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My manager recently said to me that he gets annoyed when I spend time texting my friends at work.

I think this is fair as I do this in work time, but I also feel there should be lenience if you take into account the below.

  • We are entitled to 1 hour of break time per day. I do not take this and prefer to take micro-breaks (1-2 minutes) and message my friends or partner - I would never rack up an hour of texting in any given day.
  • There is nothing outlined in my contract that I must take breaks away from my desk or at all - just that I am entitled to them.
  • I'm not the only one who does this.
  • Other colleagues go well over their designated hour of break and nothing gets mentioned.
  • Other colleagues are extended courtesies that I am not. Eg: Allowed to leave an hour early to pick up their sick child (after already using their hour of break time). When in the exact same situation I have had to schedule a day to work late to make up for this time or take leave. They have also been allowed the same for misc., non-urgent, non-medical personal issues.
  • I have worked for this particular manager for 8 years, including changing roles alongside him twice. I have always worked this way and it has never been an issue.
  • I have never missed a deadline nor is my work below the expected quality. I get complemented on the quality of my work.
  • I am expected (not contractually obligated) to take on the full workload of one particular colleague (similar work tasks) when he goes on leave - this is actually quite difficult to manage.
  • I am expected (not contractually obligated) to fulfill urgent work tasks outside of business hours. - I have cut a few social gatherings short to do so in a few cases.

Ideally I just want to feel like a person doing a job, not a robot - this feels to be the culture for everybody else.

So, I have a few questions around this:

  1. Is this something I should mention? If so, how?
  2. As I feel like this is all 'give' and no 'take', can you suggest I way I can withdraw from things that I'm not required to do such as taking on my colleagues entire workload and pull back on the urgent, out-of-office-hours work I'm occasionally asked to do?
  • It's your manager's perception that matters. If it feels to him like spending 15 minutes in 1 minute increments is more of a break than 1 hour in a chunk, that's how they will react. – enderland Mar 28 '17 at 23:43
  • Wow, a few texts take sooo much less time than a personal phone call. Sit down with him and outline what you presented in you question. – paparazzo Mar 28 '17 at 23:57
  • @JoeStrazzere 1) I honestly cannot give you a reason. 2) Nothing that I am aware of, as one answer points out: it will be worth me asking. 3) I work in New Zealand. – Jayyy Mar 29 '17 at 0:40
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    "Allowed to leave an hour early to pick up their sick child" - In most European countries this is by law and at least in Nordic countries it's not even negotiable (you are required to pick up a sick child immediately from daycare). – Juha Untinen Mar 29 '17 at 6:17
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    @JuhaUntinen in Germany you can even get paid sick leave if your child is sick. This counts like being sick yourself. On top of that, the German work laws (Arbeitsschutzgesetz) requires you to take at least 30 minutes of break for an 8 hour work day, where at least 20 minutes have to be consecutive and have to have a 1 hour border to both your start and your end time. But of course, that's Germany, so rules are different. – simbabque Mar 29 '17 at 11:05
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There's something you should know:

When a manager is nitpicking over little stuff like this, especially after so long of a period of reasonable behavior, then there's a bigger problem somewhere.

The problem may not even be with you.

Not knowing the dynamic between you and your manager, it's hard to tell you exactly how to approach this. I'd consider something like this:

Bob, I know you well enough to know that the fact that I text people isn't the real issue. You know just as well as I do that I'm not taking nearly the amount of "break time" that others are, and that I work off-hours when something urgent comes up, even though I'm not required to.

It's pretty obvious that the issue isn't the texting. Is there a problem with something I'm doing, or have done recently? Is there a new issue you're dealing with that's stressing you out? If so, how can I help?

If you come to him trying to offer solutions instead of focussing on this petty issue, you'll likely get a positive reaction.

Again, it depends on your relationship and its dynamic with this person as to how to phrase it.

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    If I were a manager and a subordinate came to me saying this, I would feel like he is overstepping. – Chris Mar 29 '17 at 11:08
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    @Chris luckily, the OP has been in managerial positions alongside or over the current manager, and has known him for 8 years. – CptEric Mar 29 '17 at 11:29
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    @Chris I agree it could come across poorly, but this general sentiment could be communicated in a more diplomatic way. Mainly by being less sure that it's not really the texting. I agree with the gist of this answer though. – user45590 Mar 29 '17 at 11:34
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Is this something I should mention? If so, how?

Personally, I think it's silly for managers to try and clamp down on employee's use of work time for personal calls or texts unless it's excessive. On the other hand, spreading an hour's worth of micro-break-based-texting over a work day could mean a lot of texts and I could see that this would appear annoying to a manager.

If you truly feel that you cannot hold back on your personal texting until after work, then sit down and mention your "micro-break" concept to your manager. See what kind of response you get, then act accordingly.

I don't think I'd go over your laundry list of bullet points as some of them seem rather irrelevant and petty. I would emphasize the part about the quality of your work not being impacted by your texting, and the fact that you never miss deadlines.

As I feel like this is all 'give' and no 'take', can you suggest I way I can withdraw from things that I'm not required to do such as taking on my colleagues entire workload and pull back on the urgent, out-of-office-hours work I'm occasionally asked to do?

You could choose to hold your breath and start putting in only minimal effort if you like, but I suspect you already know that won't really get you anywhere.

If this give-versus-take balance is really that problematic for you, you might be better off finding a new job that lets you text freely, rather than shutting down in this one.

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The other answers may have a point that if this is a recent shift in behaviour from your boss, who previously you've worked well with, there may be a deeper or unrelated issue at the root of these comments about your phone use.

However, tackling the general question of performing some personal tasks on work time, you make the point that you (and most employees) are entitled to break time during the working day. At my company our computer use policy recommends a 5 minute screen break per hour, for example. I would suggest one possible solution then is to not reply to text messages immediately (unless urgent), but take your regular breaks to step away from your desk and send the messages then.

It may be that by using your phone away from your bosses view, he will stop noticing it and it won't annoy him any more. If he questions your trips away from the desk you can always say you were taking a rest break/stretching your legs/using the bathroom/getting a drink etc. Providing your total rest time is not excessive he shouldn't have a problem with it.

As aside, even though I don't currently manage other staff, I do sometimes find it annoying seeing people tapping away at their phones near me, especially if it's in my line of sight when I'm using the computer. There is something distracting about it, and it's possible that because of this, your boss might feel like you're doing it way more than you actually are.

There's a similar question about someone being disturbed while eating lunch at their desk, and I think in general that being seen not working at your desk is much more obvious than being away from your desk, for which there are many plausible reasons.

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