning using it for an extended period of time, this could be 10 minutes a day or 5 hours a day, as I say, excessive is not a definitive explanation so you need to be careful. It's Lawyer speak!
    – davidjwest
    May 6, 2015 at 9:17

If you are going to do anything that's related to your own personal projects, pick an activity, say within R&D, that you can justify to the company in terms of the salary they pay you.

If you can justify your activity exclusively in terms of the company's self-interest e.g. I am on Stack Overflow because I am looking for a more sclable algorithm to accomplish a particular task or I am looking for a more theoretical understanding of what I am doing so that I can make my implementation more effective, then t's likely that your company will not query you very hard.

I'd stay away from mentioning doing anything personal on company time. At best, the management ignores what you just said or queries you mildly on it. At worst, they run an inquisition on you and put you through the wringer. As long as you can justify your activity in terms of what the company expects you to either do or be able to do for them, the management is not enclined or likely to look further into what you're doing and saying.

  • I didn't understand this line of your answer: "I'd stay away from mentioning doing anything personal on company time". In my understanding, you were suggesting that I should stay away from asking these type of questions during company time lest they find out. Please correct me if I got it wrong. May 6, 2015 at 10:54
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    It's OK to ask. Having said that, companies expect employees to work for the company. It is essential to my growth as a professional that I know more than one way to do a task But if I were to research on these alternatives on company time, I'd always be careful to justify in terms of the company's self-interest e.g. finding alternatives means that the code will better fit the circumstances, requirements and constraints that our clients may place on us. Justifying the activity in terms of personal growth is problematic because the company does not pay you to personally grow. Play the game. May 6, 2015 at 11:09

I would think it is good practice to invest company time in own development. As long you really do it only if you have not more important things to do (anything generating value for the company is more important).

Where I come from it is not expected to educate yourself in your free time, so doing it in office hours is the only education I get ;)

When you say "personal Project" please make sure that it is really close related with a skill or a knowledge you really need for work. As your boss I would not pay you for doing some side project which does not add any value for the company or your knowledge of work-related things.

  • You don't have any free time at all in Germany?????!!!!???? Seriously???? May 6, 2015 at 9:11
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    @Capt. Jack Sparrow : jwsc is just pointing out that it is not expected from employees to invest their own free time into learning more about work-related topics. Not at all related with the fact of having free time or not having it...
    – Puzzled
    May 6, 2015 at 9:15
  • lol, yes, you are right @Puzzled :D
    – jwsc
    May 6, 2015 at 9:17

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