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TL;DR: Everyone in my team, including our boss, is spending 1 hour and 30 minutes per day drinking coffee and talking. Since I don't want to be alone and without friends, I'm joining them and I feel that my work performance has dropped. What should I do?

Long story:

I'm working in the same company for about 7 years. One year ago, my company moved to another building that is a bit further from downtown. Since the place lacks public transportation, the company offers a private bus to help workers to arrive/leave. This change had the effect that now everyone comes and leaves at the same time: 8:00 AM until 5:00 PM. As we have 1 hour for lunch, that makes 8 hours of work per day in a fixed schedule.

I know that no one can be 100% productive and its completely normal and healthy to have a little talk with coworkers during the day. This helps building friendship and team spirit.

While 100% of productivity is not possible, I've read in a few places that 86% is desirable. So, for an 8 hours day, we could spend something like 1 hour doing things unrelated with work, like checking our banking account, the news website, or reading a personal e-mail that just arrived to your gmail account.

The problem is that my team, including our boss, established the informal culture that we have to meet at the cafeteria to drink coffee and have idle chat three times per day: between breakfast and lunch, after lunch and before the end of the day. Each time we spend near 30 minutes talking and laughing. I love this time.

Since I still like to read the news and my personal e-mail during work hours, I can say that during 2 hours, each day, I'm not working. I'm deeply concerned about this since my work performance has dropped. However, I had recently a annual meeting, where my performance was reviewed by the same boss that said I was doing fine.

To conclude: I work at a private company that is currently having deep financial problems. I want to work more, to stop spending so many time chatting, but I don't want to be alone and far from my team. I want my coworkers do the same. What can I do if my boss is the one that started this new culture and is the one that spend the most time idle? (talking with the boss of my boss is not an option)

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    I love the specific fact that 86% productivity is desirable. Not 80%. Not 90%. Not even 85%. No, it's specifically 86%. Clearly more research is needed, to determine once and for all whether it should be 85.8% or 86.1%! Scientists, we count on you! – S. Kolassa - Reinstate Monica Jan 20 '16 at 12:27
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    Is this coffee drinking and chat used for work-related discussions? If so, it may be a part of informal meetings. If it's not work related, you could try to hang around for some maximum time (like 5 minutes) and then "bow out" gracefully, saying something like "Thanks for the chat, let's do it again sometime'' if appropriate. – Brandin Jan 20 '16 at 12:43
  • @Brandin, unfortunately no. It is usually not work related. Thats why Im so worried with the team direction. – amyr Jan 20 '16 at 12:55
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    @amyr If it's not work related, how does the "coffee chat" usually end? Someone has to bow out sometime. Be that person and just leave in a cordial way. – Brandin Jan 20 '16 at 13:03
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    it seems you are the only person worried about it, from the looks of it you get 3 to four hours a day of doing nothing productive and yet still get good reviews. Unsure why that's a source of complaint. – Kilisi Jan 20 '16 at 23:04
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Realistically you have three options:

1. Live with it.

If you are not prepared to disengage from either the team social activity or your own personal time on email and browsing, then you have given yourself no room to change your own habits. You have already said that your boss set the culture, and that you cannot talk to your boss's boss. So if you change nothing, nothing changes.

2. Disengage from the social activities.

You already indicated that you are not willing to do this as you are afraid of becoming isolated from the rest of your team. You also state that you really love this time, even though you feel guilty about your reduced productivity. If you can't take this time out, then you will need to look at where you can improve your productivity.

However!

What you may be able to do is to start to change these social gatherings into an opportunity to talk about work related issues and change unproductive time into productive time. You can at least test the water and see how it is received by the rest of the team. You could also perhaps raise this as a suggestion to your boss.

3. Cut down your personal activities.

So really, if the other two options are not palatable, then you are left with only one, which is to modify the behaviour that you do have control over, which is your own. Accept that your "down" time is now being consumed by the team social activity and instead do your personal stuff outside of hours or in your lunch break.

What about a hybrid solution?

Well, yes. This is perhaps the most logical approach. Rather than disengage from all of the social activities, drop it from three to one, citing workload. You may find that once one person starts to give (valid) reasons for not spending work time in an ineffective way, then others may start to feel guilty about it as well.

Final thoughts!

You have to think about this from the higher perspective. You state that the business is in deep financial difficulty. You haven't specified if downsizing or closing have been tabled. But if it were me in that situation, I would want to make sure that I was seen as an invaluable part of that organisation. I am sure that your boss's boss has noticed the team disappearing for extended periods each day. You may want to consider the consequences of how that appears to the person back at your desk working if they are looking at reducing expenses.

  • @Amyr While I appreciate your confidence in my answer, I urge you to wait before accepting it. Wait until there are other answers so you have a wider perspective than just mine :) – Jane S Jan 20 '16 at 10:54
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    Jane, ty for sharing your opinion! I`ll put more effort trying the hybrid solution. – amyr Jan 20 '16 at 10:55
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    Ok! Removed the accept and I promise to accept it again if I do not receive a better answer after a few hours. Ty! – amyr Jan 20 '16 at 11:00
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    @amyr No problem :) I'd also strongly suggest you try to shift the culture of those 1.5 hours out of the office into more productive time. If you can help there, you not only improve your productivity, but that of your entire team :) – Jane S Jan 20 '16 at 11:01
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Stop reading the news and your personal email at work. You were pretty clear in your question that this is the least valuable time to you but you just sort of do it anyway. I don't know why this isn't obvious.

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    Somewhere in this snark is a useful answer about self-improvement and work ethic. – HireThisMarine Jan 20 '16 at 19:46
  • @HireThisMarine anything you suggest adding? would you prefer something more long-winded or repetitive? – user42272 Jan 20 '16 at 20:06
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I think work success/motivation boils down to this, are you willing to do the things to make money? Easier said than done.

You may want to have some informal discussion with people individually and ask them:

  1. Are you worried about the financial viability of this company?
  2. Are there things we could be doing or doing more of, to improve revenue?
  3. Do you want to do it?

Many people will follow the boss's lead. He works they work; he plays they play. He's gone; they do whatever they want. If you're on a team with people who believe this can go on forever and there's nothing they can do or are willing to do, you're stuck. Identify the things that will make money, start doing them and encourage others to do the same. Maybe you can hold some meetings or discussions about these things during the coffee breaks instead of taking other time away.

If you really think you're on the brink of leaving, have this conversation with your boss. Maybe he feels that since he can't afford to pay good people more money, the least he can do is get them to blow off an hour or so.

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