103

I'm a junior software developer in a small company(20-25 employees).

I get into work an hour early each day and leave a half hour later to avoid traffic however this leaves me with a conundrum, because I could work that extra hour and not get paid. I can browse websites like Facebook, Twitter or the Workplace Stack but I would rather be playing games on my phone or on my DS.

So my main question is, would this be considered unprofessional?

Edit - This is not similar to the other questions I found as I'm asking about professionalism before and after work as opposed to the ethics of doing it.

  • 51
    I guess it is up to you what you don in your free time. Unprofessional is when you play games on working hours. However I would avoid to install games in your work machine and if possible get out of work space if you are not working. It is possible to say in some where that is not strictly a work space ? – kifli Nov 24 '16 at 8:30
  • 66
    An adult playing games at a workplace, regardless of whether or not they're "clocked-in" or "given permission" is going to create an immediate unprofessional impression. Such impressions will do damage even if nothing is ever said. Just don't do it and don't even ask. – teego1967 Nov 24 '16 at 11:30
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    I was once in a very similar situation - playing games on my phone at my desk at lunch. My then manager had a chat with me, and said that in his own youth he would play cards with fellow employees in the lunch room on their break. One day he was pulled aside by his own manager, and told that when the higher ups see him playing games on his lunch they question his fitness to evolve into management material, and that it's come up tangentially in some conversations. The take-away was that while it's your own time and your own equipment, playing games in the office can have a negative perception. – AndreiROM Nov 24 '16 at 14:48
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    @teego1967 I feel that in a lot of 'newer' workspaces, especially in the software development industry, that this is entirely not true. As long as the manager knows that you're not just slacking off, I highly doubt that anyone would think anything differently of you for playing games. I have a friend who works in the SD industry who has an hour break at work where most of his coworkers play games together after eating lunch. Seems to me that most people, at least in our industry, are quite relaxed about things like gaming. – Chris Cirefice Nov 26 '16 at 16:09
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    I work in an office of about a hundred people, at a company of about 600. Six of us or so play games like Quake and Ultimate Chicken Horse for an hour at the end of the day (I even get in at noon and start playing at 430 then go back to work after), We're even getting a TV dedicated to gaming installed. This is a hard question to answer because it depends entirely of what everyone else does. I'd say this all depends on the culture. If no one else is doing it, don't, but otherwise make sure it's cool. – TankorSmash Nov 26 '16 at 20:28

12 Answers 12

175

As long as people are aware you are not currently working, then there is no issue. You may not want to do this at your desk, but instead in a break room. This way people will not mistake you for thinking you're playing whilst you are supposed to be working.

After all, you're not on the clock, what you do during your time is up to you and not for someone else to judge. Just make it clear you are not currently on the clock.

  • 30
    Yes, doing this at your desk would create the wrong impression. also keep in mind that it's easy to lose track of time when you're playing games. I get in to the office 90 mins before anyone else for the same kind of reason. I tend to catch up on emails, tech blogs, news, etc. before starting work early. I start early and leave early to beat the traffic. – Snow Nov 24 '16 at 8:38
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    Making your manager aware of your working pattern is the most important action to avoid the wrong impression. I agree there is no issue, but the potential for a misunderstanding is significant. – user45590 Nov 24 '16 at 9:20
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    @dan1111 Hence why you have to make it very clear you are currently not on the clock. Doing it at your desk is a bad idea unless people are aware of the situation. Doing it in a break room would suggest to people you are currently not working. – Draken Nov 24 '16 at 9:39
  • 3
    @Draken, then people may wonder why you spend so much of your work day in the break room, instead of wondering why you are goofing off at your desk. In any case, there's no harm in informing your manager. And it's much better to do this pro-actively rather than waiting until someone complains (an after the fact explanation may come across as excuse making). – user45590 Nov 24 '16 at 9:49
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    One additional thing: If the games require some sort of internet connection and you use your companies infrastructure to connect to the internet even from the break room, then you should nonetheless check / get permission that you're allowed to use the company's infrastructure for this. – Daniel Jour Nov 24 '16 at 15:31
75

This really depends on the company and policies. Some companies have strict policies about what you can do in their space. I know this sounds harsh, but keep in mind that you are using a space rented by the company you are working for.

I have worked in companies where 70% of the employees would do what you are doing, together with the manager and they even organized gaming nights without any issue at all. This was due to the fact that the manager was open and wanted to make a good working space (and not only) for the employees.

You need to ask your superior (even in writing) for the permission if this type of activity is not something that others do freely.

  • 4
    Never seen a company saying what you can and cannot do in a break room, maybe at your desk, but when you're not working? I'd love to see an example of that – Draken Nov 24 '16 at 8:39
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    why the downvote? The most ethical thing to do is ask your manager/superior if you can spend your free time at the office. It is not something which you can do by default. Some companies in my country have time-tracking tools and the law requires them to define routes to and from work for employees. If you have an accident on the route, it is considered a work accident. Now, if you stay late at the office it might still be considered a work accident, even if you were just spending your free time there. Of course, this would happen in very extreme conditions (lawsuits, etc.). – Turbut Alin Nov 24 '16 at 8:44
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    I cannot give you an example, as this would trigger privacy issues for those companies. I know for a fact, that some companies have strict issues about activities at their site. It's not even only 1 example, I know several. – Turbut Alin Nov 24 '16 at 8:49
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    @TurbutAlin - If there were strong policies about how time was used on company property, then the OP would (should) be aware of this. We don't usually have such strict policies here in the UK except where the workplace is secure/sensitive (banks for example). – Snow Nov 24 '16 at 8:58
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    I'm in one of those offices that has a door tracking software to see how many hours we are on site, we also use software where we have to enter our hours in and what we did. We have an hour unpaid lunch break, by your rules, I was working during my lunch as I was in the building. Companies cannot and should not rely on a door entry card to track the number of hours worked. If they want that, they need to use a clocking in machine that is separate from the door. – Draken Nov 24 '16 at 8:59
46

This is about image management. If you habitually play games at the office, you'll probably be labeled in various ways. None of them are positive.

When you miss a deadline, they will say, "Maybe if he worked instead of playing games..."

When you code a bug... "Maybe if he thought about something other than playing games..."

When someone can't remember your name - "You know, that guy who plays games all the time..."

These people may not really understand that you're doing this on your own time (if on company equipment and property...)

I once worked with a guy known as "The guy who is outside smoking all the time". The quality, completeness, and timeliness of his work wasn't mentioned by the label, only that he wasn't at his desk.

So manage your image while you are at work. Do not give haters and detractors ammunition. A damaged image can cause you to lose tie-breakers. When employees are stack-ranked, bonuses are allocated depending on rank. You'll lose when all else is equal. When someone complains to your boss, using the "playing games all the time" argument (regardless of the accuracy), your boss is on the defensive, at best. Your boss doesn't want to have to defend the perception that he thinks it is OK for the staff to play games at work. Don't put your boss into this position.

I knew one programmer who would work on electronics projects over lunch. While a completely constructive (and fun!) activity, it made it look like he wanted to be somewhere else. This is a negative and is a tie-breaker.

I have personally seen cases where one staffer was deemed "not yet ready" for a plum assignment. Tie-breakers did him in.

And I know this view people might have of you is not fair. And how they might use it against you is not fair. What's that got to do with anything?

  • 3
    Exactly! And it is not only about your boss but also about the motivation for your colleagues. Imagine that Alice is working late, to make an extra effort voluntarily in a busy period. First Bob runs away, he apologetically mentions something about feeding his kids. 15 minutes later Mark closes his laptop and happily and openly starts to play games for 1 hour while Alice is struggling. -- Now, which person might expect a frown from Alice? – Dennis Jaheruddin Nov 25 '16 at 8:20
  • If they are blaming negative things on the gaming even though he works for the contracted time, it is them that aren't acting professional. – bunyaCloven Nov 25 '16 at 10:58
  • @bunyaCloven Maybe they don't know his hours. Regardless, the OP will damage himself regardless of whether it is fair or not. – Tony Ennis Nov 25 '16 at 15:10
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    This is a fantastic answer and a nice intro to office politics for a junior developer, many of whom don't understand that this kind of thing actually goes on. Sometimes you don't get a chance to explain yourself and people just form their own conclusions... and those conclusions can have a real impact on your career, whether they are justified or not. – UpAllNight Nov 25 '16 at 20:49
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    The first sentence is great and the rest just ignores any possible difference in culture. – user42272 Nov 26 '16 at 4:08
38

this leaves me with a conundrum, because I could work that extra hour and not get paid. I can browse websites like Facebook, Twitter or the Workplace Stack but I would rather be playing games on my phone or on my DS.

So my main question is, would this be considered unprofessional?

You have an extra hour on your hands and you have already decided that you will stay at work that hour.

Here's what I think of the options, ranked in order of perceived professionalism:

  • Working an extra hour can show dedication, extra effort, and the desire to get ahead.
  • Browsing websites shows a bit less dedication, but can convey a learning attitude, particularly if you stick to websites related to your profession
  • Playing games shows that you work to the clock and play games on your off time

If professionalism is your concern here (as you specifically stated, rather than health or work/life balance for example), I'd suggest either working or going somewhere else where your management won't see you to play your games.

Imagine you are the boss. You walk around the office and can't help but notice who is around before or after hours, and if people are working or playing games. What do you imagine would make the most professional or the least professional impression? I suspect the answer is pretty clear. Now as the employee, you get to decide if you care what your boss thinks or not and what kind of impression you would prefer to make.

  • 17
    @Joe working longer than your contract says is not working hard. At best, it's cheating yourself, and at worst it's detrimental to your health and in consequence it's bad for the company because you could get sick and be gone, or stop doing it while the company learns to rely on unsolicited extra efforts by employees. When I manage people, I tend to send them home if I notice they stay too long because I prefer rested, motivated people over work-product that was done by someone tired who can't concentrate any more just to be done faster. – simbabque Nov 24 '16 at 13:33
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    @Migz I'm also based in the UK (in the software field, too) and I don't agree with your characterization. While the overall expectation of working hours/effort is different, in many workplaces it will certainly get noticed which employees put in extra and which work the bare minimum. – user45590 Nov 24 '16 at 13:47
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    @simbabque agreed. Way too many people feel the need to join the rat race, be the first in, last out, always at maximum stress levels, so they're not seen as "lazy" or "unmotivated" by managers which will lead them to end up on the next list of layoffs. Been there, done that, got the burnout. Learned the hard way that if your managers don't care about you except for where your breaking point is and keeping you just shy of it, you'd be better off not working there. – jwenting Nov 25 '16 at 9:58
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    @Joe Strazzere Spending the extra time working rather than a leisure activity can indeed be detrimental to both physical and mental health. More and more data are being published on the effects of overworking, if you research the topic I think you will begin to understand the difference. – Joe Nov 25 '16 at 14:58
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    @Joe Strazzere I was addressing your comment regarding health in hopes to enlighten you. Appears thats not going to happen so I will just drop it and move on. – Joe Nov 25 '16 at 16:51
8

The existing answers look at the narrow issue of the effect on others of seeing you playing games. This answer goes to the broader issue of life as a software professional.

You have embarked on a career that requires life long learning. Maybe you already know everything that would be in any way useful for your current job, but do you know everything you are going to need next year? In two years?

As an alternative to playing games, use the time to study. Bring in technical books to read. Have a laptop loaded up with a development environment for the next programming language, framework, or development strategy you are going to learn.

You could learn a lot in 90 minutes per working day of study and practice.

When I was a project leader, I several times saw one of my junior developers studying a textbook at lunch time. That made a strong positive impression, when playing games would have been neutral, since I knew it was a break time.

7

I would say this also hinges upon the work environment itself. There are companies out in the Tech sector that do not frown on these activities when off the clock.

Now, if I were working at, lets say an investment firm or a law enforcement call center, I would not be gaming off the clock, at least not while at my desk.

Maybe in the break room on a personal device that was geared towards that purpose, if company policy allowed for it.

6

You should ask your supervisor if it's okay for you to do it. Don't ask us at the Workplace, we don't set policy at your workplace and we can't interpret policy at your workplace that we don't know about. Your question is workplace-specific by the way: what's okay at one workplace would get you written up at another that's much more conservative and corporate. Or run by pointy headed management.

I used to work for a consulting company. I was eating a quick lunch at the desk that the client had assigned to me and reading a magazine from a magazine rack that the client had provided for the employees' reading. One of the client's managers saw me making myself at home, badgered me and complained to my management. My management followed up and harassed the hell out of me. At any other workplace but this one, I think nobody would have cared.

If you are in doubt about a company policy, ask. And ask the company, not us.

6

"Is it professional of me to play games" This alone results in a "no". However, whatever you do in your own time is up to you.

However when you use your free time at work, it might get complicated. It depends on the company. you'd need to ask yourself several questions.

  1. Do customers walk around the company in the hours you're playing games?
  2. Do other employees know of your hours? Does it matter?
  3. How strict is the business culture?

If customers walk around the company and see you playing games, that leaves a bad image to the company. While the customer may/may not care, your superiors absolutely will. At this point they wont care if you were on break or off work ot not. Of-course the break room is an exception.

In a more strict 9 to 5 company they will not enjoy having their employees making weird hours or doing non-working activities. In those cultures other employees will often try to copy such behaviour and possibly lower productivity.

In a less strict company, employees coudln't care less what you do during and outside of your working time. Mainly because it doesn't affect them. In such a culture you'd be able to play games whenever you want, for as long as you end up making the hours. (I doubt this is the care for your company)

As suggested before, going for the break room would be the 100% safe solution. I've only seen a few companies that have an xbox in the break-room but whenever anyone were to play on it on their break, all managers and other employees would give you weird looks. Again, it depends on the company's culture.


If you end up being unable to figure this out on your own, talk to your manager. Most managers tend to have weekly or bi-weekly 1-on-1 conversations with their employees, if you dont have one, ask for one. or simply walk by his office if he has one.

If your manager doesn't have either of these. As in no weekly conversations or personal office. Then I'd still try to catch him somewhere in private. I wouldn't feel comfortable having other employees weighing in on this topic.

Furthermore, While you might be in off-hours. You're still available at work. This in itself is quite valuable for the company. They dont need to pay you for being available, which is in their own benefit. You know, in case they need to ask you a small question.

  • 3
    A very good point about customers (+1) – Mawg Nov 24 '16 at 11:06
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    Sidenote regarding 9-5. Actually I would say that only if everyone finishes at the same time, and working late is extremely rare, then it may be reasonable to openly game at work 'after 5'. (Assuming the building is open anyway, for instance because it is shared with another company) – Dennis Jaheruddin Nov 25 '16 at 8:26
3

While it isn't unprofessional, it is pretty much guaranteed to create a negative impression to some of the employees and customers.

Unfortunately, people have a tendency to judge and condemn without having complete and accurate information. Some will assume you're gaming instead of working, and some others will assume you're childish and irresponsible because you play games.

It will be better for your career to play games some distance away from the workplace, like the coffee shop down the road. Ironically it's the unprofessional prejudices of some people that lead to this advice - it's not about gaming being professional or not, but about unprofessional people judging you.

2

I would say that it wouldn't look so good to play games.

I would say that instead, use that time to do some work, and then take some time off in the middle of the day to go for a run or the gym.

Just an idea, and it might be suitable in your situation, but the benefits are multiple, and you would look more professional.

0

I would mention that besides being clocked in or not that you need to consider the equipment and data lines. If you are using your data and your network then you might have a case to compare to playing cards. But if you are using the company equipment in any way for leisurely access to the machine or networking you are out of line and may be putting your company at unnecessary security risk. Then the question of image comes in after that.

We played internally network games over lunch hour and it affected those who worked over the lunch hour. And of course once we accessed externally they went berserk. Thinking of recent dDos attacks in USA those who work on that part of the business would not appreciate having to track down extra traffic.

0

Others may not know that you are not "clocked in" while doing obviously not work-relevant things at work. Even if you document your working hours somewhere, they probably do not have access to this information.

So they may assign the negative image of you that may initially look for them deserved but also stick for later, even after you have clarified the situation. The bigger the company, the bigger this problem is.

Additionally, the company may not like you using your workstation, network and office space for personal things, even if this does not cost them much in addition to that they already pay.

  • heh, I can see OP making a "not clocked in" placard, like the folded plastic cards you place on your table when you order food at a fast-food location. – NZKshatriya Nov 28 '16 at 8:44

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